For those of you familiar with the drive from Calgary into Canmore and Banff along the Trans Canada Highway, you will know the point at which you are driving below Pigeon Mountain. As the highway turns sharply around a large marshy lake viewpoint area, and you are surrounded by wind gust warning signs, and you feel your car lurch sideways as those chaotic gusts come roaring down off nearby cliffs, buffeting you ever so unpredictably, you’re there. That’s nasty, temperamental Pigeon.
Pigeon Mountain is a windswept peak on the outer edge of the Rockies’ range, just east of Canmore, named for the shape of its profile, during the Palliser Expedition of 1858. In theory, it is a great shoulder season hike to do when other mountain tops in the area are building up unstable snowpacks on their summits and are otherwise inaccessible, a terrific stretch-your-legs-while-bagging-a-peak, late fall hike. It’s summit is only 2,394m, and it’s distance 16km, return, so it is easily do-able in the shorter daylight days of late fall.
However, on the November day we scaled its lofty heights, it was incredibly windy! As a result, it had little snow on its top and flanks (a good thing), but when the wind gusts combined with sharp, sleety ice needles, it resulted in us receiving a natural dermabrasion “spa” facial treatment (not such a good thing!). But, as a rather resilient friend once told me, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad dressing.” So we embraced the “Suck it up, Buttercup!” principle, bundled up, packed those layers, and took it in stride!
Our hike began, following a track through the forested slopes of the mountain (if there are any locals reading this, we didn’t take the traditional, boring, fire-road start of the route, favouring a steeper, but far more interesting route that leaves through the two large boulders on the east side of the parking lot). In about an hour, we were up onto the meadowy slope of the mountain.
Once we emerged from the forest onto the grassy slopes of an alpine meadow, we could see Centennial Ridge and peak of Mount Allan, an epic day hike that we’d done in the summer (it is the mountain tucked in behind the one in the foreground in the photo below), crouching under an ominous sky. For now, at least, the sun radiated down from overhead, making the meadow grasses glow with a golden hue. It was incredibly windy, making even conversation, difficult. But it was exceptionally beautiful.
What you cannot appreciate from these photos is the sound of the wind. As we hiked up the grassy slopes of the mountain’s shoulder, there was a cliff band above us. At times the wind would hit it, just so, and the sound of that collision, like the deep, throaty growl and protesting roar of a waking beast, filled the air around us.
I so enjoy hiking in the mountains, especially when accompanied by friends. It’s a great way to visit, as you have hours and hours to talk, explore ideas and connect. It’s a terrific way to get some serious exercise in (even if you have to do the painful pigeon pose, after completing the journey to stretch out your protesting hips!), and a wonderful way to build memories in a spectacular setting. That, and the picnic spots usually have unbelievably spectacular views (even if you are huddled in the shelter of a depression to avoid the wind!). Until next time….