Thursday, September 16, 2021

West Wind Pass and Windtower - Family Hiking and First Summits in Kananaskis

West Wind Pass is an easy day hike in Kananaskis with moderate height gain that most active families should be able to tackle. The reward for the effort is high, and an optional summit of the Windtower peak provides an ever greater vantage point over the Spray Lakes Reservoir.

Choose a sunny day because this is definitely one of the premier hikes in Kananaskis.

Perching high above the Spray Lakes Reservoir on the slopes of the Windtower 

Stats for the Hike 

Distance:  5 km return for West Wind Pass with an additional 5 km for Windtower (total of 10 km return for Windtower)

Height gain: 375 metres for West Wind Pass with an additional 616 metres to the summit of Windtower. Total height gain for Windtower is just under 1000 metres.

Time it took us to complete the return hike to the summit of the Windtower: We had a moving time of 4 hours (total time of 6.5 hours) and we were in a group of strong youth ages 10 - 11  years old.

Best time to do this hike: This is a summer hike so wait until late June to make sure there's no snow on the trail. The trail is hikeable  into early October most years.

Rating: West Wind Pass is nothing but a moderately steep hike. The trail is unofficial and there is no parking lot, but once you find the trail, it's relatively straightforward to reach the pass (especially if you download the All Trails app on your phone.)

The Windtower extension is a strenuous advanced hike with several steep sections. Route finding is required and there are a few scrambly places where you'll likely use your hands for a few seconds. The upper part of the trail is all scree, but the rock is firm and there's always a good trail to follow. 

Best Guide Book: Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 3, Gillean Daffern - Amazon affiliate link 

All Trails Link - West Wind Pass and Windtower. I recommend using the All Trails app so you know where to park on the Spray Lakes Road. By downloading the app you'll also be able to make sure you're on the correct path the entire time. 

Note to download the map, you'll need to have a premium paid subscription. I find it to be worthwhile, even just so I can see how far I am from the summit every time somebody asks "how much further?" 

Nearing West Wind Pass

Windtower as seen from Wind Ridge (you'll be climbing up the back side)

Finding the Trailhead

From Canmore, you'll get on the Spray Lakes Road, (the Smith Dorrien Trail) and drive past the Canmore Nordic Centre, past the Goat Creek Trailhead for Ha Ling Peak, and then you'll continue towards the Spray Lakes Reservoir. You'll pass by the turnoff for the Spray Lakes West Campground and then you're almost there!

There is no parking lot, but you'll always see vehicles parked on the side of the road beside the trailhead. And the trailhead can be seen here on Google Maps

You'll begin by hiking up Spurling Creek and within very short time, you'll come to a junction with the High Rockies Trail. Continue hiking straight ahead, angling to the left (north.) Very soon you'll see a steep narrow trail heading up, leaving the wide High Rockies Trail. It's unmarked, but this is your trail for West Wind Pass. 

If you find yourself on a wide "road like" trail for more than 15 minutes you've missed the junction for the West Wind Pass Trail. And if you aren't climbing steeply, you're definitely not on the West Wind Pass Trail which starts off with a good hill to get the lungs working.

The trail to West Wind Pass is moderately steep but the views are amazing the higher you climb

Hiking to West Wind Pass 

Once you leave the High Rockies Trail behind and officially get on the West Wind Pass Trail, the hiking is fairly straightforward and you really can't get lost. There are a few different trails (some higher, others lower) but they generally all take you up to the pass.

The one exception to "straightforward hiking" I will point out is that there is a junction about 30  minutes in, where the West Wind Pass Trail actually goes DOWN for a brief bit. If you step over a fallen tree and continue going steeply up, you'll actually be on the trail for Rimwall, a different mountain (which probably isn't your intent) - nor was it mine when we accidentally ended up climbing Rimwall our first time on this trail.

West Wind Pass looking over to Wind Ridge

The trail up West Wind Pass should always be moderately steep, but should also be well defined. If you ever start to think "my goodness this has gotten a lot steeper" or "wow, the trail is suddenly rockier than it was and what's with all these slabs?" you're probably on the trail up Rimwall and you should turn around or consult your map if you're tracking with All Trails.

Note, if you get off trail and start climbing towards the summit of Rimwall, turn around!! There is no way down to West Wind Pass from the Rimwall Trail. Trust me, we tried! It's all cliffs.

West Wind Pass looking down at the Spray Lakes Reservoir

If all goes well, you should arrive at the pass in an hour to an hour and a half. This isn't a long hike.

At the pass, enjoy the views down the other side towards the Wind Valley and Wind Ridge, have lunch, and then decide if you want to carry on to the summit of Windtower. And even if you just go a short ways on the Windtower Trail, the views constantly improve the higher you go.

The higher you hike, the better the views over the Spray Lakes Reservoir will be.

