Saturday, 9 July 2011

Heart Pounding Heart Mountain Horseshoe

One of the most popular early season scrambles in my neighbourhood is the loop of Heart Mountain & Mt. Grant MacEwan, known as the Heart Mountain Horseshoe. It's always free of snow earlier than other hikes, and it's a genuine scramble with two short 3 meter pitches up obvious cracks in vertical rockfaces. Now, don't let that for one minute belittle the challenges that await. You get to climb 850 m (2,775') straight up, then saunter an undulating ridge, then descend over 900 m (3,000') straight down. Here's the ridge you climb:
From the bottom. You get to climb the ridge on the right of the Heart
The climb up is relentlessly steep, and the trail has been braided like crazy by all the people who think they can find an easier way than straight up.
A reasonably consistent 30° slope
What makes this all worthwhile is that the higher you go, the better the views.
Yamnuska on the left, the prairies in the middle 
From the same point, looking up the valley past Lac Des Arcs
We took 2½ hours to reach the first summit. Some people go up to here and then turn around. This strikes me as being insane. This section is the section with the two scrambles, which I wouldn't want to down climb, plus the trail is braided and not in great shape, making it slippery as all get out on the way down.

There's actually 4 mountain summits on this loop. Once past the first summit, the trail goes up and down in 100 m increments over them. However, in most cases, you're hiking on a knife edge ridge with 1,000' drops on one or both sides.
Looking back to summit #1. Note the the vertical cliff. 
Looking back along the ridge between #1 & #2.  
The ridge to Summit #2 you get to climb. Cross the grass to #3
Looking south from the middle of the ridge above. 1,500' down. 
Summit #2 is Mt. Grant MacEwen. There's a summit register you can sign. Trick was, it had practically no paper in it. So people had put in everything from grocery receipts to used downhill ski tickets to sign. From this summit, you can see Barrier Lake and the fire lookout we hiked to a couple of weeks ago.
Barrier Lake on the right. The fire lookout through the trees
From this point, you can actually see the city of Calgary.
The city in the distance
The meadows up here are very pretty, and the trail to summits #3 and #4 quite pleasant.
Nice, but no sign of animal life
Summit 4 is the last chance for world class views.
Towards Exshaw 
Yamnuska and the prairie 
The route up, more or less, plus Lac Des Arcs
Alas, from here it is down. Straight down.
Looking back up the descent route 
A detail of the route, which is in the slot at the top left
The descent is tough, unstable, slippery and very, very slow; it took us 2 hours from the top of Peak #4. Fortunately, there is the odd flattish spot with some grass to break the brutal 30° grade.
A brief respite in the descent.
From here the trail descends steeply in a dense forest with no views for about another hour back to the parking lot.

There's a lot of similarities between this trail and Tent Ridge, that we did a few years back. There's technical sections, though Heart is more technical. There's great views, though most of the climbs in my area feature those. There's knife edge ridge walks with 1,000+' drops. I'd call them very similar in difficulty, with Heart Mountain a little tougher. Maybe that was because it was windy as stink today, with a pretty consistent 50 km/hr wind, with gusts up to 90 km/hr. That certainly made walking the knife edge ridges interesting today.

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