Pocaterra Ridge – Kananaskis Country – Hiking Alberta

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.

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

The trail entrance across from the Little Highwood parking area which leads to Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Approaching the log jam past flood damage along Pocaterra Creek on the trail to Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Hiking past flood damage along the trail to Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Ascent through wet shrubbery towards Peak 1 of Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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.

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Looking back at our starting position beneath Elpoca Mountain as we break the treeline hiking Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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.

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Jen surveys surrounding scenery on Pocaterra Ridge with Mount Tyrwhitt in the background in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

A view of mountain-surrounded Elbow Lake past the Elbow Pass parking area from Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Peak, 2, 3 and 4 from Peak 1 on Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

The view into Rockfall Valley from Peak 1 of Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.  Rockfall Lake is dry.

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!

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Five rams observe our transition from the larch forest to open Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

The rams thunder in behind us as we continue on the ridge top trail along Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Jen and I continue ascent towards Peak 3 as the rams occupy there territory on Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

It is difficult to stop taking pictures of the rams on Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Surrounding scenery is sustained and spectacular.  Elbow Lake is nestled between Elpoca Mountain and Mount RaeKananaskis 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 RidgeRockfall 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.

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Elbow Lake between Elpoca Mountain and Mount Rae beneath Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Kananaskis Trail at the bottom of Kananaskis Valley beneath Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Rock Glacier bulges from the bottom of Mount Rae across from Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Rockfall Lake is dry beneath Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

The view straight down to dry Rockfall Lake from the final approach to Peak 4 of Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada. Mount Tyrwhitt consumes the background on the other side of Rockfall Valley.

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Lunch in the sun with a gentle breeze at Peak 4 of Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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.

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Revisiting mountain sheep on the return and off trailing around them on Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Returning to Peak 2 along ridge top before a descent through forest and past Peak 2 on Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

A final look back at dry Rockfall Lake in Rockfall Valley wedged between Mount Tyrwhitt and Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

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.

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

A sole ram stands sentinel at Peak 1 on Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

The rams partner has been grazing on the steep slope beneath Peak 1 on Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.  The ram strikes a powerful profile at the ridge top as we begin our final descent.

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 ValleyJen 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.

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Rugged wilderness beauty along the descent from Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

We leave a small cairn to mark the faint trail heading into Rockfall Valley beneath Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

The faint trail is to the left of this new flood-created creek outlet from Rockfall Valley beneath Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Trees are still toppling into Pocaterra Creek near the log jam on the trail to Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

The score is Rockfall Valley 2 : Barry 0.  It is a tad embarrassing but in spite of the frustrations getting through Rockfall ValleyJen 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.

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David Thompson Resort – Bighorn Backcountry – Alberta

David Thompson Resort is ideally located along the David Thompson Highway (Hwy 11), about half way between Saskatchewan Crossing, in Banff National Park on the Icefield Parkway, and Nordegg, Alberta, Canada.  This stretch of mountain-surrounded highway through Bighorn Backcountry competes favorably for scenery with the Icefield Parkway sans traffic.  David Thompson Resort is a convenient, full service facility with a motel, private cabins, an RV and conventional campground, and several ancillary amenities including a restaurant, gift shop, fuel, a well-stocked general store and, most importantly, very friendly and helpful staff who work hard to make your personal visit and specific agenda successful.  If it is polished, expensive luxury you need, this is not the right place.  David Thompson Resort is a down-home, western-hospitality-influenced, family-owned business catering to visitors ranging from international tourists, to all levels of camping, to local construction and oilfield workers.

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The entrance from David Thompson Highway  to David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The reception office at David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The general store, restaurant and gift shop at David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The view from the motel balcony patio to the mountains past the fuel station, restaurant, gift shop and general store at David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada.

Additional features at David Thompson Resort include miniature golf, a Frisbee golf course, antiques reminiscent of western history, upside down trees, a chapel and outdoor festival facilities.  Mel and I wander through a lot of the facility but there is likely more than we found.

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The miniature golf course and children’s playground complete with cannon for dispensing with unruly children at David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Antique relics around the grounds at David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Upside down trees along sidewalks at David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

There is a small and quaint Chapel at David Thompson Resort accompanied by memorial benches and granite markers.

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Approaching the Chapel at David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The Chapel at David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The Chapel at David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The Chapel at David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The Chapel at David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Memorial benches outside the Chapel at David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

An antler-adorned, log cabin serves as concession for patrons attending outdoor music festivals.  There is likely an interesting story behind the reason Sam’s Place is a large public outhouse.  Maybe Sam spent a lot of time there.  I do not know and did not ask.  There are a variety of unique, conversation-generating structures scattered around the sprawling, forested property.

