North Ribbon Creek provides access to Memorial Lakes in Kananaskis Country. But, I am getting ahead of myself. Access to North Ribbon Creek is via the popular and commonly hiked Ribbon Creek trail which was decimated by the June 13 floods. After meeting at the Hwy 22 Petro on the TransCanada Highway, Seija and I have plans to hike in the Canmore area but, on speculation, choose to drive the short distance south on Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40) to stop in at the Barrier Lake Visitor Information Centre where we become involved in an informative conversation with Park Rangers. The Ribbon Creek trail is complete from the Ribbon Creek parking area near Nakiska, to Ribbon Falls, but by a route different than expected. We decide to access and check out the new Ribbon Creek link and potentially North Ribbon Creek as well. It will become an eye-opening and interesting day.
Along North Terrace Trail there are occasional mountain views from wide, excellent trail (dirt road) through primarily lush forest. Along the route, which tracks the south ridge above Ribbon Creek, we stumble upon a trailside exhibit of ancient, moss-covered stumps which I immediately identify as an excellent subject for a bit of artistic photography. In the process of extricating myself from a particularly awkward stance, I trip. In the ensuing unsuccessful attempt to recover, I execute a series of vaudeville and ballet maneuvers which culminate with an undignified, hard, backpack landing into a humiliating heap on the road, accented by the ceremonial tossing of moss. It is reminiscent of the 1982 wet root and large puddle fiasco on Grouse Mountain above Vancouver, British Columbia. You had to be there but certainly an indelible memory for Seija (and for Bill in BC) The North Terrace trail initially climbs moderately then flattens to the trail junction at 1.0 KM (0.63 mile) with Kovach Link veering right. Seija and I continue on the Kovach Link, avoiding all trail options to the left, until 2.0 additional KM (1.25 miles) later, we take the short, curving downhill to the nearly-completed but fully functional bridge over Ribbon Creek. A short ascent past the bridge leads to the T junction at the Ribbon Creek trail.
Views from the bridge over Ribbon Creek illustrate the extent of damage inflicted by the June 2013 flood event. At the trail junction with the Ribbon Creek trail we hike left, past the face on the stump, onto new trail.
The new Ribbon Creek trail section is excellent quality constructed higher on the slope above the old trail. In one location we are able to hike off trail, down to the previous riverside trail, to observe how Ribbon Creek has washed away the banks and interrupted the old trail. The extent of the damage caused by powerful water is sobering. Old trail sections have been covered with debris to discourage accidents on interrupted and compromised trail and to promote new growth. The new trail is impressive and intelligently crafted. Accolades are due to the hard work performed by Alberta Parks trail crews and Friends of Kananaskis Country . Well done!
Small sawn log benches have been placed along the new route. Occasional views through forest openings reveal Mount Allan to the right and the tight valley between Mount Kidd and Mount Bogart ahead. Seija and I pass the trailhead to Memorial Lakes and continue past the new bridge at the confluence of North Ribbon Creek with Ribbon Creek. The view of flood damage here is surreal. The meadow which once hosted the Eau Claire logging camp between the late 1800’s and the 1930’s has been torn apart. Major portions of the meadow including old artifacts and the interpretive plaque have been swept away. It is difficult to fathom the terrain change. This will be our end point on the Ribbon Creek trail this day in favor of returning east to the trailhead along North Ribbon Creek which leads to Memorial Lakes.
There are reports on Alberta Parks Online Comments which indicate hikers are getting to Memorial Lakes. This location is near and dear to me so it is important for me to know the condition of the trail. Initially trail is flat, clear, and pleasant. At convergence alongside North Ribbon Creek, the trail, as before, becomes more rustic and climbs through forest on trail with many roots, above the creek bed which has sustained substantial flood damage. There are several sketchy spots on this unofficial trail which require above average hiking experience for safety. Our minimum target is the first exposure. It is a steep ledge with narrow passage which requires cautious and experienced footsteps in proper footwear. The first part of the ledge is marginal. The second part of the ledge has been obliterated by a landslide. Crossing is possible with the right gear and caution but exposure is significant. This trail is not suitable for inexperienced hikers including children, solo hikers and people with marginalized balance or reaction time. The hike can be accomplished by experienced and properly equipped backcountry hikers and scramblers with significant route finding experience. The last thing Alberta Parks needs is additional rescue missions. This is my opinion.
Another day, in early summer of 2015, I am committed to completing the hike to Memorial Lakes. I will keep my promise, for relatives of those honored on the third lake cairn, and report results of the entire trail at that time. For today, Seija and I will return to the Ribbon Creek trail to hike east past the Kovach Link trail junction for exploration of the section of the Ribbon Creek trail which remains closed. We stop at one of the benches to enjoy lunch in the forest at trailside with the sun on our backs and pleasant conversations with other hikers along the trail.
Back at the junction of the Ribbon Creek trail with the Kovach Link trail, Seija and I continue straight to experience the remainder of the trail. Initially there are signs of flood damage along the river but the road is in relatively good shape. As we make the minor and gradual descent, the road gradually deteriorates with escalating erosion. Evidence of flood damage increases exponentially. We reach a point where the trail has been breached by flood water. A short distance further the picnic benches remain unscathed in defiance of surrounding terrain. This small measure of hope is dashed by the Ribbon Creek trail ending at the flood-revised path of Ribbon Creek.
Where the road ends, a fairly good trail continues beside the flood altered and ravaged Ribbon Creek. The trail continues for a short distance until, it too, ends at the faster than expected water flow in Ribbon Creek. Several log jams occur along this setion of Ribbon Creek. We are regularly off trail to creek side searching for potential creek crossings and alternative path to hike on the far side of Ribbon Creek. It is Seija who discovers the flood-ravaged bridge. There were two bridges along this section of trail and we believe this may be the second one beyond the parking area. The force of flood water and debris have been sufficient to dislodge the massive concrete moorings. Further investigation on the bridge deck shows the heavy deck has been warped by the force applied. Incredible! We continue on sketchy trail to the conclusion. The real Ribbon Creek trail is actually on the other side of the creek now but the flow alteration is so profound we have no way of knowing what we will need to deal with on the final short section to the Ribbon Creek parking area. Following a couple of attempted and unsuccessful bushwhacks, our decision is to return on the Ribbon Creek trail to the Kovach Link trail junction for the hike back via the route taken in.
The hike back to the Ribbon Creek parking area is very pleasant in the dwindling warmth of later afternoon sun. I avoid artistic photography.
Our hike on this fine Autumn day has been portions of trail in the Ribbon Creek area. The drive north on Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40) takes us past Mount Lorette Ponds and the always amazing mountain scenery through Kananaskis Valley on another memorable and excellent hiking day.
I do not know if the first 2.2 kilometres (1.4 miles) of the Ribbon Creek trail between the parking area and the Kovach Link trail junction will be restored. I expect it will not. The flood damage is extensive and the North Terrace/Kovach Link route is a viable permanent alternative so other interrupted trails can be addressed. Many will lament the loss of this trail along the creek but nature can make powerful and permanent changes. I believe the trail planners and crews have been wise to recreate the trail higher above the original to reduce exposure to another flooding event. The same approach was used on the Jewell Pass trail. It just makes sense. This new trail is a gem. Get out there and stay safe.