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Ascent of Cypress Hills High Point on 2011-05-20

Climber: Edward Earl

Date:Friday, May 20, 2011
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Cypress Hills High Point
    Location:Canada-Alberta
    Elevation:1467 m / 4816 ft

Ascent Trip Report

The Cypress Hills are a forested mesa sporting nearly 2000 feet of prominence over the surrounding plains. Much of the mesa is owned by the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, which straddles the border of AB and SK. Although it is possible to drive on park roads to the top of the plateau that harbors the highest ground in the Cypress Hills, I chose to "Earlize" this one via the pleasant Horseshoe Canyon Trail, which climbs from the Old Baldy campground in the tourist town of Edgewater to the rim of the plateau at Horseshoe Canyon overlook. The staff at the park visitor center was friendly and helpful and provided me with cheap but useful sketch maps of park trails.

To reach the trailhead, turn off of AB-41 onto the spur road through Edgewater. On the far side of town, I took the first left turn beyond the visitor center, which heads into the park camgrounds. There is no parking in the immediate vicinity of the Horseshoe Canyon TH, but if you're staying at a campground, you can simply leave your car at your camp site - all camgrounds are within walking distance of the trail. At $23/night for a camp site I decided to pass up that option, but I was still able to park at the campground bath house, which lies just past the campground entrance kiosk.

From the bath house I walked across the main road into the campgrounds, then headed into the Old Baldy CG, which is the first CG on the right side of the main road. After passing a few camp sites, the well-marked Horseshoe Canyon Trail began on the right side of the road. After gaining ~150-200 feet in 0.3 mile (0.5 km), I turned L at a junction to remain on the Horseshoe Canyon Trail, passing up the Firerock Trail. The trail climbs gradually through evergreen forest with occasional open meadows for 2.2 miles (3.6 km) to the Horseshoe Canyon Overlook on the mesa rim.

The HP still lies about 1½ miles away at the W end of the mesa. Most of the remaining distance there is a hike on the road that traverses the plateau. I opted for a remote experience - instead of hiking the main road, I hiked a system of primitive roads (signed against vehicle use) that hugged the N rim. When my GPS showed that I was within a few tenths of a mile of the HP, I struck out across grass and brush until I reached the apparent HP area: a stand of birch next to a brushy thicket exactly at the location of the tiny NRCAN 4800+ area at the W end of the plateau. The GPS location of the 4800+ area agreed with my visual observations as to the highest ground as best as I could tell, though at times it was difficult to tell whether the ground rises or falls in any direction. Though the NRCAN topo shows a tiny 4800' contour, my Magellan 315 never showed higher than 4797'.

I continued to wonder, however, if the main plateau road (which I had left) would lead to a tourist point, so I decided to investigate, and I hiked farther W on the road. My hunch proved correct: at the extreme SW corner of the plateau, just before the main road drops off, a small spur loop leads to a park bench with an interpretive sign identifying the site as the highest point in Canada between the Rockies and Labrador, citing an elevation of 1466 meters (4810'). Tourist signs, however, are not known for precision regarding HP location.

It appeared to my eye, however, as if the road dropped slightly to the tourist site, so I backtracked to what appeared to be the highest point on the road (about 500' short of the tourist site) and measured it with my GPS: 4810'. We now have 4 pieces of evidence: two favoring the birch stand, and two favoring the tourist site, as the HP:

GPS: road near Tourist site ~4810, birch stand 4797
Park signage: Tousist site is HP
NRCAN topo: birch stand is only place over 4800'
Visual sighting: standing at the birch stand, it is not obvious whether the ground rises or falls toward the tourist site. Standing at the tourist site, however, it appears clear that the birch stand is higher. Furthermore, the birch stand appears as the highest point on the skyline when viewed from any direction between E and S.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:278 m / 916 ft
    Extra Gain:15 m / 50 ft
    Distance:12.9 km / 8 mi
    Route:Horseshoe Canyon Trail
    Trailhead:Elkwater  1219 m / 4000 ft
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Open Country
Ascent Statistics
    Time Up:2 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Time Down:2 Hours 



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