Mount Sparrowhawk

September 6, 2021

Ever feel sad or melancholy? I rarely do. When it does happen, the only thing that can cheer me up is a solo trip to the mountains. I find that the slow methodical plodding up a mountain gives me the peace and time to think about what’s troubling me. Then the pure majesty of the mountains works its magic, and I feel better. Except for this time…

I have twin daughters. What’s great about twins is that they are built-in playmates, and each other’s best friends. With two kids but only one pregnancy, I could take them both into the mountains at a younger age, knowing they’d be at the same pace and endurance levels. Only one dance class, one soccer practice, one P/T Interview… You get the idea. The downside? They both left for university at the same time. I thought I was ready for them to spread their wings, but I wasn’t.

I thought the best way to feel better was to climb Mount Sparrowhawk, which was my daughter’s first summit when they were 8 years old. This would be a ‘coming home’ moment, and I’d feel better afterwards. While I had a gorgeous climb and clear skies, I still felt pretty crappy after. I guess I needed more time.

Gear

Sturdy hiking boots, poles, and your regular day pack kit.

Overview

From the Sparrowhawk Day Use area, cross the Smith-Dorian Highway and start up the trail on the other side. At the intersection with the High Rockies Trail, keep going up, while the other trail traverses across. Continue up through the forest, all the way to a wide ridge. From there, I descended into a small cirque below Read’s Tower. Climb up the steep headwall to the pass between Mount Sparrowhawk and Read’s Tower. The scree now turns big and chunky. Follow a trail, or find your own way. The trail goes up and around to the south side of the mountain. From the weather station shack, climb straight up for the final push to the summit. There are lots of steps, but they are nicely covered in ball-bearing pebbles. Return the way you came.

Parking and Trail Head

Park at the Sparrowhawk Day Use area, which is not much more than a small parking lot and pit toilets.

The sign for the Sparrowhawk Day Use area, when driving from the south side, heading north, on the Smith Dorian highway. Entrance is on the left.

I was the only car at 7:30 am on a quiet Monday in September, but the lot was fully subscribed by the time I returned. I’d hate to see it on the weekends.

This is the small Sparrowhawk Day Use area. The pit toilets are behind me. Beside the truck/camper on the right is the trail down to Spray Lakes.

At the big information sign, continue past to the trail. The trail marker only says “High Rockies Trail.” From here, walk up the short embankment to the highway.

Cross the Smith-Dorian highway, and ascend the obvious trail on the other side.

This trail is impossible to miss. It’s a very popular starting point, because it also leads to Sparrowhawk Tarns, Read’s Tower, and is an access point for the High Rockies Trail.

Main Trail

Once on the main trail, it’s an enjoyable couple of switchbacks. Keep to the main trail, and avoid the temptation to take side cuts. Our trails are bad enough.

Some trail braiding, and efforts to stop it. Please keep to the main trails at all times.

After about 1 km is the intersection with the High Rockies Trail and is marked by a couple of lovely benches. Go straight up here. The High Rockies trail goes north-south and follows the Smith Dorian Trail. This is a lovely mountain bike, hike or winter snowshoe route, BUT there is some avalanche danger so be aware.

The High Rockies trail comes in from the north, and continues to traverse along to the south (right). The Sparrowhawk Trail continues straight up to the east.

At about 1.5 km is another intersection. It’s marked by a large log, a cairn, and some flagging. Turn left here. Continuing straight will lead to the Sparrowhawk Tarns and Mount Bogart above that.

The main trail goes straight. The trail to Mt. Sparrowhawk and Read’s Tower turns LEFT here. With all the markings, it’s still possible to walk right on past (ah hem, speaking from experience a VERY LONG time ago 🙂 Staying straight leads to the Sparrowhawk Tarns and the route up Mt. Bogart.

After about another 500 m is a ‘choice’. The regular route continues straight up (I took this route on the way down). I elected to go left, and I was glad I did. Instead of a miserable crawl up a destroyed trail, I instead found a light trail in the forest. Not only was this in the shade, but it had lots of traction. The trail does fade, but thanks to situational awareness, it was no big deal.

The faint trail to the left takes the path less well travelled. Going straight will keep you on the straight and narrow. I have photos of it on the return trip.
The forest route. It’s cool and beautiful, but you have to know where you are going and where you want to end up.

