Moose Mountain is a solitary monolith guarding the front range of the Rocky Mountains.
The sprawling, ‘upside down’ mountain peaks out at 2,437 M (7,995 ft) and was created many thousands of years ago when a giant tract of land was overturned, trapping huge forest reserves underneath. The mountain is full of gas.
The drive west passes the exit to Bragg Creek and a few kilometers later turns right through the open gate onto the steep, gravel, Moose Mountain Road which will ascend 7.5 KM (4¾ miles), along the top of Moose Mountain Ridge, to the small parking area at the end.
Along the way there are several turnouts with excellent views across Canyon Creek Valley to the west, and east to the Calgary city skyline. Prairie Mountain is smaller but prominent on the other side of Canyon Creek Valley. The drive on Moose Mountain Ridge passes above the top of the Ice Caves.
Initially the hike follows an old supply road which rolls up and down through forest with the occasional clearing that provides increasingly dramatic scenery as the relatively gentle ascent gains elevation. After breaking the tree line, a short detour is taken to observe a monitoring station before continuing across the first saddle to the daunting switchbacks.
Achieving the top of the false summit is always a bit of a psychological setback because the true summit is directly ahead and the ominous climb on tired legs appears unattractive. The additional ascent distance is not as bad as it looks and there is a relatively flat, short and exhilarating side trip available to the left on the second saddle, to the edge of an outcropping which overlooks Canyon Creek.
The vistas and sensation of height are breathtaking. It is wise to choose a big boulder and sit for a few minutes to absorb the ambiance and rest legs before making the final assault on the summit.
The remaining stretch begins steep, then levels on good scree trail around the side of the mountain top to the fire lookout. Because the mountain is isolated, the vistas are absolutely spectacular. With the fire lookout closed for winter, there is a unique opportunity to relax on the fire lookout deck to have lunch and sip warm chai tea from the thermos as the sun continually modifies creeping shadows. The experience seems very civilized and peaceful in the fresh, cool breeze with surrounding patches of snow at the mountain summit.
With side excursions, return distance hiked is about 14 KM (9 miles) with gross elevation near 750 M (2,460 ft). An allowance of 3½ hours up and 2½ hours down is a reasonable pace but in good weather, extra time is justified to relax and absorb the natural aura and extend the enjoyment of the experience.
This mountain has been scaled many times with others as well as solo. It is like an old friend. The fire lookout is active during the summer months and, if you are extremely courteous, the presiding lookout tenant may extend an invitation for a look at the inside of his dwelling and an interesting explanation of how a fire lookout functions.
On previous memorable hikes to the summit of this mountain, there have been 110 KM winds, gusting to 130 KM, where it is necessary to lay down on the ground to avoid being swept off your feet. The keeper and and I, on one occasion, struggled to lower the plywood covers over the windows so the glass would not be blown out.
In the winter time the summit can be buried under 8 M (25 ft) of snow. It is a good idea to stop at the Elbow Valley Visitor Centre for current conditions. The Rangers, if necessary, can provide a host of less exposed alternatives. Moose Mountain is an excellent, early season conditioner. The mountain is popular with hikers and cyclists. It is best to avoid weekends in the summer and to be aware of running and cycling events which are good reasons to choose a different mountain.
For a longer, full day, and increased elevation, the summit bid can begin from the end of the road through West Bragg Creek. Check your map. Veer right at the trail fork.