Thursday, May 3, 2007

Seven bridges trail

Bow Valley - Heart Creek Trail - Trailhead is just off Highway 1 at Lac des Arc. One way trail, 4 km total (return). Little incline.
Kananaskis - Barrier Forestry Trail - Near Barrier Lake just off Highway 40 in Kananaskis. Look for signs leading to Colonel's Cabin historical site. All three loops are a total of 2.7 km.

Think about the Eagles song and the title makes sense. Really.

What a beautiful day for hiking! I had been bugging D to try out Heart Creek for a couple of weeks now. No real reason, I just wanted to do a hike that was near Lac des Arc, and Heart Creek is an early-spring hike that seemed easy enough, yet interesting.

The trailhead is immediately off the Trans-Canada (you can see the parking lot from the highway) and while this makes it easy to get to, it also means the initial part of the hike is marred by plenty of highway noise. After the first ten minutes or so, the hike veers away from the highway and into the creek. The scenery is still amazing -- this photo was taken from the parking lot at Heart Creek trailhead.

Heart Creek is an easy walk -- few inclines. It crosses the creek many times over the course of the trail and each bridge is a sturdy log bridge such as this one (ok, they're a lot wider than they look in this photo -- trust me!). Each crossing provides a great vantage point of where you're going and where you've been.

D and I dipped down creekside at one particular turn, right beside a huge rock wall. No photo could do the rock wall justice, but you'll know it when you see it. The day had started out grey and misty, but as we walked the sun started to come out, even while a little rain was falling. Inside the canyon, it was a calming yet energizing feeling, if you can have the same two feelings at once.

This photo is from the rock wall, looking North, the direction we'd come from. The skies were just clearing and everything on the trail smelled amazing. It's hard to believe we're maybe only 10 minutes from the highway. We spent a good deal of time at this corner of the trail -- taking photos, testing the water, just looking over the area in detail.

We'd gotten to the trail early enough there was not another soul around, which only added to the moment.

The rain had literally just stopped falling when the sun came out. Droplets were dangling from tree branches, leaves, pine cones, log bridges. I'm still getting used to the close-up feature on my digital camera, but this image came out ok.

Another bridge. I just couldn't believe the care put into building these crossings. Each bridge was sturdy and perfectly maintained.

And, of course... snow. In April I guess no hike is complete without some sort of snow sighting. Can't see it lingering the background against the canyon wall? Here it is a little closer:

There is a waterfall at the end of the trail, but it's hidden from view from the trail. There is a series of rocks one could scramble up, I suppose, if one had that ability. I would have tried to climb further, or make it up another way, but the rock face was way too slick from the rain. Without the proper equipment -- or dry shoes even -- it just wasn't safe.

At least that's what I keep telling myself. Ultimately this is a walk where the journey far outdid the payoff at the end. Those might be the best hikes anyway.

We spotted next to no wildlife on the way in or out, but this little creature did fly by us at one point, only to hide in the grass beside the path. He's tough to see in the first photo, but once he spread his wings...

From there we headed back to Kananaskis. My next bright idea was to do a quick hike to a viewpoint over Barrier Lake, but the gate blocked the access to the rec area and boat launch. 2k of walking on a paved road to do a 1k hike? Didn't really thrill me, so we moved on. Only after did I realize we could have hiked out through the boat launch area, but oh well.... the gate will be opened up on May 11, so we'll head back then.

Just down the road is the Barrier Forestry trails - a combination historical site and forestry education trail. The area was used as a POW camp during the Second World War, and some structures remain, despite going through multiple incarnations and sometimes multiple locations around Kananaskis. The Colonel's Cabin now acts as an information centre for the area. The tower also looks like it houses historical photos and relics. Both were closed when D and I were there.

The trail actually consists of three loops, one historical, one forestry, and one eco-system. The forestry and eco-system loops are actually the same loop -- when you hit the end of one loop you have the option to continue onto the next one, or loop back. The historical loop is a small loop at the beginning, and I hate to say, the most disappointing. After the two buildings, the trail sort of went off in multiple directions and you really only knew which path to take by looking for the next sign. The signs themselves were weather-beaten and some outright impossible to read. I know it's tough to keep up such things, but it was disappointing.

The forestry hike was better -- trail was clearer anyway -- but the signs were not terribly informative, the ones we could read anyway. Now, after the fact, I've found the University of Calgary has a document that goes along with the hike located here: If you're super interested in forest cycles and management, then bring it along. Actually, I'll bet as a guided hike (for schools and such), the whole thing kicks-ass. I imagine there are a lot of things to point out.

D and I? Well, from the looks of it, we even missed the viewpoint of Mt. Baldy. But I did take this lovely photo from another viewpoint of Barrier Lake.

I forgot to mention the any colony right at the beginning of the hike! Definitely cool to watch. I didn't even notice the swarming stump until I started reading the sign and learned there were a few thousand ants crawling around right beside me. I noticed D started scratching as soon as he saw the colony! Clearly not for the squeamish, but I still got a couple of close-ups.

That was to be the end of our hiking in Kananaskis, but we made one last stop at the Barrier Lake Dam turn off. There was still some ice covered part of the lake, and I wanted a closer look. It seemed like the ice was floating on the water. I wanted to see how it all went together.

Sometimes those last minute stops are the most interesting. There's no real beach on this side of the lake, just rocks. But once in a while there would be a collection of ice crystals among the rocks.

When we got to the edge of the water, we saw why. The ice floating on the water wasn't one large sheet of ice, but thousands of little ice crystals, maybe 10 centimetres long at the most. Every time another wave came in (and it was *windy*) these crystals would shift and smash together and some would wash up on the beach. On the biggest waves it would all sound like breaking glass as those crystals smashed together. To be honest, I probably could have sat there and watched for hours (ok, maybe not in that wind).

From there we hit Kananaskis Village where we sampled some of the best desserts ever... but that's a whole other discussion.

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