Memorial Lakes Trail Comments – Kananaskis – Hiking Alberta

Your help and support is important.  Please leave a comment at the end of this post.  To make a comment, click on the title, then scroll to the bottom of the page.  Thank you.

June of 1986 was the occasion of Alberta‘s most tragic search and rescue operation in the backcountry.  Thirteen lives were lost over the course of 13 consecutive days.

In September of 1986, a memorial cairn was placed at the third and uppermost Memorial Lake wedged beneath Bogart Tower and Ribbon Peak with massive Mount Bogart looming above in Kananaskis Country.  The memorial monument is located at an incredibly beautiful and peaceful place in honour of the souls who gave us all they had.

Memorial Lake  Cairn, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Memorial Lake Cairn at the third Memorial Lake with Ribbon Peak in the background at Kananaskis Country in Alberta, Canada


Access to Memorial Lakes has always been via a rustic and unofficial trail off the Ribbon Creek Trail beginning from the Ribbon Creek Parking Area near Nakiska Mountain Resort.  The major flooding event in June of 2013 degraded the already compromised quality of the original Memorial Lakes Trail.  The popular Ribbon Creek Trail has been restored, for year round use, by the incredibly hard work of the Albert Parks Kananaskis Country Trail Crew in cooperation with the Herculean efforts of the Friends of Kananaskis Country.  Using a replacement link composed of a revised North Terrace Trail and the Kovach Link Trail, the revised trailhead to Memorial Lakes via North Ribbon Creek has become accessible.  Oddly, it has never been a designated trail, so there is no official repair, maintenance or upgrading.  There are reports of hikers getting through to Memorial Lakes in late summer and early autumn of 2014.  Some of the trail reports seem to trivialize the condition and safety  of the North Ribbon Creek trail, in my humble opinion.  This is not uncommon.

On October 19, 2014, Seija and I investigate the front end of the North Ribbon Creek Trail to Memorial Lakes.  Within a kilometre we find significant damage at the 10 m (33 ft) wide crossing of what has become a much larger landslide.  It can be negotiated by experienced hikers with proper hiking gear but I suggest children, inexperienced hikers, any hiker with inadequate gear, or any hiker with balance, vertigo and/or reduced reaction time issues would be well advised to avoid using the trail.  The last thing Alberta Parks needs is additional rescue effort and a slide down the steep and rocky landslide has the potential to cause significant injury or death.  Enough said.

My official, written request to have the trail designated, and to bring the trail to safe standards, was sent to the Alberta Government and to the Friends of Kananaskis Country in mid-November of 2014.

Please make a comment on this post with your opinion for creating a safe and official trail to Memorial Lakes and the Memorial Cairn.  The trail will never be an easy trail but it can be brought to the level of a safe, moderate trail. The Memorial Lakes Trail will still be about 8.5 KM (5.3 miles) one-way from the Ribbon Creek Parking Area with elevation gain near 700 m (2,300 ft) to a maximum elevation of 2,213 (7,260 ft).  Most of the elevation gain is in the second half of the route and there are a couple of sections of aggressive ascent.  When the trail is safe, when you are properly equipped and if you are able, you should hike to this magnificent and profoundly beautiful place, where eagles soar, so you may make pay your respects to heroes who gave their lives unselfishly in the search for others.

Links follow for other posts on Memorial Lakes, which will provide a better feeling and understanding of the hike.  Please read the comments at the end of each post.  They are very meaningful and will help to clarify the need for designation and improvement of the trail.

Memorial Lakes – Kananaskis Country – Hiking Alberta

Memorial Lakes Monument – Kananaskis Country – Hiking Alberta

Memorial Lakes Monument Epilogue – Kananaskis Country – Hiking Alberta

Your assistance in this project is important and appreciated.  Thank you in advance for your participation.  Every voice counts.  Friends and family of those who gave their lives as well as surviving members of the massive 1986 search and rescue operation will appreciate your effort to finish the journey.  Many changes were made as a result of these tragic events in 1986 to reduce the chance of another tragedy but the price paid was far too high.

