Friday, May 18, 2007

Jumpingpound Creek

Sibbald Flats - Jumpingpound Trail - take Highway 1 West to the Sibbard Flats turnoff. Go about 16km on the dirt road until you get to the Pine Top day use area. Trail is about 10k for the full loop, but there is a trail that loops the back to the high way and essentially splits the loop in half.

Sibbald seemed like a good place for a hike. It got us out of the Elbow Valley, wasn't as far as Canmore or Banff and provided some nice, lengthy hikes. We picked Jumpingpound Creek loop since it was a lengthy loop, good for early spring hiking and hopefully would give us a little more workout than previous trails had.

Good to know us hikers rank high in the grand scheme of things... ;-) The trailhead is just beyond this sign, leading up the hill. The parking lot was closed at this point (this was back on May 5... I've been terribly lazy about updating), so we pulled over by the gates leading to the campground, across the street from this cattle sign.

In my mind, the hike was split into quarters. The first quarter was very much as you see here: lots of trees, hills and fields. The beginning of the hike there was a lot of space, little shade, evidence of plenty of gusty days and lots of blue sky above. What a gorgeous day.

The trail ascends steadily up a slight hill for the first 20 minutes or so. It's not intense enough to be a strenuous uphill climb, but over time we noticed how high we'd climbed.

Those looking for scenic vista payoffs are not going to find much to like about the Jumpingpound Creek loop. The trail peaks fairly early on and doesn't give much of a view of the mountains in the distance. This shot was about as good as it got, and it was within the first 20 minutes of the hike. Where the hike truly scores is the range of terrain and areas you find yourself in.

In that first quarter we found it remarkable that in a matter of seconds we could go from the white birch drier terrain to a mossy, green forest terrain in a matter of seconds, with a few meadow crossings thrown in for good measure. A couple of those meadows were already sprouting colourful wildflowers.

The paths were very dry for the first half of the hike, so it was a little surprising when this impromtu creek popped up right along the path. We couldn't establish where it came from -- the path got a little muddy at the top, had some pools of water a little further downhill and was running practically clear water about half way to the bottom. D took this very cool shot of what our trail had turned into.

The pseudo-creek ran along the path until the bottom of that particular hill and then found another way out. As we headed back up another hill, the path dried out again.

The second quarter of the hike was a lot more low-lying and green than the first. The area had a lot more moss and pine trees, and the ground was a lot muddier. Most of this part of the hike was shaded and there seemed to be less hills. Our first snow sighting was actually snow that was completely covering the creek bed. It was a warm day, but we were shaded enough and low enough that just being close to the snow was enough to make it feel like the temperature had dropped 10 degrees. It was a nice reprieve and tough to believe only five minutes before we'd been starting to cook in the sun.

The second quarter eventually climbed back uphill for one last view and then dropped down to cross the highway. The remainder of the hike didn't ascend or descend much more, and stayed close to the campground nearby. In fact, for a good chunk of the third quarter, the hike meandered through a dry field bordering along the forest. With the wind blowing and the long dry grass resting everywhere, the area looked like sand dunes if you squinted just a little.

The fourth quarter of the hike was a perfect way to wind up 10k. It drifed a little away from the campground and towards the creek -- remember Jumpingpound Creek? The name of the trail and all? It wasn't that little stream on the trail after all! Instead we now had the odd bridge and water crossing to contend with. It started out small, like this pretty little babbling brook here, but eventually became a bigger force to contend with.

Most of the creek was free of snow throughout the hike, but in some shady areas some snow would appear along the creek, and sometimes even the trail itself. But nowhere was the snow more impressive than this shady little area near the end of the fourth quarter of the hike. Thank goodness the bridge was resting on top of thick thick snow, or we might not have been able to cross. Even more impressive: the water from the melting snow was running overtop of the bridge. It was tough to take photos of without getting too close, but the water had carved canal-like paths through the snow. I'm not sure how passable this section will be in a few weeks. These shots are not nearly as impressive as the scene itself is, but it gives some idea of what it was like.

Eventually we left the creek behind - it met up with this body of water that flowed several hundred feet the trail for a good chunk of the last part of the hike. We frequently saw it from many beautiful vantage points, but never got anywhere close to it.

There was very little wildlife along the trail. While we saw few people on the actual trail (only one other person if memory serves), the area itself was popular, with a large family gathering at the campground that day. A rifle range is just down the road as well (we could hear some of the gunfire throughout the hike), so I imagine this is never going to be a great hike to see wildlife, but there was some evidence of animal life, like the log which had been carefully emptied out by some sort of little gnawing mouth. I nicknamed it the "Squirrel Condo".

All in all, a great hike with lots of different types of terrain and environments to see. The whole loop is about 10k and takes about 3 hours to complete.