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The log cabin concession at David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Sam’s Place at David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Interesting outhouses spread around the concert facilities at David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

A matrix of trail leads through lush forest to views over Abraham Lake and connects with more established trails to nearby natural attractions like Little Indian Falls and Whitegoat Lakes.  Views over Abraham Lake, during our attendance, are hazy with smoke from a controlled burn on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River.

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Path to the Viewpoint trail from the campsite matrix of roads at David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The trailhead for the short Viewpoint Trail to Abraham Lake at David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Smokey views to mountains behind Abraham Lake and extended trail at David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Smokey mountain view to the west after sunset at David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The exit from David Thompson Resort faces directly into Whitegoat Mountain which can be reasonably summited by trail and easy scramble from the opposite side.  The entrance to McKenzie’s Trails West is a short jaunt to the left where friendly and efficient family members offer a well-managed stable of horses.  Diverse trail and trip options provide horseback adventures into some of the most beautiful, lush and remote wilderness on the planet.  Ride possibilities range from ponies for children, to short greenhorn experiences, to full day and complex multiple day camping trips into deep backcountry where spectacular mountain scenery is accompanied by fresh and clean air.  Imagine!

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Whitegoat Mountain at the exit from David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

McKenzie’s Trails West across the highway from David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The entrance to McKenzie’s Trail west near David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

An authentic teepee near the stables at McKenzie’s Trails West near David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Icefield Helicopter Tours are a short drive southwest from David Thompson ResortMel and I do not take advantage of this opportunity.  It is best to arrive in early morning.  Singles may need to wait to satisfy the 2 person minimum.  There are a number of interesting options including airborne glacier tours , remote hiking or yoga, fishing, heli-horseback and even heli-weddings.  There is a basic trip into the mountains, with an inexpensive for a one hour add-on stop in the wilderness.  This would be ideal for a difficult-to access, high altitude hike.

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Icefield Helicopter Tours down the road from David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Icefield Helicopter Tours near David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Quick airborne access to surrounding mountains near David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

On the return drive home, I pass through a now extinguished forest fire area which breached the David Thompson Highway near the border into Banff National Park.  I believe this may be the Bennett Creek fire which was ignited naturally by lightning, then allowed to burn for conservation reasons.  I am not certain if the Bennett Creek fire is the same as the Spreading Creek fire.  It seems that unusually dry and hot weather conditions may have created a larger fire than anticipated.  Perhaps the Bennett Creek fire burned out of control so its name was changed to the Spreading Creek fire.  I do not know.  Perhaps a reader can comment to clarify.  Major resources are involved to control and eventually contain and extinguish the fire.  In sunrise, the scorched forest mantled by cloud covered mountains takes on a spectacular and unique beauty.  I stop several times to wander in the chilly air and pungent, smoky odor of recently burned forest.  Photos follow but you really need the full range of vision and all senses functioning to appreciate this mystical and unique beauty.  The rapid recovery of plant life is amazing.

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Fireweed in freshly burned forest south of David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Unique forest fire devastated terrain south of David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Unique forest fire devastated terrain south of David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Unique forest fire devastated terrain south of David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Unique forest fire devastated terrain south of David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Unique forest fire devastated terrain south of David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Unique forest fire devastated terrain south of David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

I stop in to check out the Thompson Creek Campground just prior to entering Banff National Park for the spectacular drive south on the Icefields Parkway to the TransCanada Highway and west past Lake Louise and the Town of Banff on the way home to Calgary.   The Thompson Creek Campground provides nearby access to several significant hiking trail experiences and opportunities.  On one kiosk I find and photograph an excellent summary map of the area for future reference.  I include it here in the event it may be of use to you in the future as well.

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The entrance to Thompson Creek Campground southwest of David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

A good summary map at Thompson Creek Campground southwest of David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

David Thompson Resort, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The magic of glaciers from David Thompson Country and Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Another website suggests it would be advisable to retreat a half day from the Icefields Parkway and explore the David Thompson area.  You could spend a month in here and not scratch the surface of backcountry adventure through awesome scenery and terrain.

Mel and I leave with the impression that Bighorn Backcountry may be a final frontier in the area.  Perhaps it is similar to the unblemished wilderness simplicity of Banff National Park, Jasper National Park or Kananaskis Country many decades ago.  I am certain Nordegg has the potential to become the next gateway like Canmore.  The opportunity is to have the freedom to develop sensible infrastructure outside the confines of what may become another National Park in the future.  Right now the David Thompson Highway is uncommonly quiet and virtually empty.  Bighorn Backcountry offers the advantage of unencumbered wilderness adventure with less possibility for crowds.  It will not last long so I suggest you consider planning for a visit in the near term.