In the photo below  you'll be able to see a few things:

- The boys are just above West Wind Pass (on the Windtower Trail) and you can see the pass below (the low point.)

- The mountain in the background is Rimwall! And you can appreciate why it's probably not what you came to hike! (So make sure you stay on the West Wind Pass Trail.)

On the Windtower Trail looking down at West Wind Pass (Rimwall Peak in the background)

Below is another good photo of West Wind Pass, the low point between the slopes of the Rimwall and Windtower peaks. You can also see where the trail forks to go straight to the pass, or to start climbing up the Windtower Trail.

The boys below are on the Windtower Trail descending down to the pass.

Windtower Summit Extension 

How to find your way to the summit of Windtower: Step one, put the All Trails app on your phone. Two, pay for a premium subscription so you can download the map. Three, follow the blue dot.

All joking aside, there's always a good route to the summit, it's generally easy to see where you should go, and the path is well beaten down. However, it's still not a maintained trail with signs.

Most of the time you'll be following a well beaten down trail that's easy to see

To get you started: just below West Wind Pass you will see a good trail climbing up through scree and rock. The trail will be on your right just before you reach the pass, or on your left as you're coming down from the pass.

Technically this means you don't have to go to the actual pass, but you're so close, you might as well. It's a great spot for a rest and the views are pretty. 

The ascent of Windtower is basically a long gently inclining traverse under cliff bands where you're rewarded with fabulous views. There are a few baby rockbands that you'll have to make your way through but they all have good hand and footholds.

One of the baby rockbands you'll have to climb up

Short little scrambly sections keep things interesting

The ascent finishes with a long scree ramp up to the summit with good switchbacks through the rock. Never is it particularly loose or rubbly. 

Ascending a good trail of rock and scree to the summit of Windtower

Getting near the summit and there's still a great trail to follow!

Reaching the Windtower Summit

The summit itself is definitely an airy place as you perch high above cliff bands that you do not want to fall over! Be very careful with the kids here, hold their hands as they look over the edge, and use the rock wind shelters as safe places for your summit snacks before heading back down.

Sitting in a rock wind shelter below the summit for snacks

Standing on the edge of the giant cliff face of Windtower 

Hold the kids close if you're going to let them near the edge of this summit!

Windtower (left) West Wind Pass, and Rimwall (right)

The above photo of Windtower to the left shows why you want to hold the kids tight at the summit. You are standing at the top of that cliff face!! The ascent route is up the backside though which you can't see in the photo.

The photo above was taken from Wind Ridge, another great hike in Kananaskis.

All the Scenery on the Windtower Trail!

Below are just some of the photos I took to show how spectacular the views are as you look down on the Spray Lakes Reservoir.

Sitting on a large boulder off the Windtower Trail

The Windtower Trail follows a long scenic traverse above the Spray Lakes

Summit snacks high above the Spray Lakes

And you'll be rewarded with great views the entire time you hike down as you look straight out at the Spray Lakes Reservoir.

Following the zigzags through the scree down from the summit of Windtower 

Definitely make sure it's a sunny day for this hike!

Few hikes in Kananaskis give you views like this!

So many awesome rocks to perch on!

Have you added this hike to your list yet?

I love the West Wind Pass and Windtower trail because it's definitely a choose your own adventure trip. Stop at the pass, continue on towards Windtower and enjoy the easy traverse above the lake, or continue all the way to the summit of Windtower up the final rock and scree.

Options are endless. 

Find more first summits and great hikes here: First Summits for Families in the Canadian Rockies 

Monday, August 30, 2021

Colourful Autumn Summit Ridge Walks at Panorama Mountain Resort

September is almost here and the countdown is on! In just a few weeks the larch trees will start to change color and we'll be hiking through magical golden forests once again. And I have already done your research to find you the best larch hike you'll want to do this fall!

Hiking among the golden larch trees at Panorama Mountain Resort 

My family participated in one of the guided larch hikes at Panorama Mountain Resort near Invermere, BC a few years ago and it was one of the most incredible opportunities we've experienced for fall hiking.

After a couple years hiatus with no tours offered, Panorama is offering their guided colourful summit ridge walks again for 2021.

This year's tours will run on Saturday, September 18th and Sunday, September 19th for 2021. And I've heard that the Saturday tours are already sold out so I'd book for a Sunday tour ASAP.

Book your tours here

And visit this link for full information on the tours

It doesn't get more colourful than this! Fall hiking at Panorama Mountain Resort 

What to Expect from a Guided Fall Summit Ridge Walk at Panorama 

1. Three chairlift rides whisk you to the top of the mountain!

You'll ride the Mile 1 Express Chair, the Champagne Express Chair, and the Summit Quad on your way to the top of the Panorama Ski Resort before you begin your hike along the ridge above the Taynton Bowl. 

