By: Laura Keil
As I climbed up the steep, narrow trail of Mica Mountain, I couldn’t help but picture a laden mule just in front of me.
I wondered how it balanced the cart it pulled, the cart full of mica flakes shovelled out from the 30 degree hillside at 7000 feet.
Last weekend, it was August 31st and snowing when we got to the mine. Tiny little pebbles of snow – not quite hail, but close. The fog socked us in, allowing us to forget the slope falling away to our left as we navigated a huge treeless mountainside. It was like being in the highlands of Scotland. Foggy, steep and bare.
Wondrous too, when our footsteps led us to what looked like a pond of glassy rocks. The rocks were nearly flat, like wood chips, but shimmered like hundreds of tiny mirrors dumped on the trail. This is where they loaded the mules.
To our right was the hole where they dug out the mineral. The mica was used for lining wood stoves and insulation when the mine was active early last century. The narrow path leading us upward was restored for hiking in 1992.
From there we scaled the even steeper hillside to the ridge. This is the kind of hillside where it’s dangerous to look down due to vertigo. We used patches of grass and rocks to keep our foothold.
At the top the fog cleared momentarily to reveal a view of the Robson and Canoe Valleys – from Mt. Robson (only
partially visible) all the way to Kindbasket Lake. What a remarkable angle to view where we live.
Someone had constructed a picnic table and roofless shelter out of rock slabs on the ridge. The peak? Still far away, hidden behind sub-peaks and clouds.
The way down was slippery and just as hazardous as climbing up. This was not a great choice for a cold, rainy day, but we were careful and made it down safely. It took about seven hours to complete at a slow but steady pace.
1. Wheelchair accessible: No
2. Best seasons: summer, on a clear day
3. Distance: 4.5km (to mine); 5km (to ridge)
4. Approx. time – to mine: 5 hrs return
5. Approx. time – to ridge: 6 hrs return
6. Elevation gain – mine: 2800ft/ 850m
7. Viewpoints: Several, of Mt. Robson, Tete Creek Valley, the Robson and Canoe Valleys and Kinbasket Lake.
8. Closest bathroom/outhouse: None
9. Cell service? Not comprehensive, but in spots.
10. Gear to bring: Bring 1L water/pp and mosquito spray
11. How to access/where to park: From Valemount, travel north on Hwy 5 to Blackman Rd. Turn left and follow Blackman for 9.7km. Turn left onto Old Tete Jaune Rd. About 2km down, turn left on Sand Creek Forest Road (watch for the sign). Use the forestry km markers to gauge your distance – go approx. 8km down the road (8km marker) and park on the side so cars can continue to pass. The trailhead will be on your right just up the road from the 8km marker.
12. Best Parts: The Mica Mine is of course one of the most unique and amazing parts of this hike, but so is the perspective of the Robson and Canoe Valleys. You can see Mt. Robson and Kinbasket Lake in the same field of view on a clear day.
13. Worst Parts: There are some very steep, rocky sections that are slippery when wet and it’s hard to grip unless you’re wearing good hiking shoes. Hiking poles are recommended for these sections. Be sure to make lots of noise so you don’t surprise any bears and they have time to leave to avoid an encounter. The mosquitoes are bad during the summertime – but nothing a little mosquito spray or net shirt can’t handle!