There are many campgrounds along the David Thompson Highway between Red Deer and Saskatchewan CrossingRocky Mountain House and Nordegg are growing communities along the route.

Photographs for this post were taken throughout our visit to Banff National Park, Jasper National Park and David Thompson Country, Alberta between August 17 and 21, 2014.

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Siffleur Falls – Bighorn Backcountry – Hiking Alberta

The trailhead for Siffleur Falls is a short drive southwest from the entrance to Cavalcade Group Campground at Kootenay Plains along the David Thompson Highway (Hwy 11) between Saskatchewan Crossing and Nordegg, Alberta.  Since Mel and I arrived three days earlier, the trailhead has been closed for cleanup after being used as a staging area for the nearby Spreading Creek fire.  On our second last day in this area, Siffleur Falls trail is opened and we seize the opportunity to do this top priority hike.  The trailhead hosts Second World War Memorials, for heroic achievement, dedicated to the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion and Corporal Frederick George Topham, V.C. .  The interesting stories are worth a read and remind us of effort and sacrifice which helped to secure the freedom we enjoy and defend today.

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Historic memorial at the Siffleur Falls trail in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Historic memorial at the Siffleur Falls trailhead in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Beneath the trailhead kiosk and the Kootenay Plains Ecological Preserve sign, there are stone markers in memorial for two young people who lost their lives hiking here.  Unique and sobering.  Mel and I will discover the reason for these tragedies on this excellent 8 KM (5 mile) return hike with minor elevation gain near 150 m (492 ft.).

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The Siffleur Falls trailhead kiosk with granite memorials beneath in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur_Falls_07 Siffleur_Falls_08

The hike begins with a short, shallow descent through montane into an evergreen forest which levels into montane along the shore of the North Saskatchewan River.  Several educational interpretive plaques provide information about the formation and unique nature of local terrain, and the wildlife which shares it.

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Brief minor descent at the beginning of the Siffleur Falls trail in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

A mixture of fragile montane and evergreen forest along the Siffleur Falls trail in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Hiking beside the North Saskatchewan River and approaching the suspension bridge on the Siffleur Falls trail in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Approaching the Siffleur Falls trail pedestrian suspension bridge over North Saskatchewan River in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Cloud cover ceilings are low.  The view from the long, narrow suspension bridge over the North Saskatchewan River on the Siffleur Falls trail in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Mel and I hike across the foot suspension bridge over the North Saskatchewan River.  Immediately past the suspension bridge, a long, wide and sturdy boardwalk traverses the fragile montane until we reach road through forest.  The montane is so delicate, a single footstep in wet ground, combined with drying and strong wind, can create a large blemish on the landscape.

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The boardwalk begins immediately after crossing the suspension bridge on the Siffleur Falls trail in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

A long, wide and sturdy boardwalk protects the crossing of montane along Siffleur Falls trail in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The end of the boardwalk intersects Glacier Trail and continues through forest along the wide Siffleur Falls trail in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Wide, slippery, clay surface of the Siffleur Falls trail, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Soon, Mel and I arrive at the sturdy bridge over Siffleur River.  High quality and wide, level trail through forest and dense shrubbery shows signs of trail maintenance during the opportunity provided by the fire closure.  Over time, many trail braids and compromising diversions to the main trail have become established and confusing.  Current work is justifiable effort to clean up the route.  The trail tracks the Siffleur River, initially on flat trail, then a relatively short, moderate ascent diverts into lush forest.  It is not immediately apparent why there are so many warning signs.  Very soon, it will become obvious.

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The sturdy bridge over the Siffleur River on the Siffleur Falls trail in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Typical trail to Siffleur Falls in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Trail diversions are taped off on the riverside route to Siffleur Falls in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Lush trail through lodgepole pine forest on the hike to Siffleur Falls in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The Siffleur Falls trail transitions from the moderate ascent to level and openly exposed  path along the edge of the canyon with periodic diversions through adjacent forest.  The main trail is stable but many braided diversions approach the edge of the canyon.  The soil appears to have a clay-like component which becomes slippery when wet.  This is a dangerous place with fully justifiable respect for absolute attention and discipline.  To go over the edge onto the steeply slanted rock slope is almost certain death.  Mel and I are intensely focussed on safe behaviour within spectacular, magnetic beauty.  To completely safeguard the environment would potentially ruin the experience.  It is an important, individual responsibility.  I’m just saying.

