Forget-Me-Not Mountain is a stiff climb to a leisurely hike at altitude.
Forget-Me-Not Mountain is a perennial favorite and an excellent mountain for early 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 Little Elbow River, a quick left initiates the hike parallel to the Little Elbow River towards Forget-Me-Not Ridge. The Elbow River is a dry, rocky plain so the crossing is quick to initiate hiking on the old fire road called Wild Horse Trail.
In early spring it can be a challenge to cross the river. Along Wild Horse Trail there is a cairn to the right at the junction of the trail which begins the ascent on Forget-Me-Not Mountain but it is often overgrown with shrubbery so careful observation is expedient. Elevation gain is aggressive through forest with an occasional justifiable pause as an opening to enjoy developing dramatic vistas.
The small, pristine, aquamarine Forget-Me-Not Pond, becomes a tiny speck as the relentless slug up the mountain continues. The Ford Knolls are laid out in a row beneath Nihahi Ridge. As trees thin, the trail skirts cliff edges for expansive 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 rock sculptures scattered across the surface.
The short flat, hike on the ridge travels through a brief 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 in the shape of a giant U. The true summit, at the other end of the U, is 9 feet higher. It is a pleasant, relatively 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 the 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, the return hike begins via the route taken in.
As we approach the center 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, there is a natural reluctance.
Reaching an impasse will make it necessary to climb back out, possibly jeopardizing the confines of short daylight hours. Nothing ventured: nothing gained. The new adventure begins with 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 center. Traversing back and forth across the creek we work our way through the path of least resistance. It is a robust workout as we create a route 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 recent footprints in fresh snowfall. We are being watched. The experience is not reciprocal.
Extricating ourselves from the off-trail adventure arrives back at the main access trail to 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 on 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.