Memorial Lakes: Are You Tough as Beef Jerky or Soft as Meringue?

What is hiking, really and truly? A means to an end, the beautiful viewpoint destination?… for sure. A way to keep physically fit?… certainly. A way to get our heavy fixes of nature, escaping the confines of our far too urban existences?… absolutely, yes! A form of side-by-side play, allowing you to build relationships through conversation and a lengthy shared experience?… most definitely.

But it is even more to me.

Perhaps the Copelands put it best in their “Where the Locals Hike” guidebook:

Hiking evolves beyond recreation. Fostering calm and clarity, it becomes meditation. Revealing how nature manifests the divine, it becomes reverent, a form of worship. It can even usher us into mystical terrain— our feet taking us as far as it’s possible to go.

Sometimes it is an easy stroll through an almost pastoral setting, and sometimes it is an intense grind, requiring adept physical skill and dexterity, a lot of effort and a great deal of mental focus and concentration.

Memorial Lakes, the latter, is a hike we’ve wanted to do for a while. It takes you on a wild track that branches off from the popular Ribbon Creek Trail, and heads up, precariously at times, to three alpine lakes. To reach the uppermost lake, you need to do a scramble of sorts that leaves most hikers behind. It’s a long hike that veers up, ever up, on a rough trail that at times seems little more than an animal track, scratched into the soft, heavily eroded dirt banks of the fast flowing north fork of Ribbon Creek.

The hike begins at the Ribbon Creek Day Use area, near the Nakiska hostel, a place where a number of trails, including the Mount Allen & Centennial Ridge Trail and the Ribbon Creek Falls Trail (a main trail that takes you to back country camping sites on Ribbon Lake and Ribbon Falls) come together. A large, paved parking lot, it has lots of space to accommodate the variety of users that launch themselves, on foot, ski or snowshoe, into the back-country.

Believe it or not, THIS is the sight that greets you beside the parking lot!

Briskly hiking alongside the beautiful Ribbon Creek, you can make very good time along a wide, well maintained trail for about 45 minutes. The Copelands call this part of the trail, “ideal for anyone soft as meringue,” and it is! You cross beautiful bridges and walk past plenty of handmade, rustic log benches, wood sculptures and towering creek-side cairns built by families out for strolls with their youngsters. The trail is wide, the forest pristine, any hills virtually flat, by mountain standards.

A creek-side cairn.
The tree sprite that greets you as you head on up the popular trail.

Then, the Copelands ask,

You’re tough as beef jerky? Veer off the road onto an unsigned, primitive trail: brushy, rocky, rooty, narrow. At times it’s just a scratch in the earth. And it tilts increasingly skyward, following Robbin Creek’s rowdy north fork.

I just so love their sensibility, their playfulness and sense of humour, that I had to share their description! We certainly needed to be tough as beef jerky to do this hike… come along and see for yourselves!

The track you set off on veers off the well-packed, smooth, main trail.
It wasted no time heading up, ever up toward that skyline.
The small creek we were following was a beauty. But sometimes we had to climb high to get past its obstacles….
In one place, someone had (THANKFULLY) put a rope! This was a very slippery, very dry dirt cliff with a long drop off to the creek below.
It was steep & challenging, but fun.
Sometimes the trail disappeared, and you had to look for rock cairns or flagging tape tied to a tree branch to see which way to go… and following the creek didn’t always work because at times it went through gorges (gorgeous gorges!) or disappeared in completely eroded sections from the 2013 flood.
See what I mean? There’s no climbing along the creek to be done here!
This is one of those gorgeous gorges… and a perfect place for a cookie break!
Seamus sure thought so! He had a good, long drink here and a jerky treat (and yes, still kept his paws dry).
We had tributaries to cross that fed into the stream, and these often involved stepping across rocks in the stream, or walking along carefully placed logs like this.
We kept following that north fork of Ribbon Creek that was emptying from the upper Memorial Lake far above. Though we were following its upward trajectory, ofttimes we were quite high above the creek itself.
Finally we emerged up above, with views of Ribbon Peak and Bogart Tower looming at the end of an impressive rock wall.
We were on the shores of the first Memorial Lake here.

Here’s the point where I have to strongly disagree with the Copeland account. They call this first lake a “bush-bound puddle— a disappointment, though it does afford tantalizing views of the high country…. It’s just a pond in a willow-choked bowl with muddy banks, but formidable mountains surround it.” Those Copelands… their standards are high for natural beauty! Personally, I think this is worthy of immortalization in a painting! But in fairness to them, the lake might be filled like this only in the spring.

Next, we followed the stream that fed the lake, tumbling from the second lake above, to a place where we could cross over to the other side. It might be hard to see here, but Mr. Dainty Paws walked along the log, tucked right in behind me, so he wouldn’t get his feet wet in the creek!
The next part was marked by a steep ascent (playful romp?) through a boulder field at the base of Bogart Tower.
It was steep, but very beautiful with pockets of small, flowering alpine plants, and boulders dotted with spectacularly orange and lime green lichen patches.
The scree field above the boulders provided a little more challenge, but it was scree practice we were after to get trained up for our Abbott Hut ascent later this summer. The rock moves and shifts beneath your feet as you climb. But you just take it slow and plant those poles and you get through it.
Another bit of a boulder field… we were heading for those cairns way up there. Can you see them slightly to the right of centre?
Looking back, we’d come up a good height from that first lake!
A little beta… half way up the scree slope there’s a huge cliff like boulder. Turn right there and head into the forest. There’s a steep dirt track that puts you on better footing through the dense, heavily shaded pine forest, giving you some much-welcomed scree relief. To find it on your way out, look for the flagging tape that you see on this tree here. It’s easy to miss.
And then we were there! The Emerald. THIS beauty is the second Memorial Lake.
We’d arrived, hot & tired & thirsty.
It was time for a lunch break (on a bed of heather… how awesome is that!?), a rest and a good dose of map studying.
The lake was a spectacular colour! And the reflected snow fields, ever so beautiful!

