Wednesday, July 12, 2017

First Summits - Grizzly Peak, Kananaskis

Last week my son and I headed out to Kananaskis to hike up Grizzly Peak with a girlfriend and her daughter. My friend lured me in with the claim that this was the most beautiful hike in Kananaskis, assured me that our 7 and 8 year olds should love it, and said that it was a relatively straight forward, (albeit steep,) hike.

Hiking up towards Grizzly Peak, Kananaskis Valley

I didn't do much research on the hike (mistake one,) took my friend's recommendation with blind faith (mistake number two,) and figured I could totally do it solo (without my husband coming along to help.) - And yes, that was mistake number three for this challenging outing.

I'm pretty sure I owe this summit's success to a second girlfriend who joined us for the day without kids (and ended up pulling/pushing my son up all the steep parts.) My other girlfriend (the one who initiated the hike) can also be credited with rescuing my son with a rope when he accidentally slid down a steep scree slope on the descent (and got stuck half way down.)

Sounds like a fun day, right??

Two mighty seven and eight year olds climbing up Grizzly Peak



 Bringing Kids on the Big Stuff 


I remember the "big stuff" that I used to do in the days before having a child.

- 30 km day hikes
- 3 day backpacking trips, done as single day epic long hikes so that we could travel light
- Scrambles and summits with 1700 metres of height gain
- Long ridge walks where we were lucky to make it back to the vehicles by dark

An average day in the mountains usually left me gashed, bruised, bleeding, blistered, soaked in sweat and dirt, and sore for days.

The crazy thing though is that I actually LIKED this. I liked pushing myself, challenging myself, and waking up exhausted (in true zombie mode) the next day. I can't say I always "liked" every part of an outing (and many trails were definitely one-timers that I will never repeat.) Overall though, I "liked" the adventure, and I had fun checking summits off in my local guide book.

Fast forward 8 years though and I have a child who also enjoys pushing himself, who likes a good challenge, and loves climbing mountains. And while we aren't doing 30 km days yet or tackling epic amounts of height gain, we are starting to have some pretty BIG days.

The apple did not fall far from the tree with this kid who loves climbing mountains

Like before, in the pre-kid days, my family hikes are now leaving me sore for days, they are leaving me gashed and bleeding on occasion, and we were so filthy after our Grizzly Peak summit day that my husband wouldn't let our son even sit down in the house until he'd taken a shower.

Our family hikes are entering the realm of the "big stuff" and it's making me reflect on how we do things. I can't take our outings lightly anymore. Mistakes can have serious consequences and a low-energy day is a pretty big deal now!

Hiking the BIG stuff with my 8-year old son


Grizzly Peak Stats for our Summit Hike


Height Gain: 900 metres (not 2535 metres as indicated in Alan Kane's newest guide book! That is the total height of the mountain.)

Distance: 7 km return according to one website I found.

Time it took us: 8 hours return (4 hours up, 4 hours down)

Age of kids we hiked with: a 7 year old girl and an 8 year old boy

Temperature: 30+ degrees!

Best Guide Book: Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies by Alan Kane

After 800 metres of relentless steep climbing, you reach this meadow below the summit of Grizzly Peak


Trailhead: The trail is located on Highway 40, just south of the Fortress Gas Station in Kananaskis. Drive past the gas station and look for the Ripple Rock Creek Drainage on your left. It is 1 km south of Grizzly Creek and is located between Grizzly Creek and Hood Creek.

If you are driving south you'll have to find a place to turn around so that you can park on the side of the highway (in the north bound direction.) There is no parking lot. We ended up going all the way to the King Creek parking lot, turning around there, and then driving back north until we found the right creek.

Scrambling a cliff band lower down on the Grizzly Peak trail


Overview of the Grizzly Peak Hike / Scramble


The trail is easily seen from the side of the highway where you park. It is also fairly straight forward all the way to the summit (just as my girlfriend had promised.) I would not say that exceptional route finding skills are required for this hike, and a strong hiker with a good background on unofficial trails would have few problems finding his/her way up the mountain.

