Sunday, 31 July 2011

The Mt. St. Piran Circuit and Pikas!

From the parking lot at Lake Louise, Mt. St. Piran looks ominous.
Piran on the right. Note the teahouse in the trees on the left
However, it's just a simple uphill trudge with the first half on very popular paved trails inundated with tourists in Crocs and flip flops carrying small water bottles and headed for the teahouse or the lookouts at the Little or Big Beehive.

Of course you start from Lake Louise, which even on a bad day is beautiful.
The lake and the Victoria Glacier
The views on the trail up get better with altitude, but it's when you actually leave them and start the switchbacked slog up to the summit that the views really get better. That, and the trails up to that point are partially shared with horses and covered in "used horse food".
The trail zig zags up this avalanche slope
Don't believe the slope zigs up the steep slope? Here's a blow up of folks on that slope.
About 6 folks on the switchbacks.
Here's KC on the switchbacks.
Lake Louise & the Bow Valley in the background 
Higher up. Mt. Victoria in the background
With 200 m to go to the top the top, the trail basically stops and becomes a boulder field you have to pick your way though.
KC in the rockfield. The lake in the background 900 m below
The view from the top is pretty awesome, with sights back up the Bow Valley towards Banff...
Mt. Temple on the extreme right
...north up the Icefields Parkway...
The Trans Canada heads left to the Kicking Horse Pass.
...and due west, to Mt. Whyte, Mt. Niblock and our descent route.
Whyte (on the left) and Niblock. A nice German girl in the middle
There's a dozen cairns at the top, leading to interesting art shots.
KC among the inukshuks
Normally, people go back the way they came. But we took the back route down via the Niblock col. It looks fairly benign from above...
The col in the centre. Note the basin on the left
...but don't look behind you.
Yes, you come down this
In truth, there's a very obvious path through here, the rock is good and it's easier in a lot of ways than the front side. It was here, however, that things started to get interesting. The guidebook I was using (Popular Day Hikes 2: Canadian Rockies by Tony Daffern) warns you to stay on the right side of the basin in the photo two above to avoid nasty rockbands. However, at the col, the obvious trail continues straight down a dry creekbed.
Straight down and highly braided, but it's clearly a well used trail
Hoping to avoid the rockbands, we took Tony's advice and veered right well off the trail. Mistake (that's twice in 2 days). You have to cross a grassy, slippery, 30° to 55° slope on a slow diagonal that's FULL of the rockbands you're trying to avoid.
Part the way across. The creekbed is on the right

Even farther across
In fact, we ended on the top of a 60' rock cliff courtesy of this exercise. I strongly recommend sticking to the trail, which from below obvious navigates the rockbands while staying left. 

There's a trail at the bottom left of the basin. The basin's wonderful.

The descent comes in from the right
...with great views of Lake Agnes.
Lake Agnes. The teahouse is at the far end
The best part about this section of the trail is that it is infested with my favourite mountain animal, the Pika.
Hiding in the rocks 
Standing watch 
This guy just would not turn around
We saw at least a dozen, and heard a dozen more. We also saw the odd ground squirrel, including this guy up at the summit.
Just before he came begging for food

If you're up for a 900 m climb and a 16 km day, this is a fun route. I do recommend coming down the backside via the col. We were endlessly entertained by about 20 families of pikas, the basin is beautiful, the waterfalls near the bottom great, and the trail to the col and down low are good and obvious. However, I don't recommend heading right at the col as instructed, or following the mapped route, given the obvious (albeit steep) trail that has formed that is on the left. The only downside to that "trail" is that it's braided as all get out, being gravel, and its pretty slippery given how steep it is. However, it's obvious by the pole marks that everyone's using trekking poles, and that makes the down route much more stable.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Bush Bashing Hunchback Hill

Apparently, even retired people have to pay attention to weekends. We have lots to do on both our new house and for our move, but little of it can be done on weekends. That means we're off for the weekend, and it's a long weekend so the neighbourhood is busy as all get out.

