Ptarmigan Cirque – Kananaskis Country – Hiking Alberta

 

Ptarmigan Cirque is a scenic hike into an impressive bowl beside Mount Rae near Highwood Pass.

 

 

Ptarmigan Cirque is a popular hike beginning at 7,239 ft. (2,206 m) Highwood Pass in Kananaskis Country 65 KM (40⅝ miles) west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada on the TransCanada Highway and 70 KM (43¾ miles) south on Kananaskis Trail (Highway 40).  

Ptarmigan Cirque contains a very large, impressive, west-facing bowl wedged between 10,558 ft (3,218 m) Mount Rae on the north side and 9,554 ft (2,912 m) Mount Arethusa on the south side.

 

Ptarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Ptarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Ptarmigan Cirque begins on the east side of Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40), at Highwood Pass, and abruptly ascends on good gravel trail.  Try to avoid being killed while crossing the highway.  The trail negotiates several well-graded switchbacks through forest, to ease the moderate elevation gain, then branches to a clockwise, one-way loop which continues the climb towards the cirque. 

Near the top of the first ridge there are excellent views of the parking area, south into Kananaskis Country towards Highwood, and west to Pocaterra Cirque

Richardson Ground Squirrels are prolific and line up near trail-side to whistle at passing hikers.

 

Ptarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Ptarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaPtarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Ptarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada A Richardson Ground Squirrel

 

On the approach plateau, the trail becomes more rugged above a rapidly descending stream emanating from the cirque.  Waterfalls are plentiful.  In a neutral spot, where the surrounding, spectacular view is most expansive,  a pause is taken to capture a short video of  Ptarmigan Cirque.

 


 

Click here to enjoy a video panoramic view of Ptarmigan Cirque above Highwood Pass in Kananaskis Country west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

 


 

Ptarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Ptarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaPtarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

The loop turns at a very nice waterfall but a more rustic trail continues up and over rock bands further into the cirque.  On the rocky, extension trail a kind woman takes a picture for me. 

At the end of this approximately one kilometer trail, there is a small, pristine waterfall erupting from the bottom of a very large terminal moraine.  The source of the flow is hidden in the cirque, above and behind the moraine.  This will need to be investigated.  Perhaps there is a lake or remnants of a glacier.  The inner child kicks in to buffer the struggle with sustained altitude.  Discovery is imminent as the climb proceeds on steeper, scree slope to the left side of the moraine.

 

Ptarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Ptarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Ptarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaPtarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaPtarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Behind the massive moraine is a large deposit of snow with evidence of a tiny lake at the bottom which is feeding the waterfall.  Further into the cirque now the terrain becomes very impressive and expands around a corner outside the range of visibility.  This will need to be investigated.

 

Ptarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Ptarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaPtarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Swinging around the corner on scree slope reveals a snow slope at the south end of the cirque which would allow scrambling directly to the top of the ridge col between Mount Rae and Mount Arethusa.  At the top there would be an incredible view east as well as north towards Mount Rae.

The Rae Glacier is purportedly the most easterly glacier in the Rocky Mountains.  The glacier is the headwater source and one of the main sources of water for Elbow Lake which feeds Elbow River wandering east to join the mighty Bow River flowing through central Calgary

Every fiber of my being wants to climb that snow slope at the south end of the cirque.  However, heavy weather from the west is forming up.  Cloud is getting very dark, ceilings are dropping rapidly and the wind is gaining significant momentum as the weather front approaches.  With incredible reluctance, the retreat begins.  It is the only sensible thing to do.

 

Ptarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Many images are captured on the picturesque hike down the other side of the loop and arrival at the parking area occurs as a very light rain begins.

 

Ptarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Ptarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaPtarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaPtarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Ptarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Ptarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Ptarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Ptarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaPtarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaPtarmigan Cirque – Highwood Pass -Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

On the drive home to Calgary and within the 70 KM drive north on Kananaskis Trail (Highway 40), the drive passes through three major, maximum-wiper-speed rainstorms as heavy weather picks its path through mountain passes.  The sound of the pounding rain on the roof of the car enhances the rhythms of Nickelback and Lady Gaga

The approach to the TransCanada Highway occurs into an exciting thunder-storm.  Lightning strikes on mountain summits are impressive.  Mother Nature has done it all this day.  Such is the way of the mountains.  I do love this place.

 

 

 

 

Categories: 

Tags: 

Comments

Thanks for the update. It is still a bit early, this year, for that altitude but I am glad it worked out OK and no doubt it will be a very memorable experience. Your feedback will help others in the near term. Thanks for you June 16, 2013 comment, Jon.

I thought I would get back to you and let you know that I took your advice to attempt the hike even if just for information gathering. It was an enjoyable hike today! There was still a lot of snow on the trail (some spots up to the knees) but most of it was packed down sufficiently. We saw a few snowboarders and cross country skiers enjoying what was left of the snow. Definitely worthwhile!

The truth is, I do not know. I have not hiked at Highwood this spring yet. The gate is scheduled to open on June 15. Recent copious rain will translate to snow at higher elevations. At the very least I expect conditions will be wet, so leather boots and gaiters would likely be a good idea, combined with rain gear for the current forecast. I found no help at <a href="http://www.albertaparks.ca/kananaskis-country/advisories-public-safety/trail-reports.aspx" title="Kananaskis Trail Reports" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Kananaskis Trail Reports</a> which should always be referenced but similar elevation trails are reported with snow. Looking at it the other way, anytime is a good time to try with correct gear. If it does not work out this time, information gathering will be helpful and a subsequent attempt can be made using experience gained. If you stop in at the Barrier Lake Visitor Centre (or Highwood, if you are coming from the other direction), the Parks staff will be able to provide current and accurate advice. I hope my reply arrives in time. Thank you for your comment and kind words. These posts are my personal journals for later in my life. They are not meant to be an alternative to a good hiking guide, a good map, and current advice from reliable resources at Parks. There is an outstanding view of the Rock Glacier, on the side of Mount Rae, from Pocaterra Cirque. Good luck and stay safe.

Your website is brilliant and I have a lot of respect for your dedication to hike, take pictures, and post it all here! I've been wanting to do this hike for a while. If you don't mind my asking, do you think this weekend (June 15/16) would be a good time to try?

Add new comment