A small bump among a sea of high peaks, McConnell Point offers up some pretty credible views from its rocky summit, despite its modest stature. Seen by many, the busy Trans-Canada Highway passes right below, it doesn’t seem to be a terribly popular objective. That’s changing however. The route we followed takes in well established trails, some that are faint and a little bit of bushwhacking added to the mix. Make sure you’re comfy with this.
Most often called McConnell Point, on some maps and websites it’s called Engagement Mountain. Others have given it the silly moniker Biffy Mountain after a small outhouse looking shed not far from its top.
Begin on the Quaite Valley Trail. Park at an obvious pull off right beside the highway a click or two east of Lac des Arcs. There is almost always cars here.
Enter the woods on an old logging road (at a gate). For the next couple kilometres much damage from the spring 2013 floods can be seen. Rerouting and repairs have been done, but it’s still pretty rough going in places. A section of corduroy road, newly exposed by those rushing waters, can be seen at one place.
Come to the Quaite Valley Backcountry Campground. Keep left at any intersections, following the most obvious route. In a kilometre or so, gaining a little of elevation along the way, look for a cairn marking a faint trail heading up and left. At first the way to go is obvious, but the trail soon peters out. Just keep heading on roughly the same trajectory and you’ll be fine. Sometimes flagging is seen.
As the hike becomes more popular, I suspect this section will become more fully defined. It’d be hard to get lost though – up is good, down is bad.
Intercept the established Razor’s Edge Trail but don’t take it (remember it though). Instead turn left and bushwhack up some more (occasional game trails help). Come to an opening in the trees, the first one. Yeah, some views! The summit can be seen off to the north. It looks all treed, but is not. From here you can look west – check out Heart Mountain, Grant MacEwan Mountain and Mount McGillivray. Also to southeast is open and flat-faced Yates Mountain can be seen. It’s home to the Barrier Lake Lookout, which we’ve been up to a few times. It’s nice up there.
More bushwhacking (occasional cairns and flagging) and soon the summit is reached. Expect it to be windy up here. Incredibly so. It always is in the area, even signs on the highway will tell you that. It was near insufferable on our visit. We almost got blown over several times and both came home with horrible ear aches (even with heavy toques on).
Notice some metal anchors which were tie downs for a weather station that used to be up here. It’s gone. Maybe it blew away? Just below the summit is an old equipment shed associated with that station. That it looks like an outhouse is why some people call McConnell, Biffy Mountain instead.
The shed is anchored with cables and is weighed down with rocks. Even then it shakes violently with each gust. We searched for a geocache that was supposed to be inside but didn’t see it. We never seem to find them!
The views from McConnell Point’s rocky top are extensive and much better then expected, given its low height. The summit is pretty much open in most directions of the compass. A few trees however get in the way here and there.
In the east the mountains transition to the plains. Eagle Hill, a place we’ve been up, is the last bump before the land flattens. To the northeast is Mount Yamnuska (we got lost under Yamnuska one time), beside that is Goat Mountain, Loder Peak and Door Jamb Mountain (they’re one long ridge with three named high points). Exshaw Mountain and Exshaw Ridge can be seen right above the small town of the same name. The former is about the size and height of McConnell Point. To the west is an endless line of big peaks. We catch a glimpse of Pigeon Mountain directly west.
The Bow River, a lovely powder blue, the Trans-Canada Highway and CPR’s mainline can be clearly seen below. Note the many quarries and processing plants down there. All the front range mountains are made limestone, which is processed into products like cement.
If you want to have lunch at the top you may need to hunker down under some trees if it’s windy (and it will be). We took refuge behind a rock outcropping a little further on. Even that didn’t completely protect us from gusts though. We’ve been playing with a new time lapse rig – we finally sprung for one of those action cams – to record cloud movements and the like, but we’re still not happy with the results. More practice! Expect these types of videos to show up on BIGDoer.com soon, once we’ve perfected our technique.
Today’s wine selection is Hawk Crest Red Hills Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon (say that three times fast). It’s damn near perfect and in our opinion an ideal wine for a blustery day like this.
Retrace your steps back to the Razors Edge, keeping on an east trending trajectory when in the trees. Once on it, turn left and head down (sometimes very steeply). This route is mostly used by mountain bikers, so be very mindful of them. They can be moving fast and will always come in from behind. Turn around often to check for them approaching.
Parts of the Razor’s Edge are pretty hardcore for a bike run. Lots of steep sections, sharp corners, roots, rocks, drop offs, slabs with wipe out inducing ball bearing gravel. You get the idea.
Break out of the trees onto rocky slopes. This was a very fun part of the hike and a great place for photos. Maybe if you’re lucky you’ll see some trains passing below. Still, we don’t stay here very long account of the wind. It was damn crazy.
Just when it looks like you’ll drop off a cliff onto the highway below, turn left and head down. Reaching the road, it’s a short but noisy walk back to the car.
Both the Quaite Valley Trail and Razor’s Edge Trail can be busy, both hikers and bikers. The day of our visit was pretty quiet. We saw no one on the way up nor at the top. A few people, some on foot, some on cycles passed us on the way down.
Bikers, by the way, start at the Quaite Valley Trail like we did but head further south connecting up with the Prairie View Trail, then finally the Razor’s Edge Trail, forming a nice loop. I wouldn’t mind biking it sometime, if I can find the courage to handle that crazy descent. I assume those hikers we saw did the bike route too. They certainly didn’t follow the route we did.
Date of adventure: October, 2015.
Location: Near Exshaw AB.
Distance: 8.5km by our route.
Height gain maximum: 480m (two other readings said 640m!).
Height gain cumulative: 500m.
NOTE: all heights and distances are approximate.
Reference: Kananaskis Trail Guide by Gillean Daffern.