Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Kananaskis Canyon -- June 29, 2008

Peter Lougheed - Kananaskis Canyon Trail. Directions: Take Highway 40 to Kananaskis Lakes Trail. Turn right into Canyon Campground. Look for Loop C and a small turnout for parking. Trailhead is across the road.

Kananaskis Canyon is one of those trails that is beautiful and sobering at the same time. This quick 1.2 km takes you through a stunning canyon carved by water flow, but the very creation of this trail is thanks to the fact the river that used to run through here has been dammed and now flows through a pipeline going directly to a power plant.

The trail begins in a slow descent through forest toward what remains of the Kananaskis River. It was a nice break to be heading *downhill* at the beginning of a trail. After only a few minutes, we were beside the river and the trail was heading toward the canyon.

Then out of nowhere, the canyon appeared, along with a pond, bridge, bench and falls. It was all so park-like:

We crossed a bridge and the trail immediately led uphill to overlook the area. Again, it seemed almost too perfect:

Ironically, just a few feet from this lookout spot, the true Kananaskis River flows by in a pipeline. Amazingly, this is just off the trail itself:

The trail comes back down on the other side of the falls. Once again, we were surrounded by a peaceful quiet setting, calm waters, the canyon walls, the silence.. it was more a stroll than a hike, but it some ways it had the same effect:

Monday, November 24, 2008

Peter Lougheed Visitor Park -- June 29, 2008

... our next stop on our drive was a quick interpretive loop beside the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park Visitor Centre. Unfortunately, when we arrived the trail and most of the area around it had been blocked off due to bears in the area.

Bear warnings aren't terribly unusual in this part of the world, especially in the spring. The big beasts are waking up and they're usually quite grumpy and hungry. It's in our best interests to stay out of their way.

What was surprising though, was the extent of the closures. Many of these trails directly surround the Visitor Centre, an area that has heavy vehicular traffic, not to mention a large parking lot that serves as a trailhead for multiple trails. Not the area you'd expect bears to be spending much time in.

The Visitor Centre itself was a border for some of the closures. The picturesque meadow directly behind the Centre was closed due to bear activity. We could go no further than the gate connecting the front deck of the Centre to the back deck.

Hard to believe such an area had to be closed, but there it was:

Yeah, if I were a bear, I'd wanna live there too...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wedge Pond -- June 29, 2008

Kananaskis Valley - Wedge Pond. Trail details: Take Highway 40 past Kananaskis Village. Look for Wedge Day Use parking lot on left side of road.

We'd never heard of Wedge Pond before this day. It's not even really much of a hike, but more of a 1 km loop around a small pond. It was busy, and there was a lot of activity, but you know what? I'd go back there on a warm summer day in a heartbeat, just for the view:

And we continued along Highway 40...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Troll Falls -- June 29, 2008

Kananaskis Valley - Troll Falls. Trail details: Drive south on Highway 40 and turn right at the Nakiska access road. Take the first right into the Stoney Day Use area.

Some days hubby and I don't feel like going for the full-day, 20k hike. There are so many nice areas just off the highway and so many sights only a five minute walk along a short trail, it would be a crime to pass them up simply because they're not "remote" enough.

So I'll stack up a list of short walks, hikes, or loops in the same general area and we'll check out as many as time permits. It might not be the same exercise, and it might be a little busier than the trails, but there's still so much to see.

This particular journey was along Highway 40, focusing on the area between the Nakiska ski area and the Highwood Pass area. About half this road is closed from Dec 1 to June 15 annually, so this was a rare chance to check out some hiding places along the recently opened road.

Troll Falls trail is part of a maze of different trails scattered around the Kananaskis Village area. One can mix and match to create a loop of almost any distance. This network doubles as cross-country skiing trails in winter.

We chose the 1.6 km route directly to Troll Falls, aptly named Troll Falls trail. This was our view as we left the parking area. This isn't the actual trail (this is Stoney Trail) -- ours begins where the two hikers are standing, checking the map (with the number of trails and junctions in the area, these maps are essential). Mount Lorette is the closest rocky peak:

Our trail took a left and wound up in forest soon enough. On this day there was a prescribed burn at Mt. Nester (about 15 km west of Kananakis Village). The wind was blowing the smoke away from us, but the sun was shining through the smoke, giving the trail a glowing red hue:

Occasionally, we'd also see ash falling from the fire (the burn itself was a response to the pine beetle problem developing in Alberta. For more info, check the Banff National Park Fire and Vegetation Management site, or the Alberta Government Sustainable Resource Mt Nestor page. I have some opinions on the way the Alberta Government is managing the pine beetle threat -- but I think I'll focus on the hiking today).

