Grande Cache - Mt. Hamel

3:12 p.m. on May 31, 2012 (EDT)
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Eight of us went to Grande Cache a year ago to do a couple of mountains.

Our first hike was Mt. Hamel. I wasn't sure how strong my group was, so instead of doing the more difficult NE Ridge, we drove up to the Beaver Dam trailhead, which shaves off a couple of hundred meters. The trip is about 9 km each way, and includes about 1100 meters of elevation gain.

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From the trailhead, it is first necessary to slog through a kilometre or so of clearcut. Mountain pine beetle has swept through the area, and there are huge patches of red in t
he forests. 

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Grande Cache is home to both logging and a coal-fired power plant, and the strip-mined mountain tops are visible all around.  255508.jpg

Once past the clearcut, the trail traverses across the base of the mountain, then joins a second trail that comes up right off the highway. From there on, it's a grind - a series of switchbacks, each steeper and rockier than the last.

The Hamel trail is Leg #4 of the Death Race, and I pity the contestants this year. Quads also use the trail, and where the switchbacks traverse across the mountain face, all the soil has been washed down the quad tracks, leaving 1-2 foot deep twisting ruts strewn with boulders. I was on the same trail last year, and while there was some pretty nasty damage, the extra erosion in just one year is extreme.

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What used to be one nasty stretch now covers most of the upper half of the trail. Footing is treacherous and unpleasant, and we cursed the quads every step of the way. Within a year or two, I suspect the Death Race organizers will have to pick a new route - Hamel is already a nasty climb for hikers, let alone a runner! Soon, the only viable route will be the more difficult NE Ridge. We eyed it enviously through the trees, and if I go back again, I will go that way instead.

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It's an annoying, slippery grind, but eventually you break free of the treeline and the summit rises above you. In spite of the eroded sections, the hike still has some decent views.


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Because of the elevation and distance, there were a few opportunities when we stopped to catch our breath to look around.

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There a few long, steep switchbacks across the scree, and the last leg climbs up behind the ridge to reach the firewatch station on top.

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We noticed the wind rising as we ascended, but when we reached to summit, it was running at around 100 km! It was possible to reach the cairn box by sneaking up in the lee of the ridge, then rushing forward to grab onto the post. Kind of fun. A cutting wind, but great views and a decent hike.

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We stopped for a snack and rest, then came down the same way and returned to the cars. A few sore knees from the descents, and a few slowpokes, but the group turned out to be a pretty good one. 255541.jpg 

September 16, 2014
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