Thursday, 4 April 2019

Early spring hiking

Now that ski season is almost winding down, my ski posts over at will slow, and I'll be back posting here.


More on that as we progress.

Spring has sorta sprung here, with limited new snow in the valley and temps in the teens (Celsius) some days. That opens up some hiking opportunities that are NOT climbs of my local mountains. Those are still mostly under a lot of snow, and often, subject to unpredictable wet avalanches. My version of mountain climbing generally doesn't start until June-ish.

On the bright side, there are a gazillion kilometres of valley-type trails with spectacular vistas that are cool in my 'hood, and I love the fact that all the "commercial" bloggers ignore most of them. The forecast (which ended up being wrong, as usual) was for sun and warm today, so we decided to start getting our summer hiking butts into shape.

We headed to a little-explored part of Kananaskis Country, the Yamnuska Natural Area. In truth, it's not a Natural Area any more, but is now part of Bow Valley Wildland Park. It's a large area of rolling, glaciated terrain, full of little ponds and lakes, and surrounded on 2 sides by big mountains. Most of the trails in here are either routes to climbing areas, or routes used by local horse outfitters for trail rides (and they are all unofficial and unsigned). And they are NOT well used. We used to have research cameras in here, but it was a waste, as so few folks walked by them.

We started our day at the garbage dump. Yep, there's a Class 3 landfill next to the park, and stuff (mostly plastic) blows out of the place and into the park -- but they have a guy whose full time job is to collect it. It was nice running into him; he advised that the expansion of the landfill changed the trails a bit. That meant the map & trail directions in Gillean Daffern's Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 3, page 125 was wrong.

Following his advice, we followed a weak trail along the new fenceline north, then east, then south, where we intercepted the old trail and could head on our way. We wandered through the "Hidden Valley" area, pleasant (if gravelly) walking near the base of the mountains.
The Hidden Valley's typical trail 
Mt. Yamnuska comes into view
The trail in here was mostly but not entirely snow free. On the bright side, someone had left tracks in the snow, so where the snow was deep (up to 2'), finding the trail and walking in it was easy.
Ice & snow here 
Yam dominates
There are some cool BIG trees in this area, but didn't feel like exploring for them.

There's no height gain of consequence in here, so the walking was fast. After about 90 minutes, we got to our first lake.
Crescent Lake appears 
Looking southwest to Mt. McGillivray 
Looking west to the Goat buttresses, a popular climbing area 
Our lunch view
The ice on the lake wouldn't hold the weight of a stone I threw onto it.

After a peaceful lunch, we continued east a ways, looking for the access to the beaver ponds. Suddenly, "used horse food" started appearing on the trail, and we found a large meadow I bet is used by Kananaskis Guest Ranch to do trail rides to. It's just above the beaver ponds, and a lovely spot for a picnic, I bet. The trail to the beaver ponds was obvious and not where the guidebook said it would be, so maybe there are multiple trails. There are a few large ponds that are very photogenic.
The first sight of the ponds 
At the water's edge 
An interesting perspective to Heart Mountain 
Dead trees have such style 
Looking back at Karen, looking up at Yam
I would like to come back to this spot with Karen's niece Llisa, who is a better photographer than me.

We backtracked to Crescent Lake again...
Still frozen
...went past Hilltop Pond, which really is on a hilltop...
Yates Mountain, with Barrier Lookout on the top
Pretty west view, too
...and descended to Reed Lake, one of the larger lakes in the area.
Dropping down off the hilltop to (frozen) Reed Lake
Not a small lake at all. No, I have no idea about fishing in these lakes.
Around here, "bad things" happened.

Short story, my foot started to hurt.

Long story, I have arthritis. Three years ago, it started to affect a toe in my right foot. That got worse, and made walking painful. In January 2018, I had surgery on my toe to fix the problem. I did one hike, in June 2018, and it hurt like he%& (I never even wrote about that). Turns out that surgery "didn't work" (a complicated story), needed re-doing, and I couldn't hike at all for the entire summer. I had a second surgery in September 2018 to fix the surgery that didn't work. Today was my first "real" hike since that surgery.

And 8 km into this hike, I was almost crippled. About every 50 paces, I got stabbing pain in my (twice operated on) toe. The farther I went, the worse it got. Shit. Here's hoping I can get it fixed, or my hiking in 2019 will be as limited as 2018.

We soldiered on. On the bright side, it was only 3 km back to the car. 

We took a side trip (on a VERY ill-used trail, but at least one marked with a cairn where we started) to yet another pair of lakes, called Twin Lakes.
Two lakes separated by a small isthmus 
The west lake 
The east lake
A quick jaunt between them got us to a powerline, where it was just 1.5 (very painful) kilometres back to the car.

This area is FULL of exploration opportunities. There aren't any "official" trails; there are a small set of ill-used "unofficial" trails, lots of off-trail wandering that can be done to explore things, and lots of cool lakes, fens, springs, bogs and other things to find. We did find a small grove of endangered Limber Pine trees in the Hidden Valley (there are more I am aware of on the west side of the landfill) so tread carefully.

None of these trails are hard. All offer beautiful vistas, solitude (I promise you will basically have them to yourself) and should be on hiker's lists of "things to do" -- especially when the peaks aren't climb-worthy.

What did surprise us was a lack of wildlife or wildlife sign. Aspen forests without elk gnaws, very few poop piles, few tracks, not one squirrel, and only a few interesting birds, like this Three-toed Woodpecker.
Making a mess, as usual 
Very cute
We did see this, and still have no idea who's poop it is. Best guess? Black bear.
Looks like partially digested pine cones
Visit the Yamnuska Natural Area section of Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park. You'll be glad you did. Read more about it on Gillean Daffern's Kananaskis blog here.