Spicy Tent Ridge

I know I’ve said it over and over again, but there’s just nothing like a good ridge walk for the exhilarating, prolonged views. You get the hard climbing done early, and on Tent Ridge, one of the iconic ridge walks in K-Country, you are in the views for hours!

The Tent Ridge parking is in a turn-out of sorts along the access road to the Mount Shark Ski Area. The trail in is easy to find, back down the road about 100m, and contrary to what older guide books may have you believe, it is an easy trail to find and follow now that it has been boot beaten down by the passage of many feet over time. And what feet those are! From ultra runners (these people are human machines and we were passed by two on this day!) to ski teams of kids doing dry land training, and from hikers to scramblers to dog walkers, they’ve been here!

The hike up to Tent Ridge began with a short trek through a forest on an old access road. Soon we were in a meadow, following a beautiful stream, heading up toward an alpine cirque. It is Tent Ridge that cradles this cirque, so in a few hours, we’d be on top of the slope you see here.
It was a meadow full of wildflowers, like these magenta Paintbrushes…
…and these crazy anemone seed heads that look like Dr. Seuss’ Thing One and Thing Twos. Or maybe Bond girls having gorgeous hair days.
The trail was a gentle one as it came up into the alpine area.
After escaping hoards of mosquitoes in the forest that lay between the bowl and the ridge flank, we were finally there… at the brink of our adventure for the next couple of hours. And Bella, the friend that Seamus brought along on this day, went straight for the snow, chomping and rolling her way into a blissful state!
There were plenty of people on the slope ahead of us as we began our climb up. And this is just a fraction of the people we’d encounter on this day.

One thing we noticed was that young people were out on the trail in huge numbers! Maybe it was the fact that it was a gorgeous, sunny day on a perfect weather July weekend. Maybe it was the fact that Canada 150, Canada’s big birthday celebratory year, sees Canadians coming out in droves to explore the National Parks with the free park passes. Or maybe it’s just that at 1.3 million people, Calgary, the closest major city (within an hour’s drive) has hit a critical mass of people, many of whom are getting outside and experiencing the Great Outdoors. Or maybe it’s that blogs like this demonstrate that ordinary people can still have adventure in their lives, giving them the confidence to try it on for themselves. Whatever it was, our hike on this popular trail showed us that the future of our parks system is in good hands, because the young millennials were out in droves!

There are many who worry that over-running sections of our National Parks (like the popular Bow Valley corridor, with its Canmore-Banff-Lake Louise-Jasper route through our Rocky Mountains) will degrade them, destroy them, tarnish them and obliterate them as a natural resource.

I’m a firm believer that the more we can get people out into our parks, experiencing the natural beauty that we have here in Canada, the more people will support efforts to preserve our natural environment. Put them on foot on the trails, put them in cars driving to view points, put packs on their backs and send them off on backcountry camping trips, hoist them up on horseback traversing backcountry valley bottoms, pack them into gondolas and send them up mountain peaks the easy way, let them experience the natural wonders working their butts off (quite literally) doing 7 hour hikes or scrambles to mountain tops, or load them into buses and put them on a glass floored bridge gazing down into a steep canyon…. whatever you do, put them there.

Keep them sheltered in cities with no wild experiences, and why would they care about our magnificent wild spaces? In Canada, at least, we have the luxury of sovereignty over vast sections of wilderness that can still be protected in their pristine conditions, with no visitors other than the occasional scientist or traditional aboriginal hunter, along with large places of “front country” that are open to tourists and citizens to explore. It’s a perfect balance. And hoards on the trails or not, I’m willing to share that space, if it means greater protection and investment in our National Parks down the road.

Enough of my soap box and on to the best part (and the best views) of our hike!

