The Hawkins Horseshoe Traverse in Waterton Lakes National Park covers over 20kms and involves approximately 7000’ in elevation gain. It also bags three objectives in Kane’s infamous scramble guide book for the Canadian Rockies (Mts. Blakiston, Lineham and Hawkins). This later fact makes the Hawkins Horseshoe a valuable day out for avid peak baggers. Once you have scaled Mount Blakiston’s scree ridden south face, the rest of the traverse becomes little more than a hike. The views of the glaciated peaks located in Glacier National Park in Montana combined with an eagle’s eye perspective of the multiple Lineham lakes (two of which form the shape of human lungs) which lie in the horseshoe itself, make this one of the more scenic scrambles in all of the Canadian Rockies. These lakes create a grand waterfall that I have climbed in the winter by the name of Experts Choice, WI 6. I have climbed so much variety in the Canadian Rockies the past two decades that it surprised me as though a light bulb went off, whilst gaining Blakiston’s slopes, that in fact I was staring at a waterfall I had climbed.
Wildlife is always a treat in Waterton Lakes National Park. With less places for wildlife to hide, you are more likely to see a grizzly bear in this small park than any other specific location in the Canadian Rockies. On this two day stint to tackle the Hawkins Horseshoe and later Mount Galwey, our group spotted two grizzlies, one black bear, a close encounter with a mountain lion and one wolf. The alpine flora on the slopes of Waterton peaks in July is also unmatched in the Rockies.
Drive 9.4kms to Lineham Falls trailhead. If you have bikes, drop those off another one kilometer plus up the road at Rowe Lake trailhead for the downhill return. I took my wife on this scramble who is more of a hiker than scrambler, so any times noted below are not your typical mark if you are accustom to using my beta in the Canadian Rockies. We did complete the traverse with ample breaks at just over 9 hours and Kane has the traverse estimated at 9-12 hours long. Plan accordingly.
Route DescriptionHike in approximately one hour on the Lineham Creek trail to an obvious wide drainage coming down Mount Blakiston’s southern slopes (right). Leave the trail and hike up along the right side of this drainage via a decent scrambler’s trail (2012). In July, you could enjoy shade up to the summit if you start from the trailhead by 7:00am and move at a brisk pace. You lose the scramblers trail as you take the right fork of the drainage and start moving up rock steps littered with scree. Stay right of this final drainage (small bit of snow at the top in July) and cut back left at the top of it, at a break, and hike scree up to a lower headwall. At least one on-line beta photo could confuse you here. Somebody has posted a photo of the block on the lower headwall to the far right. His/her intent was to show you a photo displaying the way through the final summit block, but used this lower headwall block by mistake. Stay straight up from the drainage coming to the shortest section of this lower headwall. An easy (chimney-like) right facing corner with a final squeeze is hidden. An optional short section of a few 5th class moves takes the shortest path straight up the shortest section of this headwall on solid rock.
Continue up an ample amount of loose scree for the final summit block/headwall. Aim for the green lichen covered obvious large block on the right (photo). Once you are at the base of this green wall, scramble up the pleasant rock gully up and left, dog legging back right at its top. Follow easy angled rock up to the summit ridge. Turn right and walk a few minutes to the summit. A summit register was destroyed by moisture in 2012.
Head west along a broad ridge (could land a plane on it). Mount Hawkins has a red capped summit way off in the distance. Go up and over the next high point. Then meander on the north side of the ridge through a maze of beautiful rock with unique features carved out from the days it lay at the bottom of an ocean. When you reach the next col, look for a padded down scree trail (2012) on the north side that skirts the lower north flank of the next high point all the way over to the col below this high point and Mount Hawkins.
Travel up the ridge to the summit of Mount Hawkins staying left whenever confronted with hands on scrambling. The northeast face of Hawkins has serious relief. From the summit of Mount Hawkins (again, the summit register was in bad shape) follow along a broad red ridge bypassing the next high point on the south side. Then cross over to the north on a mostly pleasant trail and bypass the remaining high points of the ridge as you make way for the Lineham col. Along the way, you will intersect a small col where a marked (with reflectors on poles) backcountry hiking trail ties into the trail you have been on. Continue heading southeast for Mount Lineham to complete the horseshoe. Even if someone in your party wanted to bail out on the final peak, the first intersection with the marked trail is not the place to do it. Cutting across the southwest flank of yet another high point, following the now marked trail, you finally hit the Lineham col where the Rowe Lake/Meadows trail comes up from below on switchbacks. At this point someone could exit the Hawkins Horseshoe if they so desired and descend into Rowe Meadows and out Rowe Lakes trail.
Ascend the easy west ridge via a well-established trail (2012) to the summit of Mount Lineham. This summit is frequented by hikers and the summit register was in decent shape. You have now completed the Hawkins Horseshow and Mount Blakiston’s morning ascent is in full view to the north. Descend fast and soft scree down the south face of Mount Lineham. When you hit tree line, you will have to bushwhack for about 15 minutes to reach the Rowe Lakes trail. Turn left and travel approximately 3kms out to the road.
Poles are recommended for the scree ascent up Mount Blakiston. Plenty of water will be needed on a hot day (3 litres). As soon as you leave the drainage (which could be dry in August) on Mount Blakiston, there will be little to no water opportunity until you reach Rowe Lakes Trail. I advise light, fast and comfortable approach shoes.
External LinksMost inclusive first-hand knowledge and accounts of Canadian Rockies Scrambles
Waterton Lakes National Park, Parks Canada
Best Breakfast/Lunch in Waterton: WOW Wieners of Waterton, as of 2012, my favorite breakfast/lunch spot. Fresh is the key word for everything they serve. The Lowe brothers offer it up with a smile and passion as well, unusual treat in a resort town.