Sunday, 9 September 2012

Beating the rain at Three Sisters Pass (with pikas!)

Yesterday was a spectacular summer day. This first half of today was to be the same, but the forecast called for rain this afternoon. We needed something that wasn't too long and near home.

The next major pass north from our favourite hike, West Wind Pass (which I have written about many times) is the pass between the symbol of Canmore, the Three Sisters, and the southern peaks of Mt. Lawrence Grassi. Getting up Three Sisters Pass has been on my list of things to do for a while. One of the scramblers whose blog I follow for hiking ideas was up there recently, so it seemed like the thing to do today.

Essentially, you follow the drainage of the Three Sisters Creek all the way up. This means that for a lot of the time, you're in a rocky canyon scrabbling your way from cairn to cairn, occasionally with a trail, occasionally just on the canyon's boulders.
There's a trail in there somewhere
It's not easy hiking, but not hard so long as you have boots with good ankle support. It's also one of those places that hiking poles help a lot keeping your balance. It's also relentlessly upwards, getting steeper near the top.

But there's lots to break up the climbing. There are pikas to see.
Not a great pic; upper left on a rock
There are slot canyons containing waterfalls to climb (up and down).
Through the canyon 
Down-climbing that same space 
Yours truly, down-climbing
KC, wall hugging
The canyon is relentlessly rocky and canyon-like.
Higher up
Looking up at that point. The trail heads left into the trees
The pass itself is much more abrupt than West Wind. It just drops off.
Left to right: Little, Middle, Big Sister 
Canmore down below. Lady Mac and Grotto the other side
We wandered out to the point in the above photo. We got 90% of the way there and couldn't find a way down through a cliff band we liked, so descended 80 m to a grassy area, then climbed back up.
KC making it up the last bit
Looking back at the pass 
Our lunch view
Little and Middle Sister
All morning long, helicopters were overhead. Alpine Helicopters uses the Three Sisters Pass to access the Spray Valley, and runs tourist flights up through here. While having lunch, we were overflown by 4 helicopters in 5 minutes, then another heading back across the pass when we were heading down. Great opportunity for photos of choppers from above as they skirted the peaks around us.
Coming up 
Eye level 
Tight to the rock 
Coming overhead 
On his way back
I like helicopters. They don't bother me one bit.
The Big Sister, the fold, and the sheer drop off at the pass
As we worked our way back down the steep stuff we came up, glad for poles and no rain...
KC descending a particularly steep spot
...we saw black clouds in the distance, from the front that was forecast to come through this afternoon. We made it back to the car at 3:20 PM, and at 3:40 PM, it started to rain. And blow. And rain harder. And lightning. All the way home, the weather was miserable, and the wind and rain howling through Whiteman's Gap above Canmore was something to behold.

This was a fun hike, but not an easy one. Poles are essential; the footing occasionally atrocious. And a love of helicopters helps make the day better :-)

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