The side trail pops out at an outcrop. There was a bit of hands on rock, which was a nice interlude from all the hiking.

Looking up at the outcrop. Again, no trail. Just knowing where I wanted to be.
A view of the short hands on rock section, with a great view of Mt Nestor across the lake.

Above the outcrop, the side trail connected back up with the main trail.

The side trail connects with the main trail, which you can see as a deep groove heading straight down. Looking across at Buller Mountain.

Right above where the two trails converge is a small rock band. It’s easy to follow it across and get off course, so look for the large cairn. This will draw you onto the correct trail and into the forest on the left. Basically, when in doubt, go straight up 🙂

The sun is just starting to peak out above Read’s Tower. This means the trail is in shade for a lovely cool hike up to this point. What’s not showing is the wind. It was cooler than I was expecting.

If you don’t already do this, start now. Every so often, turn around and look back at the trail, especially at junctions. Where the trail in the forest ends, there are two trails. One is blocked off. Take note of which one you came up.

A section of braided trail. As I was on route, I came up the first trail. However, after a long day, it’s easy to get disorientated, so looking back and taking note of important junctions is key to getting home safely, and timely. Last time I was here, two young guys followed us up. On the way down, they missed this junction, got separated, and had a frantic two hours looking for each other. It all ended well, but I felt for them all the same.

As I neared the tree line, I was now on a wide ridge.

Mount Sparrowhawk is finally in view. It’s on the left with the deep fissure on the left side. Read’s Tower is the flat top straight ahead. This is the ONLY time the trail backs off a bit, so enjoy this short section of relief from the elevation gain.

Going straight leads to the base of Read’s Tower. To access Mt. Sparrowhawk, I had to drop down into a small cirque.

Looking down into the meadow at the base of Read’s Tower. The route bends around to the right of the Tower. Yes, it does kinda suck to lose elevation just to regain it, but the meadow is lovely and makes up for it.

Look at all those Larches! You can find these beautiful trees just about anywhere. Check out this link to see where the most popular spots are, but also how to find other beautiful fall foliage.
There is a cairn making an ideal spot to descend down into the meadow below. This photo was taken on the way back, as I missed this trail on the way in. No biggie – all roads lead to the meadow, but this was a nice trail and well worth taking.

This is when the melancholy really started to set in. I have fond memories of hanging out with my kids in this lovely meadow. It’s amazing how fast they grow up. On top of that, when I was here 11 years ago, there was a monument to a fallen climber and dad. A lovely friend had just lost her dad, and I’d recently lost my father-in-law, so passing the site of the memorial was also tough. Ann – anytime you’re ready, we can visit this beautiful meadow.

A cuddle with my lovely daughters after summiting Mt. Sparrowhawk. At eight years old, this was their first summit, but had years of hiking and backpacking experience prior to this.
I don’t know who put those two little rocks here, but seeing this really brought home that my girls were gone, and I was alone.
The day before I hiked this, I was emailing with a friend who had just lost her father, and was travelling back home for the funeral. This hike was doubly poignant as I was thinking about my friend, and the loss of my father-in-law Franz earlier this year.

From the meadow, I hiked over to the base of the headwall between Mt. Sparrowhawk and Read’s Tower. The headwall is surprisingly steep. It’s also longer than it seems, as the top lays back out of sight. When water is flowing, stay to the scree trail on the right. As I was here in September, the rock in the middle was dry. I elected to scramble up the steep rocks and forgo the grinding scree. From looking at the time stamps on my photos, it took me a solid 30 minutes to hike up this section!

As I was all alone, when I heard some falling rock, I took the time to stop and listen. I was rewarded by seeing a family of Rocky Mountain Sheep traversing above me.

Sorry about the bad zoom. I got a new camera, so will hopefully be able to get better shots in the future. Still, it’s pretty special to run into a family of Rocky Mountain Sheep this close.

At the top of the headwall is a large cairn. I stopped here for a snack and a water break. I had been hiking for a solid two hours at this point, and travelled just shy of 4 km. Elapsed elevation gain is 880m, but it’s a bit more due to the elevation loss down into the meadow.

Popping out on the other side of the headwall feels like a completely different trip. After a short stop for food and water, I started up the scree trail directly behind the cairn. Despite being over half way there, Mt. Sparrowhawk still looks a long ways away.

