On October 17, a friend and I decided to take advantage of the warm weather and head out to the mountains. We chose Arethusa Cirque, a short but scenic hike off the Highwood Pass section of Highway 40. This 4.5 km loop has an elevation of 378 m. The elevation is mostly gained and lost in short but steep sections.
The hike begins in the forest, off a gravel lot. There is no outhouse at this trailhead, so if you are in need of a rest stop, pull off at the Ptarmigan Cirque parking lot. The gravel lot for Arethusa Cirque will be on the left side of the highway (provided you are travelling south on Highway 40). The trail begins at the end of the parking lot. For us, the path through the trees was covered in patches of icy snow. We did not have micro-spikes, though they would have been useful in spots. After a short hike through the forested hillside, we emerged in the valley overlooking the cirque. There was a creek directly ahead of this. Based on some reviews, we decided to hike the loop in a counterclockwise direction, staying on the right-hand side of the creek. The trail diverges off into the trees for a moment, before coming back to the creek.
Due to the snow, the path was difficult to find and follow in places, so downloading the map is recommended.
We stayed alongside the creek as we hiked around the hill leftover from a rockslide. We crossed the creek and began the ascent up to the cirque. The path pictured was steep and slippery from the ice, so we took our time. Once at the top of the path, we looked for a sheltered location for lunch. The wind passed in strong gusts, and every so often would crash into another gust of wind coming from the other side of the ridge above the cirque. We watched these small twisters formed along the top of the ridge, swirling the snow around with an accompanying crash that we first mistook as a rockslide or avalanche.
After lunch, we continued following the path along the ridge below the mountain peaks. The view was gorgeous along this high point in the trail. Then we began our descent. The trail here was steep but not too slippery. Once at the bottom, there was a short flat section to the creek, where we crossed before descending the path through the forest that we had started on. Overall the hike took us around 3 hours, with a number of breaks for photos and snacks. Experienced hikers could certainly do this trail in 2 hours, or you can take a more leisurely pace as we did. Families would also be able to do this hike.
There are a number of larch trees in the valley, which would make this a beautiful fall hike. Unfortunately we were a few weeks too late to see them in their glory here, but the snow also makes the view incredible in its own way.
Driving back along the highway, we saw a large grizzly on the side of the road. This was not far from the hike and serves as a reminder to always stay aware and alert when in the backcountry.