Tuesday, June 27, 2017

First Summits - Heart Mountain Family Scramble

Heart Mountain is a classic summit that many hikers tackle as one of their first climbs in the Canadian Rockies. Located close to Calgary, it is largely just a steep walk up to the top of the mountain and there is no approach. Park on the side of the highway and start walking. Up.

Heart Mountain Family Scramble, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
Heart Mountain Summit, Kananaskis


Introduction to Heart Mountain 

 

The Trailhead for Heart Mountain is the same as for the popular Heart Creek trail (but many people park right beside the highway to cut off a bit of distance at the beginning and end - as we did.)

Heart Mountain is located in the Heart Creek Provincial Recreation Area and is easily found right beside the TransCanada highway 8 km east of the Hamlet of Dead Man's Flats. (opposite Lac Des Arcs)

Heart Mountain Family Scramble, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
Heart Mountain as seen from the far ridge on the Horseshoe Circuit


While many (or most) people hike straight up and back down again, we decided to do the full Heart Horseshoe circuit, ascending and descending different ridges. This put us roughly a kilometre away from where we'd parked our car at the end but it made for an easier descent on a trail that is not quite as steep. (It's still plenty steep, but not "as" steep.)

As a bonus to hiking the full horseshoe circuit, we got to summit two peaks instead of just one on our long ridge walk, hiking up and over Grant MacEwan Peak, actually higher than the Heart Mountain summit.

Heart Mountain Family Scramble, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
You'll get beautiful views down over the Bow Valley from the summit of Heart Mountain

Stats for our Summit of Heart Mountain (with the Horseshoe Circuit)



Height Gain: 911 metres total height gain with Heart Mountain and Grant MacEwan Peak


Distance: 9.6 km circuit (if you start beside the highway.) 11.1 km circuit from the official Heart Creek Day Use Area.


Time that it took us: 7 hours to complete the full circuit. And if you want a good idea of  how long the circuit really is, it only took us 2.5 hours to get UP. The remaining 4.5 hours were spent on the circuit and the descent.


Age of kids we hiked with: 2 eight-year old boys


Best Guide Book: If you're just climbing up and down Heart Mountain, you'll find the information you need in Alan Kane's "Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies" guide book.

If you want to do the full horseshoe circuit, you'll want to read Gillean Daffern's Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 3


Heart Mountain Family Scramble, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
Rest break on the ascent of Heart Mountain


Hiking up the Ascent Route to the Summit of Heart Mountain


I'm not a guide book writer, so I encourage you to do a couple of things before you set out to climb Heart Mountain with kids.

  1. Get one of the guide books mentioned above or head out with a friend who's already done this hike. While there is a very well beaten down path to the summit, one can still take a wrong turn here or there. And wrong turns on Heart can be very dangerous. It is important that you find the correct way up the cliff bands on the front side and that you don't stray too far off course.

  2. Hike Heart Mountain with your partner or a friend first (without the kids.) If you find your way up, have no problems, enjoy the hike, and think your children would enjoy it, then by all means - take the kids. But don't head up this trail thinking it will be a nice pleasant little day hike. It is a scramble on an rough unofficial trail, with hands on moments, one moderate step at a cliff band, and much loose rock. The trail is relentlessly steep and route finding skills are required. 

Heart Mountain Family Scramble, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
The moderate step that you'll have to scramble up to reach the summit


What to expect from the ascent up Heart Mountain:

  • Very loose rock (worse on descent.) The last time I descended the main route, I swore I'd never go down this ridge again - and we've done the horseshoe circuit ever since.

  • A relentlessly steep hike where you'll gain roughly 800 metres of height in 2.7 km.

  • Plenty of excitement for kids who get bored hiking. Seriously, my son LOVED this hike because there was no boring plodding through the trees for hours on end. There is virtually no approach for this hike. Get on the trail right from the highway and start climbing immediately. You stop climbing when you hit the summit.

Heart Mountain Family Scramble, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
Fun scrambling on the way up Heart Mountain

  • No switchbacks. This is a "climbers" summit - short, quick, and dirty. The trail does not waste time with cute little switchbacks so that your trip is easier or more pleasant. If you want switchbacks, you should hike up Ha Ling Peak instead.

  • One moderate step at a 3-metre high cliff band where you'll have to use your hands, find hand/foot holds, and pull yourself up. A fall here could result in an injury.

  •  Lack of shade. This slope is very warm and dry on a hot summer day so start early. You don't want to be climbing up in the mid-day heat.

  • Rocky slabs near the top that kids will find fun. Parents might not find them as fun because a fall could result in serious injury and kids will be using their hands to scramble up the rock.

