The Three sisters: sleeping under starlight and back country with bears

The peak of the Three Sisters in Fernie is the highest visible in town and makes for stunning views of the Elk Valley on a clear day. The middle sister is the highest point and stands at 2,788 m above sea level, not an easy feat by any standards but doable as a longer day hike, or in our case over two days with a night spent camping in the meadows below. I’ve done the hike before however being Meagans last weekend in town, it was a must do adventure and a great way to cap off a summer of hiking and camping.

We accessed the trailhead in the usual way,  by driving East on Highway 3 until making a left onto the North end of Dickens road. After only about 500-600m you make a right up a gravel road and follow this for 10-15 minutes. Early on you’ll pass Spruce Springstream farms on the left and later Hartley Lake which can be viewed from above. Make a left at the 7km logging road marker and continue onto the dirt roads, you’ll see some familiar signage from FTA or the Fernie Trails Alliance. The roads are pretty dodgy and a 4×4 or something with high clearance is definitely needed for the final 3km to the trailhead signage.

We got to the trailhead at about 5.45pm and after some last-minute fiddling around we were on our way. The weather was nice with plenty of sunlight after the fog cleared from the previous days storm. We passed only two other solo hikers who were making their way down, both warning us of the grizzly bear they had seen on the path (and that we were heading towards).

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Keeping alert and making plenty of noise, sure to scare off any wisee bear in the area 😉 we pushed past the first primitive campsite and made it to the ridge below the peak in under 3 hrs. With light fading and the temperature dropping, we scoped out a place to set the tent up. Just as we spotted a nice flat area a dark figure caught my eye about 100m away and sure enough it was the big grizzly. She looked back at us, acknowledging our existence and then paying no mind, casually ambled on into the distance. We were a mixture of astounded and concerned, the mood lightened by receiving a call from my Mum in Australia just as we spotted the bear. Her genuine concern gave us a laugh and put us at ease, at least for the moment.

We consumed all our food, making sure the bear had no reason to disturb us during the night and enjoyed some fantastic star-gazing before turning in for what would be a very restless sleep. Temperatures dipped to 2 degrees in town and the wind made sure we didn’t get any solid sleep, pushing the tent and mimicking sounds of something (perhaps a 500 pound bear) outside. Never the less we made it through the night and rose at 4.30 am to make the summit for sunrise.

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The hike up in the dark was cold but instantly worth the early start as we saw the sky shrinking, expanding and dancing in front of us. The Northern Lights! A first for Bowen and I, we were well chuffed and without a decent camera between us, stood for a few minutes and marvelled at its sight. We slogged on for another hour and a bit through snow and some icy sections and made it to the top well before sunrise. We unpacked our sleeping bags and enjoyed a cup of tea huddled together and watched as the Valley woke up. The views were stunning and much clearer than the last time I was there.

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Tired and hungry, we made our way back to the tent to begin the long hike back to the car. We were stoked at our good fortune with the weather and having made it to the top together, so much so that we could finally relax. This was of course until we spotted our big furry friend again, this time within 100m of our tent and right on the trail. From a high vantage point using a monocular, we sat in awe at the sheer size of the bear. It’s head was as big as a Bisons and we were lucky enough to see it burst into a full run, chasing a squirrel or gopher that strayed too close. Let me tell you, they can move. It covered 30m in the blink of an eye and made us more weary about packing up our gear. We waited until she moved on and then packed everything up and headed for home.

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We made it back into town around lunch time and proceeded to gorge ourselves with a greasey brunch of bacon, eggs, sausage and beans. Food coma well earned and very proud of Meagan, someone who until the summer had not hiked much more than a hill.

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