Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tent Ridge

Location: Spray Valley, Kananaskis, AB
Activity: Hiking/Easy Scrambling
Difficulty: Easy
Intensity: Moderate
Distance: 10.5 km, round trip
Trailhead / Second Lake Elevation: 1,875m / 2,540m
Approx. Net / Total Elevation Gain: 665m / 825m

Trip Time: 6 hours with 1 hour break on ridge

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I don't have any "rules" that prevent me from doing a particular trail, ridge or peak more than once. Tent Ridge is a trail I've done three times to date: September 2009, February 2010 and October 2010. Despite the rather yawn-worthy name, it goes without saying that Tent Ridge is a favourite of mine. The photos below are from all three trips.

The area around Mt. Engadine Lodge is moose country.
Tent Ridge is U-shaped, with ends pointing northward. The most common way to approach this trail is to ascend via the western-leg of the U, and descend via the eastern-leg.

The western-leg, from the Monica Brook basin.
Some tips in choosing what direction to go: the eastern-leg is considerably less steep and lower in elevation. The western-leg is steeper initially, higher in elevation, and offers the best views of Spray Lakes. If you're setting out for photography purposes, and if the lighting and skies are better in the morning, head up western-leg of the ridge.

Spray Lakes, mid-afternoon in September. From western-leg.
Spray Lakes, late-afternoon in February. From eastern-leg.
If ascending the eastern-side, you'll first follow an old logging road. Look for a large cairn on your right side after approximately 300m of hiking. The trail takes you into the woods where numerous trails criss-cross each other. Here, a map/compass or GPS is indispensable, though all roads will eventually lead to Rome, or Monica Brook--some just leave you in a better spot than others.

Monica Brook basin, from the bottom of the "U".
Head south along Monica Brook towards a grassy clearing. Look for tree-flagging on your left. Once you spot the flagging, a trail becomes very obvious. Follow the trail, and gain the ridge. It's easy from here on!

Larches in full yellow uniform in mid-September.
Recalling a Monty Python sketch about "The Larch" right now.
It's largely a steep hike at this point with one scrambling section with slight exposure that will require your attention. It is possible to avoid this spot by moving to the right.
Ptarmigan in camouflage.
At the high point of the western leg, you'll encounter a weather station painted orange. Previously unlocked, on my last trip to Tent Ridge I found the door bolted. Shame. It made a nice wind shelter.

Beautiful scenery around Spray Lakes.
Moving along, you'll have to drop approximately 75m of elevation and regain 150m to reach the high point of Tent Ridge. The high point is situated due north of Mt. Smuts and The Fist. There is an interesting ridge connecting the Tent Ridge to The Fist from here.

Ridge connecting Tent Ridge to The Fist.
It's a rocky descent from the summit of Tent Ridge to the eastern-leg of the ridge, with a few easy scrambling portions. As you walk along the ridge heading north, the view of Spray Lakes opens up nicely.

Heading south towards the Tent Ridge summit via the west-leg.

Heading north along the western-leg.
Continuing along the ridge, you'll see Mt. Shark due west. Once Mt. Shark is out of the way, a large mountain stands to the west. That's Mt. Assiniboine.

The Matterhorn of the Rockies.
Once you've reached the end of the eastern-leg of Tent Ridge, drop down and follow the obvious trails towards some previously forested areas. The trail through the forested area is rather obvious and leads back to a fire road. From the fire road, turn east and follow it back to the parking area.

The western-leg of Tent Ridge.

An important note about hiking Tent Ridge in winter conditions. First and most importantly, the Monica Brook basin and the NW bowl on the western-leg are prime avalanche terrain (a quick search on of "Tent Ridge" can confirm this). I would wager that the safest route to approach or descend Tent Ridge is via the windswept windward facing slopes of the western-leg and then gaining the ridge as soon as the option safely presents itself. Prior to heading out, pay attention to the avalanche forecast, snow conditions and weather on the day of your trip.  Know how to identify and avoid slopes that can avalanche. Avoid the run-out zones, particularly the big one on the NW bowl. If you don't know what I'm talking about, then don't go.

