Tent Ridge Two-step

On the west arm of Tent Ridge looking back

Lisa and Mike on the west arm of Tent Ridge looking back at our hike and scramble

Kananaskis Country – what the folks who live in south-west Alberta refer to as K-Country – is the place where the locals go to play. Full of glorious Rocky Mountains,  K-Country has all the vistas, views, and trails of the Mountain Parks, but almost none of the National Park tourists.

Last year, while working with the Mountain Legacy Project (mountainlegacy.ca) I fell in love with K-Country, so, when Lisa and John arrived for a bit of Rocky Mountain hiking, I was keen to get out and try our hand at something in Kananaskis. That something turned out to be Tent Ridge (see map below). But, it did take us two attempts to actually get up on the ridge. The first attempt saw Mike, me, John, and Lisa spend an hour in the car at the trail head waiting for the weather to clear. We didn’t exactly waste our time – we played Famous People 20 Questions (pick a famous person – write the name on a piece of paper – give to friend – friend sticks paper on head without looking at it – repeat for everyone playing – everyone asks questions – guess name of famous person stuck to your head). The weather never cleared, so we left for another hike elsewhere.

Mary below the Fist (or Mt. Smuts)

Mary below Mt. Smuts on the high point

The next day was better situated for weather so we headed out again. This time to great success. Tent Ridge is rated as a challenging hike. It is approximately 11 km long, with about 780 metres of elevation gain. It does have a few airy steps where hands on the rock are required.There is some route-finding necessary, however, accomplished hikers and scramblers should have little difficulty. Indeed, all our difficulties seemed to fade away as each step along the ridge offered better and better views. As an added bonus, the approach to the ridge is via a gentle valley trail — not your typical calf-clamping steep gasper of a trail that MOST hikes in the Rockies present.

Storm in the north over Spray Lakes

Storm in the north over Spray Lakes

If our first attempt at Tent Ridge saw us rained out, our second saw us sheltered from nasty weather. As we rounded the western arm of the ridge huge thunderclouds gathered to the north — and sped right past us without so much as a drop. Talk about lucky!

Plant photogs

John and Mary taking pictures of plants – Lisa on the ridge line

The ridge presented us with some lovely wildflower shows – new plants, like Bladder Campion, and Autumn Gentian, that I had never seen before. Everyone took turns trying to get good macro photos. John capped off the day by presenting us with a wee dram of good single malt scotch – Springbank from the bonnie Mull of Kintyre on the west coast of Scotland. In fact, the entire west arm of Tent Ridge, with its wide back, sloping down towards a blue-on-blue lake, reminded me a lot of Scotland and some of the grand hill walking we all enjoyed in that fair country.

A toast to the hike

If you’re lucky enough to be in the mountains, you’re lucky enough!

Our route down off the ridge took us steeply down through lush meadows full of Paintbrush, Arnica, and Saxifrage. We had to exercise a bit of route finding expertise to find our way, but all was accomplished in good time. We arrived back at the trail head just as the first raindrops began to fall. Another day seized traipsing around in the mountains — I could get VERY used to this!

Map of Tent Ridge

More pictures from the hike: Tent Ridge pictures

PS I know I continue to post stories about Alberta here in a BC outdoors blog – but, what’s a border or two between friends. Besides, I promise some BC stories will be coming up!

Eiffel Tower with a difference

Pat on the trail to Eiffel Peak

Pat on the trail: Eiffel Peak on the left, Pinnacle in the middle, Temple on the right

Mike and I did our first over-3000 metre peak of the summer: Eiffel Peak in the Lake Louise area, Banff National Park. It was a moderate scramble with a few moves that were made a bit more difficult because of the weather — nothing like two cold runnels of water pouring from your hands into your armpits and out your pants to get you moving!

Eiffel Peak is 3084 metres high and affords outstanding views of the Valley of the Ten Peaks (the image that used to be on our – Canadian – $20.00 bill). Temple Mountain, Pinnacle Mountain, and the popular Sentinel Pass are also right in your face on this scramble.

The Valley of the Ten Peaks

The Valley of the Ten Peaks

The day started out overcast and cool, and we did get some rain at about 1:00 (just in time for the hard stuff). The trail up was challenging, especially the interminable switch backs up out of Moraine Lake, but once on the mountain the views opened out beautifully. I stopped about once every 100 steps, let my heart rate settle for a moment, gulped down some water, and looked around.

