The trail is a fine example of the excellent quality of early trail-building in the East Kootenay, in that much of the original grade can still be used by hikers a hundred years later. It is an evenly graded trail, with appropriate switchbacks, and the trail is carved from the hillside, making a flat tread to step on.
The first 4 km of the Sunken Creek trail is an enjoyable half-day outing where you climb steeply between two bridges crossing Sunken Creek. The turbulent creek plunges down beside the trail and water cascades over large mossy rocks. The pleasing sounds of the bubbling splashing creek and the deep dark forest, makes this a pleasant short hike.
Beyond the second bridge, the trail climbs on the sunny southern aspect and the baking, dried out hillside is very hot on a summer day. If you hike the entire length of the trail, it is a long steep excursion up the south side of a narrow gully, which gains over 1360 m (4,460 ft.) in The Steeples mountains. The trail leads to a view of what is left of the Dibble Glacier.
Five Passes trail
The hiking in the region of the southern Rockies is compact, with mountains joining together in hikable passes and ridges. The entire upper 5 km to Dibble Pass along the Sunken Creek trail is part of the Five Passes trails. The loop starts from Mause Creek, into Sunken Creek and heads around to Tanglefoot Lake and back to Mause Creek. entry #39.
About halfway between the two bridges there are the remains of an old log cabin. It is one of the oldest traces of a cabin that I have seen. Only a corner of the hand-hewn, dovetail log construction remains. A pile of rubble rock, which once served as a hearth, is tucked in the “back” of the extremely primitive cabin. A clear, natural spring still seeps out of the hillside into a ditched-out hollow behind the cabin. A midden of tin cans, with the “lead plugs” used for sealing them, gives an indication of the age of the place: 1920s or earlier. The cans were not opened with a can opener, but crudely with a square punch of some kind.
The trail was built as a mining pack trail in the 1890s for access to the Dibble Mine, which was a rich deposit of turquoise-coloured copper, silver and some gold. The pack horses hauled the ore about 18 km down this steep trail, all the way to Fort Steele. Lore about this trail mentioned that, instead of carrying the ore in packsaddles, the horses dragged the ore down the trail in rawhide bundles. They could haul more that way, but it doesn’t sound very safe, considering how steep-sided the creek gully is along this trail.
To second creek crossing
Time: half day hike
Distance: 4 km to second creek crossing
Trail: steep forested trail by pleasant creek deep valley
Elevation gain: 300 m (1,000 ft.)
Rating: moderate to long
Distance: about 10 km to Dibble Pass
Elevation gain: 1360 m (4,460 ft.)
Dibble Pass: 2220 m (7,270 ft.)
Maps: 82G/11 Fernie (NAD27); 82G/12 Cranbrook (NAD83)