Mount Shark’s Karst Spring Trail

It’s been quite a challenge, working snowshoeing into our mountain experiences this season. We’ve been doing a lot of hiking with spikes on our feet, and snowshoes, strapped to our packs, on our backs. It should be the other way around… spikes in the pack and snowshoes on the feet!

With the freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw cycle leaving the trails icy, at best, we decided to give one trail a try, a little higher up in elevation, hoping there’d be better snow up there. We’d read good things about the beauty of the Karst Spring Trail in the winter time and, though it is a very short 1.6km in and out trail, with very little elevation gain, we thought it might be worth checking out.

The mountainous area, just outside the town of Canmore, known as the Spray Area of Kananaskis Country. The Mount Shark area is at the bottom of this map, with all the green dotted line trails.

Unfortunately, to get there you have to do a  LONG (3.7 km one way) (boring… oops, did I say that!?) hike in on a wide, multi-use ski (classic and skate cross-country skiing) trail, until you finally arrive at the trailhead.

What you are walking through, though, is quite interesting. Built as a training and alternate skiing racing facility, complete with a biathlon range (skiing and rifle shooting) for the winter Olympics that were held here, back in 1988, it is a large tract of land set in the rolling hills and relative flats of the Mount Shark area, about 45 minutes into the backcountry, south of Canmore. It starts at about 1730m of elevation. and is full of well designed, track-set ski trails, ranked from easy to difficult.

To get to the Karst Spring trailhead, we followed the main Watridge Lake trail until we arrived on the shores of the lake where the spring empties into its frozen waters (see the bottom of this Kananaskis Area parks Map at left).

Watridge Lake was frozen over, except for the spot where the slightly warm karst spring emptied into it.
Clearly, not many had been on the trail recently! And the snow was deep… this sign was to our waist and would, in the summer, be at eye level.
So we took off our spikes, put on our snowshoes, and headed off the main ski trail and into the forested slopes of the Karst Spring.
The winter sun was barely strong enough to break through the overhead cloud of the day. This is the spring, where it enters a delta at the edge of the lake.
Once we were in the shelter of the trees, the path was quite clear before us, worn down by snowshoes, and quite exposed due to a lack of new fallen snow.
The path followed the flow of the Karst Spring to where it emerges from underground on the mountain side.
There were times when it was astonishingly beautiful… vivid green moss-covered the rocks and lay in sharp contrast to the snow pillows on the spring’s banks.
We stopped at a picturesque spot with a bench, buried in snow (that’s why our knees are up high), for tea & cookies.
Seamus thought that the cookies looked awfully good!
Looking back on our buried tea break bench.
The trail ends at the place where the spring comes out from underground, looking like it flows right out of the rock itself.
Our mountains are made of limestone, which erodes easily with the passage of water through cracks that form in them. This flow of water on and under and on and underground is known as the “karst system” and it creates really fascinating geological features (like caves or this “water from stone”) in our mountains.
This sign shows the way the water enters the karst system, through cracks and holes further up the mountain, flows as a stream through the rock and through subterranean lakes and caves, and then emerges in places like this, to flow over ground, once again.
Soon it was time to head back down, following the course of the water as it worked its way above ground, down to the lake.
The spring enters the lake behind me & Seamus.
We had our lunch on a log by the lake shore, looking across its frozen surface and plotting out more adventures on the map and on the landscape before us, for the coming hiking season. (That treed ridge looks “do-able” doesn’t it!?)

Just as a side note, we are planning to head to Slovenia in the fall to do some caving… and the word “karst” actually comes from there. The mountainous border area between Italy and Slovenia is called the Karst Plateau and it is riddled with caves and remarkable limestone features. I can’t wait to explore it!

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.

10 Comments on “Mount Shark’s Karst Spring Trail

  1. I like beautiful green mossy rocks in the middle of winter. Can’t wait to see pictures of your Slovenia trip. How long are you going to be there this fall?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Adventuring on Snow Pillows: Emerald Lake Part 1 – Trail to Peak: The Adventurous Path

  3. Pingback: Spicy Tent Ridge – Trail to Peak: The Adventurous Path

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