Postscript # 1.  This post is a replacement for the original on November 19, 2014 which was lost due to a significant technical problem on the blog.  I cannot recreate the comments but for some unexplained reason, I suspect divine intervention, I made a hard copy of the post and all the comments before a faulty backup and restore took my blog down for two days in mid December, 2014.

Postscript # 2.  In previous comments, people have suggested they have placed this hike on their 2015 summer itinerary.  It is unlikely the trail can be improved in 2015 so you should be an experienced hiker with excellent gear and backcountry experience using the Memorial Lakes Trail in its present condition.  The amount of work scheduled to repair critical trails damaged by the June 2013 flood event is forecast to take between two and four years of good weather construction in a limited and unpredictable seasonal window to repair massive damage to designated trails.

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Transition to Winter – Hiking Alberta

There are amazing opportunities for local winter recreation in Kananaskis Country, Canmore, the Bow Valley Corridor and Banff National Park west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  Many hiking trails become snowshoe adventures.  Cross country ski trails are groomed and opportunities for backcountry ski adventure are virtually unlimited.

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Snowshoeing in Kananaskis Country, the Bow Valley, Canmore and Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

There are two free maps published by the Alberta Government which serve as valuable reference material for winter recreation near Calgary.  The first is the Explore Kananaskis Country ski trail map.  This excellent publication clearly documents ski and snowshoe trails in Ribbon Creek, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, West Bragg Creek, Mount Shark and Sandy McNabb west of Turner Valley, Alberta.

The second is a map of 12 maintained snowshoe trails which are ideal for beginners.  Rules for Winter trail etiquette are also outlined so people on snowshoes can cordially coexist with skiers.  These seasonal maps are Alberta Parks Visitor Centres.  They are also available free of charge in Calgary at Norseman XC Ski Hike and Climb Shop throughout the winter while supplies last.

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Winter in Kananaskis Country, the Bow Valley, Canmore and Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Another excellent and free publication, which contains a wealth of information and opportunity, is the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre’s fall and winter roster available at many news stands and free magazine stands throughout Calgary or via the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre.

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Winter in Kananaskis Country, the Bow Valley, Canmore and Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

A few people shy away from winter outdoor activity for fear of avalanche concern.  In a few cases this concern is justifiable but most opportunities are free from avalanche risk.  Having said that, the risk in specific locations, under specific conditions, can be very real.  It is an important concern if your recreational pursuits take you into an avalanche prone area.  In these instances, it is a good idea to be properly equipped and accompanied by someone trained and experienced in avalanche awareness.  Two enlightening and definitive publications which will raise awareness are Backcountry Avalanche Safety by Tony Daffern and Backcountry Avalanche Awareness authored by Bruce Jamieson.  There are excellent web based information systems for avalanche risk and status.  Check the Internet for current information.

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Winter in Kananaskis Country, the Bow Valley, Canmore and Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

A host of information and training is available through the Canadian Avalanche Association and the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre program for Avalanche Safety Training (AST).  Highly recommended.  Information is power and you will never look at a snow slope the same again.  Trails and recreation facilities designed for use by the general public are not located in avalanche prone zones.  If, for any reason there is a risk, the trail will be closed.  Whenever possible, it is always wise to check in with Park Rangers at the local Visitor Information Centre prior to venturing out.

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Snowshoeing in Kananaskis Country, the Bow Valley, Canmore and Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

As well as the Snowshoe Trail Map for maintained trails in Kananaskis Country there are several guides which are important for trail evaluation and rating.  One I use and like is ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies’ by Andrew Nugara.  Another guide by Andrew Nugara is ‘Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies’ published by Rocky Mountain Books.  This book includes more aggressive trips for more experienced backcountry people where participants may be well advised to be appropriately equipped with beacons, shovels and probes, and have Avalanche Safety Training under their belts.

Gear for cross country skiing and snowshoeing is available for rental at a variety of locations throughout Calgary, Canmore and the Town of Banff.  For snowshoeing you will need snowshoes and poles.  The clothing you need to begin is likely in your closet and you may need less than you thought.  Dress in layers.  A heavy winter coat is not a good layer.  Snowshoeing is a good workout and the average body tends to operate fairly warm in this exercise.  Purchasing your own gear, matched to your own weight and objectives will create a more satisfying experience over many seasons.

