Heart Mountain Horseshoe

Contrary to popular belief, Valentine’s Day  is not a day to buy commercialized heart-inspired things (though even in my purist world, chocolate is always welcome)…rather, it is a day to be spent with a loved one… hiking and scrambling up a HEART-SHAPED mountain! Let me interrupt the Tofino holiday account with a glimpse back at last year’s sweetheart of a day….

I have always enjoyed a scramble that includes a ridge walk (a narrow path that connects 2 mountain tops with drop-offs on either side). And Kananaskis has fantastic Heart Mountain, which fits the bill perfectly, with its connection to Grant MacEwan Peak and a third, unnamed peak, with beautiful ridges.

The scramblers’ route can be accessed virtually year round, thanks to the Chinook winds that have a warm, drying effect on the outer mountains of the area, and can be done in an interesting day-long, horseshoe-shaped, loop hike.

Heart Mountain’s name comes from the dramatic geologic dropping of the layers of rock at its peak in what is known as a syncline, that forms an almost perfect heart shape. (It still blows my mind every time I look at a feature like this and imagine the incredibly powerful forces at work that can warp and bend such a massive slab of the earth’s crust, heaving and shoving it skyward in the process with apparent ease!)

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This is Heart Mountain, seen from below. Do you see the heart shape of its peak? Our route took us directly up the right hand side of the heart, then up and over and tucked itself in behind and continued along a ridge to the mountain that lies behind this one… higher, and yet out of sight from this perspective.. and then off to the peak of another mountain on the left, out of sight.
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Gotta love a trailhead warning sign like this!
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The route is the series of black dots on this map, and it forms a horseshoe shape on the landscape. There are a LOT of contour lines to cross to attain this peak! And you know what that means!?! Steep, steep, STEEP!
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Views from a tea break, part way up the mountain, looking back on the Bow Valley as it goes by the cement plant at Exshaw.

The trail is spectacular! A real thrill. Sometimes we were scrambling, using both our hands and our feet… and Seamus simply found his way. It’s amazing what dogs can do to get up a rock face, with no ability to grip and grasp with their paws, and with hard & sharp claws making contact with hard rock a slippery endeavour.

At times, we had to use all 4’s to climb. At the “crux” of the trail/route, Bill had to lift Seamus from below while I hauled him up by his collar to get him up and over a rocky ledge! Poor guy. But he loved it! Sorry… no pic as my hands & feet were tied up!

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In no time we were on top of Heart Mountain, looking ahead at the ridge traverse we’d be doing to reach Grant MacEwan peak.
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The views from up here were amazing.
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With the top of Heart Mountain behind us, this was our lunch spot.
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There’s nothing like a good ridge walk where you’re in the views the entire time!
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The mountain tops in the area have black cylinders usually buried in the cairns that contain logs that you can sign, if you’d like. This one lies with the cairn (man-made pile of rocks) on Grant MacEwan peak. We were far too cold to sign it and had to get out of the wind!
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Next stop: the ridge behind Seamus.
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Believe it or not, THIS was the sketchiest, most challenging part of the route. It was so windy up there (as evidenced by the complete lack of snow), that we had to drop onto our hands and knees with the gusts a few times to work our way across the ridge to the next summit!
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Yup… this was the toughest part of the day. Hard to believe from the comfort of your armchair, no?
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The cairn on the windswept, “unnamed peak.” It was so gusty that I couldn’t hold the camera steady enough to take a non-blurry photo!
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But the views back and down to the Bow Valley corridor from there were amazing.
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One last ridge to walk along.
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What goes up, must come down. The ridge we descended, leading down and into the forest below, was loose and eroded and littered with small rocks, making the going slow and at times treacherous with those winds. But slow and steady does it in conditions like this. You simply take your time, and give your knees occasional rests.
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One last view down the mountain shoulder as we head back down to the roadside of that ribbon in the distance.

Climbing, hiking and scrambling our way up Heart Mountain was so much fun!!! We were SO exhausted by the end, as it took us almost 7 hours to get back to the car at the Heart Creek parking lot. But what a thrilling experience it was, and such a great way to celebrate Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!


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.

One Comment on “Heart Mountain Horseshoe

  1. Pingback: The Heart Mountain Horseshoe Check-In – Trail to Peak: The Adventurous Path

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