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The trail approaches the canyon above Siffleur River on the trail to Siffleur Falls in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The view back along the Siffleur River to Kootenay Plans where our hike to Siffleur Falls began in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

One of the safe viewpoints at photo upper left along the trail to Siffleur Falls in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The view back along the Siffleur River from the first viewpoint along the trail to Siffleur Falls in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Viewpoint image on the approach to Siffleur Falls in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Viewpoint image looking back on the approach to Siffleur Falls in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Closing in on the sound of falling water reverberating against rock walls on the final approach to Siffleur Falls at Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The granite memorial markers at the trailhead are only the tip of this tragic iceberg.  Many people have lost their lives here.  It is easy, and very sobering, to see how easily it could happen.  Many are very young people who possibly lost sight of common sense temporarily and paid a grossly unfair price for the lapse.  The beauty, combined with the tragic nature of this place, stirs powerful and mixed emotions.

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

A memorial wreath near the canyon edge on the final approach to Siffleur Falls in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

An up close and personal view of Siffleur Falls in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The outflow constrained by narrow canyon walls beneath Siffleur Falls in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Another view and composition at Siffleur Falls in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The overwhelming desire to approach the waterfall is magnetic.  We struggle with the balance between complete safety and abandoned discovery.  Harnesses and rope would make the exercise more sensible.  There are metal bar barriers protecting the most vulnerable errors in judgement.  They are easily circumvented, even at the most dangerous locations.  To make the location completely safe would ruin the experience.  Every individual becomes responsible for their own safety.  I place each footstep very deliberately, checking balance and stance before framing and taking the photograph.  I use zoom to increase dramatic effect without compromising safety.  The wet rock ledges at the top of the waterfall will be very slippery.  A single misstep is potentially fatal.

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Approaching the top of Siffleur Falls in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The view directly above Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada. Notice the red paint.

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

A heartrending memorial at the brink of Siffleur Falls in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

If you choose to visit this place, and I highly recommend you do, risk management is of paramount importance.  Young children, who are by nature impulsive, and who also can move unexpectedly at the speed of lightning, must be closely monitored for protection from this potentially dangerous location.  Those who feel and experience nature the same way I do will understand the need for sense of urgency.

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Directly above the brink of Siffleur Falls in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Wet, slippery rock and the inflow at the top of Siffleur Falls in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Wet rock slab at the brink of Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

On retreat from Siffleur Falls, I cautiously approach the memorial wreath to see if there is personal and incidental information about the people involved.  I find none.  It may be on the back of the photo but I choose to leave its fragile presence intact.

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Closer examination of a memorial wreath above Siffleur Falls in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

A final look back to the viewpoint above Siffleur Falls in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Although weather is misty, cool and moody, the vistas on the return hike are inspiring.  After descending to the shore of Siffleur River, it is refreshing to enjoy the fresh, cold, glacier-fed water gathered into my Katadyn Purifier water bottle.  Views from the bridge over Siffleur River are beautiful and as we leave the forest, to retrace steps over the boardwalk, Mel and I enjoy an excellent wildlife encounter.

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

View on retreat from Siffleur Falls in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Gathering cold, fresh water from the Siffleur River adjacent to the Siffleur Falls trail in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Mel enjoying the view from the bridge over Siffleur River along the Siffleur Falls trail in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The view downstream of the Siffleur River from the bridge in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The view upstream on the Siffleur River from the bridge over Siffleur River in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

A gorgeous buck stands guard over us as we leave the junction of the Siffleur Falls trail with Glacier trail and once again enter Kootenay Plains for the crossing on boardwalk to the foot suspension bridge over the North Saskatchewan River.

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

A beautiful buck stands guard over us above the Siffleur Falls trail in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

The boardwalk on the Siffleur Falls trail protects the Kootenay Plains montane in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Siffleur Falls, Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

Crossing the foot suspension bridge over the North Saskatchewan River on the Siffleur Falls trail in Bighorn Backcountry, Alberta, Canada

This hike to the first waterfall on the Siffleur River can be extended.  It is 2.5 KM (1.6 miles) further to the second waterfall and another 1.5 KM (0.94 miles) past the second waterfall to the third and final waterfall for a maximum round trip distance of 16 KM (10 miles) and increased, but unknown, elevation gain and loss.

Photographs for this hike to Siffleur Falls are taken on August 20, 2014 in Bighorn Backcountry east of Banff National Park along the David Thompson Highway (Hwy 11), Alberta, Canada.

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