Guidelines for purchasing your own gear are documented in my post:

Introduction to Snowshoeing

Links to a variety of excellent snowshoe experience can be refereced at this popular summary post:

5 Great Snowshoe Trails in Kananaskis Country and

10 Great Snowshoe Trails in Kananaskis Country, Alberta

Cross country skiing is well established in the Calgary area and the wide variety of clubs and courses available are far too extensive to list here.  Check local listings.  Do an Internet search.

Two popular and established resources are found at:

Calgary Olympic Park and the University of Calgary Outdoor CentreWinsport at Canada Olympic Centre is more downhill skiing oriented but there is an excellent, groomed cross country ski course with sections suitable for beginners or more advanced skiers.  The University of Calgary Outdoor Centre offers courses in a wide variety of snowshoeing and skiing options.

For more individualized instruction there is a Cross Country Ski School available through the Norseman XC Ski, Hike and Climb Shop in association with Full Circle Adventures.

Norseman XC Ski, Hike and Climb Shop employs a group of experienced outdoor staff, including myself, who are dedicated to sharing experience with the objective of assisting others to embrace and enjoy the spectacular natural resources we have the privilege to enjoy.  One of our primary objectives is to pass along the experience and knowledge we have gained in a wide variety of disciplines, spanning decades of outdoor adventure.

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Fullerton Loop – Kananaskis Country – Hiking Alberta

Fullerton Loop is a short, classic hike in the Elbow Valley of Kananaskis Country west of Bragg Creek, Alberta, Canada.  The trailhead under the bridge, at the east end of Allen Bill, has been permanently altered by the June 2013 floods.  Allen Bill Pond is gone.  The collapsed east span of the bridge over the Elbow River has been replaced but the first section of the Fullerton Loop trail has been washed away along the west side of the Elbow River.  There is nothing remaining.  Total round trip distance for the Fullerton Loop trail is 6.9 KMs (4.3 miles) with a net elevation gain near 215 m (705 ft).  Gross elevation on the undulating trail is nearly double that, but within the range of most hikers, and therefore an easy hike, in my opinion.  Today could be classified as an exception with an early November snowfall leaving about 15 cm (6 inches) of fresh, heavy snow on the ground which makes hiking more labor intensive.

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The traditional trailhead for Fullerton Loop is no longer relevant in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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A map at the old trailhead shows the revision for Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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A nice view of the hill hosting Fullerton Loop taken from the Allen Bill parking area in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

The new trailhead for Fullerton Loop is at the Ranger Station directly across Elbow Valley Trail from the Allen Bill main parking area.  The entrance to the Ranger Station is via Ranger Creek Road directly on the other side from the entrance to Allen Bill.  There is limited parking at the new Fullerton Loop trailhead but I choose to walk over.  The trailhead is well-signed and clearly defined in spite of the new, fresh snowfall.  Almost immediately a left  turn crosses a platform bridge over tiny Ranger Creek which is flowing robustly in the warming temperatures.

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Walking the short distance across Elbow Valley Trail from Allen Bill to the Fullerton Loop trailhead near the Ranger Complex in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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The revised Fullerton Loop trailhead in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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A platform bridge over a small creek near the beginning of the Fullerton Loop hike in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

There is never a doubt about the location of the trail in spite of fresh snow cover.  The wide swath through the predominantly Lodgepole Pine forest is easy to follow.  The aftermath of the June 2013 flood damage along the Elbow River is evident to the right and I wander the short distance to the edge several times to survey the difficult-to-fathom damage.  The trail passes through incredibly beautiful snow sculpture on flat terrain before turning right into a dogleg descent from the new approach trail to the  original Fullerton Loop trail beside the Elbow River.

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The new section of the Fullerton Loop trail is easy to follow in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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A nice winter view of the ridge hosting the Fullerton Loop trail in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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Snow scenery at trailside along the Fullerton Loop trail in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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The new approach does a dogleg downhill to meet up with the original Fullerton Loop trail in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

There is an opportunity to survey the incredible damage along the river course from near the junction of new trail with old.  The landscape has been substantially altered.  The Fullerton Loop Trail continues over a small platform bridge to a gate through a fence before a left turn ahead leads to the trail junction of the Fullerton Loop with the Elbow Trail and the Snagmore Trail.  It could be an upcoming hike or snowshoe adventure.

