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 




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