Whither the Maus?

Cranbrook columnist Peter Warland laments the demise of access to a beautiful Rocky Mountains valley.

Peter Warland

“There is nowhere unsafe for the prudent person. Disaster awaits the fool.” -Anonymous.

Maus Creek was one of the first valleys that we explored when we arrived in Cranbrook. I’ve no idea where the German Mouse got the extra ‘e’ but the area intrigued us and became our Rocky Mountain playground for over fifty years. The idea of the road being washed out appalls us; there go dozens of our favourite walks.

We were probably taken there for the hunting in the fall of 1958 but fell in love with the valley. We obviously used the road for our various ascents of Fisher Peak, but those trips were rare. Whether on foot, on skis, or on our snowmobile, we always attempted to get up into the basins, the tarns and the lower ridges. That was where we took our children when they were up to the task.

At the head of the road are the remains of the old concentrator. Up on the hillside of what is now called Inch Post Mountain are the workings of the mine and, if you look carefully, there is the old trail that leads over the ridge, across the head of Horseshoe Creek and then over another pass and down into Sunken (Lost) Creek. There’s a world of exploring to be done.

There are several ways up into the basin of Maus Creek where those shallow mountain lakes tempt the weary. We’ve camped there many a time.

In July and August, the valley can be filled with flowers, fleabanes, glacial lilies, monkey flowers, penstemons, and the lovely willow herb. It’s a botanist’s delight.

There are several options for the hiker after the lakes. He or she can walk further up the valley, past a deep little tarn and then up into the basin with steep cliffs and gullies all around. Find the safe scramble, and there’s a ridge with a panorama out over the wide Tanglefoot valley, up to Windy Ridge¸ or way across to Mount Patmore.

Over the years we’ve scrambled the circuit of Maus Creek or used it to gain access to Dibble Glacier behind the Steeples. We’ve wandered through the Tanglefoot and over the pass into the headwaters of Cliff Lake, under the loom of rugged Mount Patmore.

For those who find pleasure in leaving the beaten path, there’s a great way to get up high by leaving the road at the top of the zig-zags and heading straight up. At the top there’s a craggy ridge in one direction and the possibility of wandering along back towards Fisher Peak. The opportunities are all there if a person is able to drive to the assigned parking area. Walking from the present wash-out can be a long and arduous trek. Believe me; we’ve done it more than once.

It hasn’t always been sweetness and light up in the Maus. One Fall night it took our party hours, it seems, to build a fire so that we might survive. Then, in Summer, there were the myriad insects that drove us and our frantic European guests out from Tanglefoot Lake. And I am embarrassed to write there was that occasion when two of us parked our vehicle in the Maus then, in foul weather, crossed a pass and traversed to the mine workings in Sunken Creek, where we bivouacked in misery.

The following soggy dawn saw us attempting to reverse our course back to the vehicle but we kept finding ourselves back in Sunken Creek. Exhausted and dejected, we finally slogged our way down through Horseshoe Creek and back to the highway. We phoned for help from Fort Steele.

No, the Maus Creek road is not merely the route to Fisher Peak; it is the gateway to the local Rockies, the valleys, ridges, lakes and peaks. It is one of the easiest ways for the adventurous to relish what the Rocky Mountains have to offer us. If that road is open there is no need to go and fight the mobs in Jasper, Yoho, Banff or any other national park; we have it all here.