Forget-Me-Not Mountain is a stiff climb to a leisurely hike at altitude to a removed fire lookout.
Forget-Me-Not Mountain is a perennial favourite and an excellent mountain for pre-season conditioning. Located at the end of Hwy 22X/66, the mountain is surrounded by Powderface Ridge, Nihahi Ridge, and the impressive range on the other side of Elbow Valley. Parking is located at the entrance to the Big Elbow Backcountry Campground in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.
After crossing the pink suspension bridge over the Elbow River, we hang a quick left and hike towards Forget-Me-Not Ridge alongside the Elbow River. The Little Elbow River is a dry, rocky plain so we are quickly onto the old fire road called Wild Horse Trail.
In early spring it can be a challenge to cross the river. There is a cairn at the junction of our trail, on the right, but it is often overgrown with shrubbery so careful observation is required. The elevation gain is aggressive through forest with an occasional opening for enjoying the developing vistas.
The small, pristine, aquamarine Forget-Me-Not Pond, becomes a tiny speck as we slug our way up the mountain. The Ford Knolls are laid out in a row beneath Nihahi Ridge. As the trees thin, the trail skirts cliff edges for expensive views of Powderface Ridge, Prairie Mountain and Moose Mountain along the borders of Elbow Valley.
At upper elevation, snow over rocky trail requires attention but soon Mélanie and I arrive on top of Forget-Me-Not Ridge. Scree formations on a section of this ridge are fascinating. Centuries of weather, combined with erosion, freezing and thawing, have created unique, tiny sculptures scattered over the surface.
The short flat, hike on the ridge travels through a short, forested section then a left turn leads to the final, brief and moderate, scree approach to the first summit cairn. The top is cool and breezy. The views are spectacular.
The top of Forget-Me-Not Mountain is relatively flat the shape of a giant U. The true summit, at the other end of the U, is 9 feet higher than where we are standing. It is a pleasant, flat walk, predominantly over scree, and welcome relief from the climb.
Midway, a large boulder provides an excellent shelter from the cool breeze and is a traditional place for lunch. Across the valley to the west, there is a phenomenal mountain landscape.
At the other end of the U is the true 2,338 m (7,671 ft) summit, once the location of a fire lookout between 1952 and 1975. Following a brief interlude for customary summit photos we begin the return hike the way we came.
As we approach the centre of the U, Mélanie expresses a desire to drop off the side of the mountain to off-trail back via the bottom of the adjacent valley. Having never attempted this route, I am reluctant.
If we reach an impasse it will be necessary to climb back out, possibly jeopardizing the confines of short daylight hours. Nothing ventured: nothing gained. We make a lateral, reasonably angled descent into the bottom of the valley.
The bottom of the valley is dense brush in variable snow depth with a partially frozen creek at the centre. Traversing back and forth across the creek we work our way through the path of least resistance. It is a robust workout as we battle our way through dense underbrush.
Direction is determined by surrounding landmarks when they are visible. As a light snowfall begins we enter an alcove surrounded on both sides by steep rock walls and encounter fresh cougar tracks. Large, warm paws have left fresh snow unblemished. We are being watched. The experience is not reciprocal.
As we extricate ourselves from the off-trail adventure, we arrive back at the main access trail and find the only footsteps in the snow are the ones we made ourselves in early morning.
This day we owned Forget-Me-Not Mountain and as we make the short hike back to the car in heavier snowfall and dramatic light from a setting sun, we revel in the success of this very special, exciting and physically demanding day.