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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
Here’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]