Hiking in Erg Mountain Provincial Park:
Have you heard of Erg Mountain Provincial Park? Well neither had I until January 2016 when I first noticed the towering snow capped peak. It stood 40km~ in the distance across the Robson Valley from the field I was in near Penny, BC. As soon as I got home that day I opened up Google Earth and plopped my virtual self in the same spot I was earlier that clear winter morning. I flew my avatar over, and there it was in all its glory. ERG MOUNTAIN. And to my surprise it was a provincial park. “maybe there is a trail” I thought to myself, and I promptly pulled out my local trail guide book. I found what I was looking for. The glorious dotted line on the map that lead from the parking lot to the summit. After first looking at the map, I read the words: ‘bridge out’, ’creek crossable only during low water’, and ‘brushed in trail’. These of course were minor issues. I was going to climb Erg Mountain!
The following summer came and went with Erg always ending up on the back burner. It wouldn’t be until August 2017 that I would finally set foot on the mountain. If you haven’t looked it up already, Erg Mountain Provincial Park is located about 155km east of Prince George and 64km west of McBride on Hwy 16. It is from Prince George where my good hiking, and skiing buddy Ben and I began our trip.
We woke up to winds from the south and all the accompanying smoke from the Cariboo wildfires. Despite warnings to avoid strenuous outdoor activities we decided, “it’s not that bad,” and loaded up. After grabbing coffee, and throwing on the new Arcade Fire album, we headed east. An hour and a half later we turned on to the Ptarmigan Creek FSR where our first challenge awaited. Lucky for us an unknown do-gooder tamed the once steep washouts with heavy machinery. We were able to drive right to the parking area beside Ptarmigan Creek. From here we continued our journey on foot.
Our second obstacle was the Ptarmigan Creek crossing. At one time there was a bridge, but it washed away. Then a footbridge was built, and it washed away. Luckily, the hot-dry summer meant low water and an easy crossing (Don’t forget your water shoes!). We then followed an old brushed in road for 2km~ until we reached the old growth forest that marks the Provincial Park boundary. Shortly after entering the park we began a brutally steep climb straight up the mountain through a Western hemlock forest (shouting ERG helped with this section). Hemlock is a hikers best friend. It deters most underbrush from growing, leaving the forest floor a mossy green carpet. This section of the trail is not easy but it sure is good lookin’. After an hour of steep uphill, we hit the gentler subalpine and were able to catch our breath. 1 km later the trail disappears into an alpine meadow plateau. Once in the meadow, we meandered our way around patches of Subalpine fir towards the summit ridge. We chose to stay silent with the hopes of seeing some Mountain caribou. This also came at the risk of surprising a Grizzly bear. Nothing we couldn’t handle…
From the meadow we trotted up a short mellow slope past the world’s smallest glacier (see it before it’s gone!) and up onto the ridge. All we had left now was a non-technical ridge walk to the summit with endless views of the Cariboo and Rocky mountains. This included Mount Sir Alexander in Kakwa Provincial Park. Unfortunately for us we had to imagine most of those views due to the wildfire smoke.
Finally, we conquered Erg! And as we celebrated beside the 5-foot cairn at the summit we realized that we were not alone. An opportunistic ground squirrel decided that the rock cairn tower would make a pretty sweet pad. The almighty ruler of Erg Mountain chirped at us until we went running back down the mountain with our tails between our legs! We managed to gain back some courage, and found a spot to eat lunch a safe distance away from the true summit. The visibility had improved since the morning and we had a good view of the vineyards (no wine unfortunately, but more good hiking). Two Red tailed hawks danced above us, and one Northern harrier cruised low to the rocks below us looking for a meal. There’s nothing like watching a bird of prey from above.
After scanning all the valleys for large fauna with no luck, we started to make our way down. And given the smokin’ hot day that it was, we made a short side trip to the super warm unnamed lake in the meadow below. A few hesitant but graceful dives later, we were in and out and headed back down the mountain. I was happy to have my trekking poles with me for the steep down section. Back at the vehicle we high fived and headed back to town for celebratory beers. Mission accomplished!
This hike was as much a fun outing as it was a trail condition scouting mission. I had heard the trail was in pretty rough shape when researching it and I was happy to see that nature hasn’t reclaimed it yet. But if some work isn’t done soon it may be lost. There are many logs down on the trail. The road that you hike on into the park is heavily brushed. The subalpine section may be the worst with heavy Rhododendron growth over the trail.
In the future I would like to get a bunch of keen volunteers together and hopefully some funding to build a crossing over Ptarmigan Creek, clear out the brushed sections, mark a route through the alpine, and add new signage/replace the old. If you are interested in volunteering to bring life back to Erg Mountain Provincial Park please contact us.
NOTES ON THE TRIP:
-Trail length 8.8km from the parking lot (3-4hrs one way on the uphill)
-A high clearance 2wd vehicle could make it to the parking area but I would play it safe and bring a 4×4.
-August/September are the best months to go as you may not be able to cross Ptarmigan Creek earlier.
-We had no problems following the trail despite being brushed in a few sections.
-The parks website does not provide much information. Check out Central Interior Trail Guide Vol. 1 by Bob Nelson, Art Carson, and Dave King, or Hiking North Central BC by Rob Bryce for detailed maps and trail info.
– Free 1:20,000 topographic maps of anywhere in BC are available here: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/data/geographic-data-services/topographic-data/topographic-map-viewer
-The Avenza Maps app works great with these topo maps, showing where you are with you phones GPS.