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, rmbooks.com 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...