Ironmask Hills in December

In our area, the snows mantle the hills in early December and we shift from hiking to snowshoeing and cross country skiing.   For the first snowy hikes of the winter, conditions are good for hiking, but when a small melt occurs, icy trails make hiking difficult.   Every few years, we get a warm spell in winter and all the snows melt.   South-facing slopes become soft and muddy.  North-facing slopes retain a bit of snow and melt more slowly.   Open ridges and exposed meadows may clear and dry.   We hiked from Pineview Valley up the slopes of Coal Hill, then traversed the open meadows on double tracks to the Ironmask Hills.

Mild Weather Hike 007 LtrA favorite spot is the old Galaxie Mine site.   Small gauge rail for ore cars lead from the collapsed mine shaft to tailings and spoil overlooking Galaxie Lake.

Mild Weather Hike 012rThere are still a few dilapidated homesteads in the area used by miners, then ranchers.

Mild Weather Hike 014rFrom the top of one of the three Ironmask Hills, view extend north to Mt. Paul, Mt. Peter, Harper Mountain, Mt. Fleet, and Mt. Lolo.

Mild Weather Hike 008 LocaltonerThe best view is northwest to Kamloops Lake and Red Plateau, this time with dramatic  skies overhead.

Mild Weather Hike 019_Localtone brThere is a lot of hiking and biking in the hills available to us over 4 seasons.   A complete access guide to this particular area is now available on (a companion site to this one).




Snowshoeing 102

Snowshoeing areas are found in the hills surrounding Kamloops, but access varies according to the month and snow conditions.

  • In December we usually have to drive to 4000 feet to find enough snow.
  • In January, snowshoe routes start at about 2500 feet, but it is still better at 3000 feet.
  • By February, any north-slope hill or anywhere above 2500 feet can be snowshoed.
  • By March we have to go to higher altitudes or find north-slope routes.

This is always tempered by driving access.   The roads have to be cleared sufficiently and ay clearing has to allow for adequate parking.   That narrows down the possibilities since most backroads get snowed-in.   Many people use User-Pay, Designated Trails.

Sun Peaks Snowshoe Trails

  • Link to map and information
  • the snow is reliable
  • the forested tracks are narrow and well-used
  • after a few days of no new snow, they can become over-stomped (hard)
  • a favorite loop is to go up to the McGillivray Lake warming hut and back
  • $5/dayStake Lake 005r

Stake Lake Snowshoe Trails

  • Link to map and information
  • 13 km of trails ($4/day)
  • nice trails in the forest
  • an extension up to the top of McConnell Hill is a favorite

Larch Hills Snowshoe Trails

  • Link to map and information
  • East of Salmon Arm
  • $5/day

Sovereign Lakes Snowshoe Trails

  • Link to map and information
  • On Silver Star Mountain, above Vernon
  • $10/day

Logan Lake Snowshoe Trails

Skmana Lake Trails

  • Link to more information
  • A nice trail system in the hills north of Chase
  • $5/day

Stony Lake 013rMany snowshoers prefer to explore (free) Snowed-in Tracks in the Hills.   Since we need plowed roads that get to at least 3000 feet, the best routes can be found off these roads:

  • Lac le Jeune Road
  • Sun Peaks Road
  • Lac du Bois Road
  • other backroads when the conditions are right (see below).

These routes require a bit of resourcefulness, some ability to navigate, and some core fitness level, but the routes will offer quiet, forested routes away from the crowds.   Some exploration may be required and all snowshoers should come prepared with some of the Ten Essentials.

Some of these routes are found on this website – Snowshoe Tracks in the Hills.

Bushwacker Snowshoe 007r



The Narrows from the Top Down

The route down The Narrows from the top is a 15.4 mile trek in the Virgin River Canyon to  Zion Canyon.    A backcountry permit is needed to do the route and hikers should expect to take from 8 to 10 hours.   At least half of the hike is wading in the river on slippery rocks.   An early start is needed.   The driving route requires going through the tunnel to the East Zion area, then beyond to the North Fork Road.   This backroad is paved, then gravel, then a narrower, rougher road.   After 18 miles, we turned down to the trailhead.   The first part is just a pleasant walk next to a stream on the Chamberlain Ranch lands.   The stream enters the canyon and the walls rise above on both sides.   Frequent stream crossings mean wet feet for the rest of the day.

