Blueberry Hill

February 24, 2020
Plus numerous times over the past 25 years

Blueberry Hill is a great extension to the general Elk Pass area in the furthest reaches of Kananaskis Country’s Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. It is a classic ski tour and is done multiple times a year by the dedicated ski enthusiast. The Blueberry Hill trail is ever changing – sometimes it is perfectly track set, sometimes it’s so icy you fly back down in mere minutes. Other times it’s under a foot of fresh pow, and I wonder why I’m not out backcountry skiing!

Blueberry 1.5

There are new signs at Elk Pass! As you can see, lots of trails to choose. Plus, the terrain is graded Green, Blue and Black.

Gear

I’m using my trusty 20+ year old Karhu Criterium skis with metal edges, and my Alpina ‘backcountry’ cross-country ski boots that go with the heavier binding bar. Most people are out here on regular cross-country skis, but I like the extra weight to ski the downhill sections in control and comfort.

Overview

From the parking lot, Blueberry Hill is accessed by turning Right at every T intersection, of which there are three.

There are many trails at Elk Pass that will take you to various places like the actual Elk Pass, and over to the ACC Elk Lakes hut. Recently, multi-use trails have been added for snowshoers, winter walkers, and fat bikes. Despite having their own trails, these other users repeatedly decided that walking on ski tracks was the way go to. So I was VERY happy when K Country finally started to deal with the problem this winter.

Blueberry 3

Finally!!! In the past, these signs were not necessary as everyone out here was a skier. Now with snowshoes and winter hiking, the trails have been trampled in recent years. This is the first year the Parks are enforcing the ski trails. The good news is, it is working!

Non-skiers will now be fined if they walk or ride on ski trails. This has eliminated all non-skier traffic, and reduced many uncomfortable confrontations.

Trail Head

There is a good sized parking lot at Elk Pass. It has a big four person outhouse, and a large sign to mark the start of the trail.

Blueberry 1

The Elk Pass trail head. All routes start from here.

Ski up the only track beside the signage. You will begin to climb almost immediately. Go slow to start, as this hill does not give up.

Blueberry 2

There is no easing into this trail. The first 800 – 1000 m is uphill. That also means a long quick run right back to the car.

Main Trail

After a few hundred metres is the first turn off form the main trail. This is a multi-purpose trail for walkers and fat bikers.

Blueberry 4

The multi-purpose trail veers off to the left, soon after leaving the parking lot. There are more than enough trails for all winter sports.

Keep climbing the hill. This is a great way to check your wax. If you can walk up most of the way, you’ve got the right wax. If you are sliding backwards or need to herring bone most of the way, then you might want to consider changing your wax. There is enough uphill on this trip to make the most of your wax.

When you can see the power lines, you are almost there. It gets even steeper near the top, so herring bone is an option, as well as using the wide slope to start doing your own switch-backs. Downhills skiers can see you before they rocket down here, so just keep your head up.

Blueberry 5

Lots of fresh snow overnight so we could walk up, but someone did have to herring bone. The power lines are straight ahead, so almost at the top.

At the top of the hill, about 1 km from the parking lot, follow the trail as it veers left under the power lines.

Blueberry 6

This is a short stretch between the uphill (behind you) and the downhill (in front of you).

Soon, you will come to the top of your first downhill. Follow this down to the right, picking up as much speed as you can to propel you forward at the bottom, getting ready for the gradual uphill to come.

Blueberry 7

The hill is to the right. It’s steeper at the top, and then levels out near the bottom. There is a turn-off at the very bottom to access the multi-use trail. Ignore this and keep going straight.

Once at the bottom of the hill, continue straight until you come to the first T Intersection, about 1.5 km from the trail head. Turn Right.

Blueberry 8

To the left is the multipurpose trail that heads up to the Hydroline. The ski trail is to the right.

From here, you will travel for just over 2 km, following the creek on the right. You will cross a few bridges, but depending on the depth of the snow, you may not even notice them, so I am not using them as landmarks.

Blueberry 9

The snow covered creek is gorgeous, and the scenery towering beyond is not too bad either.

At the second of three T Intersections, again turn Right.

Blueberry 10

At the second T Intersection, again go Right. Note the ski tracks straight head. This is not an ascent.

