Ha Ling Peak guards the east side of Whiteman’s Gap in the Bow Valley above Canmore west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. This short hike is only 3.0 KM (1.9 miles) one-way from the parking area to the summit, but an elevation gain of 737 m (2,417 ft.) signals a relentless ascent to a maximum elevation of 2,407 m (7,897 ft.). Trailhead parking is at the Goat Creek Day Use Area just south of Whiteman’s Pond wedged between Ha Ling Peak and the east end of Mount Rundle (EEOR). The other trail leaving from the Goat Creek Day Use Area travels west along Goat Creek between the Goat Range and Mount Rundle, to terminate at the Banff Springs Hotel. It is an excellent full day hike, or a half day bicycle ride but it is not the trail to Ha Ling Peak. That trailhead is the brief walk to the opposite side of the Smith-Dorrien Trail, up the bank onto the service road, over the canal and past the dam on the concrete bridge, to the trailhead with the small brass plaque on a large boulder near the obvious power poles.
The initial section of trail is very broad and saturated with roots. The weather forecast is favorable but my hike begins in a very light rain. Initial trail climbs consistently, with occasional braided sections, to merge with the north side above a drainage. After a series of short switchbacks a brief span of log steps leads to a long switchback left. Sections of trail which traverse rock slab have been improved with gravel alternatives. The climb is constant with occasional views down to support the rapid and consistent gain in elevation. There are interesting trail features to distract from the climb. During two additional long switchbacks, light rain turns to light snow. The sound of high wind at treetops translates to occasional and gentle breeze at trail level.
There are many interesting trail features to be discovered. The snow is falling more heavily and beginning to stick on wet ground as temperature continues to decline. The cool air is actually refreshing and counters body heat generated by the effort of the ascent.
Further elevation gain continues on a short section of rugged, inconsistent and disorganized trail to more civilized and fairly consistent elevation gain with many informal trail options to the left which will lead directly over scree surface to the summit of Ha Ling Peak. My choose to continue on the trail aiming towards the saddle between Ha Ling Peak and Miner’s Peak with Three Humps nearby. In many past occasions on this hike, I have always abandoned the formal trail to hike directly up to the summit, so this final section of trail to the saddle is new to me. When I break the tree line and enter alpine territory, the snow volume is increasing and being driven by high wind. Snow is beginning to accumulate on the ground.
The final portion of the hike is accurately described as an easy scramble but with careful route finding through sections of slab and scree, crags consistently offer safe footsteps to create a hiking experience. As the summit of Ha Ling Peak gets closer, I aim for the signs which warn of climbers ascending the face of Ha Ling Peak on the other side of the summit ridgeline. It is highly unlikely there will be anyone rock climbing in these conditions on this weekday following Thanksgiving.
Views over Canmore are nearly obliterated and there is no visible evidence of Mount Lady Macdonald or Grotto Mountain on the other side of the Bow Valley Corridor. Quarry Lake and Rundle Canal are visible directly below and the new Cougar Creek aqueduct is marginally visible on the other side of the valley. Falling snow is blowing horizontal but photo exposure speed is sufficient to make the snow appear stationary. As I begin my careful and exciting retreat from Ha Ling Peak on wet and slippery rock, there are dramatic views of Miner’s Peak and Three Humps becoming larger on the scree trail descent back to the saddle.
The dramatic visuals are compromised by driving snow and wet rock which add an element of adventure as I carefully work my way down along the ridge line.
At the trail junction beneath the saddle, every fibre of my being needs to continue the hike at high elevation to Miner’s Peak and beyond to Three Humps. After standing in the blowing snow for several minutes to consider all the variables, including increasing wind speed, falling ceilings and increasing snow ground cover, I convince myself that solo hiking the exposure is potentially a bad decision and I reluctantly continue the descent to the main trail. My inner child is disappointed but my adult is looking forward to a return to Miner’s Peak and Three Humps another day under more favorable conditions. There are excellent views of Goat Creek in the valley beneath me and, on descent, snow reverts to light rain. Footsteps on wet trail must be cautious. The main hazards are wet roots and rocks polished from millions of prior footsteps on this perennially popular trail. Rain is not reaching the lower levels of the trail and pooling water is a small issue justifying proper footwear and careful navigation. The pungent, musty odor of wet, misty forest is wonderful and energizing.
Back at the trailhead, cloud cover is clearly descending and disordered as mist rolls down mountain sides to fill valleys. On the return drive home, I stop into the parking area at Quarry Lake to photograph cloud cover over Miner’s Peak and Ha Ling Peak from beneath. It is interesting to observe from below how weather conditions have changed at the summit of Ha Ling Peak in less than two hours. Such is the way of the mountains. It is always important to be prepared for nearly anything.
These questionable and different-than-forecasted weather days create special memories. The experience is reminiscent of my early days in Basic Training with the Canadian Military at Vimy Barracks in Kingston, Ontario. We were placed in a variety of challenging situations and trained to survive. Much like a concentrated version of life. Nature is like that in a slow motion version. The ability to rise above adversity and enjoy the challenge is a powerful and satisfying experience. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Confidence increases as knowledge, and the interpretation of the unexpected, is expanded and managed. Hiking a specific mission becomes exponentially more satisfying. Comfort zone expands with experience and physical presence adjusts automatically to changes in environment.
Recently, DSD published a post on her blog which describes the transition. You can view her post at Summit Stones and Adventure Musings, She knew it was me. I can relate to her description perfectly. It is an incredible experience I would recommend to anyone so inclined.
Photographs for this short, steep hike to the summit of Ha Ling Peak were taken on a blustery day at altitude above Canmore, Alberta on October 14, 2014.