It is nearly eleven months since Jen, Greg and I attempted to hike the top of Pocaterra Ridge, from the Little Highwood parking area in Kananaskis Country, with an intended return via Rockfall Valley wedged between the bases of Pocaterra Ridge and Mount Tyrwhitt. That hiking plan was altered by unexpected deep snow conditions following a weather anomaly. On this early morning, Jen and I will make our second attempt. Jen’s car is the only one in the Little Highwood parking area as we cross Kananaskis Trail to the faint path leading directly into the forest. Within a short distance we veer right to track the bank past continuing flood erosion above Pocaterra Creek. Jen and I arrive at the log jam which provides interesting but relatively dry passage over the creek. We pass through a field of boulders created by the June 2013 flood event and begin our ascent on narrow trail through dew drenched shrubbery which leaves our pant legs soaked.
Our initial intent to hike into Rockfall Valley is defeated by the inability to locate the trail access. In hindsight, we should have taken a much closer look at that field of boulders near the beginning of the trail. We discuss hiking off trail into the valley then decide to continue our ascent to the false summit en route to Peak 1 of 4 along the top of Pocaterra Ridge. After we break the treeline, the awesome scenery is sustained.
Early morning sun creates long shadows and dries clothing quickly as we ascend past the false summit at the north end of Pocaterra Ridge on good trail to Peak 1.
There is a large and dense larch forest between Peaks 2 and 3. At a trail fork, we hike right into the quiet, cool forest to enjoy a break from the ridge top. The beauty of this larch forest is breathtaking near the 3rd week in September when larch tree needles turn golden before dropping to the ground. This is one of the primary mountain locations for viewing golden larches in Autumn before the needles fall. For many people, it is an annual ritual, and an indelibly memorable event, to hike under the sun through a golden, larch forest. Jen and I enjoy the natural green forest about three plus weeks before the needles will turn from lush green to gold. Just prior to leaving the larch forest on the hike up to the ridge top, there is a clamor to our left from large animals fleeing our invasion of their privacy. What we hear, we cannot see. As we break out from forest to higher ground, our friends, five magnificent mountain sheep, are carefully observing our arrival from an open rise above the trail. The image is beautiful. As we begin to climb along ridge top once again, the mountain sheep (all rams) charge down the hill to the location we occupied just moments earlier. I cannot resist stopping every few metres for photos, as the rams settle down and Jen and I gain distance and altitude above them. Magic!
Surrounding scenery is sustained and spectacular. Elbow Lake is nestled between Elpoca Mountain and Mount Rae. Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40) at the bottom of Kananaskis Valley is the ribbon which separates the two mountain ranges. Rock Glacier bulges from the bottom of Mount Rae. Eventually the debris from the crumbling face of Mount Rae will consume Kananaskis Trail. The narrow ridge top provides grand views of Mount Tyrwhitt across from us and Rockfall Valley beneath dividing it from Pocaterra Ridge. Rockfall Lake is dry and ‘trails’ at the bottom of Rockfall Valley turn out to be dried channels of drainage. We are too far above the valley bottom to see any evidence of the trail which has eluded us.
Jen and I discuss hiking past Peak 4 and dropping into Rockfall Valley via Little Highwood Pass above Pocaterra Cirque. Without knowing the status of a viable exit at the north end of Rockfall Valley we are less than comfortable and decide to return the way we came across the top of Pocaterra Ridge as cloud cover increases and creates dramatic sky. Our mountain sheep, from more than an hour earlier, have staked claim to the sunny spot Jen and I hiked through on the inbound route. We choose to off trail around them and continue on the ridge top alternative above the larch forest. It provides different but no less spectacular scenery until we return to the Y junction and retrace our steps towards Peak 1.
At Peak 1 on the return hike we are greeted by a lone ram standing guard at the summit. Again we choose to off trail around the gorgeous animal. After passing, a ewe who has been grazing outside our view, climbs above the opposite side of the ridge. It is just as well we did not approach because we may have been challenged by the ram.
On final descent, Jen and I are investigating every possible hint of trail that might potentially lead into Rockfall Valley. All are game trails which lead nowhere and dwindle off into dense forest. At the bottom of the descent, the only feature left to investigate is the debris field at the creek outflow from Rockfall Valley. Jen finds the trail. The faint trail is a new access after June 2013 floods altered the course of the creek and wiped out the previous trail. The faint and primitive trail is currently being established to the left of the flood-created path of the new creek. Jen makes a small cairn to help others and hikes in a short distance for reconnaissance. We have neither the time nor inclination to begin the hike through the bottom of Rockfall Valley this late in the day. It will be there another time.
The score is Rockfall Valley 2 : Barry 0. It is a tad embarrassing but in spite of the frustrations getting through Rockfall Valley, Jen and I enjoyed excellent weather and unique circumstances that will make this hike on Pocaterra Ridge a fond memory for many years to come.
Photographs for this hike on Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country are taken August 25, 2014 in Kananaskis Country west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.