The early morning drive up Sarcee Trail on Paskapoo Slopes, in crisp, cold air, features a stunningly beautiful sunrise onto clouds above twinkling lights of silhouetted, downtown Calgary. The previous day the valley was filled with residue mist from snow making machines at Calgary Olympic Park and downtown Calgary highrise buildings poke through the cloud against a spectacular multi-colored sunrise. It is a benefit to the short days of winter. An hours drive south from home will deliver me to my meeting with Dave at the General Store in the hamlet of Millarville, Alberta.
The next leg of the journey is west on Hwy 549 past paved road to four-wheel drive access on fairly good country road beyond the junction with gated Gorge Creek Trail to parking at a metal, meshed fence around a sour gas well near the bridge over Threepoint Creek.
Ice on the Threepoint Creek is initially solid under snow. The twisting creek soon morphs to wind-swept clear ice where Dave and I will pause while Dave puts on ice climbing crampons. I will get through the day in leather hiking boots with a medium pointed instep crampon but Dave is justifiably more comfortable with the increased traction because he is carrying little Isaac on his back.
Further into the ice walk we discover running water and fragile ice on sections where sun seldom shines. Alternate thaw and freeze cycles thicken and firm the ice. This does not happen in areas sheltered from sun. We are hiking near the shortest day of the year and the sun is very low in the sky. This requires careful, trial and error, route finding so we do not punch through the ice into water deeper than the tops of our boots. The on again, off again ice conditions combined with periodic deadfall requires frequent off trail diversions. The prolific animal tracks in the snow on the creek surface provide valuable information. Intuitive, heavy animal tracks indicate potentially firmer ice. Bunnies and field mice, not so much. Dave and I are paying close attention. Surface breathing holes and the sound of water running under the ice are also strong indicators. Sounding the surface by tapping hard with hiking poles will reveal hollow spaces beneath. We have done this many times before.
Within a kilometre, we find a recent kill on the iced creek. Tracks in the snow indicate a large buck, exposed on the creek surface, has been attacked, killed and largely consumed by a pack of wolves. Just before we arrive, departing birds have been an indicator. We are paying close attention. There is no evidence of continued activity. We proceed through without hesitation. It is a recent kill, perhaps in the previous night, certainly no more than two days prior. The following two photos are included to illustrate the nature of a kill site. They are not pretty but it is part of hiking. The photos illustrate the importance of reading the environment carefully, by sight and sound, and the reality of nature.
Dave, Isaac and I hike on and off trail into sunlight until we reach a point where there are no good options which include carrying a small child. We back track to a side creek and find a warm area nearby for lunch.
During lunch, while Dave attends to Isaac, I pursue a nearby, curious opening in the forest. It is a trail with quad tracks on it. Hmmm! This may be a way to solve our forward momentum on the creek.
As we are packing up to leave, a lynx wanders across Threepoint Creek and pauses momentarily in tracks we made a few minutes earlier, and just long enough for me to capture a long lens image.
The new-found trail, which is actually on the map, is a mountain bicycle trail which lifts us high above Threepoint Creek with outstanding views of surrounding mountains and valleys. The trail leads to a snow-covered fire road and into descent.
At a subsidiary, small creek crossing our path, I bushwhack my way up the draw to investigate for the presence of an ice waterfall. Soon I am shut down by tangled and impenetrable deadfall.
We follow the ice from the canyon down to solid ice on Threepoint Creek and hike for another kilometre before passing a trail on the south side of the creek. Continuing along Threepoint Creek, it is not much further before forward progress is impeded once again by fallen trees.
We decide to turn back after about 4 KM (2.5 miles) of forward progress. At the trail junction, we make the assumption the trail, off to the right, tracks the creek. I branch off onto the trail. Dave and Isaac continue on ice. We remain within calling distance.
When the trail approaches a point adjacent, and 6 m (20 ft) above the frozen surface of Threepoint Creek, I stop for a photo in both directions and wait for them to show up. When they appear, Dave makes the decision to offtrail up to my location on the trail. The impenetrable section of the creek is a short distance downstream and daylight time is waning.
We are on the Threepoint Trail and, within a kilometre (0.6 miles), we arrive at the trail signpost at the junction of Threepoint Creek Trail with North Fork Trail connecting 5.4 KM (3.4 miles) further south to Ware Creek Trail.
It is a short walk to the sour gas well near the location where the truck is parked.
It is an excellent day, predominantly in shade with a bit of a breeze, which felt cooler than the temperature would indicate. We did not get that close to the 50 metre (164 ft) ice waterfall, which was our target, but we learned a lot about the approach for a potential ice climb in the New Year.