Guinn’s Pass

A little after 8 o’clock this past Friday morning, we headed west towards Kananaskis Country for our second hike of the year. After considerable debate around the supper table the night before, we decided to make a second attempt at Guinn’s Pass. Our first attempt, exactly one year + one day ago, was aborted on account of rain. And although Environment Canada’s 6 a.m. weather forecast included a 30% chance of showers, skies were expected to stay relatively clear and precipitation free until sometime in the afternoon.
Since we were headed west on the Friday just before a long weekend, traffic was quite heavy on the TransCanada. Even so, we reached the Galatea Lakes parking area just one hour after leaving home. Only one other vehicle was in the parking lot, so we looked forward to enjoying a relatively quiet hike, enjoying the sound of the creek and the sights and smells of the mountains. The first portion of the trail, about 5.5 km of relatively gentle climb, parallels Galatea Creek for much of the distance and we crossed a total of 9 bridges before reaching the Guinn’s Pass trail junction. There are plenty of small waterfalls to enjoy along the way.
Since this was only our second hike of the 2010 season, and our first outing was an easy 5 km loop, we’d already exceeded this distance when we reached the Guinn’s Pass trail junction. Youngest GeoK was dragging a little, but we encouraged him to drink plenty of water and offered up the occasional piece of licorice as added inducement. It took a little longer that expected to reach the trail junction (just under 2 hours vs. the 1 1/2 hr time estimate for moderately fast hikers reported in Kathy & Craig Copeland’s "Where Locals Hike in the Canadian Rockies").
The Galatea Lakes Trail section turned out to be a gentle warm-up for the remaining 2.5 km (just under 500 m elevation gain) up to Guinn’s Pass. Fortunately, the wildflowers were in full bloom, so studying the flowers and trying to identify them from memory provided a welcome distraction from the increasing heaviness of our legs. Unfortunately, the flowers eventually petered out and we were slogging up a rocky "path" alongside a creeklet. Crossing a remnant of last winter’s snow fall proved the only distraction during this section. Then, after one final push up a steep and shifting scree slope, we were back on a hard-packed dirt trail through higher-elevation meadows.

It took about 90 minutes to reach Guinn’s Pass from the trail junction. While Mrs. GeoK and Youngest GeoK pulled up some flat rocks and sat down to enjoy the views and some lunch, Mr. GeoK and Oldest GeoKid headed another few hundred meters west-northwest to an overlook providing excellent views of the Ribbon Lake basin and Mt. Bogart.

After we finished lunch, Mrs. GeoK and Youngest GeoK ventured over to check out the Ribbon Lake basin while Mr. GeoK took some photos looking back down the valley towards Fortress.

At about 1:30 pm, with precipitation-laden clouds rolling in, we decided to head back to our vehicle. The GeoKids moved at lightning speed and we were back at the parking lot in just 2 hours. Although it sprinkled a bit, we had already reached the Galatea Lakes Trail and were fairly well sheltered by trees. We overtook 2 groups also headed back down and encountered 3 other groups (some equipped with back-country packs) headed up the trail towards Lillian Lake.

We did find one geocache on this hike: GC26ZZJ Evan’s First Cache was placed earlier this year, and would have required review and approval by Alberta Parks in addition to the usual geocaching review.

Our drive back to Calgary was uneventful; traffic was extremely heavy in the westbound lanes, but pretty light going east into the city. We made only one quick stop at our GC1GG5D Ridge Road – TCDNAB cache, to put the cache container back in its proper hidey-hole, so made it back to one of our favourite local restaurants in time for an early supper at about 4:30 pm.

So was Guinn’s Pass worth the effort? The family consensus is yes, but we’d likely only do it every two years or so, and preferably having tackled more than one other hike that season. Guinn’s Pass is rated "challenging" in the "Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies" guidebook, and we agree with that assessment. With an earlier start and clear skies, we’d be able to capture some fantastic photos from the top. We’d probably also plan to ascend the shoulder ridge to Mt. Kidd.

Finally, if you’re curious about the name, Guinn’s Pass is named after Alvin Guinn, who led a string of 20 pack horses over this pass from Galatea Creek to Ribbon Lake. By the time he reached the ridge, night was falling and he needed to hurry, so he led the horses straight down the scree slope to Ribbon Lake! The next morning, while looking for a better route back, he discovered Guinn’s Pass.

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