Friday, October 07, 2016

First Summits - Tent Ridge Horseshoe, Kananaskis

Tent Ridge was one of our favourite family hikes that we did this past summer. It was challenging, it took us 7 hours, and we conquered three summits over the 10 km loop. The total height gain was 800+ metres once you took into account every summit you had to go up and over (losing height and regaining it with each one,) and the area was very remote (read: you likely won't meet a lot of other people  and will follow unofficial trails the whole time.)

We had hands-on scrambling moments on the traverse of Tent Ridge, one mom pulled out a rope on the first cliff band, and we nervously watched the children running along the narrow ridge (at moments where I'm sure they should have been walking.) In the end though, only 2 out of our group of 12 needed minor first aid in the parking lot (one after falling while running down a steep scree slope and getting banged up a bit, and one after tripping and falling on the final trail back to the car - resulting in some scrapes and bruising.)

Scrambling on Tent Ridge, Spray Valley Provincial Park

Oh, and I should mention that we did this epic long adventure with 7 children, the youngest only 6 years old.

Sound fun? Read on then. :)

Our mighty Tent Ridge Team (ages 6 through 12)

Trailhead, Route, and Directions for Tent Ridge

The Tent Ridge Horseshoe Trail is located in Spray Valley Provincial Park behind Mount Engadine Lodge and near the Mount Shark Trailhead.

The best description for trailhead and route comes out of Gillean Daffern's hiking book: Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 1. The book is available anywhere that you buy books (MEC, Chapters, Amazon...) and I'd recommend putting it on your Christmas list if you're serious about taking the kids on this hike next summer.

There's also a description for the route and trailhead on Trail Peak, a GPS track on the All Trails Site, and a good write up on Bob Spirko's website.

From the Kananaskis Trails website you'll get the basic directions for starting your hike. Beyond that, the links above should help you with "where to go" from the trailhead.

Know though that this is an unofficial trail. You can and could easily get lost if you don't know where you are going. There were moments where we wondered if we were en route after leaving the ridge and trying to follow trails back to the road. I highly encourage you to hike the trail without kids first (which I've done several times,) and to bring somebody with you who is awesome at route finding! In this case for us, it was my friend's husband who corrected me right from the get go when I was about to start up the descent trail!

The trail that you'll hike to reach Tent Ridge through Monica Basin

My biggest direction tips:

1. From the parking area, do not take the trail that is ahead of you UP the road. That is your descent path!! Walk back DOWN the road and you will see the trail going into the trees on your right hand side. This trail takes you to the meadow so that you can do the horseshoe from left to right. (my preferred direction)

2. When you come off the far end of the ridge, closest to overlooking Spray Lake, just follow the main trail all the way until you end up on an old road. This takes you to the official road where you parked, just up from your vehicle. We wondered constantly if we were on the right trail, if we had to turn off somewhere, if we should turn onto any of the side trails... - no. Stay on the main trail. It is the correct one. Gillean's book is a bit confusing here as she talks about loops and such. Just go straight. On the main trail.

The gorgeous meadow you'll cross to access Tent Ridge through Monica Basin

Our Experience on Tent Ridge

The Hike to the Ridge

We enjoyed the relatively easy hike to the meadow below the ridge in Monica Basin. It was uphill for sure but the height was grained gradually and it was never that steep. It took us perhaps an hour to reach the ridge. None of the kids had problems on this first part of the trail and we stopped occasionally for candy breaks.

The only crux was finding the right trail to get started. As mentioned above, from where you'll park your car, hike DOWN the road a short ways to find the trail heading off into the trees. Do not walk up the road. There were several parties at the trailhead at the same time as us and most of them followed the trail UP the road from the car park. We didn't see any of them on the ridge so I think they just tagged the one summit and headed back down.

We did the full horseshoe traverse of the ridge and appreciated hiking it left to right. (doing the loop in a clockwise direction.)

Tent Ridge in front of us, easy hiking through Monica Basin as we approach the ridge

Gaining the Top of the Ridge

Once we got to the far left hand side of the horseshoe shaped ridge, we proceeded to scramble steeply up to the first summit. There was one cliff band that was especially "technical" for 6 and 7 year olds and a rope came out when one of the moms expressed a bit of doubt.

Scrambling up the steep ridge crest to gain the ridge proper

This first part of the Tent Ridge Traverse was also the point we almost "lost" two families, debating whether they should turn around or not, but fortunately the hiking got easier and everybody decided to continue.

Guide book writers will say Tent Ridge is "not" technical. And for an adult it isn't.

There were several scrambly bits on the first third of the ridge walk leading up to the first summit. Once we got further along though, it was all hiking on top of the ridge and hands could go back in the pockets (so to speak) for most of it.

The ground was way below us on this first cliff band leading up to the ridge (the crux of the whole day really)
Hiking up to the ridge top on our way to the first summit (photo: Alyssa Erickson)


Hiking to the First Summit

I lost track of where the actual "summits" were with all the up and down we did, but I'm pretty sure it was the first summit that had this firenet repeater station on it. It made for a good lunch spot and we stopped here for at least half an hour.

Lunch at the first summit

Time to reach this point from the moment where we started climbing up the ridge was probably an hour. (I didn't keep track but that seems about right.)

