While many Calgarians are enjoying a pancake breakfast before celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Calgary Stampede, the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, I am driving west then south to the Kananaskis Lakes. Although I have hiked and snowshoed portions of this trail in the past, mainly for access to Mount Indefatigable or Rawson Lake, I have not hiked the 16.2 KM (10.1 mile) circuit around the entire circumference of Upper Kananaskis Lake. From my parking spot in the Upper Lake Day Use Area, the initial views are always inspiring.
Hiking in a counter-clockwise direction, between the lakeshore and the Upper Kananaskis Lake Day Use Area, while enjoying views of the mountains surrounding the lake, I will arrive at the boat launch area and cross the first, short, earthen dam near the trailhead for the easy, 2.2 KM (1.4 mile) Interlakes Interpretive Trail, which I will save for another day.
Outstanding trail, predominantly in forest close to the edge of Upper Kananaskis Lake, passes reflective bays surrounded by driftwood stumps from long ago logging activity. Water levels are low in anticipation of runoff and forested peninsulas protrude from the shore in anticipation of becoming islands as the reservoir fills.
I am hiking towards Mount Indefatigable and the dam at the North Interlakes Parking Area where water is channeled from Upper Kananaskis Lake to Lower Kananaskis Lake via an electric power generation station. As I cross the earth dam, Mount Indefatigable consumes my view directly in front, and below, to my right, I can see the large green penstock which carries water from Upper Kananaskis Lake to the hydroelectric station below before releasing the water into Lower Kananaskis Lake. me. Memories of snowshoe trips surface and I can see the cottages of William Watson Lodge above the east shore of Lower Kananaskis Lake. What a special place it is. I pass a memorial for war veterans who inspired the naming of mountains above the distant far side of the lake. Shortly, after I climb over the gated spillway, the trail swings left past the trailheads to Mount Indefatigable.
Although the trail does not ascend more than 61 m (200 ft) above the 1,707 m (5,600 ft) surface of Upper Kananaskis Lake, there is significant undulation over the 16.2 KM (10.1 mile) circuit, so gross elevation greatly exceeds net elevation. It is a long, early season hike. As the trail continues around the circumference of the Upper Kananaskis Lake, there is a broad and interesting variety of excellent trail.
Following a kilometre plus of very pleasant hiking in forest adjacent to the north shore of Upper Kananaskis Lake, the trail transitions into a large section of rockfall called the Palliser Slide. Although the trail is directly through a massive field of boulders, there is a series of flat spots and steps which make navigation straightforward. The time is ideal for a rest and some lunch in the sun. While I am enjoying lunch, offtrail in the rock fall, I can hear voices but there is no-one nearby.
Directly in front of me, to the north, is the steep wall of Mount Indefatigable above a scree slope. While I am enjoying lunch in the sun with a faint, cool breeze off the lake, I notice a tiny red dot moving, high up on the scree slope. The long lens on my camera reveals three climbers working their way up the slope on scree above the Three Isle Lake Trail. The endeavor captures my attention and makes me smile when I think back to the years when their mission would have seemed like a good idea to me. The torch has been passed and I admire their determination to succeed. As I sit amongst the boulders and beautiful flowers I am at peace with this beautiful collage of mountains and memories. It is a good place to be.
As I hike my way west through the rockfall along the north shore of Upper Kananaskis Lake, 3,082 m (10,112 ft) Mount Lyautey consumes my view on the approach to Point backcountry campground with 20 camp sites scattered about on the peninsula.
Past the Point a beautiful isolated pond beneath Mount Lyautey is a prelude to a broad, dynamic green plain, with stumps standing like soldiers, guarding the twisting journey of the Kananaskis River entering Upper Kananaskis Lake.
The Kananaskis River is running high and strong. The roar of the water is impressive. An up river trail at the bridge heads into swamp so I abandon an attempt to hike up the Kananaskis River and return to cross the bridge and continue around the lake. The final stretch begins with forest trail away from the lake and although the terrain is varied, and there are beautiful sights, the exercise becomes a bit tedious without lake views.
On the west side of the Upper Kananaskis Lake, where water flows from Hidden Lake, there is an unmarked trail, past Hidden Lake, and beyond, over headwalls to Aster Lake, which would best be done later in the hiking season. I continue through forest until the south-west corner of Upper Kananaskis Lake comes into view.
On the home stretch, there is a lot of running water and the number of hikers increases as I approach and pass waterfalls along the most popular, south shore. The trailhead to Rawson Lake is very busy and water is pounding at Sarrail Creek which marks a single kilometre remaining to completing the hike. Even though I am tired, there is still time left in the day to drive a short distance and hike the Canadian Mount Everest Expedition Interpretive Trail between the Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes.
This is not an easy hike for beginners because of its length but sections from the North Interlakes Parking Lot, the Upper Lake Day Use Area or the White Spruce Parking Lot would make a wonderful day outing. Do as much, or as little, as you choose. The views are absolutely breathtaking. My apologies for the large number of pictures. They are in sequence of hiking around the circumference of Upper Kananaskis Lake and are only a small percentage of the photographs captured during the hike. It is difficult to put the camera away. Every few steps offers a new, irresistible, photographic opportunity. It is a series of ‘WOW’ moments. Remember to breathe!
Note: Weather can be a dynamic wild card here. It is always wise to be prepared for everything. Check at the Visitor Centre on the way in.