A few days ago, we went out on an awesome adventure up a small peak in Kananaskis Country. Locally referred to as Smutwood Peak, it lies between Mount Smuts and Mount Birdwood (and that’s how it gets it’s name…. smut-wood).
With mountain peaks cresting like waves all around us, picture perfect alpine lakes and wildflower meadows far below us, snow patches for our dog, Seamus, to roll in, a bit of scramble on rock added in for fun, and moody skies all around, it was both a challenging and a super fun day!
The hike began as a double track trail along a fire road, giving us a chance to stretch our legs, visit side by side, and warm our muscles up. Eventually, it veered off and became a single track trail that followed the beautiful Commonwealth Creek.
After spending some time in the shade (and mosquitoes!) of the forest, we broke out into a scrubby meadow.
Bears are very plentiful in the mountains this year, so we made sure to whoop and holler a lot…. especially after we passed by these bear diggings where the uprooted plants were barely wilted!The meadow ended in a cirque where we had to scramble a bit through avalanche-downed trees. It was a neat experience, working our way through their tightly packed, yet completely bent trunks. Seeing these ones bent uphill, you just know the avalanche swept down one slope and pushed the trees up the other side of the valley! That’s some tremendous force at play!
Next up: the long slog up the side of the cirque to a mountain shoulder. The slope, steep as it was, was dotted with beautiful wildflowers and wee little stunted pine trees.
It was steep heading up, but the slope was covered in wildflowers… like anemones, sun-yellow columbines, magenta paintbrush, little white strawberry flowers and purple daisies.
But looking forward, where we were headed, the landscape was beginning to change. It had that high alpine, other-worldly feel to it.
At the col it was incredibly windy! We packed on layers and grabbed a quick snack before hiking to the lakes that lay on the other side of the mountain pass.
THIS! THIS was the view we looked down on as we traversed that scree slope. One lake high on the left and one lake low on the right making the Birdwood Lakes.
The back side of the mountain was the way to go, with some scrambly bits, like the rock band you see in front of me here, to negotiate. Here we pass a couple of people who were on their way down.
Bill keeps saying to me, as I huff and puff up these slopes, “It’s amazing what we can do on ‘two feets,’ just putting one in front of the other!”
The summit is getting closer…. or so we thought… this was a FALSE summit. UGH.But the views were getting better and better.
After a couple of minutes taking it in, we decided we needed to high-tail it off that peak. Looking off into the distance there was weather coming our way, and fast! It sure looked like it could get nasty. Sadly, we couldn’t linger. Lunch would have to wait.
You don’t want to get caught up there with lightening, or come down scramble spots on wet rock! At the first shoulder, we put on rain gear. As thunder boomed, we raced down the slope of the second peak to get to that col and then around the lakes to the first col. Our dog, Seamus, was a bit of a mess, pulling to hide wherever he could every time the skies boomed.
Getting to the shoulder around the lakes was a wind whipping, sideways rain kind of feat. There were two steps I took where it was all I could do to lean into the wind and make my foot make contact with the ground. Powerful forces!The wildflower slope that we’d come up was a bit slick on the way down with its mud, but the sun came out and lit the way and the winds died down. At the base of that slope, we stopped on some big boulders to eat our lunch, take off some wet layers…. and those of us with fur tried to dry out!
Stats: elevation: 961m; distance: 18km.
One word of caution: You read in this blog post about our hurry to get down the mountain when we saw storm clouds coming. There were no thundershowers in the forecast, and yet they developed. This is the mountains! Weather changes quickly. Forecasts can be very inaccurate. We have a saying here, “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.”
The day we did this hike, someone was struck by lightening on nearby Mount Bourgeau. When you see bad weather looming, stop! Don’t continue your summit push or ridgeline romp. Get down to the safety of the treelike to wait it out. And if you feel your hair begin to stand on end, get anything metal (poles, inner backpack frames, thermoses, bear spray bottles, etc.) off your body a.s.a.p., then crouch, hug your knees and get on the balls of your feet. For more info on lightening, go to the Government of Canada site.