Bull Creek Hills preface Highwood Mountains in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.
Bull Creek Hills is a much better hike than expected, creating an experience of deceptive distance and extraordinary vistas from rugged wilderness terrain. The most common access is via Grass Pass, achieved by an initial 3.4 KM (2⅛ mile) approach hike from the Sentinel Recreation Area on Highwood Trail, 3.8 KM (2⅜ miles) west of the Kananaskis Country entrance sign.
From Grass Pass, Bull Creek Hills rise above to the north-east. The beginning is on old road ascent to the first of series of grass-covered hills. The grade is moderate and views open up rapidly. Trail continues from the top of the first nondescript grassy hill to the top of the next grassy hill, several times. Evergreen forest increases with altitude gain.
The distances appear longer than actual and it takes little time to get to the next plateau for progress far quicker than expected. The view of Holy Cross Mountain behind becomes increasingly spectacular and worthy of attention at the top of each rise. The Bull Creek Hills trail is fairly clear at the beginning but gradually becomes intermittent as terrain changes. It is not an issue. The direction is clear.
Overcast skies and a slight breeze counter the effort of climbing on consistent uphill grades with periodic pauses to absorb the incredible scenery. The skies are moody and weather is fickle. It is snowing at upper elevations to the far west. Cloud ceilings are alternatively rising and falling around the tops of the highest mountains as weather elements compete for supremacy. There is no clear victor and the variety enhances the hiking experience.
The ascent on the final grass-covered hill opens views to the spectacular valley it conceals. It also leads to the left turn into, and through, an evergreen forest descent in a snow-filled draw prior to the next ascent in wilderness terrain for an excellent wilderness hiking experience.
There is an interesting 'cage' structure at trail side but no visible evidence of what it might be protecting. Plant species which are inside, are also outside. Check Evan's explanation in the comments section for a clear answer.
The view back to Boundary Pine and over the Pack Trail Coulee to westerly mountain ranges beyond is breathtaking.
The increasing altitude presents a grand view of the grass patch at Gunnery Pass with Holy Cross Mountain in the background.
A left turn sets up the final stage of the hike to the top of Bull Creek Hills, clearly visible now in the distance. The max elevation is 2,179 m (7,149 ft). The net height gain from Grass Pass to the high point of Bull Creek Hills is 304 m (997 ft) over about 2.5 KM (1⅝ miles). The total altitude gain from the Highwood River to Grass Pass is 429 m (1,407 ft). The net total is about 733 m (2,404 ft) with gross gain estimated at 20% greater. So, a good aerobic exercise component.
Hiking along the front edge of Bull Creek Hills, the old, gnarly trees, exposed to the harsh elements on the edge of ridges, stand as testament to their tenacity in the face of seemingly impossible odds. Bleached skeletons of those old timber soldiers that have succumbed to severe weather or age, litter the landscape.
The summit seems far away but distances are deceiving and the consistent climb achieves progress rapidly. Patches of snow adorn more sheltered slopes on the edges of spectacular valleys.
The lunch spot in the sun provides sweeping vistas to the east, south and west. A family of six mountain sheep run across the valley below me faster than the best attempt to capture photos.
At the top of Bull Creek Hills, the short scramble to the top of a small rock ridge provides the opportunity to take brief videos of the sweeping view to the south and west.
The top of Bull Creek Hills is broad and an off-trail hike south across rugged terrain affords a position on the edge of a narrow promontory for a brief and shaky video facing generally south. The trail which continues to the east is plugged with large mounds of snow. The south side of the hills to the east seems clear and navigable but the return to Grass Pass will include an off-trail diversion to the ridge hosting 'Boundary Pine'.
As scenic vistas open up on descent, short videos are captured from the best vantage points.
On the offtrail descent, the valley below to left intermittently glows in the sun on my final approach. to 'Boundary Pine'.
This hike up Gunnery Creek, over Gunnery Pass and down to the Big Meadow, up to Grass Pass, further up to the top of Bull Creek Hills, down to 'Boundary Pine' and Grass Pass before the fine descent through the Pack Trail Coulee has been an amazing day of incredible scenery, diverse terrain and absolutely fascinating weather.