zion 2 180rThe first half of the hike is down a narrow canyon, but the volume of water does not grow until several side steams join the Virgin River.   Once Deep Creek and Kolob Creek join the river, we are in the water up to our knees, but there are deeper pools too.   We had to climb over a logjam at one point and scramble down a gully past a waterfall at another point.

zion 2 184rThe fluted and striated walls of the canyon continue for the whole route.   The tops of the cliffs are far above.   There are a number of small campsites above the river along the route from the top down to Big Springs.

zion 2 192rWe did this trek a day before a serious flash flood came down the canyon and killed a hiker.   There is nowhere to escape in the last few miles of the route in dangerous conditions.

zion 2 208rThe last point at which someone could climb to higher ground is at Big Springs.   Fresh water pours out of the sandstone at this point.   From this point on, the trek is in the river for 4.5 miles.

zion 2 215rThe bottom section of this route always many hikers coming from the bottom up.   This is the most famous hike in Zion, if not in the whole State.   Most hikers work their way upstream from the Temple of the Sinawava (end of the road) to the River Walk and into the river, going 1 to 2.5 miles up to about Orderville Canyon and then back.

zion 2 220rWe completed the entire trek in 6.5 hours.   My camera stayed above water (barely).   We had to tread water in some deep pools and the river rocks were slippery and unpredictable.   Water shoes are a good choice and a staff or hiking pole is helpful.   A dry bag for the camera is recommended.   We had hiked up The Narrows from the bottom the year before in mid-October in cold water (melting snows from higher elevations) so we wore rented drysuits that time.   This year our venture was in later September and the water was warm enough to hike in shorts, but we used neoprene socks in our hiking shoes/water shoes.   This was our third time doing the Narrows, but in future we will come down one of the side canyons with canyoneering gear.   Its on our list already.

More information:

Barnes Trails by the Back Gate

The Barnes Lake Trail system was developed by a horse riders group in the Barnhartvale area, but these are fine hiking trails for all seasons.  There are 4 separate trailheads and for this late fall day, we chose to start at the most remote one, the Back Gate.

To find the back gate, take the Scuitto Lake Road for 1.1km and park just past the small wetlands area on the right side.   There are many motorcycle and ATV tracks through the whole area so finding the right one may not be easy.   The gate can be found at N50 36.733 W120 07.159.

Back Gate RouteOnce on the designated trails, there are numbered trail signs at assist, but carrying a map would help.

  • Barnes Lake Trails map (pdf)
  • More information on the Barnes Lake Trails – 2012 article

We hiked for 9.75 km on the trails, enjoying the upper forest and the lower grasslands.

Back Gate Hike 007brTwisted stumps line the trails in the forest and beetle-killed ponderosa pines flank the route in the grasslands.

Back Gate Hike 004r Back Gate Hike 015r

The area is very quiet in late fall or early spring, some of the best times to hike.

East Rim

The East Rim Trail in Zion National Park goes through a more remote area of the park away from the main corridor.   It can be hiked from the East Gate area over the plateau and down into the main corridor (10 miles) or it can be hiked up and back from the start of the Observation Point Trail (9 miles).   We started at the bottom and hiked up to Echo Canyon which was full of water from the previous day’s storms.

zion 2 242rAt about 2 miles, a trail veers off to the right across slickrock benches, following the north side of Echo Canyon.   This middle section of the trail is the best section for scenery and hiking.

zion 2 246brBlue skies and streaky clouds were the backdrop to the orange and white sandstone at this elevation.

zion 2 253rThe trail crosses Echo Canyon at a shallow spot, then follows the canyon on the east side up to the plateau.   We could see the route we had come as we worked our way to the top.

zion 2 247rWe enjoyed all the views, but once we crested the plateau, we were in dry forest and grasslands.   Junctions led off to the East Gate Trail, to Cable Mountain and to Deertrap Mountain, but we chose to have lunch and turn around, winding back down to the slickrock canyons below.

zion 2 255rWe enjoyed this hike, but Observation Point and the West Rim Trail are better hikes yet.   We will come onto the plateau from the East Gate next time and continue on to Cable and Deertrap Mountains.