There were so many gorgeous views hiking to the first summit
more scrambling on the second cliff band en route to the first summit
There were a lot of interesting hands on moments getting to the first summit

There were several short cliff bands that we tackled (including the first big one) to reach this first summit, but the hiking got a lot easier once we reached this point. Most of the technical scrambling was behind us and now we just had to finish the looooooong hike to the end of the ridge and back down to the cars.  (and it was a lot further in distance than I had remembered it being as an adult when I last did the hike.)

more scrambling en route to the first summit
Easy hiking along the ridge after we'd finished the scrambling

Hiking to the Second Summit or the "Hub"

The hiking was much easier past the first summit but first we had to hike way DOWN off the summit and then way back UP to the next one. The kids were a little less than "thrilled" to be losing height only to re-gain it, but they all made it up to the Hub in relatively good spirits.

The boys looking up at the second summit from below the first summit
Watching our group hiking up towards the second summit from where we had lunch on the first summit

The photo above is really good for showing how far we had to hike down off the first summit. We took a lot of breaks!

Happy kids on the "Hub" or Second Summit
Summit shot of my Boo (age 7) and I

Traversing Tent Ridge to the Third Summit

According to guide books, we were only starting the actual "Tent Ridge" traverse past this point. Up till now, we'd been traversing a connecting ridge in a horseshoe shaped hike.

Hiking down off the Hub for the Tent Ridge Traverse

Many people hike this portion of the hike only to the "Hub" by hiking up in the reverse direction and skipping the whole horseshoe. They hike up and down our descent trail, tag the Hub, and hike back the same way without doing the big long horseshoe shaped ridge walk.

Easy sections of the ridge walk (not all like this!)

We could have done just the Tent Ridge hike too but I prefer doing the whole Horseshoe and it gave us 3 summits instead of 2. If you want to do Tent Ridge without the connecting horseshoe, Daffern describes the Tent Ridge hike in the same trail guide and has two different entries for "Tent Ridge" and the "Tent Ridge Horseshoe"  that we did.

Scrambly bits on the Tent Ridge Traverse
We probably should have supervised the kids a bit more here but they did AWESOME!

The photos above give you a good look at how exposed or narrow the ridge got at times. Not a problem for most adults but for young kids, it certainly was committing. And again, I'd forgotten just how narrow the ridge is from the last time I did the hike without kids.

Narrow ridge walking on Tent Ridge

I love the photo above  because it definitely puts the ridge in perspective and lets you know how narrow it was at times. Kids definitely need good balance, to be solid on their feet, and to have previous experience with scrambles and advanced hikes.

The photo below shoes one fun moment where we had to descend a short cliff band and squeeze through a small tunnel at the bottom. (the adults chose to go around the tunnel)

Fun scrambling on Tent Ridge (photo: Alyssa Erickson)
Looking back UP at the Hub (our second summit)

The photo above gives a LOT of perspective. We hiked DOWN that ridge behind our group in the photo. We climbed down those cliff bands, we scrambled all that black rock, and we made it safely down from the Hub in the background at far left.

Honestly, the top bump in the photo on the far left hand side is where we hiked down from. It certainly looks scary from this vantage point and were we to have been hiking up, we may have gotten scared and turned around at this point. In reality, it was fine and was a lot of fun.

Easy ridge walking towards the final summit overlooking Spray Lake
Easy peasy hiking from this point on

The hiking got a lot easier as we got closer to the final summit overlooking Spray Lake. The views also got amazing the further we hiked. And at this point, the kids had been hiking for 4 hours I'm sure. Probably more if it took 7 hours in total.

Approaching the Third Summit!
We like to be goofy if we're going to take a photo together. (Photo: Alyssa Erickson)

The Third Summit and Back to the Cars

The third summit was probably the most beautiful with Spray Lake below us. The kids were getting tired by this point, and we still had another couple of hours to go before we'd reach the cars.

Fortunately, it was all DOWN from this point and that certainly got the kids going!!

Third Summit on the Tent Ridge Horseshoe Hike
Summit Shot of My Boo and I

What was the hike down you are wondering? Steep! Steep as hell. Lots of scree, loose, and easy to slip on. I made my son put on his bike gloves at this point and tried to encourage him to walk slowly. Of course he still ran and thought it was hilarious to descend on his bum much of the time. Thankfully his shorts have no holes in them as a result!

Only one of the kids got a big banged up taking a big slide down the scree and the rest had minor slips. It was definitely the steepest slope I feel like descending with kids though.

Descending down Tent Ridge at the end

Sadly I don't really have any photos of the final part of the hike, nor do any of the others so I suspect we were all in "get back to the car" mode at this point. Add on a bit of "survival mode" getting the kids safely down the steep scree to the trail below.

Once we got back into the trees, we just followed the main trail all the way to the road - where we all gave loud war whoops that we actually ended up right at the vehicles! We weren't sure if we should follow the side trails, try to loop back to our ascent trail, or just follow the main trail we were on. In the end, the main trail was a great one and we ended up just up the road from our cars, clearly in site.

A Mighty Group of Hikers on Tent Ridge (photo: Alyssa Erickson)

Want to do this hike with your kids?

Please get a guide book (recommendations at the beginning of this post,) research your route ahead of time, and go with a strong group of hikers.

Do a reconnaissance hike first without the kids as well. That way you'll know if it's too narrow, exposed, technical, or long for your family. We had a great day but I know this hike is NOT for everybody.

While we had children as young as 6 on this trip, I wouldn't really recommend kids under the age of 8-10 attempt Tent Ridge (unless the kids have a lot of previous experience hiking or scrambling.) We had a strong group of children that I would not say are the "norm" for this sort of hiking.

Mighty Kids doing Mighty Things!

To read about some of our other summits this summer check out my last story on the East End of Mount Rundle. It has a lot of reflections in it, learned over the summer. It also has a complete link at the bottom to all of my "First Summits" posts.

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