Kananaskis Country has some of the best scenery in the Rockies but because it’s just a cluster of provincial parks and not a big name national park, the crowds just seem to stay away, and that’s why we love it. My 30th birthday was coming up so I was delighted to be spending it in such a beautiful area. The weather wasn’t quite what we had planned though and as we drove up Highwood Pass the rain turned into snow – in July! Soon after Craig noticed a bear cross the road and we found a safe area to park where we could watch it gradually move our way. It was a grizzly which we haven’t seen many of on this trip so we were squealing like kids with excitement. Sometimes it can be tricky to distinguish the difference between a black and a grizzly, both of them can have any fur colour from blond to cinnamon or brown to jet black. In fact some of the grizzlies in the coastal mountains of Canada have a rare gene that gives them white fur, like albinos and they might have one white cub and one black. But this guy was a grizzly and his wide face, bulky shoulders and 3 inch long claws were the clues. It was so nice watching an apex predator that’s designed to tear prey apart with its claws, and rip the gamey flesh with its sharp teeth, but instead he was delicately picking dandelions. He was placing his paw upside down and aiming the dandelion stalks between two of his claws and then positioning it for his little front teeth to nibble – bloody adorable!!! It was like watching Edward Scissorhands trying to thread a needle.
He slowly made it our way and then another car spotted the bear and young punks stuck their heads out the window with their iPhones and shouted “hey bear” to get the bear to look up. It really pissed me off but luckily they weren’t interested in watching the bear, they just wanted proof to show their friends so they left pretty quickly and again it was just us and the bear. After having a nice dandelion feast he headed for the forest and then he stopped, sat down, looked around at us and collapsed on the floor for a sleep. It was so sweet that he knew we were there and felt safe to take a nap, we left him be and continued up the road.
Soon after we saw a moose wading through a pond and drinking the water – boy were we happy to be back in wild k’country! It was a bit of a cloudy, drizzly day but we decided to do the short hike up to Elbow Lake. The route up was a wide dirt track also used by horses so there was plenty of horse poop but we were surprised how much bear skat there was too. It can be quite a similar shape to horse poo but it’s blacker, smaller and can smell real bad if they’ve been eating a carcass.
The lake was super impressive for such a quick walk. The water was emerald with big peaks all around and a glacier up the valley. We followed the trail around the shoreline and then did a short section towards the wilderness. The path was flooded in areas and muddy in others which was annoying but it meant we could see animal tracks including bear prints. We forgot that we’d actually been to this lake in autumn 2010 and back then it was totally frozen. We headed up the scoria slope where we’d been on that chilly day, throwing rocks and slabs of ice across the lake so we could hear the mesmerising twinkling noise.
We decided to camp at the Interlakes campground as the whole area has strict rules about free camping. That’s the only downside of k’country for us, and it’s not cheap camping either at $26 a night. As we drove to the site we passed a coyote who we watched chase a squirrel and even try the classic jump and dive down onto it – but the squirrel got away. We got a pitch just a stones throw from the lake but it was a chilly evening so we got cozy inside. As the sun began to dip at 10pm the weather seemed to clear up, so we walked to the upper lake to catch the sunset – the final one in my twenties.
I woke up feeling old and frail, my youth was behind me and retirement in sight…just kidding. It was actually due to be a lovely sunny morning but a mystical fog wrapped around our van and kept us in bed well past my alarm. I didn’t want to waste the day though so we decided to go on a hike and as we got ready the fog began to lift and the sun beamed through. I’d read about a decommissioned hike up Mount Indefatigable, it was on a few blogs and the park stopped maintaining the route back in 2005 due to it passing through prime grizzly habitat – in fact it was the best for sows with cubs. So after years of closing the trail periodically to give the bears space they just put a sign up recommending people not to go there. From what I read it was still used enough that the path was very distinct so it wasn’t the bushwhacking route I’d expected, and the views were said to be some of the Rockies finest.
There was actually a viewpoint less than an hour up the trail and that was our original plan, go up there, head down, go boating and then do another hike somewhere else in the park. Then we realised it was silly to climb 500m elevation twice and we should just put that energy into climbing this mountain summit – so it was decided and an extra sandwich was made for the roughly 1000m climb.
We set off down an open, wooded trail and not long after starting we heard some big sticks snapping in the forest. We stood still, patiently waiting to see if it was coming or going. It was probably a bear that heard us and luckily it was moving away. They really don’t want to harm humans and they’re not the monsters people make them out to be. We were being extra noisy on this hike though, we certainly didn’t want to bump into a protective sow and cub so we regularly shouted “hey bear” although occasionally it echoed back to us from the cliffs and we wandered how a bear would locate the real destination of the noise.
We made it to the viewpoint where we’d originally planned to call it a day and the view was incredible. The weather was bloody perfect too and the still lakes reflected the mountains. We had a view across the upper and lower Kananaskis lakes with forested little islands dotted amongst them. The climb continued up through forest and bush until we reached the rocky slopes. There was a faint trail to follow and we even passed what looked like a bears winter den that now housed a mouse who was living its best life in its new mansion. The final section was a scramble, using our hands and feet to climb up rocks until we were at the top. Luckily we had a distinctive area to aim for – a weather station at the southern peak, it had looked so far away and unreachable when we began the hike but after three hours we made it there. We were rewarded with 360° views – lakes appeared in narrow valleys and mountains were rising all around us. Not a bad place to spend my 30th birthday at all!
There were actually three summits, so we began walking along the ridge line towards the main peak. The ridge eventually leads into the east peak but I’d read that that route was pretty wild with serious exposure and drop-offs so we decided not to go that far. But we had lots of fun navigating the ridge that we were on, still with pretty hefty drop offs and areas where we needed to walk on all-fours.
With a leisurely picnic at the top it ended up taking about 7 hours until we were back at the van. It was 3pm which we know as tea time but we decided while the weather was still holding up we should go boating, and take the tea in a flask along with some birthday (cup)cake. So with barely any time to catch our breaths we were paddling across the water on Roland, right beneath the mountain that we’d just climbed. We paddled out to one of the deserted islands, pulled up and plunged in for a refreshing dip. Then we thoroughly enjoyed my birthday tea and cake with the most incredible view. As we paddled back the wind changed direction and became stronger, pushing us in the wrong direction. The sun went behind a cloud and I tried to wrap myself in a ball to keep warm.
While we were packing Roland away a jolly Asian couple walked by and said hello, they had their music playing out loud, a few people do this on hikes in bear country as appose to shouting or talking all the time. But this couple weren’t exactly playing music to warn a bear of their presence, they seemed to be trying to send the bear off into a relaxing deep sleep. It was the exact music I’ve heard in numerous Thai massage parlours.
The bad weather rolled in soon after, I wanted to spend longer in k’country but with two days of rain predicted it seemed silly to pay to camp but not hike so we reluctantly headed north, away from the wilderness. We had my favourite meal of vegetarian tacos and a berry cider in a pull out while the rain hammered down and then we watched a movie in a casino car park where we could sleep for free. As far as birthdays go it was pretty amazing!