I’m not usually one for New Year’s resolutions, but at the beginning of 2016 I decided to spend more time in the mountains. Living in Calgary I have easy access to Canmore, Banff, Kananaskis and Lake Louise, so why not explore more of my own backyard! Here are my top five hikes of 2016.
5. Sentinel Pass
I was fortunate enough to do this hike twice this year, so I got to experience the beauty of Larch Valley in the spring and fall. If time only allows you to do this hike once, then definitely choose fall so you can experience the golden hue of all the Larch trees.
The hike begins when you hit the trail of switchbacks through the trees, with views of Moraine Lake peeking through along the way. Once the majority of the ascent was finished, we reached a beautiful meadow at the top of the pass. Enveloped in trees with a few creeks lining the trail, we continued our trek into the larches. We quickly emerged from the tree line into the base of Sentinel Pass, which is surrounded by the Valley of the 10 Peaks.
There are a few reflective pools and up ahead as we made our way towards the pass. The views surrounding me were striking as the snow was gently falling, dusting the tops all ten peaks. Nothing signals the changing of seasons better than nature.
When the weather is mild you can reach the point of the pass by following the switchbacks above the lakes (about 500ft). Here you’ll experience a 360-degree view. It’s a great spot to have lunch, check out Mt. Temple, and plan your next hiking adventure by picking one of the ten peaks surrounding you.
4. East End of Rundle
East End of Rundle (EEOR) was my first hike of the season. It is a great trail that offers stunning views of the popular Ha Ling Peak and overlooks the Town of Canmore.
I learned an important life lesson on this hike, which was that hiking boots are always necessary. I’m not too sure why I didn’t wear my hikers for this climb, but I certainly wore them on every other hike I did this year.
Clear skies that day made for an incredible summit view, and a very warm trek. Once you break through the tree line you are mostly exposed on this hike, so ensure you check the forecast and prepare accordingly.
3. Mount Yamnuska
If you’ve driven between Calgary and Canmore, then you have seen Mount Yamnuska from the TransCanada. It’s sheer 500 foot face can be seen from the highway, and is described as looking like the back of a dinosaur. This is a popular hike and I would recommend getting there early so you can find parking and avoid the crowded path.
The hike starts off with steep switchbacks through thick forest. Once you’re through the trees it appears you’ve reached a dead end. We made our way to the left towards a small opening between rock boulders. Squeezing through here took us to the backside of Yamnuska. We followed the steep, gravel trail up the side of the mountain where we reached the crux. Here there is a chain you hold onto to scale the side of the ledge – not for the faint-hearted!
After quickly scaling around the side, we reached another slim trail that posed more difficulty. It had snowed the week before I climbed Yamnuska, so as we neared the top it was quite snowy and icy. After crab walking down, and climbing up along the narrow ledge, we quickly climbed the rock and scree slope to reach the summit. Surrounded by countless peaks, the views were incredible.
The best part of hiking Mount Yamnuksa is your descent. Descending the front is quite steep and full of scree, so I had my first scree skiing experience. Simply dig your heels in, and start picking up speed. Before you know it you’ll be gliding down the mountain in no time!
2. Tower of Babel
The Tower of Babel was the most rewarding hikes I completed this year. Despite being a short five kilometers round trip, the view of Moraine Lake is stunning. This hike is located off the Moraine Lake parking lot, and you simply follow the trail towards Consolation Lakes
Follow the trail towards Consolation Lakes to reach the base of Babel. There is no real path to follow when you start this hike, simply head towards the mountain, and begin the ascent up the right-hand side. After the scree portion at the beginning of the hike the ground turns into solid rock as you near the top, and the walls around you slowly start to funnel. Once we neared the top I found myself using my hands to navigate the last narrowing portion of the gully.
Reaching the top is always a favorite, but this moment was especially spectacular. The path around me had narrowed and I was using my whole body to pull myself up and through the tapered trail. Once I popped out of the gully, we followed the path around the left and took a short walk to the summit. To say the views were remarkable is merely an understatement.
The cool thing about this summit experience is not only did we have an uninhibited view of Mount Temple, but the ground is completely flat. You can walk to the edge with Moraine Lake below you, and all the way to the other side to check out Consolation Lakes and the glacier covered mountains bordering their sides.
- Sarrail Ridge
Picking my number one hike of the season was easy – Sarrail Ridge. We had the summit to ourselves, with amazing views in every direction. If you only have time for one hike, or are just visiting Alberta, then Sarrail Ridge will not disappoint.
One of the most popular hikes in all of Kananaskis is Rawson Lake. It’s an easy and well established trail with a steady incline, beginning at Upper Kananaskis Lake. The hike is nice, taking you past a waterfall and through a tree clad forest, and will lead you to tranquil Rawson Lake nestled in an alpine bowl.
Continue around the left side of Rawson Lake towards a short yet steep trail. We walked along the right-hand side of the creek, which took us about an hour to complete.
Sarrail Ridge is a remarkable ridge crest above flower covered meadows, giving you a bird’s eye view as far as you can see. Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes can be seen to the North, with a view of Rawson Lake to the south.
The weather was moody the day I hiked Sarrail Ridge. When we reached the summit, thunder started to roll up, bouncing off the walls of the peaks surrounding us. It felt eerie, yet calming all at the same time. We ended up staying at the summit for about an hour. It’s so important to remember to enjoy the view. I mean, the whole reason you hike is to get to the top, right!?
Living in the beautiful, Canadian Rockies, I know there will always be another mountain to climb. I can’t wait to see what adventures 2017 will bring!