Second, snowshoes will be required as the snow level at tree-line will be quite deep, especially on leeward slopes. If the snow is sugary, you're in for one tough slog. Third, the ridge is extremely windy, so pack your gear wisely. Avoid descending via gullies or obvious avalanche zones--stick to the ridgeline on the eastern-leg for your descent.

Stomping through faceted snow on west-leg.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Galatea Lakes

Location: Kananaskis, AB
Activity: Hiking
Difficulty: Easy
Intensity: Easy
Distance: 17.5 km, round trip
Trailhead / Second Lake Elevation: 1,550m / 2,200m
Approx. Net / Total Elevation Gain: 675m / 800m

Trip Time: 7 hrs with 1 hour break at lakes

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

One of the more popular hiking trails in Kananaskis, there is very little chance of solitude on this trail. The trail starts at the Galatea parking lot and heads almost due west along Galatea Creek. The trek along Galatea Creek is largely in the trees, so there isn't much to see if you look up. Looking down however is impressive. Moss covered slopes, like a green shag carpet, are abundant. Galatea Creek itself features some nice photo spots as well.

Galatea Creek.
Rushing waters.
After approximately 2 hours of hiking (6.25 km), you'll reach Lillian Lake. A popular spot for campers, but unfortunately fails to deliver when it comes to scenery. The trail to the first Galatea Lake is a steep and rubblely trek for 175m of elevation. It gets the cardiovascular system pumping after a relatively easy hike to Lillian Lake.

Lower Galatea Lake.

The first lake is a beautiful turquoise jewel and much larger than most mountain lakes in Kananaskis. Unlike the Memorial Lakes, it appears as if the water level of the Galatea Lakes doesn't change much with precipitation levels. Head along the north shore of the first lake along an obvious trail. On the west end of the lake is a short little trail that leads up to the second lake, as equally impressive as the first lake.

A little more solitude at the second lake.
Upper Galatea Lake.

The Upper Galatea Lake is nestled in between two ridges that extend eastward from Mt. Engadine. On the other side of Mt. Engadine lies the Spray Valley. Mt. Galatea lies to the south, not visible from the lakes.

Bridge crossing over Galatea Creek.

Another popular destination from the Galatea parking lot is Guinn's Pass (head north on the trail before reaching Lillian Lake). Guinn's Pass links up with the Ribbon Creek trail, creating a two day backpacking loop, or one very long day-hike of 30-odd kilometres.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Rawson Ridge

Location: Kananaskis Lakes, Kananaskis, AB
Activity: Hiking/Scrambling
Difficulty: Easy/Difficult (scramble route)
Intensity: Moderate
Distance: 12.5 km, round trip
Trailhead / Ridge Elevation: 1,725m / 2,440m
Approx. Net / Total Elevation Gain: 715m / 750m

Trip Time: 7 hrs with 30 minute break at lake and 1 hour break on ridge

Rating: 4 out of 5

Attempt number two at Rawson Ridge. The previous attempt was foiled due to a grizzly bear blocking our path shortly after leaving Rawson Lake.

Upper portion of Sarrail Falls.
The trail starts at the Upper Lake parking lot and follows the south shore of Upper Kananaskis Lake. Once again, a stop at Sarrail Creek/Falls was required. I simply love the oppurtunities for photos here. Admittedly, I've never been able to capture the falls on camera properly; but the rapids and streams of water have always fascinated me.

Upper falls.
Rawson Lake is reached after approximately 90 minutes of hiking time. It's a beautiful lake tucked in on the east side of Mt. Sarrail and boxed in by two ridges. The one on your right is Rawson Ridge. There is some debate as to the name of this ridge--is it Rawson Ridge or Sarrail Ridge? The Copelands refer to it as Rawson Ridge so I'll assume that's the more common name for it.

