Spring has been a long time coming in the mountains around Canmore this year! Rain, snow, rain, snow. Would it ever make up its mind and dry up?!?
Finally, a rainless weather forecast with warm temps was upon us, and we had a free day… so that could mean only one thing… it was most definitely time for a good, long, soul satisfying, heart stopping ridge walk! Mist Ridge, deep in K-Country fit the bill perfectly.Mist Ridge involves a long hike in and out… a little over 23km when all is said and done. So it is a BIG day. But I wouldn’t let that stop you. Its ups are not grueling. Its downs are not knee pounding. It IS long… but when you have to work for something, it seems that much better, doesn’t it? Reach out to your inner masochist. Take lots of food and water. And then enjoy the views when they finally come, and you’ll love it!
Our trail started off in the forested depths of an alpine valley bottom, just south of Highwood Pass (highway 40 is the road that goes through Kananaskis Country, and as it goes over that pass, near the trailhead, it earns its cred as the highest elevation road in Canada). With the spring we’ve had here, the trail was very mucky, and given that it started out as a horse trail, it was even muckier. It was time to put on those gaiters! The trail follows alongside Mist Creek. Our guidebook very aptly calls it “Missed Creek” as you pretty much never see it! The trail is just forest, muck, forest, muck, marshland and brush, forest and more muck all the way up to the treeline. Once our trail emerged above the forest, heading up to the col, it was absolutely lovely! From that point on, we were in the views, the trail was dry, and we were surrounded by wildflowers!
It was a little windy once we reached up at the col, so we put on our warm jackets and had a tea & cookie break. The views were tremendous… but they were going to get better, that’s for sure!This is the view from the mountain shoulder…We headed up the south end of Mist Ridge, working our way up steeply, trying to pick our way on the rocks to avoid stepping on all the flowers up there. Gaining the ridge is grunt work, for sure! But it is well worth it!Those wildflowers were everywhere! We couldn’t have timed this hike more perfectly! [As a side note… many people go to Burstall Pass, up in the Spray Lakes area, for the wildflowers in early summer. And it can get quite crowded up there with hikers. There were far more wildflowers, and far greater variety of flower types and colours on this ridge! And we saw not a soul, not even in the far distance, for the entire day!]I know I’ve said it before, but there is nothing… NOTHING.. like a good ridge walk! You are in the views the entire time, walking up and down the undulating spine of an ancient mountain range. Ridges can be wide and barren, rocky and thin, have serious exposure, or feel like a walk in a park (a magnificent park, mind you!). They are varied and their views are always inspiring. And this ridge did not disappoint! It began like this…We headed along the series of undulating little peaks you see in the centre of this photo. And at times it got seriously fun!Sometimes it was rugged and you walked along the upthrust, shattered vertebrae of that sleeping giant, lying beneath your feet.At those times, you’d scramble along the rocky outcrops, revelling in the experience.The views just got better and better as the ridge line twisted us this way and that.Looking through the “V” in the photo above, you can see Calgary, far off in the distance, on a clear day. And looking the other way (in the photo below), you can see the incredible twists and lines of Storm Mountain. But there was still more ridge to go. Can you see the way we were heading? Look to the photo of Bill and Seamus. The peak off in the distance is where we’d have lunch.We came across a little stand of trees, and they were twisted, stunted, crowded together and stripped bare in parts by the harsh conditions they experience up there. You can definitely tell which way the wind usually blows!And yet somehow, SOMEHOW, those wildflowers thrive…There was some fun scrambling near the north end of the ridgeline…
And then we were at our lunch spot. What a lunch spot! (Alright, maybe this was second lunch spot… the hike was a long one and we’d eaten half our lunch near the beginning of the ridge!). Looking down over the edge, you can see the valley we’d be working our way back through to get to the trailhead.After lunch, we left the northern most peak of the ridge and began heading down toward the col between the ridge and Storm Mountain.There was a wee bit of scree to negotiate, but it wasn’t that bad.One last look back at the valley we would be travelling through…… with the snows snagged in the vertical rifts of Storm Mountain, off in the distance, and wildflowers at our feet.There, we took in the heart-stopping views of the landscape through which we’d come. It was time to head back down into the forest below, and do the l-o-n-g trudge out on the horse trail.The way back through the forest was long and unchanging, but what is neat about hiking… and especially the “boring” parts… is that it gives you time to talk.
Time to really talk.
I think that’s what works well for Bill and me… we work things out, we plan for the future, we share things we’ve learned, we bare our souls…. and when we add to that the novelty of the landscape that we’ve adventured through, the whole experience becomes the food that sustains and nourishes our relationship. The adventure and all its parts connect us. Those lengthy, shared experiences give us a history and enrich us. Working toward a common goal, like attaining a summit or a ridge with all of its grunts and discomfort, and that ever-present breathless feeling…. well, they get under our skin and inspire us. And all of it… the heart stopping moments that are thrilling and exciting, and the monotonous times that are tedious and boring (because every good long adventure has both)… is the food that feeds and sustains our “us.”Of course, when the hike is a long one, there can be time set aside for a good nap!
My apologies to those who have been following my blog for a while. I let things go there for a bit. As I reached the maximum of my storage plan (you may have noticed that I post a FEW photos each time!! Ha! They gobble up that data!), I gave some careful consideration to whether or not I should pay more and continue writing here about our adventures. My husband, Bill, and a few key friends have encouraged me to continue. (Thank-you… you know who you are!) Let the 2019 hiking season begin… my hope is that it inspires you to step out of your comfort zone, explore the amazing world in which we live, and add a dose of wildness to your every day existence. Get spicy! (Yup, cooking is another thing that inspires me!)
