Wednesday, November 04, 2015

First Summits - Forget Me Not Ridge, Kananaskis

We've had a super amazing autumn this year and it felt like the hiking season would never end. The photo below was taken on October 17th and I spent the day hiking on an open ridge in a tank top (something you often can't do in the middle of summer!)

Autumn Hiking on Forget Me Not Ridge in the Elbow Valley

Forget Me Not Ridge Hike

Of all the hikes we did this summer and autumn, Forget Me Not Ridge was definitely one of the favourites and we will be adding it to our annual summit list.

Quick Stats:

Elevation Gain: 625 metres to the North summit

Trail Distance: 9.2 km return to the North summit

Starting Point and Access: Little Elbow Recreation Area and Campground off Hwy 66 (park at Forget Me Not Pond or just beyond at the parking area just before the campground gate)

Best Season:  Late spring through fall when the highway is open (Highway 66 closes at Elbow Falls  for the season on December 1st and opens again mid-May) For more information on road closures, visit the Alberta Parks website.

Time it took us to complete the hike: 6 hours round trip to the North summit

Autumn hiking doesn't get better than this!

Climbing up to the Ridge Top

The hike starts at the Little Elbow Recreation Area and we parked at Forget Me Not Pond because the next parking lot was full. Wherever you park, follow the signed "Little Elbow Interpretive Trail" and make your way to the big suspension bridge that crosses the Elbow River.  - you should be able to see it in the distance.

A photo from my archives of the suspension bridge and Elbow River

Once you cross the bridge, you will be on an old fire road called the "Big Elbow Trail." Follow this wide trail until you reach a sign telling you that you are entering the Big Elbow/Little Elbow Loop (see archived photo below) and turn LEFT onto the Wild Horse Trail. The intersection was not well marked when we were there last month but it is another wide trail and you'll know you're going the correct way if you end up at the river again (with no bridge this time.)

The intersection where you leave the Big Elbow Trail

Cross the river on logs or bring sandals along if you are going in summer when the water is higher. I never needed my sandals and we just carried our son across the deeper spots. Fortunately the river is quite braided here so it was easy to find ways across.

Crossing the braided Elbow River on the Wild Horse Trail

Once you cross the river, continue on the trail for about a kilometre and start watching for the cairn that will lead you up  the ridge crest of Forget Me Not Ridge. The cairn and side trail are found just after a side creek and trail wash out from the last flood.

This is where you get your workout! Climbing the steep trail up Forget Me Not Ridge

The trail proceeds to climb over 500 metres straight up and I won't lie - it's a slog. My 6 year old was also faster than me. He charged up the steep slope as if it were flat, running much of the way. The final portion of the trail taking you to the ridge top zig zags its way up many switch backs on loose scree (not a problem on the way up but a bit slippery on descent.)

Running up the switch backs to the top of Forget Me Not Ridge

Hiking On the Ridge

You'll be able to breathe a sigh of relief when you get your first real views and reach the ridge top. The trail still goes up until you reach the north summit, but it's much more gradual and even feels flat at times.

The first rock outcropping you'll reach on Forget Me Not Ridge

From the first rock outcropping, the trail gradually continues to climb the ridge in and out of trees, and the hiking gets much more open and enjoyable. (here is where you wish you could have taken a helicopter up and could have just spent the whole day hiking on the ridge top.)

The North Summit is in the background and you have to hike over and around to reach it

We had great fun walking along the open ridge top and we had choices to make once we got out of the trees. We could head left and circle our way over to the north summit, or we could keep hiking towards the high  point, another 3 km away. (we chose the closer North summit.)

The final hike to the North Summit

How will you know when you've reached the north summit? You reach the big cairn that you can see from the highway. (for real!)

Summit Shot on Forget Me Not Ridge

The Return Hike and Descent

The return hike was actually quite fast and we found a short cut off the summit ridge that cut off a kilometre of distance perhaps. (basically, you hike straight down to the lower ridge rather than looping around to get off the summit ridge.)

We had to stop for photos on this giant boulder found on the summit ridge
Feeling pretty proud of himself for reaching the north summit

We enjoyed rambling and easy walking along the ridge until we reached the steep descent trail.

If all hiking could be this easy and scenic...
Stunning scenery along Forget Me Not Ridge
The trail down was steep, slippery, and FAST. My son pretty much dragged my husband down the 500 m of height loss on the descent trail as they were holding hands and running. (and I could hardly keep up.)

The kid is a speed demon at 6!
Having a rest break before the final steep descent

We decided to make one final short cut once we got back to the Wild Horse Trail because we knew our car was back at Forget Me Not Pond (and that the bridge was way out of the way.) We weren't worried about wet feet anymore so we just bashed our way straight across the river to reach the pond.

I don't entirely recommend this return to the parking lot. The river was knee deep in spots, fast, and scary. (in summer it would be deeper yet.)

Crossing the Elbow River on the way back
Forget Me Not Pond - made it back by sunset!

I hope some of you will join us if we do this hike again next year. Perhaps we'll even leave earlier and aim for the true summit further down the ridge. This will extend our trip to a total of 15.2 km so we'll  see how strong we're feeling. :)

"The Mountains are Calling and I must Go"

For a complete route description, there is nothing better than a good guide book. Check out Gillean Daffern's book:  Popular Day Hikes in Kananaskis Country.

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