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.

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