The smoke from the forest fires has been a bit much here, lately. It’s certainly a natural part of our world, living where we do, perched on the edge of vast wilderness areas. But it has a profound effect on what you can do physically, where you can go, and what views you can see.
In the evenings, the smoke sinks into the valley bottoms, coating things in ash, and creating such a thick, masking blanket that the mountains that normally dominate our landscape, disappear and flit in and out like ghostly shadows on the horizon.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, we had to set out late in the day, arriving at the trailhead at about 3pm, opting for a late hike up to Old Goat Glacier and a dinner picnic. Of course there was a traffic jam that held us up!
We chose the Old Goat Glacier hike, as we knew the trail, knew it could possibly get us up above the smoke, and that it would be fun to explore it once again. I was also really curious to see what the glacier looked like, as we’d seen it last 3 years ago, almost to the day.
A little trail beta: The trail begins along the shores of the Spray Lakes Reservoir. The guidebooks are a bit out of date now, so rather than having to park in front of campsites at the campground there, there is now a dedicated trailhead parking lot. Park there, and head into the forest on the track at the south end of the parking lot.
Smoke in the air made the sky look on fire and the forests at the beginning of the hike seem bathed in a warm orange glow. It was beautiful. It was eerie. It was definitely otherworldly. And it made us feel as if we were walking in that magical sunset moment… you know the one I mean, where the sun dips below the horizon and disappears and the world is bathed in the softest, warmest light…. a warm light that lasted for most of our hike!
The moraines up there are enormous: great, towering piles of gravel rubble, they are the remnants of the mountains hemming us in, ground down by the movement, flow and erosive action of the glacier over a millennia, the rock, sand and gravel bits pushed to the side of what was once the glacier’s path. You really get a sense of the power of nature up here.
Old Goat is a very small glacier with very little ice left… it’s a disappearing dinosaur so it’s good to see it while it’s still there. But much to our surprise, looking back at our old photos, the Old Goat is much as he was three years ago. (Below left is 2017; below right is 2014… they’re not identical photos, so you have to use your imagination, but we were shocked that there was so little difference.)
It was a lot of work, hiking up that moraine to the end. We had a picnic dinner, followed by a restorative nap! The great thing about a late in the day start is that there is no one else on the trail. We had the entire place to ourselves!
If you pick up speed doing this, you can have a blast boot skiing…
As we approached the view of the valley, we saw that the smoke was thick enough to obscure the valley bottom and the gigantic reservoir lake that we’d normally see.
Elevation Gain: 620m
If you’re keen to go hiking in the Kananaskis area, check out these links for smoke & fire updates: Verdant Valley Fire (Parks Canada), Crag & Canyon (newspaper), Kananaskis Trail Reports, Fire Reports and an Interactive Smoke Map. And when in doubt, carry an InReach or Spot beacon. Happy trails, everyone!