Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Sparrowhawk Tarns - All Wow. All the time. With Pikas

When I was up to the tarns pretty much exactly a year ago, I called it the "Basin of Wow". I think the wow factor here just continues to be off the scale.

The morning dawned perfect, with the sunlight glowing on the mountains.
The view at breakfast
At the trailhead it was a rather chilly 4°C, but the forecast was for warm temps and within 30 min we had shed all our extra clothes and were down to shorts and short sleeve shirts.
Goat Mtn across Spray Lakes
The trail is also the start of the scramble to Read's Ridge, Read's Tower and Mt. Sparrowhawk. The trail junction for these routes used to be poorly marked. Now it isn't.
Magic marker on a tree. Creative.
The directions I posted last year to get to up to the basin from the abrupt end of the trail have obviously been used by others. The path is better, and there's not much of a cairn left heading into the forest, but there's at least 6 cairns marking the start of the route up the dryas towards the larches. All the way along through here we saw pika after pika, probably 15 in total (photos in a moment).
KC clambering up near the start

Pika heaven
The basin from the top of the rocks
We deliberately planned for extended time in the basin today, and thus turned a 12 km hike into a +15 km jaunt. We did a clockwise loop of the place, heading to the far east side to start, seeing waterfalls and grassy, mossy flats...
The outflow of a small waterfall
...little lakes...
The lake under Bogart Tower
...rocky terraces...
Mt. Bogart. You can climb the scree ramp to gain Red Ridge
...little creeks that come out of nowhere...
You just want to drink it
...and the actual tarns at the "end", which are mostly empty.
You can see the black outline of the high water level
This is such an amazing place. No photo I could take can illustrate how vast and interesting the basin is. For one thing, the place is FULL of fossils.
30' of coral heads 
One of many fern corals we saw 
Shells of something 
More fern corals 
Even more. 
Some really cool something
We also found a truly Canadian version of Stonehenge -- a picnic table and 4 chairs, set up out of rocks.
Tea, anyone?
Today's Animals
Last time we were up here, we saw tons of marmots. Today, only one skittish one.
Chubby as usual
We saw footprints of something in the mud of the upper tarns. After poring over our reference books, we concluded it was most likely a coyote, but it could be a fox, or some other kind of canid.
Long toes + claws = canid. Too small to be a wolf
We saw 8 white tailed ptarmigans, one group of 4 and two groups of two.
A pair 
Hiding, and very convincingly, too
And then there were the pikas. We found them all over the place, saw +15, heard another dozen or more.
On the watch 
Watching me and lots of other things 
Chillin' on a rock
I have only been up to the basin twice, but I personally think it's one of the most amazing places in all of Kananaskis Country. Every twist and turn is a wow. Once you're up in the basin, you have a dozen square kilometers to explore with virtually no trails, and really no need for them anyway. Follow your nose. It rocks.

It started chilly this morning, but by mid afternoon, it was at least 24° in the basin, and 26° by the time we got to the car at 5 PM. We though that a midweek day would be quiet up there, but in fact ran across two folks from Canmore doing the same clockwise circuit of the basin, two other folks coming up in the late afternoon and two folks in the parking lot who had climbed Mt. Sparrowhawk.

Please, please consider doing this hike. It's not as popular as the "I summited a mountain" hikes, but it absolutely deserves to be on every hikers list of places to go.

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