The "straight forward hike" part aside though,I can NOT say that this hike is easy. It's not technical, a fall would never kill you, and there's no exposure. However, it is far from easy and is certainly no walk in the park. This hike kicked our butts and I feel like I grossly underestimated its difficulty.

The trail started off relatively easy but it soon became relentlessly steep and loose


The Trail up Grizzly Peak is STEEP as Heck!


The trail starts off steep right from the highway and this beast quickly let's you know that you are not messing around here. There are no switch backs, and the trail wastes no time with a warm up. You'll be breathing heavy within the first minute.

The first part of the trail climbs through forest on a reasonably good trail but is relentlessly steep and very slippery on the way down. My son did a full face plant on the descent (in good hiking boots) and slipped (landing on his bum) at least 15 times on this section alone. (There is a reason it took 4 hours to get up and another 4 to get down! This trail is every bit as challenging on the way down (if not more so.)

Nearing the first cliff band on the lower trail up Grizzly Peak

You'll be Using Your Hands. This is a Scramble


After climbing the forest for roughly an hour, we ended up at a small cliff band where people with acrophobia might be mildly scared for a moment or two. It would be hard to hold hands on this section so you have to trust that kids can climb up and traverse a narrow staircase of rock next to a cliff band. On the way down we did wrap a rope around the kids' waists as they descended so that if they fell, they wouldn't fall "as far."  I always vote for bruises over a broken arm or leg.

Scrambling up the cliff band on the lower slopes of the Grizzly Peak hike


This Hike is Stunningly Beautiful (which partly makes up for how steep it is!)


Cliff band scaled, you are in the second part of the hike. There are more trees, the trail gets steeper, and gets even looser. Again, it's not so bad on the way up but dreadful on the way down.

Eventually you get into the "pretty part" of the hike though (roughly 1.5 hours in if hiking at a slow to moderate pace,) and you'll be traversing grassy slopes with views of Mt. Evan Thomas to your right and the Royal Group across the valley with the Kananaskis Lakes.

This was one of my favourite parts of the hike and you actually get a chance to breathe again. At times, the trail is even flat!! Alas, the trail is still very narrow so you won't be sitting down for a prolonged snack.

Grassy slopes on the trail up Grizzly Peak (Mt. Evan Thomas to the right)


This Trail is LOOSE! Bring Band-Aids!!


The next part of the hike is dreadful on both the way up and down. A bit of route finding is required as there are multiple "sheep trails" through the scree and rock, the trail is very loose (in both directions,) and you start to leave the trees behind you.

You're into the land of rock and scree below the cliff face of Grizzly Peak to your left. We picked our way up the best we could, occasionally got off trail for a moment here or there (wondering why the heck the trail was so steep, yes, even steeper than before, and where our trail of sorts had gone to.) Then we'd round a corner and realize the trail was above or below us and that we'd been off route.

By this point we'd been hiking straight up for over 2 hours and there had been very few places to stop and rest. And then the trail got even worse!!

I have no idea if we were on the trail here. Probably not!

Hope you Enjoy Scree Bashing


Bashing our way up scree to the meadow on top
Now we were in the true "scree bashing" section and thank goodness for my friend Robin who practically pushed/pulled my son up sections (while I fought to get my own butt up the trail without falling.) This part of the hike went on forever and there was no shade. It was 30+ degrees out and I was starting to think that the gorgeous meadow we'd been promised would never come. The kids were asking for lunch by this point too but there was honestly nowhere to stop.

We finally pounded our way up the nasty slope, and found the beautiful meadow. This part had all taken about 3 hours but we still weren't at the summit. For one of the kids, this was the end, feeling mighty proud of herself for making it this far. To reach the meadow you'll already have climbed over 800 metres of height.

We spent half an hour or so in the meadow eating, airing out our feet, and trying to summon more energy for the summit.

Clawing our way up steep slopes to the meadow

Somebody needs to Build a Hut in the Meadow so we can Stay Overnight Next Time!


After all the work you'll go through climbing up to the gorgeous meadow below the summit of Grizzly Peak, it would be lovely to find an alpine club hut.