Behind the sign you can see where people have traveled straight. I recommend this as a shortcut on the way back down. Going up can be a right pain because it’s steeper than it looks, and also not wide enough to do a good solid herring bone.

From the sign, you go right to make a big looping semicircle for about 200 m. You have now arrived at the picnic table, and the third T intersection.

Blueberry 12

The first picnic table marks the third and final T Intersection. Again, turn Right to access the Blueberry Hill trail.

This is the ideal spot to recharge. Have a drink and a snack before you tackle the final push up to Blueberry Hill. Be aware of the Whiskeyjack (Grey Jay) birds who will quite happily snatch the lunch right out of your hands.

Blueberry 16

The Whiskeyjacks are not shy. One time at Blueberry Hill, my brother-in-law was gesturing with his hand that held his sandwich. That was all the invitation this little bird needed – swoop! Sandwich was gone!

From the picnic table, turn Right. This is the third and final right hand turn. From here, simply follow the trail for 3 km until you reach the end.

Blueberry 13

View of the start of Blueberry Hill trail.

While it will be tempting to use both tracks on the way up so you can chat, be aware of downhill skiers. They have the right of way and you must get out of their way immediately. Sometimes the down track is very slick, and not everyone has the skiing ability to avoid oncoming skiers.

Blueberry 14

This is the ‘view’ for the entire 3 km of the Blueberry Hill trail. The only payoff is at the very end.

I have done this trail so many times, but it feels different each time. Sometimes I fly up it, and sometimes it feels like it will never end. Sometimes it feels more uphill, and other times it feels quite flat. You know you are nearing the end when you come to a series of undulating dips and climbs. Then magically, the picnic table and (hopefully) the view reveals itself.

Blueberry 18

Yeah!!! The picnic table marks the end of Blueberry Hill trail. This photo was taken years ago when my daughters were only 11 years old. Note the big puffy down jackets. We are NOT wimps – it can be seriously cold up here.

Here you get an amazing view of Kananaskis Lakes, and across to Mount Indefatigable.

Blueberry 17

Mount Indefatigable is directly across the land bridge between the two lakes. Rawson Lake and Sarrail Ridge (major avalanche danger) are to the left.

A word about clothing. I’ve been frozen solid up here more times than not. Even though I work up a sweat getting here, it seems to be a cold sink. Always carry warm, dry clothes, especially because it’s more or less downhill from here. If you’re not frozen after eating a snack, you will be by the time you get back to the first picnic table.

Blueberry Hill Return

Retrace your path back down Blueberry Hill.

Blueberry 19

A view of the undulating terrain before you reach the end of the trail. This is looking back down the trail – picnic table is behind us.

Once back at the first picnic table, you can either go Left to retrace your steps back the way you came up, or you can go right and head for Elk Pass. I will cover the Elk Pass route in a separate trip report. For this trip, assume you retrace your steps.

It is all pretty much a gradual downhill from the picnic table, except for the one notable climb near the end (this is the big downhill at the start). I always dread this climb, but once I’m half way up I realize it’s not as bad as it looks.

Blueberry 21

The hills never look as bad in photos as they do in person. Mike the speed demon goes up, skis back down, and up again by the time I reach the top.

Once at the top of the hill, follow the trail around to the left for about 100 m. You are now at the top of the first big hill that takes you all the way back to the parking lot. Depending on how you ski, this can be a really fast descent. I usually put on a toque and bundle up a bit so I stay warm on the way down.

I hope you enjoyed the trip up to Blueberry Hill. It’s definitely a classic winter ski tour in Kananaskis, one that can be done many times over.

If you found this post useful, please do me a huge favour and click the Star button to “Like” it. You can also follow my blog, or join my facebook page Al’s Adventurers.

Alisen

Totals – Tracked on Strava

Date:    February 24, 2020
Group:  Two (Alisen & Mike)
Distance:   15.8 km
Elevation:  367 m (1,213′)
Time:  2 hours 30 minutes, plus 30 minutes for snacks and lunch

Map

The trip to Blueberry Hill makes a big horseshoe. The top of Blueberry hill is a great viewpoint over Kananaskis Lakes.

Profile

While a lot of the trail does not feel very steep, the elevation profile and the quick ski down tells a different story. It is pretty sustained (but enjoyable) elevation gain the whole way.

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Posted in Adventures, Skiing

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