Around the middle of May we started monitoring our Facebook and Twitter feeds for any reports of Highwood Pass summit rides. On May 29th a few posts popped up, mostly featuring a photo of a bike standing in snow a little short of the summit sign. We waited for a few more days, carefully watching the weather forecast, and finally made the “go” decision on June 3.
Load your bike and drive the TransCanada Highway between Calgary and Canmore. Turn south into Kananaskis Country on Highway 40 and drive about 45 minutes to the locked gate. Park safely along the shoulder near the gate. At the time of writing, there is no public transit option.
NOTE: There is a second winter gate, at the other end of Highwood Pass. Near Longview, it’s about a 45 minute drive from Calgary. It’s a longer ride, but the elevation gain is more gradual. For more on this option, check out this blog post from HikeBikeTravel.
We were the first vehicle to park at the locked winter gates, arriving about 8:30. A second vehicle parked mere seconds later and the driver soon took off on his road bike, complete with clipped-in cycling shoes and rode out of sight less than 2 minutes later.
Meanwhile, we sorted through the various clothing layers we’d thrown into the car and selected for warmth, wind-blocking and water-resistance (the sky was cloudy and we’d driven through a couple of light showers on Highway 40). Soon enough, we were on our way.
The ride begins with a short uphill climb, followed by a downhill, then a slightly longer/steeper uphill, followed by another downhill – pretty much a perfect warm-up. After the highway crossing over Elpoca Creek, the real work begins! A half hour into the ride and we opted to de-layer.
What a beautiful ride up, under blue sky and puffy white clouds. We even got a little assist from the wind!
We enjoyed a variety of bird song and spotted a couple of white-tailed deer, including one that was willing to pose for Mr GeoK.
Approaching Elpoca day use area, I noticed some interesting clouds over Elpoca Mountain. I think they’re called Altocumulus.
We regularly hike in the Highwood Pass area, and in 2016 we started a new annual summit ride tradition. By now, one of the sights I most look forward to seeing is rounding a corner and suddenly, there’s the ridge connecting Grizzly Col and Highwood Ridge.
Around the final S-curve before the summit sign, we encountered a short icy patch, easily skirted by riding on the left hand shoulder.
Then, about a hundred meters from the summit sign, we had to dismount and push our bikes – there’s a slab of compact snow/ice, lingering despite recent snowplowing.
We carried our bikes and planted them in the snow below the summit sign for the mandatory “we did it” shot!
The wind came up just before we reached the summit, and started gusting pretty hard. We hung about for a couple of minutes, deciding whether to enjoy our snack here our head back down and look for somewhere more sheltered. We opted to head down, but just a few minutes in the wind prompted us to layer up again.
We rode into the wind most of the way down, so the usual almost-effortless coasting wasn’t possible. Instead, we pedaled hard most of the way down. At some points when I tried coasting on the steepest downhill stretches, the wind slowed my speed by more than 10 kph!
We ended up stopping at the Elbow Pass parking lot for snack time. The Richardson ground squirrels were out in full force, waiting to greet visitors when the road re-opens on June 15th.
Back at the unofficial parking area, there were at least 2 dozen cars parked along the shoulders. No surprise – we’d passed almost 3 dozen riders heading up as we were heading down.
Distance = 34.5 km
Elevation gain = 637 meters total (527 meters net)
Time = 2 hrs 40 minutes, including 45 minutes for photography and snack stops
Maximum speed = 57 kph (vs 70 kph in 2018 with no headwind)
Driving out Highway 40 we spotted a grizzly bear browsing its way through willow shrubs near the Kananaskis River. We stopped just long enough to snap a few photos and then carried on so as not to cause a bear jam. 😉