Star Creek Hill And Lookout Butte
On 22 November 2020, Zosia Zgolak and I
hiked up unofficially-named Star Creek Hill located on the outskirts of
Coleman, Alberta. Originally, we had a loftier objective in mind,
but excessive snow at higher elevations prompted us to go with our Plan B
which was inspired by Dave McMurray's excellent 2014
trip report. Incidentally, McMurray acknowledges that the hill
is known locally as "The Saddle" while "Big
Bear/Saddle Mountain" appears to be the name in use by the Crowsnest
Outdoors Society. I personally prefer McMurray's Star Creek Hill
which I think is more unique and also helps identify the hill's location.
Oddly enough, I had the name "Starkiller
Hill" running through my head during this trip, and I can only
imagine how popular this hike would be if this name were ever adopted
given its association with Star Wars lore!
From the intersection with 70 Street in Coleman, head west on 17
Avenue which soon turns south and crosses train tracks. Past the
train tracks, veer right onto 16 Avenue and drive west for 1.7 kilometres
before turning left (south) onto gravel 54 Street. Drive about 200
metres and park in a small pullout just before a steep hill.
High-clearance vehicles can make it up the hill to save a bit of distance
and elevation gain, but in winter conditions, a 4x4 vehicle would likely
be required to do so.
From the pullout, Zosia and I hiked up the steep hill to the end of 54
Street before turning left and descending to Star Creek. Before
crossing the creek, we veered right to follow a trail (there is a sign
with a hiker symbol) heading into the forest. Our initial plan was
to check out nearby Star Creek Falls up close, but without thinking, we
soon crossed a foot bridge and began climbing steadily up the east bank
of Star Creek. Once we realized that we had made a wrong turn, we
were too lazy to turn back and simply kept climbing up the trail, but we
still managed to get a glimpse of the falls from some viewpoints higher
up. Where the trail begins to descend and loop back to the west
bank of Star Creek, we left it to grind uphill to a prominent bump which
McMurray refers to as "the northern tip of the saddle". The
bushwhacking here was generally light, and on this day, we were fortunate
to have little to no snow cover. From the top of the prominent
bump, we went to skier's left to circumvent some cliffs and drop down
into a dip. In doing so, we fortuitously stumbled onto a mountain
biking trail known as Big Bear Down. We easily followed this trail
across the dip and all the way up to the top of Star Creek Hill.
The actual high point of Star Creek Hill is not well-defined, and we
ventured far enough south to make sure that we had tagged all potential
high point candidates before returning to one of the more scenic ones for
a short lunch break.
For our descent, Zosia and I opted to take advantage of Big Bear Down
trail and backtrack to the dip. A few steeper sections were icy on
this day, but we managed to descend them all without a slip. At the
dip, we left the trail and headed down open grassy slopes to the west.
We eventually re-entered forest lower down and simply traversed back to
where we originally left the Star Creek Falls loop trail. As
before, travel through the bush was easy here, and we also found lots of
convenient game trails to follow. Upon regaining the loop trail, we
hiked directly back to our starting point on 54 Street, and the only
challenge we had was getting across Star Creek without detouring to the
Zosia and I both thoroughly enjoyed this gem of a hike which has it
all--good trails, a nice waterfall, easy bushwhacking/route-finding, and
great views throughout (on a clear day). Muchas gracias, Dave!
A clearing along Big Bear Down trail grants this view
of Mount Tecumseh
Mountain (right), and the northern prominent bump of Star Creek Hill
is visible at distant left as Zosia works her way toward the highest
point of Star Creek Hill somewhere to the right.
||Zosia and Sonny huddle on the presumed
high point of Star Creek Hill (1819 metres).
||The view to the southwest includes
Mount Coulthard (far left), Andy Good Peak (left of centre), Mount
McLaren (centre), Mount Parrish (directly behind Mount McLaren), and
Chinook Peak (right).
Mount Tecumseh captures all the attention to the west.
Zosia retraces her steps along the crest of Star Creek Hill.
A sign along Big Bear Down trail warns hikers to be vigilant of mountain
Zosia descends grassy slopes on the west side of Star Creek Hill.
Zosia carefully tests her weight on a sheet of ice while crossing Star
Here is a final look at Crowsnest Mountain from 54
On our drive home, I decided to surprise Zosia with a second
hike--albeit a short one--near Fort Macleod, Alberta. Lookout Butte
is the official name of a grassy hillock just south of Highway 785 about
7 kilometres west of the junction with Highway 2. The hillock is
located on public agricultural land, but as of this writing, there is no
requirement to contact the agricultural leaseholder for permission to set
foot in the area. The crux of this hike was crawling under the
barbed wire fence along the side of the highway. From there, we
enjoyed an easy and gentle climb up to the high point which is marked by
a small ring of rocks. Despite Lookout Butte's low elevation, the
views from its high point are surprisingly sublime. Once we had our
fill of farmland scenery, we walked back to my car and resumed our drive
home to conclude yet another wonderful weekend of adventure.
Total Distance: 8.8 kilometres
Round-Trip Time: 5 hours 5 minutes
Elevation Gain: 699 metres
Lookout Butte is situated on
public agricultural land, but this is a rare instance where
permission is not required from the agricultural leaseholder for recreational