23.4 km return; 1163m elevation
“Stop!” I barked out, startling Bill… who at that point had no idea what was on my mind. “Park over there, by that car on the other side of the road.” With an eye roll (I’m sure of it), Bill passed by the cliff, did a u-turn, and then pulled over in the spot I’d indicated. Read More
Having to turn back on Day One of riding in Moab, separating from the group, was disheartening. Nine kilometres into our ride, I was hacking away with my upper chest in a lot of pain whenever I breathed hard on uphills. Only a third of the way through the route, I was seriously holding things up. So Bill took one for the team and slowly rode out with me, back to the trail head and our car while the two other couples we were with rode on.
I’d fallen sick with a brutal cold that was fast developing into bronchitis. Day Two I sat out. Day Three, I wanted to ride something… anything. Surely it was just a bad cold, and that’s it. So Bill took me out to Dead Horse State Park, a place with some relatively flat trails that wouldn’t get me breathing too hard. Little did I know it’d be the last ride for me of the trip. Read More
At one time, riding horses in the Moab area, shod with metal shoes, was a treacherous thing. The horses would slip like crazy over the surface of the sandstone. And so the rock earned its name, “slickrock.”
Today’s modern steeds are sleek, two wheeled, wide tired, well treaded, swift, rugged awesome beasts with wicked suspension. Yup, I’m talking about mountain bikes.
Believe it or not, bikes take to the slickrock like geckos to an adobe wall, clinging to its impossible angles like no one’s business. The rock is abraded, like sandpaper, and so its grip is incredible.
Riding on the slickrock is such a fun experience.
The riding can be fast, with punchy ups and very steep downs, when you’re riding on the petrified sand dune shapes of the upper cliffs.
The riding can be dusty as you wind through cacti and snake through sand patches, created where erosion smooths the sandstone and gets trapped in ditches and gullies. Watch out for those sand traps! They get riders that are clipped into their pedals in spectacular, slow motioned, soft-cushioned falls.
The slickrock riding can be breath-taking as you struggle up long inclines… and breathtaking in an entirely different way as you take in views of mesas rising up out of a desert plateau or the Colorado River, like a snake, winding through a canyon far below you.
For every up, there is a super fun down. And so the trails can have tremendous drops and bumps that have you rolling over big rocks and ledges, and rattling down rocky inclines, thankful for the cushioned travel in the suspension of your trusty steed.
We’ve been to Moab twice now, to ride its fun and technically challenging trails. And we will be back again. Each time we return as better, more skilled riders, and so the fun that we have is different, and better.Sadly, I developed bronchitis during our Moab week and had to cut my riding short, so I need to return again. I will. Me and my swift fox (my trusty steed) will be back…
With my fingertips missing their defining ridges, my legs covered in a bevy of happy bruises, and my heart happy from a week spent outdoors, playing on rock, we headed toward Moab Utah for the next stop on our holiday.
It was a long drive and my mind wandered through what I’d seen and experienced in the Nevada desert, and what I was seeing before me, now that we were passing once again through a similar landscape in Utah. The crazy sandstone shapes: fingers, pinnacles, chimneys, columns, rounded mounds and arches. The strange colouring in the golds, pinks and reds. The striping and spotted, measle-like dimpling of red through rock. The cacti that lived and thrived through extremes of hot and cold, dry and flooded. The power of rainstorms that could create washes, the size we’d seen and hiked through. The power of the tectonic forces that can thrust sandy sea bottoms skyward, transforming what was once flat, soft and shifting into hard, near-permanent mountains. The power of water and wind, those erosive forces that wear rock into sand, only to be foiled by geologic forces that turn it back into rock, only to be eroded once more into sand…. Read More
And now, back to our regularly scheduled program once again…
Located high above Red Rocks’ popular Calico Tanks trail, the hike into this crag was my favourite part of the day. Part scrambling and route-finding, it takes you up a dry stream bed, along sandstone ledges, over water-sculpted mounds, past little “tank” oases (shallow rain catchment pools in the sandstone), over white and gold and red and pink sandstone streaking, and then it has a steep push up a rampart to get to the climbing crag. Once up there, there were two caves to explore and a wide, open area from which to watch the climbing… no neck craning necessary to get route beta! Read More
There’s more to Red Rocks than climbing. Come along as we go off on a little diversion from the main purpose of our trip to Vegas.
Blue Diamond is a little town, about 12 km down the Red Rocks Scenic Highway from the entrance to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. This small town has made a name for itself with its awesome singletrack trails system of 33 trails.
You are not allowed to ride the trails within Red Rock Canyon itself, so the Blue Diamond/Cottonwood Valley option is an excellent way to get around this: you still have the incredible Wilson Cliffs of Wilson Mountain, one of the iconic mountains within the park, as a backdrop for your rides. Essentially, you’re biking in the desert area on the south side of Red Rocks, so it sure feels as if you are still in the park. Read More
And now, back to our regularly scheduled program… (we were in Vegas to climb, after all!)
This was quite possibly my favourite climbing crag. Perched very high up the cliff face on varnished walls, it’s quite the fun scramble to get up there, over the most bizarrely striped pink and red rocks… but oh-so worth the effort! In fact, the hike back down takes just as long as the hike up… that’s how demanding the scramble is! Read More
While there are plenty of hikes to do in Red Rock Canyon, we were after a long one that would give us a birds’ eye view of the climbing crags we’d been playing in… and Turtlehead Peak fit the bill. Its peak rises, looking a lot like a turtle’s nose poking up and out of its shell, from the desert floor.
Already on our “hit” list of possible hikes for our time there, it was recommended to us by a Vegas couple that we met while hiking in Zion. They belonged to a weekend hiking group in Las Vegas and this was one of their favourites. Read More