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The junction of the revised approach with the original trail for Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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Elbow River damage along the Fullerton Loop trail in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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Typical trail on the approach to Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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The small platform bridge over the creek before the gate on the Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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The trail junction of the Fullerton Loop trail with the Elbow and Snagmore Trails in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

A series of bridges cross the two small, but significant, drainages on the hill.  It is clear these drainages became powerful torrents of angry water which have collapsed the banks.  Large, well-established trees now lay at bizarre angles across the creeks.  There is a huge amount of damage and the drainages are much larger and deeper than before, particularly at the small, wooden bridge which defines the end of the approach trail and the beginning of the actual loop.  On the other side of the bridge there is a set of stairs which would allow the trail to be hiked in a clockwise direction.  Continuing straight to hike the Fullerton Loop in a counter clockwise direction makes sense because saving the south facing ridge for descent provides best views on return after using, arguably, the less dramatic trail for the beginning.  The north side of Fullerton Loop makes a sustained moderate ascent through predominantly Lodgepole Pine forest, interrupted periodically by small open areas containing grassland and communities of Aspen trees.  Heavy snow on branches is breathtakingly beautiful and branches, bending with the weight drape over the trail.  It is reminiscent of the heavy September snowfall in Calgary which, sadly, destroyed or damaged more than half a million trees.  Today’s warming temperature has heavy clumps of snow falling from the tree branches to the ground with repetitive thumps.

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Trees have been washed out by flood water and fallen across deeper drainages on the Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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The bridge at the end of the approach and the beginning of the Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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Snow-covered steps at the bottom of Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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Platform bridge over one of the drainages on Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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Making the sustained moderate ascent through forest on the north side of Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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Snow on stands of Aspen communities along the north trail of Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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Snow-weighted branches bent across trail on the north leg of Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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Emerging sun creating contrast and shadow on Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

An old trail sign at a damaged bridge, close to the halfway point on Fullerton Loop, signals the beginning of the return hike along the south ridge.  A moderate ascent leads through another gate to the first bench where the viewpoint has been heavily compromised by maturing forest.

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The bridge near mid-point on Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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The old trail signs give accurate location on Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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Another gate on the hike to the first viewpoint on Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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The turn left at the approach to the south side of Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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The first ‘viewpoint’ provides a hint of vistas to come soon on Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

The Fullerton Loop trail continues to climb through undulating terrain.  The sky is clearing to bright blue and at hilltop the view explodes past snow-draped Aspen.  From the hilltop, a sustained, moderate descent provides open views of the valley below.  The warm sun is leaving the trail alternatively slushy and muddy.  Throughout the winter it is common for alternative melt and freeze weather to leave this section of trail ice-covered and treacherous without cleats.  I have many grand and fond memories of great hiking companions and laughter.

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View to the Moose Mountain Complex from Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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View across the Elbow River east to foothills from Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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View south to previous location of Allen Bill Pond from Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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View to mountains in the southeast from the south side of Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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Views along the sustained moderate descent along the south ridge of Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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A nicely placed bench with a view to the Fisher Range from Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Past the open section along the ridge face, the trail returns into forest.  Warming temperature is melting snow on branches above and the resulting ‘rain’ is sparkling in the sun.  The imagery is beautiful and the aroma of warming and damp forest adds to the experience.  At the steps, the retreat on the original approach trail begins.  Along the way there are indelibly memorable views of flood alteration along the Elbow River.

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The trail passes through a cattle guard along Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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Melting snow sparkles in the sun along Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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Crossing bridges again on the retreat from Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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Long lens view of the reconstructed Hwy 66 bridge over the Elbow River from the Fullerton Loop trail in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

The final hike through the new access trail is enhanced by the melting snow creating sun-sparkled rain in adjacent forest.

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Sun sparkling rain in the forest beside the Fullerton Loop trail in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Fullerton Loop is a simple hike.  Although I hike solo today, I have memorable recollections of past hikes with companions.  This place holds a host of great memories for me.  It is like visiting an old friend.

Photographs for this hike at Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country Elbow Valley, across from Allen Bill where 2013 flood damage was extensive, were taken on November 2, 2014.

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