The wildflowers were fully out on this trail. Again, I'm still working on my floral knowledge (my naming scheme begins and ends at "yellow ones"), but after some debate in the household, we've established this to be a Heartleaf arnica (arnica cordifolia):

These are Bunchberries (cornus canadensis). They will eventually yield bright red berries:

We didn't expect Troll Falls to be much, but it was actually quite impressive (moreso than the photos reveal). We were struck by the power of the falls -- we had to yell to be heard. I'm sure a good reason for that was the late thaw and the spring run off... but it was still something to behold. As were the mosquitoes. There's only one quick shot of the falls because that's all we could get in before being eaten alive!

As we headed away from the falls, we could really see the effects of the burn to the west of us. Everything around us was tinged with red:

We opted to head back a different path, making the trek a 3.2 km loop. We chose Hay Meadow trail, which turned out to be an interesting choice because we didn't see another person on the trail the entire way back. Considering how busy the area was, this was remarkable. Actually, considering that for a good chunk of the way we couldn't even see the trail... that might have more to do with it.

But for a little-used trail, it had some of the best shots of the day:

The trail is directly in front of us, believe it or not...

Next, we moved on to Wedge Pond...

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Ha Ling Peak - June 22, 2008

Canmore - Ha Ling Peak. Trail Details: From Canmore, head west on the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Trail (Highway 742), past the Nordic Centre. Turn right into the Goat Creek Day Use parking lot. Trail begins across the highway.

When I first started hiking the thought of making it to the actual summit of a mountain in the Canadian Rockies seemed inconceivable. I had visions of climbing gear and ropes and hanging precariously from a sheer rock face with a valley far far below.

Truth be known, there are a quite a few trails in my part of the world that summit formidable mountains. They are far from easy, they usually involve hours of steep inclines, trekking poles and even some scrambling, but they're out there, and the average person can do them.

If I remember this summer's hiking for anything, it will be for the fact N, D and I hiked some of the highest trails in the region and summited a number of mountains I would have thought impossible.

Ha Ling Peak is an achievement for so many reasons. For starters, the hike begins at the base of the mountain, not after driving up half the mountain via a logging/forestry road (such as Moose Mountain). Second, it's such a visible mountain, towering over the town of Canmore along the Trans-Canada highway.

The mountain measures at 2407m/7897ft, which isn't that impressive by mountaineering/climbing standards, but the short trail (just under 3 km) means you're climbing over 700m in 3 km.

Ha Ling also has one of the more storied histories of the region. During Canmore's coal-mining days in the 1880s, a Chinese cook named Ha Ling won a bet after proving he could summit the mountain and return to camp in under 12 hours. The mountain was named Chinaman's Peak in his honour, though this wasn't made official until about a hundred years later. In 1997, due to the sensitivities of the name, the name was changed to Ha Ling Peak, but not without opposition from those who believed the historical name should stand. Personally, I like that the name reflects the actual person it's named for...

Amazingly, I went through my photos and I don't have a single shot of Ha Ling from a distance. Until then, has some nice photos (plus a write up on the naming controversy) at Peaks of the Canadian Rockies.

Clearly, N and I had no idea what we were getting into.

As we loaded up in the parking lot, we spotted 3 mountain goats making their way down a fairly steep rock face on the other side of the highway. It was magnificent to watch them navigate down the rock, taking a path no human could hope to descend. As a hiker, I learned a lot just by watching these 3 beasts. They stood back and let their cohorts fully navigate the tricky areas before starting down, and they kept a certain distance from each other in case of falls. These guys look pretty mangy - it was June and they were still shedding their winter coats. ;-) (click the photo for a better view)

I guess the nice thing about steep trails is that you get instant payback. Ours came in the form of this Spray Valley vista:

Don't be fooled - the cloudy day was a blessing. No way could we have done that climb in direct sunlight.

I didn't take as many photos as I usually might. With the trail climbing up the west slope of the mountain, the view didn't vary that much. Also, Ha Ling Peak is an extremely popular trail, and despite our early start, there was seldom a time when there wasn't another group nearby. Every time we stopped, we'd need to step aside to let another 10-15 people by.

But the big thing was the wind. Once we got above the treeline, the wind was unbelievable. Anything not firmly attached had to be tied down, and walking along the scree meant enormous concentration to not lose balance. N and I complained so much about the wind that weeks later when my husband asked about the hike, he thought it was called "Howling Peak".

So photos weren't forefront on my mind.... until we got to this view at the top. That's Canmore down there, with Grotto Mountain in the background:

Looking south with the Goat Range in the distance and the edge of Rundle Mountain on the right side of the photo. If you look at the lower right corner, that's the type of terrain we were hiking for the windy part of the hike (and at that angle!). Just beyond the Goat Range is Sulphur Mountain, part of which is located in Banff:

Looking south from Ha Ling. This is the other half of Goat Range, with (I believe) the Sundance Range in the distance behind it:

The other memorable thing from this windy, steep hike? Hiking up took us about 2 hours. Hiking back down took us just as long. But I'd do it again in a heartbeat...