One of the popular beginner day hikes in K-Country is Rawson Lake, a beautiful hike or snowshoe up to a perfect alpine lake. The lake is deep and its colour is beautiful. The hike to that point is not too long or demanding, and it starts along the rolling shoreline of another Kananaskis gem: Upper Kananaskis Lake.
The Rawson Lake trail doesn’t require much skill, other than the ability to carry water, a picnic lunch, bear spray (always bear spray in the spring-summer-fall months), and have the fitness level required to get your heart pumping a little more as you head up, ever up (it is the mountains, after all!) through the forest.
Surrounded by mountains on three sides, hemmed in by scree and steep avalanche slopes, and full of fish, Rawson Lake is a popular mountain destination. And deservedly so. Even in August, there’s still snow at the end of the lake, and it’s an easy ramble around to its far side on relatively flat ground for a summer-shorts-and-t-shirt-snowball fight. Who can deny the appeal of that, I ask you! It’s the ultimate carrot-on-a-stick for families with young children to convince them to hike up through the steep forest.
However, go beyond the end of the lake, cross the remnants of snowy avalanche debris, trudge up a steep, loose dirt avalanche path, and you can gain the lofty heights of Sarrail Ridge with its spectacular vistas out over the massive Upper Kananaskis Lake. You can look across to incredible mountains like Mount Indefatigable (locals call it Mount Fatty) along with the hike-in campground near Hidden Lake, and beyond.
It’s a short ridge, with a steep asking price in that it challenges the youngest, most fit hearts, knees, calves & quads, but it’s payoff picnic views are tremendous. Come along and see for yourself….
Avalanche snow is amazing. As it pours & catapults violently down the mountain slopes, the edges get sheered off its crystals. The result: the snow packs in like cement and takes a very, very long time to melt. I will never forget what we had to do in our avalanche safety course: to learn proper digging techniques, should someone in our party get buried by an avalanche, they had us practice digging in the snowbank furrow left by a snow plough. It was next to impossible! AST1 essentially taught us to be afraid… to be very afraid of avalanche terrain in winter. It gave us just enough healthy fear to learn and practice avoidance!
Distance: 11.3km to the ridge
Elevation: 655m elevation gain (300m to the lake; 355m more to gain the ridge)
A little trail beta: the day we went we were shocked at the number of people attempting to go up to Sarrail Ridge. Really shocked. We saw about 60 hikers on that avalanche trail. And we were more amazed by how unprepared many of them seemed.
Rawson Lake’s shoreline is a terrific destination, in and of itself. There’s lots to do and explore there. There’s no need to go up to the ridge if you don’t have the experience to back you.
Don’t venture beyond Rawson Lake and head up to the ridge if you have no poles (you need them to go down), don’t have at least 2L of water on a hot summer day, aren’t wearing hiking boots (this is an easy ankle twisting trail), and have little experience on seriously steep terrain (practice somewhere else, first). I think that many of the unprepared people were doing the hike spontaneously, with a “What’s up there?” sense of adventure.
This is no Parks Canada trail with carefully crafted switchbacks. It is unrelentingly straight up on loose dirt. It is a steep and slippery avalanche path. And down is always far more challenging than up: please, please remember that, if you attempt this.
We passed, and checked in with quite a few people, young and old, who were physically struggling with the demands of this hike. There is a wee bit of scrambling and it is heart-poundingly steep and can stress your heart and leg muscles and play havoc with knees and ankles.
We were shocked to hear that the day after we did this trail, Kananaskis Country Public Safety rescue personnel responded to a hiker in distress, and that that person died of a heart attack, part way up the slope to the ridge, on the trail. Our hearts go out to the family of this person. That doesn’t mean that that unfortunate soul was unprepared, it’s simply another pertinent reminder to carry an InReach or Spot beacon device in the back country to send out distress calls, as there is no cell phone service in there.