So after a really hectic week, I was looking for a shorter afternoon trip, and decided to try the new Hunchback Hills route from the 4th Edition of the Kananaskis Trails Guide, Volume 2.

The trail starts with a rather uninspired though pleasant saunter up the Lusk Pass Trail, a thankfully short trail in a disenchanted forest. Just before we got to the old campsite, we found a huge grizzly bear track.
Fortunately, it's not that new. I think.
We followed the written instructions in the book and set off to the northeast from the campsite (in fact, from the biffy). Mistake. Far from being "dry, open pine forest" as described in the guidebook, it was ultra dense trees the size broomsticks and spaced so close together as to make squeezing between them difficult. We struggled for 45 minutes to make 100 m of vertical and 400 m of distance. Accordingly, if I were to do this again, I would follow something closer to Map #7 in the book, which suggests leaving the Lusk Trail a few hundred meters east of the campsite. We descended directly down that way, and while mighty steep near the trail, at least the spaces between the trees were better.

The book talks about intermittent flagging on the route. Flagging on the route is actually pretty consistent once you find it. It starts about 100 vertical metres above the Lusk Trail on the edge of the ridge and literally hugs the "cliff" edge (2 to 10 m cliffs as in the photo below)...
Exposed Cardium sandstone, I think
...the entire way to the top with a few breaks (either that or we lost it once or twice in the dense bush). Follow the flagging and there's a "path" that's the equivalent of a really weak game trail. Better than nothing. Here's KC coming out of some thinning trees.
The thinnest trees we found
There is a false summit about 500 m from the actual summit with really nice views to tantalize you.
The Powderface Trail, Moose & Jumpingpound
The summit lies 750 m away.
The book talks of "grassy steps with occasional deadfall"; we found virtually no grass, and continuous of deadfall, making the trek very slow going. We took 2:15 to get to the summit from the Powderface Trail parking lot and 1:30 to descend, hence I don't consider this a short hike at all.

On the plus side, the view from the top truly is grand, better perhaps than the summit of Jumpingpound or Cox. Barrier Lake was particularly delightful, and looking down on the Barrier Fire Lookout was unexpected.
Barrier Lake, Heart Mtn Horseshoe, Barrier Lookout & Yamnuska 
Cox Hill on the left, Moose in the middle & Jumpingpound

Logging on the slopes of Mt Baldy
Nakiska ski area & Mt. Sparrowhawk

KC sits on the ridge. Jumpingpound on the left, Nihahi in the centre

You can even see Calgary.
The city, some 80 km away
On the descent, we tried to retrace our steps, but not far below the false summit veered too far east. On a flattish area just below the false summit, there's a spot where the cliff disappears, and in an effort to stay east and on the cliff edge, we ended up getting below the rockband into a deep gully. This necessitated a rather unpleasant climb out over a significant amount of deadfall.

I struggle when I think about hikes like this. The top rocks. The views are awesome. But getting there is NOT half the fun. I was reminded of other routes I have been on (like Red Ridge) where there really is no trail. Kananaskis Country forests are really tough to bush bash. They are full of blowdown and deadfall. It really made it clear that if you go try this, you need to take a GPS with a topo map display. It was the only way we could figure a route up, identify false ridges and get ourselves out of the wrong turn we made.

I'm not sure I will be in a hurry to do this again. Which is a shame, because if there was a actual trail to this summit, it would easily become a favourite hike of mine. 

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Stay tuned, kids...

We listed our house. We sold our house. We are hosting one set of guests. He is about to leave then we're doing it again. We have to move in 3 weeks.

In short, life is VERY busy right now, so stay tuned for the occasional trail update.

But only occasional.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Trail's Getting Wrecked at Jumping Pound Summit

The Jumping Pound Summit trail has always been one of my faves, and we've been up it several times in the last few years.