Rawson Lake and Mount Sarrail.
Rawson Lake with Rawson Ridge at right.
Follow the obvious trail along the south shore of Rawson Lake until you reach the base of Mt. Sarrail. The route to the top of Rawson ridge is very obvious. It's a steep climb to the top, but the summit awards you some impressive views for the relatively minimal effort.

Kananaskis Lakes and Mt. Indefatigable.
While reaching the ridge is enough of a reward for most, there are two options to reach the high point of the ridge from here. 

Follow the ridge top towards the pinnacle for the scrambler's route.
The scrambler's route involves some moderate scrambling with exposure up a rock pinnacle. Unfortunately, the loose and crumbly rock adds to the difficulty of this scrambling section. Several route options exist, depending on how comfortable you are with your climbing abilities. The easiest option involves losing approximately 50 metres of elevation down the ridge right before the rock wall until you find an obvious game trail. This game trail leads to a break in the rock wall in front of you and it's a simple, but steep hike to the top from here on.

The Turret and Elk Range.
From the top of Rawson Ridge you can spot the British Military Group to the north, including the Haig Glacier. To the south is Mount Fox, Mount Fochs, and The Turret. To the east is the Elk Range and Continental Divide.

Haig Glacier.
Rawson Ridge, towards Mount Sarrail.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Pumpkin and Flax Muffins

Location: My Kitchen
Activity: Baking
Difficulty: Moderate
Intensity: Dense, flaxy and spicy

Prep and Cooking Time: 1 hour

Rating: 4 out of 5

I'm a sucker for anything with pumpkin and or flax in it. I followed the recipe with a few exceptions. First, I tripled the spices, added 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts and 1/2 cup of ground flax seeds. Second, I got lazy and used 500mL of canned pumpkin puree instead of fresh pumpkin. Third, I added pumpkin seeds to the top.

The muffins were moist, dense and flavourful. The flax, walnuts and pumpkin seeds gave it a nutritious kick making it suitable for any hiker's snack bag.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Invincible Lake

Location: Kananaskis Lakes, Kananaskis, AB
Activity: Hiking
Difficulty: Moderate
Intensity: Moderate-High
Distance: 15.3 km, round trip
Trailhead / Ridge / Lake Elevation: 1,710m / 2,425m / 2,340m
Approx. Net / Total Elevation Gain: 630m / 1,020m

Trip Time: 9 hrs with 30 minute breaks at the ridge, lake and Invincible Creek

Rating: 2 out of 5

I'll refrain from getting into detailed directions for this hike as Gillean Daffern does a good job of explaining the two options. The trail starts at the North Interlakes Parking Lot at the Kananaskis Lakes and follows the trail to Three Isle Lake.

Invincible Creek.

Numerous logs jammed in the creek from logging that occurred some time ago.
After 4.0 km of hiking on the Three Isle Lake trail, you'll reach Invincible Creek. The trail leading to Invincible Lake is visible immediately on the west side of the bridge. Follow the creek for about 20 metres when you find yourself on an old and overgrown logging road. Here is where navigation can get tricky as you follow this main logging road for a while before diverting off on other smaller and even more overgrown and and deadfall littered logging roads. The brush is thick in spots and the deadfall is tedious. Some logs you can hop over like hurdles; others you can sneak under. Quite a few involve walking around. There are no opportunities to pick up the pace--these logging roads will slow you down a lot as things turn from off-trail to bushwhacking (logwhacking?).

Upper Kananaskis Lake from the ridge.

After following Daffern's route description, the logging roads eventually faded into bushwhacking and we found ourselves at the bottom of the ridge looking up. There is no trail leading up to the ridgecrest. Instead, you'll need to choose the path of least resistance up a very steep slope (approximately 40 degrees) and dodge even more deadfall (a forest fire hit this ridge some time ago) for 275m of elevation. You'll top out at the ridge around 2,275m. Continue along the ridge for another 1km, gaining 150m of elevation. No more deadfall here!

