Mount McNab

February 2, 2021

I have been saving Mount McNab for the winter doldrums – not enough snow to ski, yet cold enough for the Sheep River to freeze over. I got my chance in early February. It hadn’t snowed since late December, and with never-ending chinooks, the snow pack was all but gone. The only skiing was over two hours away in Peter Lougheed or near Lake Louise. Not wanting another big drive, today was ideal for Mount McNabb

Mount McNab is located near the (surprise! surprise!) Sandy McNabb campground in the Sheep River Provincial Park in southern Kananaskis Country. We used to come here a lot when our kids were little, but have recently returned to start exploring the area anew. Other fun hikes in the Sheep River park are Mt. Hoffman, Little Ware, and Missing Link.

For some reason, Mount McNab is spelled with only one ‘b’ while the Sandy McNabb campground has two. I have tried to get some information on Sandy McNabb, but all I can find is a Scottish footballer. If you know the history of Mr. McNabb, please leave a comment below.

Gear

While there wasn’t much snow, I still wore gators and micro spikes, in addition to my poles and regular day pack kit.

If you hike Mount McNab in the summer, consider bringing river crossing shoes and some sturdy poles.

Overview

From the lowest day use area at the Sandy McNabb campground, walk towards the Sheep River. Cross the river and start ascending the lower slopes. There are three small hills, the third being the summit. At the top of each hill, turn right to keep going towards the final Mount McNab summit. Return the way you came.

Parking and Trail Head

From Highway 546, drive to the winter gates and turn left into the Sandy McNabb campground. Follow the road to the bottom of the hill, and park in the lowest Day Use Area parking lot.

The day use area at Sandy McNabb campground.

From the parking lot, head south west towards the Sheep River. Descend the embankment to the lower road, which is now closed since the 2013 flood washed it away. From the lower road, keep going down to the Sheep River and find a good crossing point. We waited until February to ensure the ice would be frozen, but we still found an open patch. On our return, the ice was visibly melting.

From the parking lot, head south west towards the Sheep River. That mound in the background is the first McNab hill.
Heading down the hill towards the lower road. This was once open, but the 2013 floods took out a big chunk of the road. It will likely never get repaired. The lower day use area was completely destroyed by gravel.
Once across the lower road, continue down the embankment to the Sheep River. The lower slope of Mount McNab is directly ahead.
Assessing the ice on the Sheep River. Fox Creek is spilling into the Sheep directly across from us. Be aware that river ice is thinnest at inlets and outflows. It is also thin downstream of land features, like islands in the river.

When crossing in the summer, avoid the spring / early summer run off. High water can be found all through June as the snow from the upper mountains starts melting. Crossing in late August, September and October should see the lowest water levels UNLESS it’s been raining heavily. Remember that the water is lowest in the morning, and rises throughout the day.

Cross the Sheep River just to the right of Fox Creek.

Main Trail

Once we crossed the Sheep River, we hiked up the embankment to a flat open area. We turned left, while the Sheep River trail went straight, paralleling the river.

We turned left to make our way up Mount McNab. Going straight parallels the Sheep River.

At the top of a knoll we found a wooden cross poking out of the snow. Does anyone have any history on this cross? If so, please leave a comment below.

This cross could mark a favourite pet, or it could have a bigger significance. If you know anything about this marker, please let me know in the comments below.

Back down the other side of the knoll, there is a short stroll through a meadow, to the base of Mount McNab. From here, we began hiking up.

We could tell from the snow that this is where we lost 90% of the hikers. From here, we continued up until we hit the ridge.

We stayed on the ridge above Fox Creek. The first slope has significant erosion, probably helped by the 2013 flood. This is about 1 km from the trail head.

The ridge above Fox Creek is badly eroded, but impressive to view.
Looking back from the ridge,

At the barbed wire fence. we elected to leave the ridgeline, and follow the fence. On the way back, we ended up following the ridge. Both ways are good.

Leaving the ridge and heading towards the top of the first major hill.

The summit of Mount McNab is basically the third of three hills once you leave the Fox Creek ridgeline. I’m sure there is a good summer trail, but as I look back at my photos, it’s just one big forest walk. We relied on situational awareness and dead reckoning to keep going in the right direction.

