I’m a little slow to get this post put together. A lot of time this past week got caught up in the start of the new school year, but I finally have some time to share our most recent trip to the Highwood Pass area in Kananasiks Country.
We hiked Grizzly Ridge on August 10 – the peak of wildflower season this summer, due to the deep snow pack and late melt.There’s a fairly detailed description of the hike in this post from July 2011, the last time we hiked here. The trail is pretty much the same, although we did notice additional trails through the forested section near the front-end of the hike. Also, the section traversing the scree slope is pretty much bare of scree; the hard-packed dirt is a little more difficult to descend, as scree naturally tends to slow your momentum. Finally, the stretch from the crux to the saddle seems to have been slightly re-routed and is a little steeper than in past years.
Here’s a summary of our day in photos, with just a few comments here and there…
A couple of Richardson ‘s ground squirrels came out to greet us in the parking lot. One dashed across tarmac to shelter in the tall grass, but the other one lived up to its nickname – sitting up so straight it looked like a “picket pin” just waiting for someone to tie-up their horse.
The wildflowers were at their peak, with all colours of paintbrush, splashes of yellow cinquefoil, heart-leaved arnica, leafy asters, forget-me-nots and more in full bloom.
Trek through a meadow, follow a meandering trail through the woods, pick your way across a rock fall and you eventually reach this little tarn – one of the boys’ favourite places to stop. They search out a few flat rocks and see who can get the most skips – which is why our family’s name for this special spot is Skipping Stone Lake.
This quiet little valley, at the foot of Pocaterra Ridge and sheltered by the long reach of Mount Tyrwhitt, is Mrs. GeoKs’ favourite spot in the world. We didn’t stay here long…there were too many flies to make it easy to relax and we still had a ways to go to reach Grizzly Ridge.
Scorpionweed / silk phacelia / purple bee-plant growing amongst the scree along the trail up to the saddle.
After slowly climbing up and across the scree slope for about 20 minutes, we reached the small crux which requires a bit of care to cross – not really a problem, but you want to watch where you put your feet and maybe find a handhold or two. Once safely across, the GeoKids took less than 5 minutes to reach the saddle between Grizzly Ridge and Mount Tyrwhitt.
This photo shows the view looking back down to the valley. The trail up to the saddle basically follows the finger of green on the right hand edge of the cirque and then angles up and across the brown scree. A geologist would be able to tell you all about the different types / ages of rock that come together here.
At the saddle, we noticed lots of footprints – not bootprints, but something cloven. Mrs. GeoK looked around and spotted a few curious Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep up on the col. Since we were headed up to Grizzly Ridge, we kept our fingers crossed that they’d still be near enough to allow for a few good photos once we gained the additional elevation.
As luck would have it, there were several sheep still hanging about once we reached the ridge top. This photo post includes our best shots. If you don’t want to click through, here’s a repeat posting of one of the big rams…
One of the rams that seemed to be on guard duty on Grizzly Ridge.
We spent about 15 minutes taking photos of the two Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep (rams) that seemed to be serving guard duty for the herd, and then the GeoKids moved back along Grizzly Ridge to search out a good spot for lunch. If you look carefully, you’ll spot their silhouettes on the right.
Not wanting to get too close to the herd of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, we moved back along the ridge to eat lunch. After finishing his sandwich, Mr. GeoK could safely hike far enough along the ridge towards Grizzly Peak that he could shoot the panorama scenes he was after.
Finally after lunch, the sheep moved a little further along the ridge towards Grizzly Peak. Mr. GeoK went as far as the big rock – a safe distance away for taking some photos of this herd of about 20 sheep.
Looking down at the verdant green of Paradise Valley, sitting between Highwood Ridge on the left and Grizzly Ridge on the right. A keen eye will pick out the herd of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep on the left of this panorama shot.
This is a great shot of Highwood Ridge, taken from Grizzly Ridge. Paradise Valley (not the Paradise Valley in Banff National Park that we hiked a couple weeks ago) separates the two ridges. We have yet to hike the full length of Highwood Ridge, but have ventured a short ways along it a few summers ago. It’s not a precarious at it looks in this shot.
Mr. GeoK took this picture of Mrs. GeoK getting ready to descend Grizzly Ridge. If you look carefully you can see Highway 40 down below, just off to the left from the end of the ridge.
After watching the herd of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep near Grizzly Peak for almost an hour, it was a bit of a surprise to spot a lone ram wandering along the shoulder of Grizzly Ridge as the boys were making their descent.
Mrs. GeoK is well behind the boys as we descend from Grizzly Ridge. One shoulder of Mount Tyrwhitt is on the left, with another ridge forming the curved wall of the cirque.
Down off the saddle, the trail skirts the rock outfall at the base of Mount Tyrwhitt. K enjoyed “skiing” down the few remaining patches of snow – easier on the feet and a lot more fun. The green hill on the left is one end of Pocaterra Ridge.
The boys each take their own approach to the tarn (a.k.a. Skipping Stone Lake) on the return trek, with C opting to stick to the trail and K choosing the more adventurous route across a patch of snow.
Total hiking distance today was just over 9 km (Mr. GeoK did another km or two while trying to get some panorama and mountain sheep photos). Net elevation gain was a little over 500 meters. We encountered two or three other small groups of hikers, but figured it would be much busier on the weekend after getting a favourable mention on a Calgary radio station earlier in the week.