Invincible Lake and Mt. Nomad (at right).
You will hike nearly all the way to the end of the ridge. Avoid the temptation to descend via any gullies you may encounter. As you near the end of the ridge, a game trail leading towards Invincible Lake offers a steep but easy descent. To reach Invincible Lake, you'll need to lose 150m of elevation (and regain it later!), plus gain an additional 50m to reach the lake from the bottom of the game trail.

Fresh snow made the descent a little slippery.

Unfortunately, besides the remoteness of the lake, Invincible Lake was not a very interesting destination in itself. What is more interesting is ascending nearby Mt. Nomad--a small peak that rises up only 300m from Invincible Lake. While the snow and poor conditions that day quashed any desire I had to summit Mt. Nomad (and the majority of our group stayed behind at the ridgecrest while only three of us descended to the lake); I imagine the views from the top of Nomad would make this trip much more interesting and scenic.

Invincible Lake and the Spray Mountains.
The clouds eventually thinned out later in the afternoon.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Piper Pass

Location: Highwood/Elbow-Sheep Wildland, Kananaskis, AB
Activity: Hiking
Difficulty: Easy
Intensity: Moderate
Distance: 19 km, round trip
Trailhead / Pass Elevation: 1,970m / 2,600m
Approx. Net / Total Elevation Gain: 630m / 800m

Trip Time: 8 hrs, with many lengthy photography stops

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I enjoyed this one. The Highwood and Elbow Valley areas offer some of the most unique hiking in Kananaskis. The juxtaposition of rolling and grassy meadows with the serrated-edged peaks common in this area is very enjoyable. This hike begins at the Elbow Pass parking lot. It's a quick 20-30 minutes to reach Elbow Lake from the trailhead.

Elbow Lake.
From Elbow Lake, follow the Elbow Pass trail due north. The Copelands describe two routes to Piper Pass: a direct route, and an indirect route. At approximately 4.5 km from the trailhead, you'll notice the Piper Creek Valley on your left. Here you'll need to ford the Elbow River. Depending on the time of year, you may need water shoes or sandals. We were able to find rocks that let us hop to the other side.

Piper Creek Valley. "Cats Ears" dead centre.
Generally head due north towards the Valley. If you're lucky, you'll be able to make out a trail. This trail leads through some rolling hills mixed with stunted pine trees. Eventually you'll drop into a small meadow, and then a forested area with a makeshift campsite. Continue following the trail until you reach Piper Creek. Here, you'll have to hop a few more rocks to make your way across as the trail continues along the north/east side of Piper Creek.

Ominous clouds brewing above Cats Ears.
The trail along Piper Creek is gradual and muddy in spots. About 2 km from Piper Pass, the trail opens up into grassy meadows with large boulders scattered around. Piper Creek Canyon offers a nice spot to photograph waterfalls as well.

Piper Creek Canyon waterfall.

Here you can see Cats Ears to your left, a brown cone of scree in the middle, and a ridge leading to Tombstone Mountain on the right. Piper Pass is located to the right of the brown scree cone.

Looking northward towards Paradise Pass.
The pass has many opportunities for exploring. There's the highpoint to the top of the brown scree cone on the left, and a scramble along the ridge to the left. Both offer superior views to the pass itself, and had the weather not turned on us we would have had more time to explore these options!

The valley leading towards Paradise Pass is gorgeous and worthy of exploring on a backcountry backpacking trip. Eventually this trail leads all the way to north end of Opal Ridge/The Wedge!

From Jerram to Evan-Thomas. Too many peaks to name.
The weather eventually turned on us and we had to flee the area in a thunder storm. Eventually the skies cleared up on us and the mixture of blue sky and rain clouds created some interesting and dynamic scenery.

