Rounding out our second visit to Grand Cache, Alberta, Zosia Zgolak and I ascended nearby Mount Stearn on 3 July 2021.  Like many other peaks in the area, a good trail runs most of the way up the mountain and is described in the local hiking brochure.

From the intersection with Hoppe Avenue in Grande Cache, drive west on Highway 40 for 6.4 kilometres and turn left onto Sulphur Gates Road (2WD gravel).  Drive 3.6 kilometres to reach the signed trailhead.  Park on the side of the road here or in a grassy parking lot about 140 metres further down the road.

Climbing steeply away from the road, Zosia and I quickly settled into a long and steady ascent through mostly viewless forest for the first five kilometres or so.  The trail is generally well-maintained, but besides occasional boggy sections, some parts feel a bit claustrophobic with encroaching vegetation.  Thankfully, much of the moisture from a massive thunderstorm two nights earlier had dried out sparing us from getting wet.  Just when I was starting to grow tired of the somewhat monotonous trail, we finally broke out of the trees into subalpine meadows with a campsite nearby.  We continued to follow the trail through a wide pass to a T-junction which was a boggy mess on this day.  Following flagging to the left (right heads to Lightning Ridge), we turned uphill and soon cleared the flooded area.  The trail temporarily disappears in a vast meadow higher up, but we just kept heading uphill until we spotted the trail again at the base of a grassy step.  We took a short break here before climbing up the grassy step to reach the final ridge leading to the summit.  A gentleman named Aaron and his dog, Bella, caught up to us here, and together, we hiked the remainder of the ridge.  A short rock band with mild exposure guards the summit, but we did not have any issues getting through this minor obstacle.  Enjoying comfortable conditions, we all took an extended break on the summit, and Aaron even entertained Zosia and me by flying a drone that he had brought with him.

When Zosia and I were ready to leave the summit, Aaron decided that he and Bella would join us for the descent.  We carefully descended the summit rock band before hiking back along the ridge to the grassy step.  When we reached the vast meadow below the grassy step, we veered off to the east to tag a subsidiary high point before following its broad ridge northward.  By doing this, we avoided the boggy junction and enjoyed far-reaching views for much longer.  At the north end of the ridge, we down-climbed some short cliffs before regaining the main trail near the campsite.  The cliffs were a bit problematic for Bella, but with some assistance from Aaron, she managed to get down without a single whimper.  Zosia subsequently set a good pace as we marched back to the trailhead uneventfully.  At the end, we thanked Aaron and Bella for their great company before parting ways.

For Zosia and me, Mount Stearn was our sixth and last "Bronze" peak from the Passport to the Peaks program, and in my opinion, I think it is the best of the bunch largely because of the wonderful final approach and the amazing summit views.  I can hardly wait to return and get started on the "Silver" and "Gold" peaks!
Just ignore the bear warning!

Zosia starts hiking from the signed trailhead.

A good time for meditation or socializing! The first five kilometres of trail offer little in the way of views.
Not only possible but perhaps even preferable!

The trail eventually breaks out of the forest into subalpine meadows.  The trail continues through the pass at right, but it is possible to leave the trail here and ascend the ridge at left.

Possible swamp ahead, so it may be better to head left up the ridge now! The trail continues through a wide pass to a T-junction ahead.  The route to Mount Stearn climbs up the ridge at left.
Did you get your feet wet? After turning left at the boggy T-junction, Zosia finds drier ground further uphill.
Watch out for a few hidden boggy spots! The trail disappears temporarily in this vast meadow, but travel is easy.
We're not at the summit block yet! Zosia picks up the trail again at the bottom of a grassy step.
Happy flowers! Pink mountain heather brighten up the landscape.

A beautiful final approach!

The summit of Mount Stearn is finally in sight.


Can you spot Bella and Aaron in the background? The final ridge before the summit is quite broad and a pleasure to hike.
This is Bella's first mountain ascent! As she approaches the summit block, Zosia is followed by a dog, Bella, and her owner, Aaron.
An opportunity for some hands-on scrambling if you don't want to take the hikers' trail. A short rock band guards the summit block.
Everybody wave at the drone! Bella watches as Aaron flies a drone at the summit.
Our last "Bronze" summit! Zosia and Sonny stand beside the Passport to the Peaks mailbox on the summit of Mount Stearn (2020 metres).
Mount Mawdsley is a "Silver" summit (more difficult to access). Mount Mawdsley (left of centre) and Smoky River are visible to the southeast.

Another "Silver" summit which likely will require a bivy to traverse.

The western horizon is dominated by Lightning Ridge.


I love this town! The town of Grande Cache can be seen to the east.  Also visible are Victor Lake (right), Grande Cache Lake (largest), and Peavine Lake (beyond Grande Cache Lake).
Enjoying the great ridge walk for a second time! Aaron, Zosia and Bella hike back along the ridge.  Mount Hamell (left) and Grande Mountain (right) are visible in the distance.

Adios, Mount Stearn!

Here is a look back at Mount Stearn's summit (left) from a subsidiary high point.


Much better than going back via the T-junction! Zosia hikes the broad ridge north of the subsidiary high point.  At right is Ambler Mountain.
Last bit of fun before the long, boring march out... Zosia carefully descends a short cliff near the north end of the ridge.  The main trail can be seen at far left.
The best of the "Bronze" summits! Total Distance:  16.0 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  7 hours 56 minutes
Cumulative Elevation Gain:  1099 metres

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