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Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Walls of Stone Part 5 – The Kananaskis

It was an uneventful walk down the mountain from Elbow Lake to the busy Elbow Pass parking lot on Highway 40. I had worked diligently to plan a route that included as little road walking as possible, but it was unavoidable. We headed north up the highway for a few kilometres then we took a gated access road used by parks staff supplying the Boulton fire lookout. Later, at the intersection of three roads we stopped at a handy picnic table to eat the sandwiches my wife, Bev had brought up to Elbow Lake. We had missed her by just 5 minutes. After turning right at the intersection, it wasn’t too long before we had reached our base camp at Boulton Creek. That ended the first (and easiest) leg of our journey.

Don and I had both agreed that we would consider it a success if we completed our trip across the mountains without seeing any bears and so far, so good… My wife however could not say the same. On the kilometer and a half trail up to Elbow Lake, she had run head-first into a grizzly that was attempting to avoid some picnickers – two women and their children. The bear doubled back into the bushes then crossed the trail below her, while a group of annoyed tourists hissed at Bev and told her to get out of their photos. A grizzly can be a ferocious creature, but luckily they can also be tolerant. Her amusing account made us laugh, but it does make me wonder where it will all end. Not well for the bears I fear.

Packing for the second leg
I had planned a two-night, one day stopover with proper food, showers and all the luxury my little travel trailer could afford. Don and his wife, Marie (who had joined us) took a side trip to Picklejar Lakes and saw a grizzly sow and cubs. We were due to set out to The Forks of the Upper Kananaskis River after a day’s rest, but it was raining so hard that we decided to wait another day and then make a longer hike past The Forks and straight on to Turbine Canyon backcountry campground. We took advantage the extra day to have a nice dinner and drinks at the Kananaskis Delta Hotel.

The rain was still pounding down the following morning as we hiked through the Interlakes parking lot and past Upper Kananaskis Lake. We were now following the upper Kananaskis River. The journey so far had gone well, but really it was only a prelude, a warm-up for the more serious hiking that lay ahead. It had been a bit of a dawdle as the English would say. That was about to change.
Kananaskis River
It was still wet when we arrived at The Forks campground. We stopped for a bite to eat and then pushed on. There are two routes from the forks – one to Three Isle Lake and South Kananaskis Pass and the one we were following toward Lawson Lake. We passed a group of athletes jogging out from the Beckie Scott Training Centre, located at the foot of the Haig Glacier. The trail began to get steeper and there was a series of switchbacks. Don pushed ahead and soon I could no longer see him. It was a cold wet day, but now I was feeling hot in all my rain gear. I stopped to sort out my clothing and gear, then continued the climb up the grade – stopping several times to catch my breath and rehydrate. I caught up with Don on the downhill stretch to Lawson Lake. We could see the lake through the rain and mist. 
Lawson Lake
I stopped to shoot some time-lapse video for my film. The shot captured the moment when the weather began to change. Fog began to lift as the sky cleared. By the time we got to Turbine campground, the skies were blue and we could see all of the mountains that surrounded us. There were quite a few other travelers at the campground – some were American kids on a tour of the Canadian Rockies. 

This was all new territory for me. I could see the backside of Mount Black Prince. I long ago hiked the cirque on the other side of the mountain.  In 2000, I visited the grave of the Black Prince, at Canterbury Cathedral. I believe the mountain is named for the battleship that bore his name.

I was ok in my new sleeping bag, but Don had a very cold night. He was finding the older sleeping bag he brought was not always enough, even with the liner he used as a supplement.

The next morning I went to check out the interesting canyon that gives the campground its name. The creek flows down into a crevice in the limestone and has carved a deep slot canyon that is hard to see below the stone. It is even more difficult to capture on video, but I did my best. I couldn’t resist jumping the canyon - which is perfectly safe, but it did make my heart pound.

We had a long difficult day ahead of us and Don was keen to get going that morning. He headed off up the trail, while I fiddled with my gear. I followed him, stopping to get some footage of the Beatty Glacier along the way. We were near the summit of the Kananaskis drainage and surrounded by scenic alpine country in every direction. 

Maude Lake is situated in a high bowl between two limestone ridges. I could see the narrow gap of the North Kananaskis pass across the pretty blue alpine lake. Thirty years before, I had pored over maps and read descriptions of this trail. An instructor at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology had told me of his fishing trip to this very spot. I had long dreamed of visiting this high mountain lake and here I was! 
Maude Lake
Yes, there I was, but where was Don? I looked up the trail and I could see him sitting next to the pass on the edge of a scree slope. I figured he would wait. I got off the trail and setup my camera to get some ultra-high definition footage of the lake and do a time-lapse of the clouds rolling across the Divide. There was no place in the entire world that I would rather be at that moment. In the midst of my time-lapse shot, Don headed back around the lake toward me. I was perplexed when he continued down the trail and right past me. Surely he had seen me. He seemed annoyed. Had he forgotten something back at camp? I finished my shot and headed around the lake to the pass to setup some more shots. A hoary marmot ran across the tundra as I arrived. Finally I could see Don coming back up the trail. 

I had the camera ready for a “title shot” of Don and I crossing the Great Divide into British Columbia. I could tell Don was annoyed when he rejoined me at the pass, but by then we both realized what had happened. He had missed me. I should have yelled at him, but I was sure he had seen me. Any way he had cooled down by then and I put on my pack, started the camera rolling and we both walked across the North Kananaskis Pass together. 
I went back and grabbed my camera and tripod. When I checked it later, the shot had turned out very well. It will definitely be the title shot for my film, when it is completed. Now it was time to move on. We still had a very long, hard day ahead of us. We headed down the mountain and into the wild Palliser River Valley.


  1. I didn't realize your trip involved so much photography.

  2. Mostly videography, Red. It is going to be a film at some point.