Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Exploring Spencer Creek

There's a lot of hikes in K-Country. A lot. There's 1,200 km of official summer trails, and probably double that of unofficial ones. The plan today was to take my friend Monty up one of our favourite semi-official ones (it's an official winter trail, but not an official summer one. Go figure). But alas, he was sick and not up to it, so instead we opted to try a hike I only heard about a few weeks ago.

I was monitoring the kananaskisblog.com post on where to hike post-flood, and Alf Skratins (local hiking legend -- or at least I think of him as one) posted on the status of the Spencer Creek meadows.

Never heard of the place -- and yet, it's a valley between two of my favourite valleys. I did some research and could find only one post about it. Apparently, it is an access route for a scree scramble up to the summit of Mt. Lougheed.

Well, what an absolute treat of a hike it turned out to be. This could very quickly become one of my favourite places. The trail is downright gorgeous. It's easy to follow, challenging but not hard, and enables lots of exploring potential. It's like a cross between Old Goat Glacier, West Wind Pass and Sparrowhawk Tarns.

The first 3 km climbs 270 m next to a babbling brook in a luxurious verdant mossy forest. It's absolutely gorgeous.
Braided chanels, evidence of flooding 
A lush walk 
The path & the stream, in harmony
There's a cool spot where the creek disappears under the trail -- via a little vortex in the water.
The vortex
Up close
This section of the trail is reminiscent of Old Goat Glacier's lower section.

Then the trail becomes just like West Wind Pass, skirting the edge of the creek valley with increasingly good views back to Spray Lakes.
One of the many places on the edge
It turns out the majority of the water in the main part of Spencer Creek comes from a big waterfall off the back of Mt. Sparrowhawk.
The waterfall in the gorge
Then, just like Sparrowhawk Tarns, just off trail you skirt a rockfall coming off a small promontory behind Mt. Lougheed, which is home to pikas.
Me, on the lookout
We saw one, heard a second, but no one wanted to pose for pictures.

Then the trail gets a little more interesting, crossing steep creek gullies...
Looking almost straight down
...and more valley edges where the views to the meadows start.
The meadows under Lougheed in the distance
Cross one last really rocky blown out dry creek bed from the floods...
A lot of rock. I'm getting used to seeing this.
...and like the Tarns, you suddenly break out of the forest into this big, glorious meadow. Here, all trails (and they've been good, soft underfoot and easy to follow to this point) just stop. There's 3 bits of different coloured flagging and two cairns at this point, and it's really not that hard to find your way back to the trail from the meadow.
Looking ahead 
Looking back
Everywhere you look is gloriously green, quiet and up.
Up to that promontory 
Up a grassy slope to the back of Mt. Lougheed
We ate lunch here to the sounds of more pikas and marmot whistles (more on them later). It took all of 90 minutes to climb the 400 m and 4 km to the basin and our lunch spot. 

Exploring the basin was a blast, just like the Tarns. There's a little stream flowing down a "false fault" style crack in the rocks.
Head for this gully. Note the red rock on the left 
The slabs in the gully
Down in the gully 
Me on the slabs 
The creek in the slabs 
The creek doing its carving thing
Follow the creek up to the back of the basin (just under 3 km from coming out of the forest) and it becomes a waterfall off the back of Mt. Lougheed.
Wind Mountain on the right
The waterfall
I crossed the creek and climbed the moraine.
Getting up the undercut bank was tricky 
Heading to the basin 
That's me in the middle...
That wasn't worth it. There's nothing back there but a lot of scree.
My view from that point
The grassy slopes above our lunch spot intrigued us. Climbing up to the waterfall was a gain of about 80 m, so we thought we could contour back to the grassy slopes and keep that 80 m gain. That didn't work. The slopes are steep, and that red rock pile in the photo above is unstable and ugly. So we dropped back into the creek bed, and chased out 2 hoary marmots.
Being stared at 
Heading home 
They walk faster on this stuff than I do
After making past the red rock pile, we angled up the slope and climbed up 100 m to the top of the grassy slope. Steep, slippery, ugly walking on a 60° slope.
KC grunts her way up the last bit 
Looking back at Spray Lakes from part way up 
The view from the "ridge top". Pika rockpile in the middle
See all those big black clouds? Turns out a thunderstorm was bearing down on us. We got off the slope (it would have been horrible when wet), got into rain gear, and the heavens opened, with lightning and heavy rain (but no hail). We headed back down the trail, easily locating its start in the meadow by the cairns and flagging. It poured rain for most of the hour it took us to get back to the car, but our last 15 min was in sunshine. As we drove home and dropped down through Whiteman's Gap above Canmore, this is what we saw.
Big thunderstorm. Grotto in the foreground 
This is the one that hit us. Pigeon on the left
As I mentioned, this is an awesome hike. Not (yet) in any guidebook I am aware of, it has everything you want -- a cool trail, waterfalls, critters, meadows, solitude, views -- and no downsides. If you want a 20 km hike, this isn't it. All of our wandering today and we only walked 11.2 km. The height gain was only about 500 m to the far end of the meadow, but we added a bunch during our exploring so climbed 680 m.

Yes, I could get to like this place.

1 comment:

Alf Skrastins said...

From the grassy meadows near the Mt. Lougheed waterfall, I have contoured on a pretty good sheep trail up onto a bit of a bench above the red rock slope. After following this bench a while, you need to angle up once more on one of a couple of sheep trails across a scree slope...but don't go too high. This leads to a nice, grassy bench that contours along below some really interesting cliffs. This benched descends a bit...probably to the spot that you got to on your steep grassy climb. From here, you can either descend the way you went down to the trail, or go up to a pass that leads to a little peak known as "Little Lougheed". There is also a route that goes up the SW ridge of Little Lougheed.
I believe the basic trail will be described in Gilleans new "Volume 3" book, which should be in the stores shortly.