At the top of the first hill, we turned right to follow the land contours to the dip between the first and second hills.

At the top of the first hill, looking across at the second hill, which we incorrectly assumed was the summit. There is a third hill to come.

The ascent to the second hill saw the most elevation gain. At the top of this feature (about 2.4 km from the trail head), there was a ridgeline that we followed to the right.

At the pile of dead trees, we turned right to follow the ridgeline for a little ways.
Following the ridgeline to the right, making our way towards the final summit.

Again, we dipped down to the low point, before the final up hill to the true summit of Mount McNab.

Mike descending a little ways, before again hiking up the other side to the final hill in the distance.
I have to say, this final section was a lovely forest walk. We had left the poplars, and were now surrounded by lovely old spruce trees.
We again had to follow a ridgeline to the right. Here we found some lush pine trees.
We got one break in the trees before reaching the summit, which did provide a bit of a view.

Apparently, you do not hike Mount McNab for its amazing views. We were surrounded by trees on all sides. If we had continued in the same direction, there is another West Peak. I later heard that the views were better from there. Oh well.

Distance to the summit of Mount McNab is 3 km. Elevation gain is 214 m (706′) from the Sheep River.

This is the summit of Mount McNab. It is a small round area surrounded by spruce and pine trees.
The summit cairn that someone used to make a bench. We sat here and ate our lunch. It was very civilized.
There are some views to be had from here. If we had continued west to the next McNab hill, we would have found better views. Personally, if you want great views of the mountains, then go to Mount Hoffman.

Mount McNab Return

We returned the way we came.

We did take one small detour that did not pan out. We thought we could avoid the final knoll (with the cross on top) just before the Sheep River. We walked over to Fox Creek, which had stunningly beautiful blue ice. We wanted to walk down Fox Creek to the Sheep River, but the ice was way too soft and wet. Oh well. We trudged back the way we came, and went up and over the little knoll.

On a colder day we could have walked back via Fox Creek, but on this very warm day we would have to admire it from afar.

When crossing the Sheep River on the return trip, we had to re-assess the ice. It had warmed up considerably since we started, and the ice was showing signs of melting, especially near the shore. Despite a thin layer of water on top, the ice held.

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, follow me on Instagram, or join my FaceBook page Al’s Adventurers.

Alisen

Totals – Tracked on Strava

Date: February 2, 2021
Group:  Two (Alisen and Mike)
Distance:  6.24  km
Elevation:  266 m (878′)
Time:  3 hours (includes lunch & breaks)

Mount McNab is best saved for a ho-hum kinda day. It is a pleasant enough hike with interesting scenery along the way, but not much for summit views at the top.
With only 266 m of elevation gain, Mount McNab is an easily attainable summit in the Sheep River area.
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Posted in Adventures, Hiking
20 comments on “Mount McNab
  1. Great post Alisen!

    the photo (last one) by the Fox Creek, looks stunning!

  2. Thank you for sharing your adventures! The photos are very beautiful. I agree that the frozen Fox Creek photo is my favorite.

  3. Love to return to Alberta..such a great mountain area to hike.

  4. moragnoffke says:

    I love reading your descriptions, I feel like I was coming along and the photos are just so amazing… So beautiful, thank you.

    • alisendopf says:

      Wow – thank you. That is so kind of you to say. I am glad you felt like you were there. I hope to inspire people to do their own adventures, whatever that might be.

  5. This looks like a lovely area to go for a hike in the winter. I have no idea how you managed to navigate that trail though. I have such a terrible sense of direction and rely heavily on trail markers or blazes.

    • alisendopf says:

      Oh, I hear ya. I do a lot of backcountry skiing, where there is zero trail, so you just get good at situational awareness and general reckoning. I bet with all your hiking that you are actually better than you think – it’s amazing how much you pick up.

  6. An absolutely stunning location and a fabulous read. Thankyou. Xx

  7. Eternity says:

    Thanks for your like of my post, “Road To Tribulation 9” I appreciate your kindness.

  8. Woww thank you for sharing this
    This too beautiful…the images looks dope

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