Heart Mountain is located across the TransCanada Highway from Lac des Arcs in the Bow Valley Corridor west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Heart Mountain is a popular, easy-access mountain distinguished by its heart-shaped summit.
Six participants carpool west on the TransCanada Highway from Calgary, Alberta. Five of us are experienced hikers/scramblers and one young woman, named Lara, has never done a scramble in her life. We call her Lara Newby. This Heart Mountain adventure will become her trial by fire.
This hike/scramble on Heart Mountain begins in the early morning of a short daylight winter day. The ride west transitions from sun in Calgary to heavy cloud and cooler temperatures in the mountains. As the steep ascent begins, light corn snow begins falling.
Snowfall increases as the reasonably aggressive ascent proceeds. Mercifully there is little wind. Clouds are rising and falling against the steep walls of Mount McGillivray across the valley hosting Heart Creek. Temperature is varying up and down within a reasonable range. Sometimes, toque and gloves are required. Sometimes not.
The short scramble is relatively dry on the vertical face of the Crux even though an inch of snow has accumulated due to increasingly heavy snowfall.
Lara Newby is very excited about successfully negotiating her first scramble. A born and bred Calgarian, ongoing conversation reveals Lara is also attempting her first mountain summit. There is greater conviction from her support team to ensure her day will be a success in the face of increasingly inclement hiking conditions.
On the longer but easy scramble above the Crux, about two inches of snow covers the trail over scree and patches of ice. The hike becomes more challenging and with evidence of trail eliminated, the expeditious route is straight up the mountain. Foot and hand holds are tenuous and the need for careful placement slows progress substantially.
The support team discusses abandoning the effort but Lara Newby's unbridled enthusiasm drives the mission. Turns are taken to watch her back so concern for her safety will not appear obvious.
Time is taken for a quick lunch at the first summit before proceeding across narrow ridges, with major verticals on either side, to the second and tallest summit at 7,360 feet (2,243 m). Arrival at the third summit begins the down climb along the east side of Heart Mountain.
On each summit the sun shines briefly and clouds lift for spectacular and magical views of the Bow Valley Corridor below.
From the third summit we have a clear view of the Barrier Lake Fire Lookout on the summit of adjacent McConnell Ridge above Barrier Lake.
This hike travels through a broad variety of terrain. On descent, a cliff-side cave, accessible only by difficult scramble, begs for investigation but inclement weather and circumstance prevent taking advantage on this day. The hike down and back to the car is long, slippery, frequently steep and largely through pine forest.
The Heart Mountain circuit completes the 7.0 mile (11.2 KM) loop hike/scramble, with about 3,000 feet (914.4 m) of gross vertical elevation, in strange and beautiful weather conditions. Lara Newby, with her brand new boots, poles and gear is very tired by the time we return to the car. She completes the hike with distinction and deserves a lot of credit for enthusiasm and perseverance.
When the experienced support team is struggling with safety concerns, it is not the time or place for the uninitiated and inexperienced. Later, when Lara heals up, the magnitude of her achievement will be revealed.