Hike: Wasootch Ridge

We found another great close-to-Calgary shoulder season hike.  Wasootch Ridge may be my favorite hike ever, in fact.

The whole weekend was forecasted to be rainy and cool, which probably deterred a lot of people from heading out to the mountains.  Not Dana and I!  We even conned my sister’s boyfriend Mike into joining us.  Lucky for all of us, the hike’s close proximity to Calgary allowed for a leisurely 10 AM departure from Calgary.

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Turns out that a 5-10°C day is the perfect kind of hiking day, at least for a hike like Wasootch.

Wasootch’s trail head is not very pronounced, but basically just beside the parking lot are a few picnic tables.  Behind them, there are a few paths that head (what feels like) straight up the mountain.

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We were hardly ten minutes in and I was peeling off my raincoat because I definitely didn’t need the extra layer when climbing!

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You climb and you climb and you climb, and then you’re finally rewarded with the ridge.  It was such a beautiful day, despite the low clouds and lack of sunshine.  We only ran into a few other hikers (not like last weekend’s circus at Barrier Lake).

 

The trees are pretty gnarled from the wind gusting at them, but they’re beautiful in their own way.  Some little flowers, like crocuses, were popping up here and there.  We encountered very little snow thankfully – the vast majority had melted.

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At the false summit, we were high enough that the clouds engulfed us and we could hardly see beyond the edge of the cliffs around us.  It was amazingly quiet up there and I felt like I was alone in the world.  I’m not a strong or confident scrambler, but next time I’d like to try to reach the actual summit.  We were so close!

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The way back felt much longer, perhaps because I was tired.  It’s pretty steep in some spots on the descent back to the parking lot, and I let out a few yelps as I slid a few times.

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Mike brought his dog, Kira, and Penny came along too.  Kira must have ran at least double the distance we hiked.  Penny stayed by our side pretty much the whole time (other than that one squirrel chase…).  They slept soundly on the way back in the car!

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We hiked about 12 km with 900 m elevation gain so us humans were pretty tired too after!  I felt like a genius because I put ribs in the slow cooker when we left in the AM, so when we got home they were perfectly done and we got to eat right away.  Note to self: coming home to a cooked dinner is awesome!

I’d highly recommend Wasootch Ridge!  It was a great conditioning hike, plus it’s very close to Calgary so you don’t spend a bunch of time driving to the trail head.  Winning!

 

Hikes: Upper Kananaskis Lake & Barrier Lake

I’m back from my mini blog vacation! Today I’ll fill you in on what Dana and I have been up to lately.

Since we’re doing the West Coast Trail at the end of June, we’ve started training in preparation.

Two Saturdays ago, we took our time and headed out to Upper Kananaskis Lake for what would normally be an easy hike. We started at noon and the weather was gorgeous, about 15 degrees.  The skies were a vibrant blue.  In very little time, we were completely sweaty.

This hike is about 15 km around the lake. Very little elevation gain.  Dana and I pictured most of the snow being melted, a bit of mud perhaps, but otherwise smooth sailing.

Unfortunately, I would not describe Upper Kananaskis Lake as a shoulder-season hike, especially mid-April. There was about 3 feet of snow still on the south (shady) side of the lake.

The first five kilometers were sheer ice and we shimmed like penguins up and down the little inclines, praying we wouldn’t break a leg or worse. This was when Dana asked me if we should just turn back; however, strangely, I was having a great time even though it was incredibly awful conditions.

The next five kilometers featured something called “post holing” – basically where sometimes the snow/ice supports you and sometimes it does not. Your foot falls through the snow every other step, or so it seems.  When you’re only five feet tall, falling through snow that’s two to three feet deep is exhausting!  Hell, if you’re Dana’s height it’s exhausting!  But we kept trucking because our only alternative was to go back the way we came and I couldn’t bear facing the ice again.  Penny was such a trooper – she stayed right by Dana’s side the entire time, even though she kept falling through too.

We ate lunch about halfway at Point campground. It was gloriously sunny and the break was much-needed.  From there on, we were on the sunny side of the lake.  We had to walk through deep snow and boulders to get back up to the trail, which was pretty tiring.  Penny started looking at us like “Really guys?  Can you carry me?” but she was always ahead of me so clearly she is in better shape.

Once we got up to the main trail, it was more melted and less of a slog. We made much better pace thankfully and were back at the car around 4:30 I think.

In conclusion, Upper Kananaskis Lake is not an April shoulder-season hike and if you insist on going right now, wear your crampons and be prepared for patience-testing conditions. I did have a great day though, despite it all!

On Saturday, we got out for our second hike of the year. Locals, you can laugh all you want, but we went to Barrier Lake and up to the Prairie View lookout and back along Jewell Pass.  It was laughable because the parking lot was chaotically full of tourists and it was a bit of a circus at times with the crowds.  Clearly we were not the only ones who wanted to get out hiking!  The hike is about 16 km and 750 m elevation gain.

We did the loop counter-clockwise and were glad we did. The way up is a ton of switchbacks in the forest and not much to see, but the viewpoints at the top are very nice.  We ate lunch away from the crowds, then carried on back down.  It was another beautiful day in Kananaskis and very sunny!       Thinking about the prior week’s hike, I dressed too warmly and was sweating within minutes of starting.  On the way down, my heels started getting hot and by the time we got back to the car the blisters had opened on one heel.  Ow.  Guess I have to break my feet in again.

The Barrier Lake hike was a much better shoulder-season hike. There was only a tiny bit of snow and ice at the top.  Otherwise much of the path was dry!  Later in the summer, I would definitely avoid Barrier because of the crowds, but for our needs, it was a great day out in the mountains.

 We are already plotting next weekend’s hike!  Calgary area folks, any shoulder-season hikes you would recommend?