It started on the drive down, when we got a flat tire just outside of Airdrie. K was driving, and we started to notice a loud noise. At first, we thought it was the truck next to us, but when they passed and the noise didn't, we figured something was wrong. We pulled over and I put the spare on. Of course, by the time we got to Calgary, it was too late to go to a proper tire store and have it repaired.
Now that posed a problem, because we always leave Calgary for the Kananaskis as early as possible. We try to be on the trailhead around 7-8 am. We were originally going to take the car to Costco to have the tire repaired or replaced. When we got there (at 9:30), the guy at the counter told us he thought we could get it repaired, but of course Costco doesn't do tire repairs. So off we went to Kal Tire. We dropped the tire off at 10, and we were told it would likely take a couple of hours for them to get to it as they were backlogged. To Kal Tire's benefit, they got to it after an hour and suggested we replace it with a similar used tire for $42. After all was said and done, we were on the road by 12:30.
We decided to go to King Creek Ridge. King Creek Ridge is in the north tip of Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, and overlooks Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes. It was listed as a challenging 5-hour hike, with a quick ascent (a favourite for me), a ridge walk (a K favourite) and a journey through a canyon at the end. It sounded like it was going to be pretty fun, and at 5 hours, it was doable despite our late start. We told our good friend Aida where we were going, and said not to worry unless she hadn't heard from us before 10pm.
It wasn't until I turned off the Trans-Canada and on to HWY 40 that I realized we hadn't filled up before leaving Calgary. It's part of our morning ritual on hike day that we stop and fill up. But with the chaos around getting the tire replaced, our routine was broken and it didn't enter my mind. With 35km left to go before we got to the park, and a quarter tank of fuel, I was starting to get a little nervous. I was pretty sure there was a gas station on HWY 40 between where we were and where we were going, but not sure enough to prevent sweat from forming on my brow. It was there after all, thankfully, and we filled up. The hike was only 5 minutes down the road from there.
We finally reached the trailhead at 2:30 and started putting our gear on. We met another family there who was trying to go on the same hike as us. They hadn't been able to find the trail, however, and were looking for a new place to go. We suggested Mt. Indefatigable, since they were looking for a quick trip to take with their son. I suppose we should have taken our own advice.
We managed to find the trail fairly easily (thank goodness), but it really was a steep ascent that really didn't ease until the south end of King Creek Ridge. I was pretty ready after the first hour to just sit down and die (remember, this was our first hike in a couple of years). At some point, we looked up and saw three mountain sheep on the crest of one of the rock outcrops. They got one look at Cayce and Ruby and shot into the woods. Fortunately they were too far away from the dogs to be chased. It was empowering though to know that we were on the same trail as mountain goats.
When we broke out of the trees, we looked back and saw this:
Both Cayce and Ruby were having a really great time. There was a bit of a wind, which helped keep them cool. Cayce is quite the mountain dog.
Although quite hard, the views on the hike are breathtaking. You hardly believe that what you are looking at is real, because it is such a dramatic landscape.
Eventually, we reached the first summit on King Creek Ridge. It's quite hard to know, actually, when you've summited because the first peak is covered in trees. But there was a bit of a clearing near the top that gave a good view.
Me and the dogs stopped for awhile to appreciate it.
Throughout most of the hike, you get a great view of the Opals.
At one point, I looked back and saw where we started from. You can't see it clearly, but it's in the center of the photo. below.
By the time you reach the second, higher peak, you've gained about 7-800m (2300-2600 feet) - about a half mile. Strong hikers make the trip in an hour. I consider ourselves strong hikers (when we're in shape for the hike), and we only took an hour and a half - partially due to a wrong turn. I didn't mention it before, but the trails to the ridge are sketchy at best. There is actually a note on the topographical map that wishes people luck getting to the ridge. So far as I know, this is the only such note in all of the Kananaskis maps I have. We did manage to get on the ridge though, so I'm counting it as a victory. The ridge walk itself is fairly long, and definitely not flat. Although not nearly as steep as the initial ascent, you do keep going upwards. At the top of the second summit, there's a great place to sit and a cairn with a Canadian flag. It offers a beautiful view of the lakes, Opals, and the valleys around you. We were all pretty tired by this point, but Ruby was just fine. She actually wanted to play at the top!
There's only one problem, however, and that's getting down. It was a steep ascent, and going down the way you came up is not all that appealing. Unfortunately, the method of descent recommended by the guide is equally unappealing. In order to bail off King Creek Ridge, you have to enter a rather scree-filled gully that descends into the valley below. It's hard to tell in the photo below, but the grade is about 50°
At some points it's just easier to enter a controlled slide for 40-50 feet. At others, you have to scramble down rock face. It was one of the most challenging descents we've faced in the K, and although fun in retrospect, I don't think I'd want to do it again. K, being the hater of downclimbing that she is, was not having a good time and was cursing my name all the way down. Cayce and Ruby were fine - Cayce stayed mostly with us, as she was tired by now, but Ruby was climbing all over the place looking for rabbits. Within about a half hour, you lose 500m of elevation.
It takes quite awhile from the point you get to the creek to get to the canyon. There was much less canyon than I expected. The trip to the canyon is hard as well, as you have to constantly scramble over loose rock and switch from side to side, sometimes crossing over log bridges, sometimes over slipper wet rock.
The view once you get into the canyon, however, is glorious. It's a narrow canyon, so you can always see both canyon walls. There are lots of nooks and crannies, and more than a few caves stuck randomly throughout. A useful tip: take a compass for this part, because GPS does not work within the walls of the canyon. Fortunately, I knew before we descended what direction north was and had oriented myself on the peaks around me. But if I had become turned around or lost, the GPS would have been no help whatsoever.
After death-marching our way through the canyon, falling a few times, and generally enjoying the canyon, we popped out into the day use area we had parked in and collapsed near the car. It was 9:30pm and we were exhausted. Aida was pacing back and forth because she hadn't heard from us yet, and had heard my instructions of "don't worry unless you haven't heard from us by 10" as "worry if you haven't heard from us by 9pm. She was scripting out the conversation she was about to have with the rangers.
Cellphone coverage is nil in the Kananaskis, as can be expected. Luckily, we were only minutes away from the gas station we had filled up at. I was hoping against hope the gas station was still open, because I was in dire need of some caffeine and food. They were, so I called Aida at 9:50 to tell her we were safe and sound. We rolled into Calgary at 11, fuelled entirely by a litre of Coke I had swigged on the way home.
A rather funny thing happened in the canyon (funny is hindsight, but scary at the time). As we were walking through the stream bed, both Ruby and I spotted a bullfrog hopping across our path. Ruby immediately ran to it and picked it up in her mouth. This was a big, big mistake. As quickly as it was in her mouth, it was out twice as quick. Frogs secrete a toxin on their skin to protect against predators. Ruby started immediately foaming at the mouth and shaking her head, trying to get the taste out. We grabbed her and rinsed her mouth out a couple of times to prevent against any toxins that may have been in there, but she didn't stop foaming for about another hour. We kept an eye on her the entire time, and she stayed a lot closer to us than she had throughout the rest of the hike. Something tells me she won't be picking up random frogs anymore.
All in all, I don't think I would do this hike again. The work involved (I'm still exhausted two days later) isn't really worth the view you get at the top. I've seen equally impressive views with less work to get there. I am glad we did it though, as it had been on our list for four or five years, and we can now tick it off.