Tough decisions at Rickert's Pass on Mist Ridge in Highwood, Kananaskis Country, Alberta.
This is Part 2. Click here for Part 1.
The switchback descent over Rickert's Pass is a steep drop of about 550 m (1,800 ft). The hike from Rickert's Pass to Burns Mine is 3.0 KM (1⅞ miles) and to Denning's Cabin another 3.5 KM (2¼ miles) for a total, round trip, back to Rickert's Pass of 13.0 KM (8⅛ miles). Today's Mist Creek hike began at 9:30 AM.
There is insufficient daylight time, at my pace, to add an additional 13.0 KM (8⅛ miles) and 550 m (1,800 ft) for an estimated total of 36.9 KM (22⅜ miles) and gross elevation near 1,670 m (5,480 ft).
In discussion over lunch at Rickert's Pass, the decision is made to abandon the hike to Burns Mine and Denning's Cabin for another day and return on the 12.7 KM (7⅞ mile) hike over the crest of Mist Ridge. This will reduce the total hike to about 22.9 KM (14¹⁄₃ miles) with net elevation gain of 1,020 m (3,346 ft) and gross elevation estimated at 1,122 m (3,680 ft). Tactical planning continues throughout any hike to avoid unfortunate circumstances. Prior to leaving Rickert's Pass, a Summit Stone is placed for a subsequent adventurer to appreciate the message of the mountains.
Good ridge hikes, at sustained elevation, are always an excellent experience in favorable weather. Today, the hike will proceed under sun in light refreshing breeze. The trail begins a few meters south of Rickert's Pass, then branches east and south from the Mist Creek trail to track beneath the ridge, twisting consistently upward around obstacles.
Looking down to the north valley below us. Burns Mine, the Sheep River and Denning's Cabin are down there.
Within a kilometer, a recent, water saturated, mud slide interrupts the trail. Substantial mud and rock debris has slid into the drainage below. The area remains very wet and spongy. The alternative to crossing is to climb above and around the hazard. This conundrum motivates discussion of strategy for an attempt to traverse the slide area. On careful examination, the collective decision is to traverse the questionably stable distance of about 10 meters (33 ft).
Cross independently with exceptional care will spread the risk. In the event of another slide, the person on safe ground will have an opportunity to capture a potentially lucrative video for submission to YouTube. Bit of mountain humor. It is always mandatory to keep one person safe to facilitate rescue. Safety must always be paramount.
The following photographs provide some of the best truncated views from the top of Mist Ridge. The trail generally tracks below the top of the ridge. As soon as practical, the ridge summit is acquired to hike off trail along the top for enjoyment of breathtaking and continuous 360 degree views.
Hiking predominantly over the top of the ridge, past the distance along Mist Mountain to the west, on the other side of the valley to our right, three mountain sheep are encountered on the approach to the trail for the south summit of Mist Ridge.
Final views of the east face of Mist Mountain are taken prior to the decision to skirt the less scenic west side of the south summit on less used trail which will reduce the gross elevation as legs begin to feel the accumulation of distance and altitude gain. The diversion seems longer than expected but eventually the trail pops out of forest onto open ridge.
Along this minor trail there is substantial evidence of bear diggings but no bears are observed over the entire duration of this hike.
The entire length of Mist Mountain is to the right on the other side of Mist Creek Valley in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.
The Mist Ridge trail continues to the left, but a labyrinth of trail and fire road makes the route uncertain from a distance. The sense of adventure kicks in and a decision is made to proceed off trail directly ahead on the crest of hills with the expectation of finding an alternate route onto the main trail.
Advantage of snippets of game trail and clear grassy and/or rocky areas are employed to navigate towards the general direction of the day end objective. All is going well until arrival at the edge of a very steep drop-off with no gracious alternative. To recover by backtracking is not an option. The distance would be too great. The best alternative is to drop off the side of the steep, deep valley and hope for trail options at the valley bottom. This could get ugly.
Switchbacks and the use of short sections of game trail are utilized until their direction becomes counterproductive, then is followed by bushwhack descent to what appears may be another game trail opportunity. This process is repeated over and over again as the fight continues toward the bottom of the valley.
At one point, fresh kill is encountered near a spring-fed pond, so this area is vacated immediately since it is likely our progress is being watched. Occasionally, in open ground, Nameless Ridge is visible on the opposite side of the valley
There is no trail at the bottom of the valley that will reliably return to the Mist Creek trail. A short off trail ascent through dense forest up the other side of the valley is a challenging bushwhack out of valley on very steep, forested slope. Decent trail is a welcome sight that renews energy and increases pace.
The remaining 5.0 KM (3⅛ miles) of the hike is clear sailing, predominantly downhill, then level to the Mist Creek Recreation Area. The Mist Creek and Mist Ridge loop has been an excellent and adventuresome day of hiking.
The drive home to Calgary is spectacular in the contrast of setting sun with arrival home as daylight dwindles.