Springtime in the Canadian Rockies – the temperatures go up, snow turns slushy and icy, avalanche risk increases. Frankly, much as I enjoy winter, by April, I’m completely fed up of snow, and I start looking to the foothills for dryer trails.
One interesting area I’ve explored is the Bow Valley South trails. Trails here are mostly unofficial and signage consists of random numbers (no one seems to know what they signify). If you plan to explore this area, do yourself a favor and copy the map in Volume 3 of Gillean Daffern’s Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, and read the write-up. That way you won’t miss the most interesting bits.
The first few times I wandered in here, I mainly followed what Gillean calls the “D” or Riverbank loop, a large circuit that travels around the rim of this area. Whale Lake is the first interesting stop along the way, a small lake with marshy edges. I’ve looped around the western side, but I find bushwhacking in to the eastern edge a little more interesting, as it lets you actually look over the lake and possibly see some waterfowl.
From Whale Lake, follow the map indicators to an area called the Bonsai Rocks, which offers climbers a number of “bouldering” problems. As I’m not a climber, I don’t care about that part, I just like to see all the huge, moss-covered rocks, with trees growing among them.
The trail wanders between the rocks, then comes out along a fence line for a time. When you get to the south edge of the Bow Valley, you’ll be up on a bluff looking south over the Kananaskis River, Highway 40, and the Kananaskis Valley. This is a lovely area to find crocuses in spring, and a good spot for a lunch stop.
Around the south end of this area, and through the centre, are stands of aspen. In spring the trees are bare and ghostly looking, allowing the sun to shine through to the ground. I really must remember to visit here in the fall, when the aspen leaves turn bright gold.
Turning back to the north, you follow the Kananaskis river above Shaughnessy Canyon, looking down at a slalom course for kayakers. On my first trip through this area, we followed a path down to the river’s edge. No one in the group really wanted to climb up the long hill back to the bluff. One of the men in my group was utterly convinced that the trail could be found just a little uphill from the riverbank, if only we took a shortcut through the brushy hillside. He thought it would save us from a long climb. What followed came to be known as the epic uphill bushwhack from hell. Steep, very brushy, and oh yes, the trail was waaaaay back up at the top of the bluff, just where I thought it would be. By the time we were done, everyone was hot, sweaty, and his wife was none too pleased with him.
After that, the walk to Broken Bridges picnic area (formerly the site of the original bridge to Highway 40) was mostly downhill and fairly easy. There’s no debris left from the original bridge anymore (the 2013 floods probably took care of that), but the nice people from Rafter Six ranch have put a number of picnic tables and a firepit there, along with a corral for their horses and a pit toilet. If you happen to be following the loop the other way around, this is a nice spot for lunch, right down along the Kananaskis River.
The next stop of interest is the Sundance Lodge Meadows, the site of native ceremonies. There you will see the remains of a sweat lodge, as well as a tumbled down Sundance lodge, with prayer flags still attached. These sites are sacred to local native people, and there is an interpretive sign there to explain a Ti-Jurabi-Chubi, or sacred lodge dance. Out of respect for the sacred nature of the site, please do not disturb or remove anything there. The lodges and prayer flags are intended to be left for time and nature to dismantle.
This spring, a couple of friends and I also ventured on the “B” trail to the top of the drumlin overlooking Sundance Lodge Meadows, and then onto the “C” loop, which tends to travel mainly into the interior of Bow Valley South. If you’re looking for some spring training, these trails offer some good up and down hills to get you ready for summer hiking.
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