Jura Creek Canyon begins near the Hamlet of Exshaw on Highway 1A and is wedged between Door Jamb Mountain and Loder Peak to the East with Exshaw Mountain on the West. The early morning drive west from Calgary, and west on Hwy 1A via the Exshaw exit, deliver us to parking near hydro line access just east of the entrance to the Graymont Exshaw Plant. There are several parking options.
The dirt road beneath the hydro lines heads west towards the rustic road heading north to the ‘V’ between the mountains. We aim west, then north, and let common sense prevail.
About a kilometre (5/8 mile) later, Ewa and I arrive at the rocky Jura Creek drainage which heads south towards a magnificent view of Pigeon Mountain on the far side of the Bow River. We take a few minutes to bask in the sun and repair Ewa’s crampons before securing the strap-on insteps to our hiking boots and navigating the ice leading into Jura Creek Canyon.
Canyons have a special feel to them. There is a peace and solitude about them. Often blocked by fast running water in summer, they become fascinating and powerfully confined journeys over ice and snow in winter. Timing and temperature for safe and successful navigation is important. The snow-covered ice at the bottom of Jura Creek Canyon begins to narrow immediately and within a very short distance it is easy to touch both sides in a single arm span.
Occasionally, deadfall from above creates a minor obstacle but we encounter nothing on this day which significantly impedes forward progress. A slight breeze from the south helps to push us along. As the steep walled canyon, with sides smoothed by fast running water to heights far above our heads, twists and turns, we periodically enjoy rays of sunshine.
The short, narrow canyon opens to a broad, sun-filled valley as we continue to hike north. The valley floor is littered with smooth, rounded boulders which have been tumbled by erratic and powerful water flow for thousands of years.
There are many, artistic images, created by wood, rock and snow, combined with sun and shadow, along the valley floor. Reflected sunlight is intense and serious UV and polarized eye protection is a good idea.
Perhaps two kilometres (1 and 1/4 miles) north along the valley, a massive slanted slab comes into view above the east side of the valley. The massive outcropping appears to be a component of 2,097 m (6,880 ft) Loder Peak and suggests this may be where its base may create the east side of the false fault which is our objective for the day.
Ewa and I arrive at the location of the false fault with Exshaw Mountain looming above us, to our left, on the west side of the narrowing valley.
A careful, easy scramble gains elevation over the slab to another narrow, short, twisting section of canyon containing several small, progressive basins filled with snow and ice. These are the tiny pools which contain water in summer. They are reminiscent of the larger pools of water along Nihahi Creek in Kananaskis Country, Alberta. This short section of canyon leads to another valley which contains the trailhead to achieve the summit of Loder Peak.
Ewa and I will return the way we came, making the total hike 7.2 KM (4.5 miles) with an elevation gain of 262 m (860 ft).
A single section of running water, probably influenced by a source of nearby warmer spring water, is the only place along the entire length of Jura Creek with crystal-clear, open water. One of the two, tiny pools is partially covered with ice and their uniqueness and isolation justify a couple of photographs. A short distance further, Jura Creek Canyon narrows again for the last time on this hike.
The reverse trip through the initial section of Jura Creek Canyon presents a refreshing breeze blowing towards us. The narrow and steep canyon walls provide a different perspective in the opposite direction. The canyon is a mecca of optical illusion. Large boulders which appear to be cubic, are not. It is a world of angles, shadow, and light.
Just prior to exit from the canyon, we re-encounter the cascading ice fall which begs to be enjoyed. Our inner children grasp the opportunity to slide down the short span of slick ice. In summer, it will be a beautiful white waterfall.
An interesting summer loop hike, with a host of fascinating features and phenomenal views, would include Jura Creek Canyon combined with the summit and south ridge of Loder Peak and Door Jamb Mountain. It may be prophetic that Summit Stones and Adventure Musings by DSD publishes “Always Gazing Towards Canyons….” on the day prior to our hike. Friend and hiking partner, Dave, who performed this hike into Jura Creek Canyon with his family the previous day, makes me aware of a local blog called ‘Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies’. I use the information contained in this excellent blog as part of my research for the day. It will be specifically of interest to anyone who enjoys hiking on trails which can be enjoyed with young children.