Highwood Pass, at 7,239 feet of elevation (2,206 m), is the highest pass in Canada you can drive over. On the west side of the Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40), at the top of the pass, there is a large, paved parking area nestled under Highwood Ridge. There are bear-proof garbage containers, pit toilets and well-located picnic tables near babbling brooks.
From this hub, a short half kilometre trail leads to a wheelchair accessible boardwalk, with interpretive signs which tell about the nature and formation of the area, ending in an overlook of the Highwood watershed. I will choose the narrow trail travelling north and then, at the big rock, head west around the end of Highwood Ridge.
There is still a lot of runoff from recent rain and snow melt. Trail through the forest is swamped and off-trail is required to navigate around multiple impromptu streams and mud. Exit from forest leads to open, rocky ground as I traverse a number of avalanche chutes.
There are clear views north-east across the valley to the Rock Glacier on the west side of crumbling Mount Rae, giving a better perspective of the massive size of the growing and shifting piles of scree. The rock formations on the side of Highwood Ridge contain graphic evidence of the powerful forces which folded rock into strange shapes. One of the features is reminiscent of a wishbone. A short climb up a talus slope beside a stream leads to a beautiful alpine tarn (pond) as a prelude to a second short climb into the Pocaterra Cirque bounded by Grizzly Ridge and Pocaterra Ridge. It is an impressive bowl.
Heavy cloud moving east is rolling over the top of the cirque creating periods of intermittent sun and very light rain. A further short stroll west towards Pocaterra Ridge reveals another more central view of the huge bowl accompanied by cascading streams framed with mossy edges.
I return to the car by the same route and change from light hikers to leather boots which would have been a better, initial choice for the wet terrain. Next, I will head east across the highway to hike the touristy trail to Ptarmigan Cirque which will become the gem of the day.
My motive for hiking a series of short, busy trails is to keep myself at high altitude for the entire day. This may help condition me for the 9-day Rogers Pass, Glacier National Park mission in British Columbia scheduled to begin later in the summer. The exposure to extended periods of high-elevation hiking may prompt my body to increase production of red blood cells to increase efficiency in the oxygen-reduced air. To be honest, the exercise is likely more psychological than physical since proper acclimatization would require extended periods of time. I am feeling the higher altitude. It is taking more effort to achieve less distance.
This short, high-altitude hike is about 6 KM (3.8 miles) in total with an estimated net elevation gain of 300 metres (985 ft).