15 May 2016
Wen and I were looking for something easy, relatively short, and that doesn’t require us to drive for hours to get to. Moose Mountain was the perfect candidate. It’s a straightforward hike in the Foothills just under an hour’s drive away from Calgary. At 2437 m (official elevation; my GPS read slightly lower), I think it’s probably the closest “real” mountain to Calgary. Moose Mountain is famous for its prolific sour gas reserves that were found here at depths of around 500 m below sea-level in Devonian and Mississippian-aged rocks. Numerous wells were drilled on the flanks of the mountain and in the valleys surrounding it, the first one in 1929! All this explains the existence of several gravel roads maintained by Shell and the sight of active well sites with burning gas flares in the valley below. To me, this area is a great example of how industry, nature conservation and tourism/recreation can work hand-in-hand, all in the same place.
We were up early and it was the first day that the access gate to the Shell Road was open after the yearly closure between Dec 1st and May 15th, so the parking lot at the trail head was nearly empty when we arrived around 8 am. The trail was fully covered in about 10 cm of snow, but it was a warm and sunny morning and the snow quickly started to become soft. We followed the wide path in the trees, first slightly downhill, then level for a quite a while. There are a few spots here where you can nicely see the entire mountain with the false and the main summit in the distance. It looks quite far away, but it really wasn’t as much work as we expected. The trail then starts to climb out of the forest and this is where it got windy and cold really fast. We tramped up the broad, gentle slope through snow drifts to the false summit, from where it was another 30 minutes to the main summit with the famous fire lookout on top. This is probably the nicest and most comfortable-looking fire lookout I’ve ever seen in the Rockies! Inside, the lookout person was enjoying a nice cup of coffee while we huddled around the backside by the helicopter landing pad to avoid the cold wind. More people started showing up and soon there must’ve been a dozen or so hikers up here enjoying their lunch and taking in the beautiful views of front range peaks to the west. You could see as far as Mount Townsend and Mount Yamnuska to the NW, while right in front of us were their lower-elevation counterparts including Cox Hill, Jumpingpound Mountain and Prairie Mountain.
On our way back we ran into a continuous stream of people… they just kept on coming! The snow had by now been trampled to a slushy mess in most places. There must’ve been at least a hundred people on the mountain at this point. When we got back to our car, the parking lot was packed and cars were lining the access road. We were really glad we had started early! Despite a very leisurely pace, the hike had only taken us about 5 hours (fast parties will easily undercut 4 hours round-trip). Moose Mountain was all in all a great season starter and I can recommended it to those who are looking for an easy hike on a good trail and don’t mind it being crowded, especially if you go on a weekend.
DISCLAIMER: Use at your own risk for general guidance only! Do not follow this GPX track blindly but use your own judgement in assessing terrain and choosing the safest route.