North ridge of Mt. Rae and the Elbow River Valley.

The cloudy skies that were present for most of the day also offered the opportunity for me to test out a new macro lens! This hike would be worth doing again with better weather and exploring the Piper Pass and Piper Creek Canyon a bit more.

Beetles on an Aster.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mount Chester

Location: Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis, AB
Activity: Scrambling
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
Intensity: High
Distance: 14.0 km, round trip
Trailhead / Summit Elevation: 1,900m / 3,054m
Approx. Net / Total Elevation Gain: 1,150m / 1,200m

Trip Time: 8 hrs, with 1 hr on the summit and 1 hr at the lake on the return

Rating: 5 out of 5

The weather was rather chilly for late August in Southern Alberta. Fresh snow had fallen overnight on some of the high peaks of Kananaskis. The British Military Group had a fresh blanket of snow filling in many of the gaps and cracks on the leeward side that morning. The weather was a bit brisk that morning with mixed clouds. Having made four attempts on Mt. Chester this year cancelled because of the weather or bears, I wasn't going to let less than desirable weather stop me today.

Fresh snow on the British Military Group.
The trail starts along the popular and heavily trodden Chester Lake trail. You gain 300m walking 4km along this old logging road that eventually turns into a wide path. The approach is very gradual and not very scenic. Eventually the trees make way for lush meadows. These meadows peak with glacier lilies in early summer. From the meadows, the route up to the Mt. Chester col is fairly obvious.

Mt. Chester and meadows.
Alan Kane recommends crossing the meadows and Chester Creek before reaching the lake. This route is not ideal for the meadow environment and puts you through prime grizzly habitat (evident from the numerous diggings in the meadows). Instead, head directly for the lake. There is a very obvious trail that follows along the shore heading south on the other side of a log bridge. Skirt around the rubble pile and eventually you will come face to face with the col. It's a steep hike now up dark earthy scree and compacted soil. Along the way you may spot herds of bighorn that frequent these grassy slopes.

Two rams with impressive horns.
From the col you'll have terrific views of the Smith-Dorrien corridor and the Spray Lakes to the north-west and Mt. Chester to the east. There are a few obvious routes to start the ascent up Mt. Chester, but they all eventually fade as there are many options available. Here the route consists of a mixture of rubble with knobby slabs and scree. There are a lot of rock ribs to hold on to while going up. All in all, this make for a fun and enjoyable scramble for the remaining 400m left to reach the summit.

Heading for the summit.
There are no false summits here. Just straight up until you spot the cairn! You won't be able to spot Chester Lake or the Headwall Lakes from the summit--you'll need to explore the summit a little more. Once these lakes come into view, the scenery will stun you.

Fresh frost on the cairn.

Chester Lake and Spray Lakes.
Chester Lake lies to the north along with Mt. Galatea. Spray Lakes lie further in the distance South of the Spray Lakes is Tent Ridge and Mount Assiniboine is very visible above Tent Ridge. Due east is The Fortress, one of the most identifiable peaks in these area. The jagged summit ridge of the The Fortress is quite impressive and from Mt. Chester one can easily make out the route through the scree.

Small tarn between The Fortress and Gusty.
To the south is Mount James Walker and the Headwall Lakes.

Mt. James Walker and the Headwall Lakes.
Descend from the summit the same way you came up. Once you've reached the col, you can return via the Chester Lake side, or the Headwall Lakes side. I wanted to photograph Chester Lake with some mid-afternoon sun, so returned the way I came up. Along the way, I noticed some fireweed growing on the grassy slopes near the col.

Fireweed and bee.

Chester Lake is a great spot to relax after the hike. It can get a little busy here on a weekend, but on a weekday it's quite easy to find some solitude. The afternoon light also lights up the Chester Lake basin much better than late-morning or mid-day light.

Mt. Galatea and Chester Lake.