Historical Hummingbird Plume Lookout in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.
Driving south on Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40), west of Calgary, Alberta, on the way to an entirely different hike, glancing over at Nakiska Ski Resort observes the snow has receded significantly up the slopes of Mount Allan.
Uncharacteristically, an impulsive decision is taken to make another attempt at Hummingbird Plume Lookout. The car becomes the only one parked in North Lot 3 at the ski resort, which is closed until the next winter season. The adventure begins by hiking past the Nakiska maintenance facility.
A right turn at a cross-country ski sign, on the slope hosting the bottom terminus of the Bronze chair lift, leads a short distance to the first trail sign for the surrounding trail complex.
The first leg is 1.3 KM (¾ mile) on the old Marmot Creek Road to the junction with Skogan Pass Trail. This overall hike from Nakiska is about 9.5 KM (5⅞ miles) return with a gross elevation gain near 400 m (1,312 ft) to a maximum height of 1,865 m (6,120 ft).
The trails are wide, excellent and predominantly through forest. Fast water is running as higher altitude snow continues to melt. Old roads are well maintained, occasionally fortified, and make for easy hiking with occasional mountain views.
The Marmot Creek Trail leads to a well-signed branch right, linking with Skogan Pass Trail where loud, fast water from Marmot Basin is channeled through large culverts beneath the road. An exciting development will occur near here on the return hike via the same route.
The wide trail continues on moderate grade, with an occasional flat portion for relief, or steeper sections to build the heart rate and generate body warmth for gradually cooler air as elevation increases. There are a couple of very nice vistas of Nakiska Ski Resort on Mount Allan.
After 1.3 KM (¾ miles) on the Skogan Pass Trail, another sign clearly identifies the nearby intersection with the Sunburst Trail. The beginning of the Sunburst Trail is not immediately evident from the trail sign location but rather about 50 m (164 ft) further underneath power lines via an obvious right turn. Avoid turning left at the trail sign for a completely different hike.
The Sunburst Trail is an easy, more comfortable surface with consistent elevation gain. A bit of early season ice and snow near the top of the Sunburst Trail is not an issue and will likely be gone within days.
Towards the end of the 1.1 KM (¾ mile) section of Sunburst Trail, through forest, another well signed trail junction requires a right turn onto the final 0.5 KM (¹⁄₃ mile) trail to Hummingbird Plume Lookout. The lookout has been abandoned for decades.
The picnic table is visible before the old fire lookout is evident. The Hummingbird Plume Lookout may have been constructed in the mid 1930's although, some of the wood is dated 1915. The origin of the name is unknown.
The lookout was visited by German POWs collecting wood from a 1936 forest fire. The condition of the structure has fallen victim to age, weather and thoughtless vandalism in the 20 years since the previous visit here. The surrounding trees are taller than recollection.
Evidence of the initials carved by German POWs in 1941 as documented in the Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 1, 4th Edition cannot be found. They may have been taken or obscured by graffiti on the old cabin's interior.
A short, obvious walk, past the picnic table through forest, leads to spectacular views across Kananaskis Valley to Mount Lorette and surrounding mountains of the Fisher Range.
Hummingbird Plume Lookout is in poor shape. An hour is spent here having a snack and taking many more photographs than are shown. Two of the grounding rods for lightning protection remain in place. There is a profound sense of early history.
Prior to departure a 'Summit Stone' with 'An Adventure Muse' is tucked away at Hummingbird Plume Lookout for a fellow wanderer to find and enjoy. The contribution is a gesture, initiated by 'D', to help those who follow to foster understanding and appreciation for the power of nature.
On the return hike, by the same route, a friend, 'bird', resides at the junction of the Hummingbird Plume Lookout trail with the Sunburst Trail. "Bird' seems very comfortable and takes a dirt bath in a shallow, sandy depression while a few photos are taken.
The hike down Sunburst and Skogan Pass Trail is uneventful with a rare mountain view above evergreen forest. This all changes where Skogan Pass Trail meets the Marmot Basin Trail. The loud and faster running water near the junction has masked the sound of my arrival.
Leaving the forest into the clearing, an adult, black bear is feeding about 10 m (33 ft) to the front right. The bear is busy digging for grubs and is unaware of my presence. I stop and call to the bear. ' Yo, Bear'. Bear looks at me: I look at bear. Neither of us make an immediate decision, however, proceeding may be unsafe. After a few seconds of speaking softly to the bear, who is justifiably reluctant to leave the meal, two large, gentle steps are taken backward, stop, and hold ground. 'Bear' acknowledges my token gesture of relinquishing territory and decides to retreat.
What happens next is unusual in my experience. Normally the bear will leave by the most efficient route available, i.e. directly away from my position. While I watch this beautiful animal, 'Bear' chooses to lumber across the clearing directly in front of me to exit into forest to the left. It may be a reluctant gesture of trust. A moment is taken to allow bear to relax, before continuing expeditiously on my way.
For the next half kilometer (¹⁄₃ miles) 'Yo, Bear' is hollered about every 100 m, so the bear can gauge my departure and return to dining as soon as comfortable. 'Bear' and I get along just fine in another excellent bear encounter which is clearly the highlight of the day. It is unusual to enjoy a wilderness sighting at such close range. It is also important to maintain focus, so taking photographs was not considered.
"Bear' would have been long gone if the fast water had not masked my arrival. Yelling before entering the clearing would have 'Bear' departing prior to my arrival.
The remainder of the return hike from Hummingbird Plume Lookout is uneventful but an off trail shortcut is taken from forest to groomed, grassy slope, past the Bronze run chair lift, the Nakiska maintenance facility and up the road to my lone car in the parking area.
The front half of the day has been busy but, in spite of the fact initially sunny skies have yielded to low, overcast ceilings with intermittent hints of potential rain, there is still time left in the day to proceed south of Kananaskis Trail for the original hike at 'The Wedge'.