Whale Lake is a tiny, ecologically sensitive oasis in northern Kananaskis Country. On this relatively flat hike, originating from Rafter Six Ranch Resort, interesting ground features alter my original plan, and I morph into my favorite mode of travel, wandering somewhat aimlessly and driven by my senses, on or off trail.
From the field adjacent to the Rafter Six Ranch Resort church, an obvious trail into forest leads me quickly to the north border of Kananaskis Country. My little black dog buddy, after a few moments of indecision, turns about and heads home.
Within a short distance, I emerge from forest onto a short descent into a large field. Crocuses are abundant in all the open, grassy areas.
The trail continues to the left, but distant, mid-field, corral structures capture my attention and curiosity gets the best of me. As I approach the wooden structures it becomes obvious this has been a site of a Sundance celebration in past years, a Ti-jurabi-chubi with structures very similar to those in Sibbald Meadow.
My initial intent to return to plan is interrupted by features at the far end of the field so I continue to hike west, off plan, towards snow-capped mountains. Passing under hydro lines at the west end of the field, the view of a lake captures my attention. It appears to be more marsh than open water and when I work my way to the edge, there is a faint, distant sound, like hundreds of squeaking wheels, coming from the far side of the lake. A quick map reference tells me I have arrived at Whale Lake. I work my way carefully to the edge of the marsh to take a photograph. The lake’s name likely comes from its shape when viewed from above.
From the south-east corner of Whale Lake, I hike south below the power lines on rustic road for a short distance then find a partially iced trail through forest which takes me south-west. I am on land surrounded by Kananaskis Country, Camp Chief Hector, Bow Valley Provincial Park and Rafter Six Ranch Resort. Whale Lake is nestled in the middle of my circuit.
About a kilometre later (0.63 miles) I arrive at the east edge of the Rocky Mountain YMCA complex and turn north on trail adjacent to the fenced off property with tepees dispersed in the forest waiting patiently for occupation by young people in the upcoming summer months.
Soon, I arrive at the west shore of Whale Lake. The previously fainter sound from the opposite side of Whale Lake is now loud and I bushwhack my way to the marshland shore to discover the source of the noise. Although the marsh is alive with sound, there is little evidence of the source. With a long lens I capture birds in open water. It is not my area of expertise but I believe they are loons. There must be hundreds of them nesting in the marsh and I try diligently to avoid disturbing them.
There are a few loons on the surface of open water in Whale Lake.
Leaves are just beginning to bud on trees surrounding Whale Lake. When the trees are fully leaved, the little lake will be nearly completely concealed.
As I hike above the lake level, and turn to lower ground along the north shore, I work my way to the shoreline again with great caution. The lake is ecologically sensitive and I go to significant lengths to avoid disturbing the delicate structure. I will avoid leaving any evidence of my presence, including footsteps, in the hope subsequent visitors will do the same and leave the lake’s pristine beauty exactly the same.
An old road leads east through a large, grassy field to Rafter Six Ranch Resort where my hiking day ends.
There are a large number of unmapped trails in the area and wandering is easily done with multiple options for recovery. It has been a wonderful, undisciplined, warm, spring day in the sun with lots of unexpected and unplanned discovery. All that remains is a pleasant return drive home to Calgary.