This means you'll save yourself 1300 metres of height gain that you'd normally be climbing in order to reach the Goldie Plateau.

Climb 1300 metres - or take a few chairlifts! Easy decision for us! 

And I don't know about you, but my child is not going to climb 1300+ metres to hike through a larch forest. He was most excited though to watch those metres pass by from his seat on each chairlift - and he loved riding the same lifts that he's ridden in winter, looking down on his favourite ski runs (now covered in grass.)

We reached the Taynton Bowl  at the top of Panorama Mountain Resort (with no climbing involved!)

2. Options for three different hikes (something for all abilities)

The Goldie Plateau is the easiest destination to reach and only has 85 metres of height gain. The distance is 2.2 km one way and it's an easy walk along the ridge above the Taynton Bowl through golden larch trees.

Hiking along the ridge above the Taynton Bowl towards the Goldie Plateau

"Located between Mt Goldie and Taynton Bowl, this walk is the easiest of the three with mostly flat and gently undulating terrain with some steep sections. Enjoy stunning views to the Purcells and into Taynton Bowl as you walk among the stunning colours of the alpine larch."

At the Goldie Plateau (and we're about to climb that mountain in the background!)

Goldie Lake was the next option we could have chosen and we did hike back this way on return from Mount Goldie. This destination has an elevation loss of 27 metres and a distance of 2.8 km one way. 

Goldie Lake is a stunning destination for a family day hike

"Located beneath Mt Goldie, little Goldie Lake is surrounded by dense stands of golden alpine larch and picturesque views of Mt Goldie and the surrounding peaks. The walk involves some sustained descents and ascents as you walk down to the lake and then hike back up to the main trail. This is a great hike for families with kids who are confident hikers."

The larch trees around Goldie Lake are spectacular!
Golden larch trees at Goldie Lake

Mt. Goldie is the ultimate destination if you have the stamina to summit an actual peak. We chose this hike and it was amazing! The elevation gain is only 267 metres (thanks to the chairlift rides) and the distance is a short 3.3 km one way.

Standing on Mt. Goldie at Panorama Mountain Resort 

"Ascending Mt Goldie is a breathtaking experience! Standing 2653m above sea level, be prepared to scramble up a shale field to the ridge of Mt Goldie and you will be rewarded with stunning views of the alpine larch, the Purcell & Rocky Mountains, Lake Windermere, East Fork Valley and Goldie Lake. You need to be a strong and confident hiker."

Looking down on Goldie Lake from the top of Mt. Goldie 

3. Small group sizes of about 15 people each

Try finding a hike at Lake Louise with only 15 people on the trail! It's impossible any time of the year. 

When we showed up in the day lodge we were divided into groups based on our chosen hike for the day, and then the groups all separated so you were never hiking with a crowd of other people. And while there could have been more than one group going to the same destination, we all split up by the time each group rode up the chairlifts and so you'd only see the other groups off in the distance.

Enjoy gorgeous backcountry hiking with a small group of other people (and no crowds!)

4. The tours are family-friendly

Children 5 and under are free, and juniors/youth receive a discount. My son was the only child in our group, but that's because we chose the summit hike. There were more families on the Goldie Lake hike.

The pace of our hike was never overly fast, and my son, age 9 at the time, easily kept up. There were rest breaks, snack breaks, and we enjoyed a long break at Goldie Lake on the return after reaching the summit.

Climbing up the snowy shale on the slopes of Mt. Goldie

I also appreciated that each group could customize their tour to a degree depending on the strength of that individual group. My group was fairly strong so we descended Mt. Goldie off the far side of the ridge in order to reach Goldie Lake, returning on that trail, and completing a nice backcountry loop. This wasn't the normal "Mt. Goldie" descent route, but we sure appreciated the extra ridge walk and the off-trail rambling down to Goldie Lake.

Extending our hike to include Goldie Lake on our way down from Mt. Goldie 

5. Lunch is included with each tour 

Tickets include chairlift access, your guided walk, a gourmet packed lunch with snacks, and an apr├Ęs drink at one of the restaurants at the base of the resort at the end.

Note that children's tickets (for kids 5 and under) do not include the packed lunch since their admission to the tour is free. Children 6+ receive a lunch though along with the adults.

We were able to choose what we wanted in our lunch (there were several options for sandwiches) and then we each carried our own lunch in our backpack.

There were lots of opportunities for rest and snack breaks on the tour 

Our Personal Colourful Summit Ridge Walk Experience

When we did the tour, our son was 9 years old at the time. A strong hiker, we knew he'd have no problem with the Mt. Goldie Summit hike (and he didn't.)

We rode up the three chairlifts, hiked across the top of the Taynton Bowl to the Goldie Plateau, and then started working our way up the steep scree and shale slopes of Mt. Goldie.