One of the best features of the Sparrowhawk scree is the abundance of fossils. While they are not everywhere, finding a vein of them is so much fun. Please do not take them home. Instead do what this kind person did – make a nice pile for others to see.

A geologist friend says that the Sparrowhawk area is an ancient reef environment from the Devonian age. The fossils are likely Amphipora-Stromatoporoids, colonies of sponges, or possibly Tabulate coral-Syringopora.

The scree section is an exercise in dedication. While it’s straight-forward enough navigation, working my way through the rivers of scree trails kept my mind otherwise occupied. Basically, I made my way up and over to the right, angling for the low point between Sparrowhawk and the lower flank of Mt. Bogart. But not too low, as I’m not one to give up an inch of elevation once I’ve gained it.

Angling to the right to connect with the cairn in the distance. The weather station on top of Sparrowhawk is visible here.
Looking back down from the other side of the cairn. Well above Read’s Tower.

It’s hard to tell from the photo below, but at this point I started to hike directly towards the face of Mt. Sparrowhawk, to intersect with a low shelf. There is a large cairn, and then a short walk along the top of a small moraine. From there, it’s a straight shot across the base of the Mt. Sparrowhawk face.

While it’s hard to see here, the scree trail does lead up towards the shelf.
This is the cairn that marks the spot. In a few short steps, I popped out on top of the small moraine, and could see the path that leads across to the small weather hut.
On top of the small moraine. From here, it’s a straight shot across. After this, it’s the final push to the summit.

Once I arrived at the foot of the Mt. Sparrowhawk summit block, I needed to take stock. I was still all alone, and the wind was freezing. It was the first cold day after a very hot summer, and I was feeling the chill. I always keep a package of hand warmers in my pack, but it must have been tossed in the 30 plus degree temperatures over the summer. My hands were cold, and I idly wondered if my fingers would work if I had to use the InReach for any reason…

Above the weather station shack. I stayed high, and didn’t go down to the hut.

On the final push to the summit. The trail is more or less straight up, on downward sloping steps, covered with small ball-bearing scree. Just enough to make footing a little unsure.

Looking up at the route to the final push up the summit block. The trail goes up, and then around to the right.
A representative sample of the steps on the summit block.
My daughters, just below the summit. I think the trail was more to the right back then, and avoided the steps, but made for a grinding scree section.

Be sure to turn around on this section and check out the impossibly gorgeous view down the backside.

This was the only time my kids got a little uncertain. They could see the long drop below, but didn’t have the experience to know they weren’t going anywhere. Plus, the scree was difficult on their little legs. It was one step up, and two sliding steps back. Their dad put a hand on their bums to keep them going up.

With no preamble, the summit just pops into view. Two steps up, and viola! I was there.

The summit cairn on Mount Sparrowhawk. The summit is a flat top, and I just walked up to it, like stairs leading to a landing.
Summit – then and now. Yup – cold both times 🙂 The old summit register is just to the left side of the cairn.

Instead of the usual summit elation, I again was sad. No kids – or anyone! – to share the summit. I took some photos, poked around at the various bits that made up the summit register, and then started to make my way back down.

Time to summit was 3 hours 30 minutes. Distance was 5.19 km, and elapsed elevation gain is 1,401m. One of the reasons I really like Mt. Sparrowhawk is that it’s one of the few mountains in K Country that is over 3,000m, sitting at a respectable 3,121m. The elevation gain is also a big draw at over 1,400m. Even big mountains like Eiffel Peak and Mist Mountain have less elevation gain.

This panoramic shows views of both the Smith-Dorian and highway 40. Pretty cool to be able to see both valleys from one mountain.
I sat to get out of the wind, bundled up, and had a very quick snack before heading back down.
The view to the south. Read’s Tower is a long ways away.
View to the north. Little Lougheed is the next bump (similar to Read’s Tower) and beyond is Windtower.
View to the East. The pointy one is Wind Mountain, with Lougheed 3 beside it. Behind is Mt Allen. From here, you can see all the way to the foothills.
The summit ‘register’ is now a collection of plastic containers. My first time here, there was a proper register in the typical black tube. Not sure where that ended up.

Mount Sparrowhawk Return

To descend the summit block, instead of taking the down-sloping steps, I went skiers left and went down the scree to the side. Not only did this save me some time, but it also put me out of the way of the couple of other people that were making their way up. If at all possible, try not to kick rocks down onto others. The best way to do that is to avoid each other’s lines of ascent/descent.