Heart Mountain Family Scramble, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
More scrambling before the summit

Heart Mountain Family Scramble, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
Lots of fun moments en route to the summit of Heart Mountain

If I haven't lost you yet, you've reached your first summit, Heart Mountain. You'll stop here for lunch and a well deserved rest break before continuing on to Grant MacEwan Peak.

Heart Mountain Family Scramble, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
Summit number 1: Heart Mountain
Heart Mountain Family Scramble, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
The Summit Star


Going Further to Grant MacEwan Peak


If you've made it to the summit of Heart Mountain, the rest of the trip is a "walk in the park" more or less. You'll enjoy open ridge walking (never alarmingly narrow,) constant views, a breeze (refreshing after the hot ascent up the front side of the mountain,) and plenty of small bumps that beg for candy and snack breaks.

Heart Mountain Family Scramble, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
There are constant views as you walk the ridge on the Heart Horseshoe
Heart Mountain Family Scramble, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
Ridge walking around the Horseshoe

The only crux in continuing on to Grant MacEwan Peak is that the kids will be tired by this point, feet might be getting sore, and you'll have to go up and down over multiple small bumps on the ridge. (Each one feeling like another summit!)

Heart Mountain Family Scramble, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
Easy Ridge walking on the Heart Horseshoe Circuit
Heart Mountain Family Scramble, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
Easy ridge walking and constant views

From the Heart Mountain summit it is another 1.5 km of walking until you reach the summit of Grant MacEwan Peak. Beyond this, it is another 1 km (over another bump) before you begin your looooong descent route. (Trust me, each of those "o"s is warranted!)

Heart Mountain Family Scramble, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
We're going up there to Grant MacEwan Peak and beyond
Heart Mountain Family Scramble, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
Grassy meadow section of the ridge walk en route to the final bump
Heart Mountain Family Scramble, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
I think I wanted to cry at this point - more UP on the never ending ridge walk


The Descent to the Quaite Valley Trail


There is nothing technical about the descent and it is much easier than the ascent route. There are no cliff bands and the rock is much more stable under foot. However, this doesn't mean it is easy or that it's not still very steep.

Heart Mountain Family Scramble, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
The descent ridge (steep at the top)
The descent always seems to take forever and you'll be taking many breaks if hiking with kids. (Remember, it only took us 2.5 hours to get up Heart Mountain but it took us 4.5 hours to do the horseshoe and descent!)

My best advice for the descent is to bring bike gloves for the kids (and even adults.) The rock is loose at times and there is the occasional short step where you'll have to put a hand (or bum) down. Gloves save the skin if somebody slips. I've even been known to bring pants for the descent (if hiking in shorts on a hot day) because the more skin covered, the better!

Once you get down to the bottom of the ridge, you'll turn left and follow the powerline back to where you started from. We had intended to leave kids and moms at the highway here, sending dads back for the cars, but in the end, we all just hiked back to the parking lot.



Heart Mountain Family Scramble, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
Rest break on the way down the circuit

Suggested Family Summits before Attempting Heart Mountain 


I'm not going to suggest a recommended age for this hike because the reality is that I know some 5-year olds who could tackle this hike, and I know plenty of 8-year olds who couldn't. Many adults could not do this hike!

Heart Mountain Family Scramble, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
Rugged hiking along the Heart Mountain Horseshoe


Recommended summits to try first:

- Ha Ling Peak, Canmore

- Lady Macdonald to the platform, Canmore

- Nihahi Ridge to the ridge (or beyond to the South Summit), Kananaskis

- Mount Fairview, Lake Louise

- Mount St. Piran, Lake Louise


Heart Mountain Family Scramble, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
My boys on the Heart Mountain Horseshoe Circuit


Other Family First Summits


Family-friendly Summits in Jasper National Park

More First Summits - Prairie Mountain, Kananaskis

Ha Ling! My Baby Climbed his First Real Summit

First Summits - The Mighty Yamnuska with a 6 Year Old

First Summits - Barrier Lake Lookout, Kananaskis

The Four Summit Day - Ha Ling Peak to Miner's Peak (and beyond)

First Summits - Forget Me Not Ride, Kananaskis

Copper Mountain from Shadow Lake Lodge, Banff

First Summits - Polar Peak, Fernie Alpine Resort

Family Hiking at the Next Level - Scrambles and Summits (Nihahi Ridge to the South Summit)

5 Summit Day in Canmore (Kid-Friendly) - Ha Ling Peak and Miner's Peak 


First Summits - Table Mountain, Beaver Mines Lake

First Summits - East End of Mount Rundle Summit

First Summits - Tent Ridge Horseshoe, Kananaskis

First Summits - Mount Fairview and Saddle Mountain, Lake Louise

First Summits - Mount Saint Piran, Lake Louise

First Summits - Mount Lady Macdonald Hike, Canmore


Heart Mountain Family Scramble, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
I hiked up there and around the entire Horseshoe circuit to get here!

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