Monday, March 30, 2009

Centennial Ridge -- September 7, 2008

Centennial Ridge: South approach. Take Highway 40 south to Ribbon Day Use Parking Area. Begin at the Hidden Trail trailhead. Turn left onto Centennial Ridge Trail about 0.2 km in.

I still can't think about this hike without getting chills. Maybe it was the strange weather conditions where we literally saw four seasons in one day. Maybe it was the fact it took us over 5 hours to go 4.5 km. Perhaps it was simply the magnitude of the hike that we didn't fully appreciate until we were back at the trailhead, but this was a banner hike.

Some background: Centennial Ridge was built in 1967 to celebrate Canada's Centennial year (seems fairly logical). At 2819m/9249ft, it is the highest maintained trail in the Canadian Rockies.

And it feels like it. The full ridge walk is approximately 17 km, but most choose to approach it from the south side and return the same way (13.8 km return). The north approach is longer and steeper, but more shaded (21 km return).

It is not for the first time hiker. I'm not even sure it's for the intermediate hiker, but it's certainly a feeling of accomplishment no matter how far you get. A little bit of scrambling is required.

As we started out, the day was perfect. A sunny fall morning, with just the hint of cloud cover. Mount Kidd looked especially inviting from the trailhead:

This sign should have been our first warning. Do the icons on these signs usually look like they're marching as opposed to hiking?

As we climbed, the cloud cover looked amazing. I believe this is Ribbon Peak:

Looking across the valley:

As we got higher, the peaks poking through the cloud cover got increasingly inspiring:

One of the most taxing things about the Centennial hike is the false summits. You think you're getting to the top, but instead it's just another step along the way. It's not even a plateau... it just keeps climbing. This is a spot where we thought we'd catch a break, but were proven wrong. At this point, we were also starting to get awfully close to those clouds...

It was so green and surprisingly humid for above or near the treeline. It was also a long way down:

Then suddenly, we were hiking right into the clouds:

To the south of us the view started to open up, though Bogart Tower is blocked by the clouds:

Hiking into the mist!

The mist would come and go, but it moved quickly! We would go from clear skies to surrounded by fog in a matter of seconds. Here's another wall of fog moving in on us:

As we hit a bit of a plateau, we were free of the mist, but found a new novelty...(at least then) snow!

(For some reason this was interesting to us in September. I'm not sure why. After a long winter, my only fascination is why I was so fascinated by it).

The terrain was definitely changing. Instead of nothing but green grass and hills, now we were seeing green grass and rocks.


To the south:

Olympic Summit! This is the first "real" summit of the hike, though it's far from the highest. From here the trail is briefly a gentle ridge walk with a slight incline toward the more rocky and snow-covered true summit -- Mt. Allan. Just below this summit on the other side is the ski hill Nakiska, where some of the skiing events for the 1988 Winter Olympics were held.

Weather station! I actually get my weather reports for the Kananaskis area from this very weather station (how geeky am I to know that?):

I'll be honest, I don't even remember which direction this shot was in. We were both a little fried at this point.

The ridgewalk got a lot more snowy as we approached the approach to the summit.

The view all around us:

It was past 2:30 and we'd been hiking since 9. We were tired, sore, losing the daylight, and being snowed on after having to pack sunscreen earlier in the day. As much as we wanted to make that summit, we knew it would easily take another hour, and then our tired legs would need another 4 hours to navigate back down. It was a tough call, but we turned around.

It just gives us one more reason to go back...