Once off this scree section, I had another short break at the cairn above the headwall. I stripped off my extra clothing as I was now out of the wind and the day had warmed up nicely. To descend the headwall, I kept to the scree on the left, and churned my way down.

The meadow was even nicer in the early afternoon with the sun shining. From this view, it’s easy to see the trail leading back up to the short ridge.

The larch trees were just starting to think about changing colour in early September, but I had lots of red and orange grasses and bushes to admire.
Admiring Spray Lakes from the top of the low ridge. I’d be in the trees for the remainder of the hike down, so I got my fill of views here.
Like Mother, like Daughters 🙂 I didn’t realize my kids had stopped for the exact same view as I did until I looked back through my photos today.

I elected to go back down on the main trail. Holy hanna! What used to be a small, tight trail through the trees is now a super wide, washed out, and majorly slippery baked mud mess. THIS is why you don’t hike in the shoulder season, or when the trails are super wet and muddy. All the vegetation gets washed/skidded away.

I can barely recognize this trail from when I originally hiked up here. It’s amazing that a trail that’s been used for several decades got destroyed in only the last five years. If you don’t know about the problems with hiking in the shoulder season, please read this article.

Once back to the car, the parking lot was now full, with more people circling to try and squeeze in. I changed out of my boots, and hiked down to Spray Lake for a well earned wash and foot soak. There is nothing better than rinsing off the scree dust and sweat, and literally cooling my heels, before climbing back into my car for a long drive home.

In the Dopf Family, we call this “The Cure”. While cold at the time, there is nothing better than a cold foot soak and a splash of water in the face after a long day in the mountains.

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 Gaia, displayed on Strava

Date: September 6, 2021
Group:  Solo
Distance: 11.2  km
Elevation:  1,417 m (4,676′)
Time:  6 hours 30 minutes (includes lunch & breaks)

As I mention in the description, when in doubt, just head straight up.
All 4,000′ of elevation is gained in one steady push to the summit. Not for the weak of heart.
Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Adventures, Scrambling
21 comments on “Mount Sparrowhawk
  1. The views of Spray Lakes from the summit are amazing! I also enjoyed the before and after photos of your hikes up this mountain. What lovely memories!

  2. Hi. Some day in the near or pretty near future, when your daughters are home on school break, maybe you’ll take this hike with them once again. Take care. See ya.

  3. Lovely. Made me sad.

  4. What a trip down (and up) memory lane (or rather Mount Sparrowhawk). I imagine this hike would bring back memories of your daughters, which is both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.

  5. Amazing location Alisen!

    Also, the ridge line that starts from the weather station shack looks very appealing too.
    But i guess, Spray Lakes might be the highlight of this hike.

    • alisendopf says:

      As a climber, I bet you’d love that ridge to Mt. Bogart! It’s limestone, so not sure how the holds are. I guess you’ll have to come over and give it a go 🙂

      • I generally like ridge lines and here in Greece we mostly have limestone, so this type of climb would be familiar to me.

        Let’s hope the traveling restrictions will end soon some can travel again freely and be able to visit other countries, like once upon a time.

  6. cindy knoke says:

    How wonderful. I love your little hikers!!

    • alisendopf says:

      Awwww, thanks. I look back and see them doing a major summit in a skirt 🙂 Too funny, but that’s what they liked to wear. Anything to keep them smiling, right?

  7. Wow! So much embedded in this hike…the past, the present, and the faith – very nice!

    • alisendopf says:

      Thank you. Sometimes a hike is just a hike, and sometimes it’s so much more. The mountains have the power to heal, and I’ve seen them work their magic more than once.

  8. AKwafrigeria says:

    Love the image 💚, great post

  9. Such a great place to hike ..and those kids look happy.

    • alisendopf says:

      Heck yeah! They LOVE the mountains. We took them because later that month we were going to spend several weeks in Austria climbing mountains. I had to know ‘for sure’ they were strong enough to climb over 10,000′ (3,000m). The Austrian trip was a success. They climbed the first peak my father-in-law (who is from Austria) ever climbed. The age difference on the trip was 8 to 78.

  10. Craig White says:

    Awesome 😇🙏💙

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