I tore my ACL (one of the four main ligaments in the knee) just a few weeks after our February hike along the Bow River in Banff. After several weeks of rehab to regain day-to-day functionality, I graduated to walking and then cycling (which explains the many cycling-related posts over the past several weeks). But with my consult with the knee surgeon coming up, I thought we’d better do at least one hike so that I’d have another data point to consider in my surgery / live-with-it decision.
After weighing several factors (including proximity, hiking distance, elevation gain, grade, presence of scree/loose rock on the trail and views), we opted to hike Wind Ridge. Trailhead parking is just past the Banff Gate Mountain Resort, on the south side of the TransCanada Highway at the Dead Man’s Flats exit. The same parking lot is the starting point to hike up Pigeon Mountain.
We got an early start, arriving at the trailhead by 7:30 on a late June, weekday morning. Within a few minutes we’d passed the turnoff to Skogan Pass and Pigeon Mountain. A few minutes after that we got a sharp reminder of the devastation caused by the June 2013 floods. Pigeon Creek carved a new channel and consequently there’s a new wooden bridge about 10 minutes from the parking lot. Just across the bridge, a somewhat makeshift sign indicates hikers should turn left to hike the Mount Allen Centennial Trail or right to hike Wind Ridge. From there, new sections of trail skirt washout from the flood – both rocks and downed trees. The bridge across South Wind Creek is made up of 5 down trees somewhat secured with stakes at either end.
Just a minute or two after crossing the log bridge, we were clear of the flood debris field and back on the trail we remembered from our 2012 Wind Ridge hike. That’s not to say the trail was perfectly clear. Windfallen trees crossed the trail in a couple of places, but someone with a chainsaw made the trail passable.
We enjoyed the company of butterflies (mostly Fritillaries) and saw plenty of wildflowers throughout the hike.
We covered the first 3 km (2 mi) in about 45 minutes. It’s pretty easy going, mostly on a wide trail (probably an old logging road), roughly following West Wind Creek and gaining just 170 meters.
Once the trail turned sharply north the grade steepened and we gained about 180 meters while cover 1.2 km in the next 25 minutes. This section of the trail was a little rough, working its way up a draw that was flood damaged in 2013. There’s no creek showing on any of the topo maps we have for the area, so it must have been temporary drainage for the heavy rainfall.
At the next trail intersection we switchbacked sharply left. (NOTE: continuing straight (roughly north) would have eventually completed a boring, pretty much all in the forest loop back to the parking lot.) About 700 meters from the unmarked trail intersection we emerged from the trees and got our first good look at Wind Valley, the Rimwall, Windtower and Mount Lougheed.
The hike was tougher from there, gaining almost 500 meters elevation in less than 2 km. Up to that point, I’d been wondering whether I really needed my clunky, exo-skeletal knee brace but I really did. And also my hiking poles.
For added interest, there’s a short rock band with a couple of options for ascending/descending. As I worked my way up on the highway side of the ridge, I wondered how on earth I was going to get back down.
Walking west along the ridge there are opportunities to look down over Canmore as well as east along the Bow Valley towards the Lafarge plant at Lac des Arcs. The higher we got, the more haze we noticed in the sky. Photography became quite challenging.
We reached our turnaround point just before 10 o’clock. It’s possible to follow the ridge another km or so before coming up against the base of the Rimwall and Little Sister, but there’s elevation loss which would have to be re-gained on the return trip and I wasn’t interested in pushing my knee quite that hard first time out. So we settled in to enjoy the view of the back side of Three Sisters for a little bit.
About a half hour later we started back down.
We opted to descend the rock step on the other side of the ridge. It’s about only a few meters high, but I was glad Mr. GeoK went first and then coached me down. The knee brace added to the challenge!
We made it back to the parking lot just before 12:30, so we were home in time for lunch!
My knee had a bit of swelling that afternoon / evening, just enough to suggest that we should opt for more bikes than hikes this summer but not enough to rule them out entirely.
Total distance = 13.6 km
Total elevation gain = 945 meters (849 net)
Total hiking time = 5 hours (including 1 hour 15 minutes for snack break and photography)