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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.
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.
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.