This kid was pretty excited to be hiking above the Monster extreme slopes at Panorama
There was a lot of snow already on our climb up Mt. Goldie

On top of the first peak along the summit ridge we took a long break and decided if we wanted to return the way we came, or if we wanted to extend our hike along the ridge to a second peak, descending down to Goldie Lake. We'd met up with a second group by this point, and so there would have been an option for some people to continue, and for others to turn back. Everybody decided to carry on though.

Family summit shot on Mt. Goldie

From the first summit of Mt. Goldie, we enjoyed a beautiful ridge walk to the shale slopes we'd run down to the larch forest below, making our way down to Goldie Lake. 

We had a lot of fun running down the shale from Mt. Goldie

It was absolutely spectacular hiking around Goldie Lake, and for larch trees, this was the most beautiful part of our day.

Looking down at Goldie Lake from the slopes of Mt. Goldie above

We had a nice rest break at Goldie Lake, and then from the lake we had to climb back up to the plateau where we started following the "Get me down" ski traverse to the top of the Champagne Chair. We only took the Summit Quad up at the beginning of the day, riding down two of the three chairlifts at the end of the day. 

Larch trees as far as you can see around Goldie Lake

I wish I could tell you exactly how many kilometres we hiked in total, but I'd estimate it to be around 9 km by the time we'd hiked down to the top of the Champagne Chair. From start to finish our tour took at least 5 hours with many rest stops (so you want to make sure your whole day is free and that you don't have plans late afternoon.)

Hiking down to the top of the Champagne Chair at the end of our hike

We also spent the weekend at Panorama Mountain Resort so we could enjoy the hot pools after our hike, and so we wouldn't have to drive a long distance in the morning, risking being late. It was nice to be able to go out for dinner on the hill as well at the end of the day.

In general, it was a perfect weekend and I can't think of a better way to celebrate the autumn season.

High above the clouds at Panorama Mountain Resort

Planning Tips (what to expect from your ridge walk at Panorama)

  • Expect snow. As you can see from my photos, it was bordering on late fall weather when we were at Panorama for our tour. My son actually wore his winter boots with snow pants and we brought microspikes with us, expecting the rock to be slippery up top.

  • Be prepared with layers of clothing!! At the summit of Mt. Goldie I was wearing a toque and a winter jacket. Lower down, we were stripping to long sleeve shirts and carrying our jackets in our packs. Pack gloves, hats, waterproof pants or even snow pants for the kids, and be prepared for temperature changes through the day. The morning will also start off chilly (and the chairlift rides were cold.)

  • Expect a wide range of ages in all groups. There are no "family specific" groups so you could be hiking with other families, couples, or groups of fit seniors. This should work for most youth, but if your children need other kids along, make sure you bring friends with you.

  • Pack your own favourite snacks and supplemental lunch items for the kids and bring your own water. While the hike is catered, you don't want to show up to find out that your child doesn't like the snacks they've been given, the bread the sandwich has been made with, etc.

  • Personally, I recommend choosing either the Goldie Lake Hike or the Mt. Goldie Summit Hike. The Plateau was pretty, but not quite worth three chairlift rides to reach. If you're going to pay the money for a guided tour, you also want to choose a destination that needs a guide. The Goldie Plateau was just reached by walking along the ridge above the Taynton Bowl. Most families should have no problems reaching the lake.

  • Want to hike around the Goldie Plateau or to the summit of Mt. Goldie on your own without the guided hike? Well, you can't. (unless you want to climb 1500+ metres from the bottom of the resort.) The chairlifts have closed for the season and the Champagne Express Quad along with the Summit Quad are actually only open during the summer season for this special guided hiking weekend.

    If you were to visit the resort in the summer and you wanted to hike to Goldie Lake, you'd be looking at 900+ metres of height gain from the top of the Mile 1 Express Quad. (and that's only to the lake, not to the actual summit of Mt. Goldie.)

    So, this is your BEST chance to summit Mt. Goldie (or to hike to Goldie Lake) without 900-1000 metres of height gain and a looooong day hiking with the kids. Panorama gives you this special opportunity for one weekend only when they run all three chairlifts for this special weekend of guided hikes.

  • Have lots of energy and stamina? Make sure you ask your guide if you can do both Mt. Goldie and Goldie Lake. There is an optional ridge walk extension after summiting Mt. Goldie which will take you off-trail and down to the lake on an unofficial route. Our guide suggested this ending to our hike and we were thrilled!! 

Reach the top of Mt. Goldie in less than 300 metres of height gain ( for one weekend only!)

For More Information 

For more information on the tour, to purchase tickets, or to make reservations to stay at the resort during your visit, please visit the Panorama Mountain Resort website.  

Disclaimer: Our participation on this tour along with our weekend stay was hosted by Panorama Mountain Resort. As always, all opinions are my own.