Wednesday, May 26, 2021

White Buddha and Vents Ridge - Family Hiking in Kananaskis

Vents Ridge had been on my hiking list for years, way before it suddenly became popular in recent years! I was always intimidated though by the lack of directions I had for this unofficial trail and the route-finding I'd heard was a challenge. Enter the modern era with apps like All Trails, and you can practically hold your phone out in front of you to follow a little blue dot all the way to the summit! 

Gorgeous scenery on Vents Ridge in the Elbow Valley 

Hiking in the Elbow Valley

This hike is located in the Elbow Valley just down the road from Elbow Falls, near the Prairie Mountain trailhead. You'll be doing a loop with Powderface Creek and Prairie Creek, connecting them via Vents Ridge. And the name "White Buddha" comes from the climbing crag you'll pass by before you reach the top of the ridge.

This hike isn't very long so it makes for a great evening outing when days are long, and its location close to Calgary makes it a great choice for a mid-week adventure.

Vents Ridge is a beautiful destination in spring

Stats for the Hike 

Distance: 6 km loop (My tracker recorded 7.6 km)

Note my loop involves hiking up Powderface Creek to reach Vents Ridge, and then descending the other side of the ridge to Prairie Creek.

There are other "routes" on All Trails that involve sketchy scrambling. That is NOT my loop. My loop is generally family-friendly when the trail is snow free.

Height gain: 360 metres for Vents Ridge

Time it took us to complete the hike: Approximately 3.5 hours (as a loop) including a stop for lunch at the top.

Rating: It is a moderate hike when the trail is dry. There are steep sections young children may struggle with, but overall, it is not a technical outing and there's a good trail most of the time. 

Wait until the trail is dry and not muddy or snowy. (Reading recent trail reports on All Trails can help with this.)

For younger children I recommend hiking up and down the same trail via Powderface Creek and avoiding the loop with Prairie Creek. 

Also know that in spring, Prairie Creek can be high and there is a mandatory creek crossing if you do the loop. Usually there are logs to assist with crossing the creek.

Best Guide Book: Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 2, Gillean Daffern - Amazon affiliate link 

All Trails Link - Prairie Creek Trail to Powderface Creek Trail  (via Prairie Creek Crag)

I also suggest looking at this All Trails route for White Buddha via Powderface Creek Trail. (which is the direction we like doing the hike.)

If using the Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, you'll see the White Buddha Trail referred to as the Corri Robb Trail. (Hike #24)

** All hiking distances are approximate. 

Vents Ridge is my "must do" hike every spring!

Trailhead Information 

The All Trails route starts with an approach up Prairie Creek. Personally, I like hiking down this way and wouldn't recommend going up this way. Route finding is much harder if you start on the Prairie Creek side.

I recommend starting by hiking up Powderface Creek (Google Maps link) where there is a small parking lot. If it's full, park at Elbow Falls nearby and just walk along the side of the road for 5 minutes to reach the trailhead.

Hiking above Powderface Creek on the east side of the creek

Hiking Powderface Creek to White Buddha 

From Powderface Creek, you have two options for how to reach the junction for the White Buddha Climbing Crag. 

A. Hike along the left (west) side of Powderface Creek on the official trail (essentially a wide gravel road that is popular with mountain bikers.)

B. Hike along the right (east) side of the creek on the Old Pack Trail. This is a better trail in spring. It's drier, sunnier, stays high above the creek where there's less snow, and honestly, it's prettier. 

If you choose the Pack Trail, it shows up on the All Trails map as a dotted line on the east side of the creek. Follow it for 1.5 km until you drop down to meet the Powderface Creek Trail at the beginning of the switchbacks for the White Buddha Trail. Do not head up to the ridge early (which would involve a steep scramble.) You want to follow the Pack Trail until it joins up with the Powderface Creek Trail.

Hiking up the Pack Trail above Powderface Creek

Climbing up to the Base of the White Buddha Cliffs 

Follow the Powderface Creek Trail for approximately 1.5 km until you come to a steep trail heading off to your right where the Pack Trail comes in to join you. This is the trail up White Buddha.

If taking the Pack Trail, follow it until you drop down to meet Powderface Creek and then turn right onto the White Buddha Trail. 

The White Buddha Climbing Crag 

You'll know you're on the right trail because you'll be leaving the wide Powderface Creek Trail behind and you'll start steeply climbing up switchbacks to the bottom of the climbing cliffs at the White Buddha Crag. There are approximately 15 zigs and zags though I did not count as I was too occupied with trying to breathe. 

