Monday, July 2, 2007

Redefining "Moderate"

Elbow Valley - Ford Knoll: Trail Particulars - Take Highway 66 to the Little Elbow Recreation Area/Campground. Turn left at the first sign indicating trail head parking. There is no official trailhead marker, but the path leads from the parking lot back to the dirt road and crosses into a field. There are maps along the path there.

I have a great little book for walks in the Western Alberta region. It's mostly little interpretive walks and casuals strolls, but it's very handy for the days I want something a little different. Instead of hiking, maybe a cool tucked away historical site. Maybe something for a rainier day. Maybe something short and pretty for the days after the more strenuous hikes. Since the book features "walks", there have been times where my meaning of strenuous and their meaning of strenuous have differed -- usually what they call strenuous, I call barely breaking a sweat.

I'll have to rethink that theory. Ford Knoll was a good little walk with a "moderate" incline, which in my sad little mind I thought might be enough to get the heart pumping. Not an hour of straight uphill. Ok, it wasn't that bad, but it was no walk in the park.

From the trail head, this is probably the only trail that doesn't go towards Forget Me Not pond and the river. Instead, this one crosses over the dirt road and into a field that is littered in giant cow paddies. It's astounding really. Once you carefully pick your way to the path that runs along the field by the forest, the path leads to a junction. The main path goes directly into the forest, and that uphill you see? Yeah, get used to it... it really doesn't ease up for about 50 minutes.

It was only the day after my grand trek up Nihahi Ridge, and Ford Knoll is in the same area, but almost all of the snow was gone from the trail. It was that nice out in one day.

Most of the first hour of the trail is similiar to this photo. It's a walk through the forest, steadily uphill and other than a few glances in the first 15 minutes, not a lot of views. This is ok though, because there's actually a lot to look at in the forest -- signs of animals, plenty of interesting flowers, and the steepness of the next hill ahead. It's also an incredibly quiet hike -- I don't think N and I have ever run into another person on the actual Ford Knoll loop. Considering it is right next to a popular campground it's surprising we haven't seen *someone*. Ford Knoll gets lost in the shuffle with so many other excellent hikes in the immediate area. Ford Knoll is also set aside from most of the other trails and due to the lack of signage at the trail head, most people probably don't even know it's there.

Most of the early part of the hike is also shaded, which is a nice thing to have in the summer. Sure, it may be a lot of unremarkable terrain, but a quiet hike that keeps you out of the sun in the middle of summer and gives you a bit of a workout is a good secret to have.

Most of the uphill part of the hike leads west, with a slight northwest pull. When you come to a junction, take the left turn, and know you are only a few minutes from reaching the top of the knoll. After one last incline, we stepped into this part of the path we called the "Hallway", where the tress close in on the path and it almost feels like they shut you in the forest. It's a very cool part of the trail, where you can catch your breath and enjoy the change in surroundings. We could see some of the mountains at the opening at the end of the path and had a good idea what we were walking into. There is also the occassional opening along the path that provides a viewpoint directly west.

At the end of the hallway, the trail opens into a plateau, with plenty of excellent viewpoints.

Looking east, with Forget-Me-Not pond in the foreground. That brilliant blue colour is natural.

Looking south, with more evidence of the recent snowfall in the mountains.

From here the trail leads steadily downhill towards the campground. There are many ways to complete the loop and there are helpful maps at every junction to keep you on the loop you want to take. You can choose to loop directly back to the cow-patty meadow, through the campground, or around the campground via the Little Elbow Trail (the same trail used to gain access to the Nihahi Ridge trail). This day, we chose the shortest loop, back to the cow-patty field.

On our way back, we noticed we were being watched by some of the locals. It's a testament to how quiet the trail actually is that we were able to see wildlife this close, and that this group of deer actually outnumbered the people on the trail by 2 to 1! The trail curves around beside this meadow -- by the time we'd gotten there, our friends were long gone.

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