There were still snow fields on the slope of the ridge.
The trail switchbacked up through the loose, eroded rock of the ridge shoulder and gave us spectacular views back of Spray Lakes as we looked back.
There were mighty, erosion-resistant pinnacles of rock, standing like sentinels… or like the ancient vertebrae of a sleeping giant… guarding the alpine bowl that we had hiked through, far below.
Up and up we climbed. The boots of the intrepid hikers that had come before us had packed down the rock rubble into some semblance of a trail that you can see here.
At times, things were scrambly, needing us to put hands and feet on the rock to climb up. It was “spicy,” the girl behind me proclaimed with a glint in her eye. I love that. Spicy.
I have to say that the spicy scramble spots are my faves, and I was grinning from ear to ear through spots like this!
… and this…. (this was not posed, I really was grinning the whole time on the scramble spots!)…
… and most definitely this, when you go right through the backbone vertebrae of the ancient mountain’s spine….
…and this, oh yes, THIS!!!, when you had to climb up and over narrow pinnacles of rock.
Up and up we went. This was the first little peak we crested.
Looking back here, you can see a hiking group behind us, resting after mounting the first peak. And you can see the bright green avalanche slopes that people ski here, when the conditions are just right in the snowpack, in the winter.
THIS was our fantastic lunch spot views atop the second peak of the day. We were looking out at Commonwealth Peak (the treed ridge in the foreground that we’d topped in snowshoes in the winter) and the little Shark’s Tooth (can you see it? it looks just like it’s name). Mount Birdwood vied for our attention with its lofty heights, while magnificent Mount Burstall spotlit like the incredible beauty that she is, towered in the distance!
After lunch we descended a bit from the second peak and then began our slow, steep climb up to the third peak of the day.

The views from that saddle of sunlit Mount Mercer (in the photo below), across the Spray Lakes Reservoir, and all the other mountains of this front range cascading like waves into the far far distance, were tremendous… and far below was the valley with the flowers that we’d hiked up and through.

Tent Ridge extends to the left and right in this pic and we are standing in the bend of its horseshoe shape.
Climbing up to the third peak, the rock shards were covered in black and light green lichen bursts that covered the exposed bits like firework displays. And the views from there…. the views went on and on!

The clouds, buffeted by the crazy winds up there, moved through quickly, passing overhead and creating a moving kaleidoscope on the walls of the mountains beside us. The shifting pattern was mesmerizing… and just what I needed when stopping to catch my breath! (Sorry… this video should have been longer, but my friends were climbing out of sight and I needed to catch up!)

Gaining the crest of that third peak was another steep climb that switchbacked through the eroded rubble. The solar panel building and the antenna in the distance is where we stopped for our lunch break.
But what a peak it was! Here’s our group of two and four legged hikers.
Then it was time to get set for the longest stretch of the ridge, completing the other side of its horseshoe shape.
A long, narrow, tent shaped ridge lay before us… and it was spectacular!
Looking back on the trail as it came down from the lunch spot peak and up to the third peak. This pic shows the steepness and the rugged nature of the terrain.
You get a good sense of the climb we did to the ridge, and the ridge’s shape in this shot.
It looks narrow in the photo above, but in reality, it wasn’t too bad.
The views down toward the pastel blue Watridge Lake and the Mount Shark Ski Area in the distance were spectacular. Up on this ridge, we were standing above the Karst Spring Trail that we’d explored in the winter.
Spray Lakes curved around and out of sight, far below toward other spectacular hikes we’ve explored in K-Country along the dusty Spray Lakes gravel access road that you can see, like a white snake slithering through the dark forest below: Windtower, Chester Lake, Rummel Lake, Sparrowhawk Tarns, Guinn’s Pass, Buller Mountain, etc.
Of course, it’s not a perfect hike without a cookie break! The perfect spicy cookie for a spicy ridge walk!
Then it was time to descend down a loose rock slope. See the people far below? That will put the size of this scree ramp in perspective!
You just take it one step at a time, planting poles for stability, and switch back & forth. That way it’s not too bad.
And at the end of the day, hot and dusty, we stopped at the Engadine Lodge for a beer and strudel, looking out over the beautiful marsh with views of the ridge we’d climbed that day. (It was Strudel Sunday there, after all!) It was a perfect end to a tremendously fun, exhilarating, grinning-ear-to-ear day!
Happy trails to you all!

Distance: 10.6km loop (5+ hours, with breaks) with some light scrambling

Elevation Gain: 780m

Many thanks to Pat & Heidi Fricker for the use of their photos from the day!

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.

13 Comments on “Spicy Tent Ridge

  1. What spectacular views and I am so glad to hear that young hikers were out in numbers. How can you compare a day like this with a day loitering around a shopping centre or playing games on a computer. Agreed a little effort is required … but the rewards, wow!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is nice to see the younger folks out hiking, but it would be nice to see a few more older ones out too. The views are just as nice for them…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love those stunning vistas you captured on your hike! It is wonderful when one is able to see young and old respectfully appreciating their outdoor environment. I wish that this was an easier issue in countries with larger populations and fewer natural protected areas.

    Liked by 1 person

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