We headed to K-country again Friday (06 Aug 2010), with plans to hike Tent Ridge for the first time. We freely admit we were influenced by Kathy & Craig Copeland’s very favourable review of this hike, published in the Calgary Herald about a week ago. Throw in the fact that there’s a newly published geocache in the area, and we were convinced this was the right hike for us to tackle for our third hike of the 2010 season.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature (and Alberta Parks) didn’t agree! First off, when we checked in with the Kananaskis Visitors’ Centre near the north end of Highway 40, we were advised that Parks personnel planned a controlled burn of a fire break, which would likely result in smoke drifting over the Mount Shark area. But given how windy it was, and the fact that the weather forecast called for sunny skies and a high of 28, we figured odds were low that they’d actually proceed with a burn. So, after briefly considering a couple of alternate hikes we’d selected for our Plans B and C, we continued south along Highway 40 to Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and the turn off to the Smith-Dorrien "highway".
Trailhead parking is about 2 km along a small gravel road that is signed as Mt. Engadine Lodge. There are no trailhead facilities and the parking area is not signed, so you need to be watching your odometer. We found it was pretty easy to spot the parking area, as a few other vehicles were already parked; obviously other folks had read the Copeland’s positive trail review!
As soon as we climbed out of our vehicle, we we swarmed by mosquitoes, so before unloading any of our gear, we took turns with the bug spray, which helped quite a bit (at least as long as we were moving). Then we strapped on our packs, adjusted our trekking poles and, with trail description in hand, headed out in search of the abandonned logging road that made up the first trail segment.
Tent Ridge is not an "official trail"; although closely grown in some spots, the trail is surprisingly well marked with cairns, logs and flagging. We had no trouble making our way up through the forest to the Monica Brook drainage. The wildflowers bloomed a riot of colour in the clearings and meadow. Looking ahead towards Mt Smuts and Commonwealth Peak it seemed that the Tent Ridge basin had the potential for the same sense of being alone in the world that we find in the valley between Mt Tyrwhitt and Pocaterra Ridge, up in the Highwood Pass area.
Looking up the Monica Brook drainage towards Commonwealth Peak
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to confirm this impression; despite the weather forecast, we’d been watching grey clouds roll in atop the ridge. After a couple ominous rumbles of thunder, Mother Nature dumped rain and hail by the bucketfull! Fortunately, we were well-prepared and scrambled into our full rain gear (pants, jackets, pack covers and neoprene gloves). After studying the sky for a bit, encountering another group of (less well-prepared) hikers scrambling for cover in the woods and reviewing what we recalled of the hike description, we decided to turn back, more out of concern over slippery rock sections that anything else.
Oldest GeoKid making his way back down the Monica Brook drainage
We made it just over 2.5 km into the 10 km loop and covered about one-third of the total elevation gain. Although a little "down" due to the fact that we didn’t finish the loop, we’d rather be safe than potentially sorry. And we liked what we saw enough that we’ll definitely be back soon (controlled burns permitting)!