The hike into North York Cirque is somewhat of a melancholy excursion. Sure, the setting is beautiful and stunning, but the plane wreckage at the end is a bit sobering. Deep in the valley of North York Creek, and just below Andy Good Peak, are the scattered remains of an Royal Canadian Airforce DC-3 Dakota that crashed here early in 1946. Sadly everyone aboard were killed, all of them service men.
The trail starts off the York Creek road which by the parking spot is extremely rough. We were able to get in with a car, but just and it was sloooow going. At this point we are not terribly far from the town of Coleman but it will still take some time to get here.
This is an ATV trail, so it’s good and wide and rarely, save for one section, very steep. Most of the way, it’s a gentle up. However, being an ATV trail also means a couple of down sides. It can get busy and noisy, and if the area is wet, there’s the mud. Your best best for some peace is to go during the week when it’s quiet, or go during the shoulder season like we did, where the snow pack keeps the machines down on the lower parts of the trail. The very deep snow was hard enough to walk on (thanks to packing by snowmobiles), but would not support a quad.
From the trail head just keep following the trail west, up the ever narrowing valley, crossing the creek a couple times on bridges made by the local ATV club. At the first junction, take the right branch and immediately head up steeply. The left arm can take you either the Ironstone fire lookout high above you to the left, or up York Creek to the Coulthard Mountain Meadows. I hear both are nice destinations.
Levelling out somewhat, the trail sticks to the north side of the valley you are heading up and is mostly in the trees. A fairly mundane section of the trail, the only worries are the mud bogs made by ATVs.
Crossing the creek again, on a bridge, this is the last junction. Turn right here – I am not certain where the left branch goes. The trail is more in the open here, flanking the north side of the valley, and you finally get to see some views. Continuing on, not long after you arrive at the crash site. The last few kilometres we hiked were on hard packed snow.
The tail of the DC-3 and some other scattered bits are in located in a grove of trees. And as I understand it, an engine and wing sit nearby but on our visit, the snow covered them and they could not be seen. Careful when visiting as the mangled metal of the plane is quite sharp and could cause injury. Graffiti and signatures covers the wreckage and if you believe the dates on them, some go back thirty, forty or fifty years.
The mountains around you loom over the site and wall the whole valley in. Facing north and working left, the first mountain is Mt McLaren followed by Mt Parrish, Andy Good Peak, and finally Mt Coulthard.
The crash site is a somber place, and at lunch Connie and I with our wine (which we always bring) toasted the servicemen involved.
If one wishes, you can explore the area further. There is a higher cirque above the crash, peaks to be scrambled, and small caves and frost pockets to be explored.
In military circles the DC-3 was known as a Dakota or C-47 and it saw extensive use during World War Two. Utilized as a transport or freighter, it earned an enviable reputation and was rugged and simple. Over 10 000 were made and a few even fly to this day. For example, Buffalo Airways in northern Canada still flies DC-3s in passenger and freight service, a real testament to how well engineered the design is.
Update: February 2013. There is a memorial sign at the site and here is a transcribe of what’s written on it.
Dakota Plane Crash -1946
On January 19, 1946 A Royal Canadian Air Force DC-3 (Dakota) aircraft with seven crew men on board was reported missing on it’s flight from Comox BC to Greenwood Nova Scotia. Search efforts for the twin engine transport plane, last seen near Cranbrook BC, were hampered by bad weather. Five days after the flight’s disappearance, Crowsnest Pass Forest Rangers made their way on snowshoes to the crash site near North York Creek, guided by smoke from the still smoldering wreckage. The plane had collided with Mount Ptolemy and then plummeted into he valley below.
There were no survivors.
A twelve man rescue team brought the bodies out by toboggan. The remains of the Dakota aircraft are still scattered around the area.
Help protect the memory of the men who lost their lives in this tragic accident. Please leave these pieces of the past for others to discover.
Flying Officer Robert Huycke Watt, Winnipeg MB
Flying Officer James Leonard Norris, Chilliwack BC
Flight Lieutenant William Joseph Woods, Winnipeg MB
Flight Lieutenant William James Sealey, White Rock BC
Sergeant Vernon Rupert Ducklow, New Westminster BC
Leading Aircraftsman Daniel Levy Toro, Toronto ON
Leading Aircraftsman Richard Brockwell Lowe, Ottawa ON
If you wish more information on this trail, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: May 2008.
Location: Crowsnest Pass AB.
Distance: 14km return.
Height gain from start: 755m (which as usual contradicts other trip reports I’ve seen).
Height gain cumulative: 755m.
Technical bits: None.
Notes: This is an ATV trail, so be mindful of that.
Reference: Hiking the Historic Crowsnest Pass, by Jane Ross and William Tracy.