The first scenic attempt fails to find 'Boundary Pine' near the top of Grass Pass.
'Boundary Pine' is an actual tree. The short and narrow spur trail, east from the scenic lunch spot on Grass Pass, turns south onto the predominantly grassy crest of the ridge. The pleasant, short, and relatively flat walk follows the 3.4 KM (2⅛ mile) hike with 425 m (1,394 ft) of elevation to Grass Pass above the Highwood River in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.
There are excellent views of snow-capped mountain peaks over the summit of Mount Mann near the location where the hike to Grass Pass begins at the bottom of Highwood River Valley.
The snow-covered summits of 2,540 m (8,333 ft) Mount Burke rise into the horizon as the hike continues south along the ridge.
A variety of views feature sections of the Highwood River flowing through the bottom of the valley.
From the end of the distance chosen to hike south along the ridge images are captured of surrounding views including a long lens view of the old, long-abandoned Cameron Fire Lookout at the summit of Mount Burke. This is a fabulous hike for later in the season when the high altitude snow is nearly gone.
The return hike to Grass Pass along the ridge features Holy Cross Mountain and Mount Head dominating the view to the north-west.
The view west features the mountains of the High Rock Range.
Remnants of driftwood skeletons from limber pines, that have finally succumbed to the challenging weather, litter the landscape at the top of the ridge to prolong the memory of the their perseverance.
The entire grassy plain is saturated with delicate and beautiful crocus blossoms glowing in the sun and quivering in the breeze.
Closing in on the Grass Pass junction, with additional branches east to the Bull Creek Hills, further north into Wileman Valley and along Wileman Creek, as well the junction in the big meadow, Gunnery Creek Trail heads south and Holy Cross Mountain commands attention. There is an alternate route for return to parking in the Sentinel Recreation Area.
The location of 'Boundary Pine' remains a mystery without a single photo of the celebrated tree, rendered infamous by R. M. Patterson, the author of the 'The Buffalo Head' and other classics. A second attempt will be necessary.
The route hiked up through the Pack Track Coulee is to the left but the hike continues straight through onto a rustic and intermittent old road which gains elevation to another ridge to the west.
On the gentle ascent, intermittent patches of snow are easily navigable, or avoided by hiking off trail around them.
The route heads directly through forest to the grassy top of the first crest. Mount Holy Cross looms large in front on this hike directly towards it. The mountain is magnificent and hawks soar in the air currents created by its presence.
Reconnaissance from Boundary Pine indicated that keeping right and gaining elevation is required to achieve the top of the unnamed ridge east of Gunnery Creek Valley. Stands of snow, interrupted by intermittent snippets of trail, confirm there is a possibility the course may be correct.
The return into forest presents deep snow blocking the open ground. The forest is too dense for effective off trail. The snow is borderline load bearing with the occasional and refreshing single leg plunge thigh deep into snow.
At the rocky top of the ridge the views are spectacular in warm sun tempered by a cool, refreshing breeze. The terrain is rocky and rugged.
The top of the ridge is narrow and the route is fairly obvious with occasional evidence of previous traffic by humans and/or game.
The hike proceeds along the top of the narrow ridge towards 2,080 m (6,250 ft) Gunnery Mountain in South Kananaskis Country.
From the ridge, to the northeast, the rippled tops of Bull Creek Hills summon for the incredible views their summits would provide.
It is important to maintain top center of the ridge. Occasionally, there are apparent trails off to one side or the other. There is no sign of human activity and game trails often lead to terrain which cannot be easily navigated by humans.
On the approach to the south end of the narrow, unnamed ridge, views of the Highwood Trail, tracking the Highwood River through Kananaskis Country, begin to open up. The hike along the top of the ridge has not given up a lot of elevation.
Lack of significant descent is one of the characteristics which makes the hike extraordinary but, it also means there must be a very steep descent at the south end of the ridge.
A para sail would be handy. The final descent is challenging on steep and rocky terrain. About half way down the slippery slope, a herd of about a dozen, sure-footed mountain sheep run across the steep grade in front of me.
The better part of half an uncomfortable hour is required to carefully pick the way down the precarious slope.
The harrowing descent is significantly outweighed by the sheer joy of the ridge walk.
The Grass Pass hike is a good one with plenty of options, varied terrain and interesting features. The hike can be as easy or aggressive as chosen. Another day will be allocated to locate and photograph the 'Boundary Pine'.