The first 500 m of the trail crosses a creek and historically been kinda wet but I've never found it to be a problem. We took Monty up there today, and what a mess someone is making of that first 500 m. It seems as if they want to improve the drainage, but it's clear they did not get a civil engineer involved in the design of the "improvements". They have dug a 2' deep trench all along the uphill side of the trail, and in a lot of sections, on the downhill side of the trail, too. Yes, they are putting in culverts, but the ditches are a disaster waiting to happen.
2' gouge on the uphill side only (shadows enhanced) 
Whacking huge ditches on both sides
This is stupid. In some places there is less than 2' of trail width left. If consequential water runs in these ditches (and the way they've dug them, expect consequential water to collect in them) the trail will erode instantly. This used to be a pleasant path through the forest. It's now being wrecked by "improvements". This is shades of how the park near my old house in Calgary was wrecked.

And water did collect in the ditches today. We delayed our start till after lunch because the Canmore forecast called for cloud in the AM with better weather in the PM. Well, it dawned mostly sunny, and the afternoon saw wind, cold temps and showers moving through. We were rained on starting at the lookout bench on the way up, but the rain stopped by the time we hit the summit.
Looking northwest up the ridge 
Moose Mountain 
Cox Hill. Yamnuska in the centre
More of Cox Hill
Showers seemed to come and go all day, and we watched a cool thunderstorm beat the area north of Cochrane.
A very big cloud
The flowers were out in force today. KC had a lot of fun shooting flower photos.
Dramatic photo of flowers with an out of focus mountain 
Small succulent things
Something red 
Something purple
Cool seed pods with out of focus people 
Of course, we got Monty to the top of a mountain.
This hike usually isn't great for critters, and today was no exception. We saw a track that could have been a wolf, but could have just been a big dog. On the Sibbald Creek trail we saw some yellow marmots scamper across the road. We saw a deer cross the road on Hwy 40. Up on the top of the mountain in the meadows, we saw pocket gopher mounds, and while we heard reports of marmots, only saw columbian ground squirrels.
Fat boy, fat boy, whatcha gonna do?
I do hope they fix the "improvements" this trail they've done to this trail in some way. I used to like the wet section, and loved seeing lots of animal tracks in the mud. This construction has taken the wilderness out of the trail.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

West Wind Pass with Monty

In my ongoing quest to convince my friend Monty that we live in paradise, we took him up my favourite hike in the neighbourhood, West Wind Pass.

The weather forecast was for a good morning, getting worse in the afternoon, and they were pretty bang on. We targeted an early-ish start. The morning was sunny and nice, the temp perfect for toiling up the hill.
Monty & KC nearing the top
We were told by some folks we met on the way up that there were a dozen sheep at the pass, but we found none. We could have sworn we heard pika squeaks but endless searching turned up none.
Looking across the pass to the Rimwall
The sun on West Wind Ridge; the Little Sister peeks over the top
Alas, all we saw were golden mantled ground squirrels, and only one or two of them.

While the hike up was very nice, the wind was of course blasting at the pass level. As we ate lunch, we watched a thunderstorm brewing out on the Morley Flats. We knew the forecast was to turn sour, so started to head down around 1 PM, and indeed there were storm clouds brewing to the south.
Ominous blackness on the way
However, we got down in plenty of time. We toured Monty down the valley a ways and ran across a lot of smoke from the start of the northern guard fire burn on the Buller Creek prescribed fire. We heard on Sunday at Parks Day in Bow Valley Provincial Park that the fire was to be started this week.

It started raining about 2:30 or so as we drove past the base of the West Wind Pass trail on our way back to home. There was at least one party of 6 climbing the Windtower today. We saw them going up, and also going down. I hope they made if off before the rains came. The trail was already wet/damp in the AM from last night's rains, tree roots were slippery and there were a few greasy spots on the trail. By the time we got to Canmore, there was thunder and lightning and it was pouring.