Story, photos and field work by Chris & Connie.
Reaching the top of Mount Lipsett is incredibly simple and easy. One need only follow an old road that meanders up to within sight of the summit. From there is a quick push and you’re done. Even though it’s not a terribly high elevation “peak” (okay, calling it that is stretch, it’s more a big hill), especially when compared to Mist Mountain directly east, the views from it are pretty darn good over all. It’s a hike we highly recommend.
Located in the Highwood Pass region of Kananaskis, the trailhead is along Highway #40 at an obvious pull out, north side, about midway between the Mount Lipsett and Mist Creek day use areas. There is ample parking.
Climb the bank and at a grouping of large rocks plunge into the trees. Get used to them, for the next while that’s all you’ll see. At a junction, soon in, go left and almost immediately after head directly up, sometimes at a sharp angle. This and the last part near the summit, is about as steep as it get. The rest of the way, elevation is gained ever so gently. Hard core types might hate it. We found this “stroll” in the woods pleasant.
To your right you can hear a gurgling creek but not see it. The trail abruptly turns left and enters a boggy area. Prepare to play in the mud. From here on, almost to the summit, the road is your path. There are the occasional junctions, side roads heading here and there, but there is no way to get lost. The route is always obvious and clear.
The trail switchbacks, now and then, as it gains height. There are occasional breaks in the trees higher up, allowing hikers a good view of Odlum Ridge in the south (an objective we’ve been eyeing for a time) and later, the barren Elk Ranges in the west. A LOT of wild strawberries grow along this section. They are small in size but yummy beyond belief.
Your path is a coal exploration road dating from the late 1940s or early 1950s, only slightly overgrown considering all the years that have passed since then. There is a lot of the black stuff in the area and many hillsides have scars from this sort of exploration work (they are not logging roads as some say). They’d send a Caterpillar up a hill, crosscutting as they’d go, to see what seams would be exposed. Simple and unscientific.
No coal mines were ever developed in the area. The stuff is good quality, it’s just that transportation costs and declining markets made the projects uneconomical,.The old tracks left behind sure make for good hiking trails. Other hills and mountains in the area that have similar coal exploration roads beside Mt Lipsett include Mist Ridge, Picklejar Ridge (one of the South Mist Hills), Cat Creek Hills, Junction Hill (east flanks), Pasque Mountain and many others. All take you close to the respective summits. Nice!
Soon Mist Mountain comes into view, a giant compared to the bump we’re climbing. Mount Lipsett is actually an outlier, a secondary lower summit connected to it. Mist has some nice rock colours but fog kept them from standing out much in the photos.
At a switchback the trail breaks out of the trees. Coal seams become visible now, either exposed naturally or in the road cuts. They are numerous seams, all tilted at a near vertical angle. The mines planned here were to be of the pit type.
Leave the road where it turns hard left and take the obvious path. The summit is directly north and with a wee bit more work, finally comes into view. From here it’s not far off in distance nor height. We’ll visit the lower summit to the left (west) on our return trip. Traverse a slope then take a line to the west side of an exposed rib, on mixed grass and (sometimes) loose rocks.
A storm threatened us. It boils and makes lots of noise and we worry we’ll either get soaked or worse, have to dodge lightning, but nothing really came of either. Thank goodness.
Top out and take in the views. You’re already familiar with Mist Mountain right beside you, aptly named as most of the time it was shrouded in swirling clouds. To the north is Storm Mountain. Below, Highway #40, open only during the nicer months, snakes up the valley heading towards Highwood Pass (the highest paved pass in the country). To the west and heading as far north and south as one can see is an impenetrable wall of limestone call the Elk Ranges. Some the mountains in that group include Mounts Pocaterra, Odlum and Tyrwhitt. British Columbia is right on the far side of them.
Directly south are a series of low-ish (relatively speaking) ridges and hills. And a sea of green. Directly below us is the Mount Lipsett/Mist Mountain col, it’s alpine environs a prime bear habitat. There was a warning at the trailhead mentioning a bear in the area.
We noticed a slump on the side of Mist, a huge one, easily hundreds of metres on each side, which exposed some coal.
We planned for lunch in the trees, so that we could find a sheltered spot just in case the rain fell (as it turns out nothing but a mist fell, and only for a short time).
As Connie headed down I quickly take in the lower summit of Mount Lipsett and the small ridge (or rib) that extends from it in a westerly direction. At its end I lose a bit of elevation and intercept that coal road that we left earlier and not long after meet up with Connie at the junction of it and the path to the summit. No trees up here meant we saw each other the whole time and could even easily converse, even if we were a click or so apart.
I notice more coal outcroppings here. The seams, separated by rock bands (stone not The Stones) and partially covered by grass, are quite obvious. Had they mined here, Mount Lipsett would have had it’s top shaved off considerably.
Trace your steps back to your car. Our trip down was uneventful and soon we’re back where we started, amazed just how easy this trip was. The rewards were great for what seemed like little work
We passed perhaps a half dozen other hikers this adventure. Not too busy, we like that.
Mount Lipsett is named after a World War One era British General that worked with Canadian Forces. He died just before the conflict ended and the mountain was so named shortly after.
If you wish more information on this trail, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: July, 2015.
Location: Highwood Pass area, Kananaskis, AB.
Distance: 16km-ish by our route.
Height gain maximum: 710m.
Height gain cumulative: 780m.
NOTE: all heights and distances are approximate.
Technical bits: it’s prime bear country.
Reference: Kananaskis Trail Guide by Gillean Daffern.