Gunnery Creek occupies the draw beneath Gunnery Mountain in Kananaskis Country, Alberta.
About 15 KM (9⅜ miles) west of Longview, Alberta, there is a somber, but touching, memorial tribute on the north side of Hwy 541. Stopping is routine to pay respect for the hardship early settlers endured many decades ago to wrestle this rugged land into submission.
The day is overcast in South Kananaskis Country at parking in the west end of the Sentinel Recreation Area where the Highwood River flows beneath Mount Mann.
A short walk up and across Highwood Trail, then west towards Gunnery Mountain, arrives at the small, cascading, Gunnery Creek waterfall at roadside. The trail head is slightly east, up the bank and clearly identified by a small, rock cairn.
The Gunnery Creek Trail initially gains elevation quickly above Gunnery Creek but soon the small, cascading creek catches up and the trail is predominantly alongside for the duration to Gunnery Pass. Distance to Gunnery Pass is 3.5 KM (2¼ miles).
The hike continues through valley forest on a reasonable and consistent grade. Views of 2,080 m (6,824 ft) Gunnery Mountain are less impressive from the bottom of this valley than from the top of the unnamed east ridge to the right, which separates the distance from Pack Trail Coulee, on the other side, that leads to Grass Pass.
As the valley opens up, forest budding diminishes with altitude and views expand as the hike passes Gunnery Mountain to 2,685 m (8,809 ft) Holy Cross Mountain.
Sandals are strapped to the back of the pack in anticipation of the nine creek crossings at higher altitude. They are all dry except one which the hiking boots will easily handle. The superfluous sandals add a bit to the days aerobic workout. Better more than less prepared. The one tiny water crossing is being fed from impressive waterfalls cascading from a snow packed drainage on the east side of Holy Cross Mountain. A short hike off-trail to the west provides a better view of the cascading waterfalls.
The brief, off trail hike west crosses the faint and rustic trail which would lead to the 'notch' between Gunnery Mountain and Holy Cross Mountain, then on to the summit of Gunnery Mountain. Views are opening up behind as the valley changes from less forest to grassland on the approach to Gunnery Pass.
Views back through the valley towards the Highwood River are very beautiful.
The 396 m (1,300 ft) elevation gain to arrive at 1,875 m Gunnery Pass (6,152 ft) leads directly into dense evergreen forest sheltering snow. Initially it is possible to negotiate the mounds of snow or off trail around them. On descent, the snow deposits increase in size and depth covering over a maze of human and game trails. Diversion towards the north-east negotiates sections of trail as they can be located, while tending in the general direction, to arrive near the 'Big Meadow' where the trail intersects with the Grass Pass trail.
Tracks clearly indicate there is a moose on the trail ahead. Distinctive footprints are fresh in the mud created by snow melt. Hollering regularly will keep the moose informed of my location. Sometimes they will hide nearby with visual contact possible but, unfortunately, there is no sighting this day and eventually our paths separate.
Popping out of the forest, after descending 91 m (299 ft), into the 'Big Meadow', provides a view of 'Trapezium' to the north. Trail diversions have not compromised the plan too badly.
Bull Creek Hills are towering over the far side of the lush 'Big Meadow'. Current position is slightly north of plan but a labyrinth of cow trails throughout the meadow so trails are chosen heading either east or south. Eventually this exercise will intersect with the Grass Pass trail.
Voilà! The trail leading up and south to Grass Pass is an old road. On this lengthy and aggressive hike the clear path will proceed to Grass Pass, then to the high point on Bull Creek Hills, subsequent descent to find and photograph the 'Boundary Pine', and finally the descent from Grass Pass via the Pack Trail Coulee.
Bull Creek Hills and Boundary Pine are published in separate posts. This post will present ascent on Gunnery Creek trail to the intersection of the Grass Pass trail near 'Big Meadow' and a return descent to the parking area through Pack Trail Coulee on the Grass Pass trail.
Following are views of the descent from Grass Pass via Pack Trail Coulee to the Highwood River.
Spring colors of fresh, new leaves are nearly iridescent. Their tapestry literally glows.
The hiking day has been long but all objectives are achieved. Overall, the hike has totaled over 20 KM (12½ miles) with gross elevation approaching 1,067 m (3,500 ft). The fabulous experience unfolded under predominantly overcast skies with excellent hiking temperatures, a mild breeze and a wide variety of terrain.
Route finding was occasionally challenging but everything came together today as well as it could. Throughout the overcast day, weather elements competed for supremacy with none a clear victor. There was everything and the day was an excellent example of why it is important to be prepared for a wide range of weather possibilities.