That’s Mount Sparrowhawk towering above the lake… Sparrowhawk Tarns is a hike we’ve done a few times now from the other side, and loved. It’s really neat to slowly, but surely, learn the nooks and crannies, the valleys and peaks, the tarns and lakes, and all the varying perspectives that the wealth of hikes in Kananaskis Country gives you as you work your way through it. It’s like getting to know an old friend intimately.

At this point, we still had the upper lake to attain, but I held back, worried my knees might have trouble if I added more scree, and tougher scree at that, to the day… and I was worried about the downs of the soft creekside banks, and that I might be too tired to safely get through the roped section of the trail, or be able to negotiate the scree filled descent without a tumble.

Bill was disappointed, but firm that we were doing this together. We will definitely be back another day. In hind sight, I could have done it. Darn. And I probably wouldn’t have been stung on the way out (but that’s another story… note to self: don’t take drowsy-befuddled-brain-inducing benadryl when you still have slippery, roped descents to negotiate!).

So I guess that leaves me like a good tenderloin steak… still beefy, but buttery soft. Not quite Meringue. Not quite Beef Jerky. Bill, he’s that strip of thick cut bacon… lots of salty goodness and tough to chew on, not yet given the chance to prove his tough-as-steel, dried out, beef-jerkiness!

IMG_5265Here’s to facing more hikes this summer that’ll toughen us up!

Why is it called Memorial Lakes, you might ask? Apparently, up at that difficult to reach third lake is a memorial to a downed airplane, erected on September 28, 1986. A brass plaque sitting on top of a cairn, it commemorates the lives (and fates) of  the people who went down in three airplanes in June of that year: the passengers of the original missing plane that went down near Guinn’s Pass, and the rescuers of two planes that were downed below Mount Lougheed and the Unnamed Peak near Guinn’s during the unfortunate search & rescue mission. The plaque is inscribed with their names, and then,

“I have slipped the surly bonds of earth… put out my hand and touched the face of god.”

For the full story, go to Hiking With Barry’s blog post.

[Memorial Lakes Trail is located in Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park, Kananaskis (off hwy 40)… distance: 14.8 km to middle lake; 16km to upper lake… Elevation gain: 599m to middle lake; 759m to upper lake]

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.

19 Comments on “Memorial Lakes: Are You Tough as Beef Jerky or Soft as Meringue?

  1. The beauty is so ridiculously magnificent. Reminds me of home here in northwest Montana. But I’m not nearly the accomplished hiker you are, so it’s great to see photos from your (and Seamus’s) perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved the 5th photo. Your husband is looking up at the precipice ahead with the stream flowing beside him. The rock face looms in the near distance. He’s already mentally scouting ahead to determine the best path to follow. I know that look well.

    Overtime I visit you here, I find myself thinking… I’ve really got to get back out on the hiking trails again.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. These are beautiful lakes, especially the second one. We had hiked with you guys (that included Seamus), so I know you are more a beef jerky than a tenderloin. Always trust your best judgement.

    We hiked the Spires Trail to Conrad Kain Hut in Bugaboo Provincial Park today. We didn’t get to Conrad Kain Hut because David felt sick. We turned around when we had less than half mile to go but still more ascent. It’s for the best because we didn’t know if it would become worse. He’s much better now, thankfully. So we have unfinished business in Bugaboo.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Where Do We Get Our Inspiration? – Trail to Peak: The Adventurous Path

    • That valley… the Ribbon Creek one that you veer off to head up to Memorial Lakes… is one of our favourite areas to explore.

      You can also try staying on the Ribbon Creek Trail past the two sets of waterfalls and head up through the chains to Ribbon Lake. Tackle it from the Galatea trail, heading up Guinn’s Pass. Come up from the Spray Lakes road and see it via Buller Pass to North Buller Pass.

      It’s really neat getting to know an area well. The next one on our big hike hit list for that area is coming up Sparrowhawk via Red ridge or Reid’s ridge from the Spray side. That should look right down on the Memorial Lakes.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for the great suggestions: all the trips in the area sound amazing! I made a trip down to Ribbon Creek Falls a long time ago: but i still remember how incredible the views were! I have also read about Mount Sparrowhawk in Alan Kanes ‘Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies’ as being a superlative viewpoint. Then there’s nearby Centennial Ridge, Mount Kidd… my ‘to-do’ list is getting bigger each day!


    • If you do the Centennial trail, plant a car at the Ribbon Creek trail head at Nakiska, then START at the Dead Man’s Flat’s exit. Hike in from that way and you’ll love it. Most people only go up and down from the Nakiska side to the top of Mount Allan, but I loved the other side even more for its light scrambles and fantastic views. It was a long day, but an exceptional one!
      Here’s a link to our time doing it that route…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the info: incredible views up there! I might have to split the outing into two separate trips: perhaps an out-and-back on Centennial Ridge for one, then do the Mount Allan-Collembola Traverse from Dead man’s flats on the other: the area is too good for just one trip!

        Liked by 1 person

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