Death's Head (Mesa Butte)
Taking advantage of some nice weather on 31 October 2020, Zosia Zgolak organized a large Halloween-themed group hike to the ridge unofficially known as Death's Head (but officially named Mesa Butte) in Kananaskis Country Public Land Use Zone just west of Millarville, Alberta.  Joining Zosia and me were Andrea Battistel, Andrew Chinnick, Daniel Dufresne, Peter Henostroza, Wendy Kadar (and her dog Ruthie), Shaun Luong, Shelley Milutinovic, Bob Parr, Aga Sokolowska, and Wil Tabak.  While the hike to Death's Head is described in Gillean Daffern's Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, we took most of our inspiration from Bob Spirko's 2018 trip report.  After rendezvousing at North Fork Provincial Recreation Area (located along Highway 549, 17 kilometres west of the junction with Highway 22), we all turned onto Gorge Creek Trail and drove an additional 4.3 kilometres to Spirko's starting point.  Gorge Creek Trail has been permanently closed to vehicular traffic between Ware Creek Provincial Recreation Area and Gorge Creek trailhead since 2005, but this does not directly affect the access to Death's Head.  However, the section of road that is still open was a frozen mud track on this day, and although we had no problems driving it in the morning, some of us were already concerned about conditions later in the day when the mud would likely thaw out.  Parking is somewhat limited at Spirko's starting point, and although there was already a truck there when we arrived, we somehow managed to squeeze in our seven vehicles without blocking the road.

Since Spirko's 2018 trip, Death's Head has been logged extensively, and much of the southern approach has been denuded of trees.  Starting at a locked gate, we initially hiked along a logging road before abandoning it to climb up a scrubby cut block.  Remnants of trails can be found here and there, but the terrain is so open that it is impossible to get lost or go astray.  As such, we had few difficulties climbing over a false summit and reaching the true high point of Death's Head.  As we approached the high point, a couple of hunters were heading in the opposite direction, and they did not hide their displeasure with our group's presence there.  They were hunting for a moose in the area, and the noise from our group had apparently chased off their prey much to their chagrin.  Bob, who was in the lead, had run into them earlier, and they had made it clear that we were not welcomed there.  Personally, I have little tolerance for being bullied on public land and even less so by moose hunters, and I was more than happy to see that most of our group seemed inured to the hunters' negative attitudes.

On the high point of Death's Head, we celebrated Halloween with some amusing trick-or-treating before resuming hiking.  Bob was most concerned about driving out Gorge Creek Trail with his car, and he decided to quickly retrace his steps back the way we came in order to try and beat the thawing of the road (he successfully made it out and subsequently went for a second hike by himself up nearby Square Butte).  The rest of us headed northwest for about a hundred metres to visit a scenic viewpoint before dropping down wooded slopes to the west to intersect North Fork Trail.  Upon gaining the trail, we followed it southward for about a kilometre before turning east to climb up a steep cut line.  Where the cut line crests a ridge, we took another extended break for lunch before crossing a cut block and shallow ravine to regain the same logging road that we had started hiking on at the beginning.  Even as we walked back to our cars, we could tell that the muddy ground had thawed which did not bode well for our drive out.

Back at our cars, we noticed that the truck belonging to the hunters was gone, but they had left us a rather unfriendly note on one of our windshields.  We all had a good laugh and were grateful that the hunters did not shoot holes in all our vehicles!  The scariest part of the day though turned out to be driving out Gorge Creek Trail.  Just as Bob had feared, the frozen mud had thawed which made the mostly downhill drive back to North Fork Provincial Recreation Area dangerously slippery.  Fortunately, we all made it out safely without any incidents, and at the junction with Highway 549, everyone stopped for a final round of jovial socializing before parting ways and heading home.

A big thank you goes out to Zosia for organizing this special Halloween hike which turned into an excellent occasion to reconnect with so many friends.  Although Death's Head itself is a rather forgettable hiking objective, the fabulous weather, the amazing costumes and the great company all made this a most memorable adventure.
This road will be a muddy quagmire later on.

The group starts the hike by walking up a logging road.

Might be a better experience when everything is snow-covered. Most of the ridge has been logged making the hike somewhat unappealing.
Not this one. The group approaches a false summit.
To the hunters: Quit yer belly-aching and grow up! The group approaches the true high point of Death's Head.  They are difficult to discern in the photo, but a couple of disgruntled moose hunters are descending from the high point.  The hunters are visibly unhappy to see such a large group of noisy hikers encroach on their hunting grounds.

The Dirty Dozen?

On the high point (1729 metres) of Death's Head are (L to R) Wil, Bob, Shaun, Zosia, Wendy, Ruthie (Wendy's dog), Andrew, Shelley, Daniel, Aga, Andrea, Sonny, and Peter.


Spicy stuff! For his Halloween trick, Shaun discharges an expired canister of bear spray.
A canine waltz! Wendy dances with Ruthie.
Very cool! Daniel juggles snow balls.
Actually, the view isn't much more different than from here! The group heads for a viewpoint further to the northwest.
Fish head! Peter and Andrea stand beside a pile of rocks at the northwest viewpoint.  The forested hump at right is Mount Barwell.
It's easy to get your Halloween costumes snagged on the branches here! The group descends a wooded slope west of the high point.
This was one of those rare days where there is a Chinook arch but hardly a breath of wind. The group gains North Fork Trail and heads south.
Stiffest climb of the day! The group turns east to hike up a cut line leading back to the start.
Waaaaaahhhhhhhhh! F**king babies! Wendy laughs at a whiny note left behind by the disgruntled moose hunters.  The back of the target card read "NO RESpect.  Thanks for ruining my day.  Waited 8 years for this moment, glad you could blowit [sic]"
Dangerously slick mud! The drive out along muddy Gorge Creek Trail is very challenging on this day.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

This hike was more about reconnecting and socializing with friends than traversing a scrubby little ridge. Total Distance:  4.6 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  4 hours
Net Elevation Gain:  182 metres

GPX Data