Old Baldy Ridge

There’s nothing like a good ridge walk. A ridge is hard to scale up, there’s no doubt about it. One look at a GemTrek map will show you that there’s lots of contour lines that need to be crossed to gain a ridge. But once you’re up and on a ridge, it’s thrilling because that feeling of being on top of the world, goes on and on and on as you walk along its length. Old Baldy, rearing its polished head up amongst the spectacular peaks of the area, did not disappoint.

Wanting to do a good shoulder season hike, we headed off into Kananaskis Country (K-Country as it’s known, locally) to get ourselves up high when there wasn’t a lot of snow yet, and see some fantastic mountain views.

The Old Baldy Ridge Trail was an interesting hike with a lot of variety:

  • There were gentle, forested parts that slowly woke our muscles and eased our bodies into the demands of the day’s hike.
  • There was a gorge to explore, its rocks and pools polished smooth by the passage of water over many years.
  • There was a creekbed to criss-cross back and forth that ran alongside the trail most of the way, its playful sounds keeping us company as we hiked along.
  • There was an open marsh meadow and rockfall area to traverse, surrounded by a cirque bowl that was a marvel to look at, leaving you feel ever-so small.
  • And there was the crown jewel: a ridgeline summit to walk along, buffeted by the wind, with the most incredibly breathtaking 360 panorama views to take in and sculpted snow cornices to see, softening the look of the harsh environment up there!

This was a hike that packed a lot in over its 16-18km, round trip.

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Imagine the power of the water that pulled this rock debris through the area!

The hike begins with a walk, just shy of 2km along a fire road from the Evan Thomas Day Use Area parking lot. No inspiring views. No steep ups. Just a good long, leg-warming stroll. Nothing much to see but forest, until you hit McDougall Creek.

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Do you see the orange tape hanging there? No? Hmm. That was the problem, post 2013 flood. That orange tape in this photo marks the trail. This was what it was like to route find. But we knew the trail had us heading up this drainage for many kilometres, so we couldn’t really get lost.

For the next couple of kilometers, we hiked along and on the creek itself, but it was tricky going. Navigating the trail involved a lot more route finding than we ever expected… looking for cairns and occasional tape on the trees marking the way through the incredible debris scattered about the landscape from the massive flood in 2013, three years ago. There were mounds of rock and lots of deadfall; it was as if the trees had been scattered about like matchsticks and the rock and boulders spilled about like grains of sand.

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This was a landscape that had been recently sculpted. The signs of the rough gouging and carving that the flood had done three years ago was all about is as we hiked. It’s tough to walk on such unstable ground for a long time!

At times the old trail was visible, and at times it was entirely washed away. It never ceases to amaze me how powerful nature can be…. The rock debris brought down from the surrounding mountains and strewn throughout the area unearthed and then carried many, many kilometres from its original resting place, all because a freak storm got locked in place for a number of days, overwhelming the landscape.

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Tell me this inclusion in the rock doesn’t look like an old man with no teeth! Ha!
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The gorge was beautiful as we hiked through with its steps of polished rock and its gentle stream flowing through. Do you see the coal seam above my head?

Soon we were into the snowline, following a higher, dry branch of the McDougal Creek that flowed only in spring with melt water runoff.

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The cold of the snow doesn’t stop Seamus from settling down and getting comfy.

We stopped for a little tea & snacking fuel while our dog, Seamus, looked on, ever hopeful. (Wolf-like, he had gobbled down his treat in a heartbeat!)

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As we left the forest & creek bed behind, we crossed a rock fall area under a spectacular, bluebird sky.

img_3966The rock debris was deep and steep and had been coming down from the mountain tops around us for many years. The rock fall to the left in this photo had tumbled down the slope of Old Baldy… its ridgetop shoulder was our destination for the day.

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Our trail took us around a marshy area that led to a tarn, surrounded by an incredibly impressive rock wall. Known as a cirque, when you stand inside it, you feel like you are standing in the centre of a giant amphitheatre, with the rockfall of the mountain face bending around you.

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We hiked up the steep, grassy slope of Old Baldy to gain its ridge. This is a lot steeper than it looks!
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Soon, snow-covered Mount Mcdougall lay across the cirque and meadow, far behind us.

And then, we were there!

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This panorama photo distorts the image somewhat, but THIS is the view that greeted us at the top of Old Baldy’s ridge.
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The peak of Old Baldy Knoll looms over us to the right. Its rock towers, catching the soft glow of the afternoon light, beckon. I fully intend to come back someday, leaving myself a lot more time, to scramble up to the Peak of Old Baldy. According to our scramble book, it is easily do-able! You just have to put in a good 8 hour day.
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The ridge swept away up to our left. It was a windy place up there!
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We walked along the ridge, taking in the spectacular views. Ours were the only tracks up there. It was really fun to walk along its spine, exploring the views and soaking up the atmosphere.

Soon it was time to put on our spikes and head back down the steep slope to the meadow far below, racing against the setting sun, navigating the snow and the rock debris, following the narrow trail along the creek and scrambling along the boulder strewn & forested creek bed until we were back on the gentle fire service road, easing the tight muscles of our knees and ankles and shins, and finally back at the trailhead. It felt SO great to be back on a mountain trail again.


Click here for more terrific hikes in Kananaskis Country (Canmore Area). And check out more hikes from Canada and our adventures around the world here.

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