Mary on Eiffel Peak - Eiffel Tower in the background

Mary on Eiffel Peak – Eiffel Tower in the background

We were a group of six, with Rick, a nurse from Washington state, joining us for the majority of the hike. Doug and Pat – our hosts from Canmore – along with their daughter Arianne and her boyfriend Gijs completed our group. This was a fit group and we moved along smartly. Sadly, I was the caboose on this hike, but I don’t think I held the group up too much. And besides, someone has to be last.

This hike and scramble were exactly what I hoped our sojourn in the Canmore area would yield: great views, interesting terrain, some physical challenges, new wildflowers, wildlife sightings, and good times with friends. Here’s hoping our Eiffel day will be the start of more to come.

More pictures from the day: Eiffel Peak Scramble.

Once more I have to ask forgiveness that this is not in BC – although the Valley of the 10 Peaks, pictured above, has the BC / Alberta border running right along the crest of the peaks.

Castle Queen

Mary - Queen of the Castle

Mary – Queen of Castle Mountain

Castle Mountain from just off the TCH

Castle Mountain from just off the TCH

Castle Mountain is, perhaps, one of the most iconic symbols in the Banff National Park pantheon of peaks. Driving down the Trans Canada Highway visitors see the south west slopes of the mountain rising, like a fortified medieval castle, almost straight up from the valley.

I know I’ve looked up at it many times and dreamed of standing on top, but always thinking its cliffs and crags were too much for me. Imagine my surprise to find that Castle Mountain has a much gentler aspect: the north / north-east side above Rockbound Lake affords scramblers an easier route to the summit. Well, perhaps “gentle” is not quite the right description – at 28 km round trip and an elevation gain of 1500 metres it is still a bit of an excursion, but Mike and I found it well worth the effort.

The first few km of the trip is a tad dull as the trail ascends through pine and spruce forest. Red squirrels and lovely wildflowers do hold one’s attention, but when the first views of the Eisenhower Tower heave into view, sailing above the treetops, the vistas quickly open out. Soon enough we reached Tower Lake, ready to begin the final on-trail push to Rockbound Lake.

The Tower above Tower Lake

Eisenhower Tower above Tower Lake

Castle was named in 1858 by Scottish geologist and surgeon James Hector. Using common Scottish good sense he named the mountain for what it looked like: a castle. But, with the stroke of a government pen, in 1946 the mountain was renamed Mount Eisenhower in honour of the US general (an soon-to-be President) Dwight D. Eisenhower. Happily, public pressure caused its original name to be restored in 1979, but the tower on the southeastern side keeps the Eisenhower moniker.

The view from Rockbound Lake gave us a good idea as to what the 2nd half of the route had in store — limestone galore! We went up and to the right around Rockbound and started a counter-clockwise scramble along the limestone terraces, gullies, and rocks high above the lake. What a day! We walked on ancient limestone laid down under the ocean 530 million years ago. In places the rock was so bright I had to shade my eyes to look at it — kind of like sunning on a Pre-cambrian beach.

Looking South-east from above Rockbound LakeThere was a bit of optimal route-finding to be done in getting to the summit – to say nothing of some scree-slope slogging. But, once there we had some stunning views. While lounging around the top two climbers showed up. They came up the cliffs on the highway side. We chatted for a few minutes and found we had someone in common — the lead climber knew my sister Janice back in Revelstoke. What a small world.Pre-Cambrian limestone above Rockbound LakeComing down we retraced our steps, enjoying yet more views and the golden evening light. We even came across some White-tailed Ptarmigan. Normally Mike and I would not bother birds like this, whose existence in the Ptarmiganalpine is already quite difficult. But, these two walked right out in front of us – less than a metre away. I didn’t feel too guilty about snapping a few shots before moving along.

We got back to our car around 8:00 pm that evening, after spending about 11 hours on the mountain. I can say without a doubt that Castle Mountain left me feeling like a queen for at least one day. I give our time on Castle my royal seal of approval.

Our route:

More images on Flickr

PS. I know this isn’t BC, but it is very close to the BC/Alberta border so I thought I’d include it — what’s a little border between friends!