Hoodoo Creek is a short, easy and spectacular hike to dramatic hoodoos across Abraham Lake from Mount Michener in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada.
Following interesting hikes at Windy Point Ridge and Windy Ridge Pond, the trail access to Hoodoo Creek is a short, 3 KM (1⅞ mile), drive south on the David Thompson Highway (Hwy 11) from Windy Point. The unsigned trail head is slightly north of the creek crossing beneath the highway but a large cairn points the way. There is a small, informal parking area on the east side of the highway.
Skies remain moody with visible storm activity onto the surface of Abraham Lake. An intermittently sunny corridor and a gentle, cooling breeze counters the warmth from heat trapped in surrounding rock.
This half day hike to the cave past the hoodoos is 5.2 KM (3¹⁄₃ miles) return. Access to the cave is a short easy scramble. Elevation gain from the trail-head to the cave is a modest 400 m (1,312 ft) to maximum elevation of 1,740 m (5,710 ft).
Another cave is visible from the trail.
Flood damage has modified the wide, gravel wash substantially. Initially, established trail above the north bank has been washed out and requires a bit of distance and searching to find. On the trail heading west, the path is frequently compromised by dead fall and edge erosion, or complete interruption, from flood activity. The power of the floodwater is evidenced by the size of boulders, weighing several tons, washed up from the creek bed.
Further along the trail, flood damage increases. It becomes obvious that hiking on the creek bed will be a far more pleasant and easier route. Eventually, the trail elevation is not too far above the creek bottom elevation. After finding a somewhat precarious transition point involving dangling from tree branches followed by a leap of faith onto the creek bed below, better progress and time through spectacular, canyon surroundings is achieved.
Initially, water flow is audible beneath the stony creek bed. Soon water flow is visible on base slab where stone debris has washed the bedrock clean. Intuitively axiomatic and minimal route finding requires hiking on one side of the creek or the other.
A small hoodoo on the north bank of Hoodoo Creek
Soon, the main cluster of hoodoos is visible ahead. There is a small one, off to the right side, which deserves to be photographed. There may be a narrow window of visibility and opportunity.
On the approach to the larger hoodoos, a powerful and sustained wind suddenly flows up the canyon from behind. The temperature drops slightly. This is characteristically the sign of a moving weather front. The dark clouds on mountain summits above me are slowly expanding and dropping in elevation. These are all warning signs of impending and potentially heavy weather.
The hoodoos in Hoodoo Creek are different than many in Southern Alberta. The protecting table stones at the top rest on columns of rocky conglomerate. There is mandatory time to capture a few images before continuing through a bend left into a very short and narrow canyon which leads into the massive mountain-surrounded bowl beyond. About halfway through the short canyon, the strong wind suddenly stops. Is this the calm before the storm?
The objective cave is a half-hour, one-way scramble beyond and above me on the right. Do I have the time to make it up, down, and out of this narrow canyon before an impending, potential storm? The surrounding mountain-enclosed bowl beyond is very large. It is like walking through the spout of a massive funnel.
If a heavy rain begins, the trickle of water through this narrow canyon could potentially, and very rapidly, become a raging torrent of water several feet deep. This would prevent any chance of safe retreat for potentially several hours. It is like a wash in the desert passing through a slot canyon. Great caution is well advised. Perhaps there may be alternate routes of escape.
A few drops of rain begin to paint the sheer rock walls of the canyon.
The decision to abandon is difficult but the only sensible thing to do is turn back towards the hoodoos and escape as quickly as possible into the broad gravel wash.
Following one final look back to the interesting hoodoos, the pace is quickened to leave the narrow and compromising section of the canyon. Running begins where possible. Hopping on and over boulders is exhilarating as the retreat from the hoodoos in Hoodoo Creek continues at high speed.
The entry point into the creek bed from the trail above is ignored as the run continues downstream on the creek bed. It is difficult to imagine the amount of flood water flow it would take to move some of the boulders being maneuvered around. The retreat continues at high speed over smaller rock as the wash widens into spectacular views of Abraham Lake and heavy storm clouds over Mount Michener. Still, there are only intermittent drops of rain.
Heavy and dark storm clouds cap the summit of Mount Michener.
Where the creek bank can be easily scaled, the sprint continues directly towards the car. Remaining route is occasionally on snippets of trail and across rocky areas of creek overflow created by flood water. There is a light, intermittent and refreshing rain as gear is stowed in the trunk of the car before seeking refuge inside.
The rain does not amount to much, and soon dissipates to nothing. Although the objective was not fully achieved, there will always be another day and the cave is not going anywhere plus there is now an excellent reason to return to Hoodoo Creek and enjoy this outstanding hiking experience again. This one is a winner.
The drive south on the David Thompson Highway will pass the entrance to the Cline Waste Transfer Station where the trail-heads to Whitegoat Falls and Vision Quest begin.
Photographs for this excellent hike up Hoodoo Creek, without a paddle, to the hoodoos, were taken on Sunday, July 26, 2015.