The meadow below the Grizzly Peak summit

I have never enjoyed a meadow so much in my life. It was stunningly beautiful and perfect for a good rest and lunch break before trudging further up to the summit.

How does a meadow like this end up on top of a mountain?


The Summit is Magnificent 


The final walk to the summit was actually the best part of the whole hike. We climbed up grassy slopes (that were not slippery in the slightest) to the ridge in approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Then it was just a short narrow ridge walk (airy in spots) to reach the summit.

Crossing the airy ridge to the summit of Grizzly Peak

And families can stop at any point if the ridge becomes too airy for comfort. Otherwise, I felt fine just holding my son's hand and walking close beside him, or letting my friend Robin walk across with him while I tried to get photos of him reaching the summit.

900 metres of height gain and 4 hours of hiking but we made it to the top of Grizzly Peak!


All in all, it took roughly 4 hours to reach the summit (including our break in the meadow.) 


This mountain kicked our butts but we made it to the top!

What Goes up, Eventually has to go Down!


I've been joking about the "demon hike" I did last week and it's 100% because of the descent! I can handle steep trails and a bit of route finding. Loose scree that causes a child to fall down 50+ times is another story entirely!

The descent took another 4 hours, and never had I done an out and back trip up a mountain where the descent took as long as the ascent. A short section of rope got pulled out numerous times to help the kids down the steepest sections of scree and I took a nasty wipe out, resulting in some ugly road rash down one leg.

This is the initial descent down from the meadow

Add the challenges that it was still dreadfully hot (30+ degrees most of the time,) that it was getting late and we wanted to get down quickly before husbands back home started worrying, we were all running out of water, and the trail required a lot of concentration (when everybody was getting tired.)

A brief section of easy hiking along grassy slopes on the way down

Things we Loved about this Hike


We are proud that we made the summit and Noah was very happy on top of the mountain

The meadow was gorgeous! It just needs a backcountry hut!

The summit really is pretty as is the ascent trail once you reach open grassy slopes and the flatter section of trail.

The rest of the steep,loose hike was miserable and I won't be doing this trail again. 

A very happy 8 year old on the summit of Grizzly Peak

Lessons Learned  on Grizzly Peak


  1. Pay attention to "bad omens" or signs that it might not be a good day to climb a mountain from the very beginning! For us, my son Noah really didn't seem to have a lot of energy from the get go. And I usually find that you can tell within the first 5 minutes if you're going to have a strong day (or if you should just call it a day and go for ice-cream.)

  2.  Climbing a mountain when there's an extreme heat warning for the area is kind of dumb. I admit this!

  3. I took a friend's suggestion for this hike and followed with blind faith. This was naive and careless on my part. She honestly does love this hike and her daughter liked it too. Had I have "tested" it out ahead of time, I would have known it would be too loose and steep to solo it with my son. I could have used my husband's help on the steep parts. I'm just not confident enough on steep loose terrain to help somebody else, and get my own butt up/down the trail

  4. My son was begging to turn around within the first hour - and I didn't listen. I encouraged him on and pushed him to continue. And while I'm "mostly" glad that I did, because he loved the summit and was very proud of himself, it would have been a lot easier had we just have turned around and come back with husband in tow on a stronger energy day (without a heat warning!)
A look at the easy summit of Grizzly Peak above the meadow

 

Overall Opinion of the Trail


Some kids would enjoy this hike but my son is used to more "scrambling," more hands on moments, and more interesting moments where he's traversing narrow ridges or climbing up and over boulders.

Climbing and descending a steep loose trail in 30 degree heat for 8 hours failed to impress in my family.

Am I glad we did this hike - YES.

Is Noah happy that he made the summit - YES.

Will we do it again - NO. Too steep, too loose, too relentless.

A beautiful hike with a lot of steep loose rock

Suggested Prerequisite Hikes


East End of  Mount Rundle - for steepness and loose rock. This is the most similar hike we've done to Grizzly Peak (and interestingly enough, my son didn't like this one either.)

Little Lougheed - purely for steepness

Heart Mountain- If you do the full horseshoe, you'll be looking at a 7 to 8 hour day.

Parting shot of the summit ridge on Grizzly Peak

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