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