The White Buddha Trail is just under a kilometre in length once you leave Powderface Creek. And in those 700 metres distance, you'll gain approximately 200 metres of height. 

Traversing under the cliffs of the White Buddha 

Scrambling to the Top of Vents Ridge 

Traverse the base of the cliffs carefully! This is not where you want to stop to have your lunch if there are climbers here. Rockfall is always a hazard at climbing crags, so it's best to cross under the cliffs quickly and take a break on top of the ridge.

At the far end of the cliffs you'll find a steep scrambly trail climbing up to the top of the cliffs. This is Vents Ridge, your primary destination before you choose a descent route.

Climbing up the steep trail to the top of Vents Ridge

You'll want to spot young children carefully on this section, and depending on how you climb up the final section, you'll get to use your hands a bit.

Fortunately, this section takes 10 minutes at most and you're on top of the glorious ridge!

Short scrambly bit leading up to the ridge top

Reaching the top of Vents Ridge 

Vents Ridge 

You're on top of the ridge and so far you've climbed about 300 metres in just under 2.5 kilometres.

Many families turn around here to descend the same way they took up for a short 5 km hike. (And with young children I would advise turning around here for the easiest return.)

Vents Ridge summit 

Vents Ridge Summit with glorious views

Optional Descent to Prairie Creek 

Families with older kids will love creating a loop by descending down the back side of Vents Ridge into Prairie Creek. This allows you to visit a second climbing crag above Prairie Creek as well, where you'll get to traverse under another set of steep cliffs.

The full loop is 5.8 km.

Distance Breakdown:

Powderface Creek to Vent's Ridge - 2.5 km
Vent's Ridge to Prairie Creek Trail - 1.3 km
Prairie Creek Trail to highway - 2 km 

And this is where you'll want to switch to the other All Trails Route:  Prairie Creek Trail to Powderface Creek Trail  (via Prairie Creek Crag) - except you'll be doing it in reverse. 

Wait until the descent down to Prairie Creek is snow free to avoid this!

Start by traversing along the top of Vents Ridge, heading north. (You don't want to go south or you'll be scrambling down steep cliffs towards the highway.)

There's a trail to follow and you'll be able to follow it as it drops off the ridge, descending down to Prairie Creek in 1.3 km distance. The trail is steep and here's where it's helpful if your children are a bit older. I wouldn't recommend the trail for preschoolers!

Families have reported that this trail down to Prairie Creek can feel very narrow and steep, and that when it's snow free, the rock can be a bit loose. My family didn't find this trail particularly challenging, but it will depend on your experience level. It is not a beginner "walk in the park" trail.

Traversing alongside the cliffs of the Prairie Creek Climbing Crag 

When we first did this hike, we had snow and ice on this section but if you follow trail reports on All Trails you should be able to tell when the trail is dry. When snow covered, ice spikes are highly recommended!

You'll know when you've reached the Prairie Creek Climbing Crag because you'll see huge cliffs towering above you and you'll be traversing alongside the base of them. - again, not a spot to stop and have a lunch break if there are climbers here potentially knocking rocks down!

Traverse under the cliffs until the trail makes its final descent down to the creek. Here you can either rock hop or cross the creek on a log bridge to the other side, where you'll find the wide Prairie Creek Trail (which resembles an old road.)

Descending the trail off Vents Ridge to Prairie Creek

Note the creek can be high in spring, making the crossing more challenging! If the idea of crossing a roughly made log bridge over fast water scares you, save this outing until the creek is lower mid summer or even in the fall.

Crossing Prairie Creek in spring

Finishing the Hike on the Prairie Creek Trail 

Once you get on the Prairie Creek Trail, you'll be on a wide road which you'll follow for approximately 2 km until you reach the highway. There are a few narrow sections like in the photo below, but the trail widens the further you hike.

There are a few small uphill sections, but the majority of this part will be downhill.

Hiking down the Prairie Creek Trail

Reach the highway and you'll be within site of the Elbow Falls Day Use Area if you parked here. If you parked at Powderface Creek it's less than a 5 minute walk away. Just walk along the side of the highway.

And I love the photo below because it shows Vents Ridge in the background - and you were way up there on top! Powderface Creek is on the other side of the ridge.

Hiking along the Prairie Creek Trail with Vents Ridge in the background

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1 comment:

  1. Adding to my bucket list! Thanks for such a thorough review