Wednesday, November 12, 2014

November Hiking and Backcountry Sledding at Highwood Pass, Kananaskis

November is one of my favourite months of the year because it ushers in a new season of snowshoeing, winter hiking, sledding, and skiing.  The challenge though is finding good snow so early in the season.  Thank goodness for Highwood Pass!

November snowshoeing at Highwood Pass

Highwood Pass is located in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis, and is reached via Canada's highest paved highway.  Hence, why we head here every November to find good snow!

Pulling the red Pelican sled up to Ptarmigan Cirque

We headed out to Highwood Pass last weekend hoping to find tons of fluffy white snow, but things didn't look promising as we drove Highway 40 towards the Pass.  In fact, there was absolutely no snow on the ground to speak of until we reached the Pass, and not a kilometre sooner!

Getting higher into the backcountry - and the snow is finally getting deeper

Reaching Ptarmigan Cirque
We started off our hike with snowshoes, sleds, and even a Strider balance bike with ski attachment - hoping we'd actually get to use all of these toys.

Most of the adults left their snowshoes in the cars, figuring we probably wouldn't even need them.  And heading up the Ptarmigan Cirque Trail, it looked like ice cleats would have been a good idea for the day!  It was definitely slippery on the lower half of the trail up to the Cirque.

Once we got up to the Cirque, the wind started howling but we also found the snow we were looking for.  Snowshoes weren't entirely necessary (especially for the light children) but I enjoyed having mine on for grip.

We had planned to do a full loop of the summer trail, but the children found something else that ended up being a lot more fun!  A sledding hill!  Backcountry Sledding is now our new favourite winter sport and we will promote all future trips as sledding adventures rather than telling the kids they are going hiking.

Hiking into Ptarmigan Cirque

Wild Backcountry Sledding in all its Epic Glory


Sledding in Ptarmigan Cirque
We stopped at the top of a moraine and my husband got a great idea as he looked down.  We had hiked three sleds and a snow bike all the way up to the Cirque - might as well use them!  We had 8 children with us ages two to eleven and they all took turns with the sleds we'd towed in.

Noah also took a couple runs on his Strider bike with ski attachment.  He barely fits the little bike anymore, but it's fun in the snow and attaches to a backpack when not in use.

This was the first time we'd ever hiked 2 km to find snow for sledding, but it was worth the hike!  The scenery in the Cirque was also incredible as a backdrop.

Backcountry sledding and tobogganing trips are going to go on the calendar now all winter long!

Ski-Biking in Ptarmigan Cirque
Even the big kids had fun sledding in the Cirque

Sled Hiking - the fastest way of descending from the backcountry

For those who have hiked Ptarmigan Cirque in the summer, you'll know that the trail through the trees is narrow, twisty, and full of switch backs.  It's not exactly sled-friendly.  However, we used those sleds every chance we got and the kids all had a blast coming down the trail on the way out.  After all, why walk when you can glide?

Hiking out of the Cirque
Hiking the Rocky Sections
Riding the Bike Down from the Cirque
The Girls rode most of the way down to the parking lot
Everybody tried to hitch a ride in the sleds
The ideal way of getting kids down steeper sections by pushing the sled


Want to go up to Highwood Pass for some early season snowshoeing and sledding?

Go now!  The highway is only open until the end of November.  As of December 1st, you'll only be able to go as far as the Kings Creek trailhead where you turn off for the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park Visitor Centre.  Highway 40 is closed over Highwood Pass every winter because the area receives way too much snow to maintain and clear.  And it doesn't open again until late June.

November snowshoeing in  Ptarmigan Cirque


Trails at Highwood Pass

There are two popular trails that you can head up in the Highwood Pass area.  The hike that we just did was to Ptarmigan Cirque which is a more advanced hike with snow, and not really recommended for families with young children.  We are slightly crazy, and made it - but it wasn't without challenges.  For a much easier trip, try hiking up to Elbow Lake.  This trail is much wider and can be done with a Chariot and ski attachment or with a ski pulk. It is not as steep and is also shorter.

The easier trail to Elbow Lake

We plan to return to Highwood Pass in a couple of weeks to hike up to Elbow Lake as is our annual tradition for late November.  To read more about our adventures hiking to Elbow Lake in previous years, read my story:  Family Snowshoeing Adventures - Elbow Lake.

Here are some photos from the Elbow Lake trip last year:

Snowshoeing up to Elbow Lake
The easy hiking trail to Elbow Lake
First trip with the Strider snow bike
The kids found a snow house at the lake and it was a lot of fun!

For more information on the Highwood Pass area in November, check out my story for Snowshoe Magazine:  Winter Comes Early to Highwood Pass in the Canadian Rockies.

Highwood Meadows in November
Sled Hiking at Elbow Lake at the end of November

Keep checking back regularly because I have a lot of cool stories coming up in the next few weeks on learning how to embrace the cold and fall in LOVE with winter as a family. 

I also have several giveaways coming up in the next month including skis for your stroller and a Strider Ski Attachment! To make sure you don't miss anything, enter your email address into the box that says "follow me by email" and you'll receive a notification each time I publish a new story.  The box is located on the right hand side of this page.

Final Photos from our Ptarmigan Cirque Hike:

Hiking into the Cirque
Backcountry Snow Biking
Summer trail marker

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