Read's Tower under Mount Sparrowhawk in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.
The day's adventure begins at the Petro Canada Station near the junction of the TransCanada Highway and Hwy 22 west of Calgary for the drive west through Canmore, Alberta, followed by the drive south on the Smith-Dorrien Trail (Hwy 742). Today's objective is the hike to Read's Tower on the trail from Sparrowhawk Day Use Area about halfway along the Spray Lakes Reservoir south of Goat Pond.
The good quality, moderate grade trail across the road from parking at the Sparrowhawk Day Use Area leads up through forest to a junction cairn where the left branch offers a slightly longer and gentler ascent than the brutally steep climb straight ahead. There are many branching game trails along either steep route.
As altitude is gained aggressively on the 2.0 KM (1¼ mile) one-way trail, which gains a gut-crunching 646 m (2,120 ft.) to the top of the ridge, spectacular panoramic views unfold of surrounding mountains and their reflection in the smooth surface of Spray Lakes Reservoir. The reservoir is very low in preparation for the impending influx of water from massive snow melt at higher elevations. Colorful rock shoreline frames mirror images across the surface of still water.
Beneath the reflections, the lake's surface is largely clear of ice and low morning sun, radiating over mountains, creates a wide range of color in the water from emerald to deep blue. It is very peaceful and a light, cool breeze counters the body warming effect of ascent to higher and cooler elevations in the warming sun. The panoramic vistas become progressively more sensational.
Trail conditions deteriorate progressively as elevation is gained aggressively. Hiking poles provide invaluable assistance on the sustained ascent on the steep, rugged trail. Rugged trail changes to sketchy trail on pebbles over smooth and slippery rock slab. A deteriorating snow cornice to the left provides excellent views of avalanche damage in the valley below which separates Read's Ridge from 3,121 m (10,240 ft) Mount Sparrowhawk.
Mercifully, the top of the west end of Read's Ridge is achieved where sitting down to enjoying the fantastic views makes sense in an incredibly beautiful place.
There is more snow than expected but a dignified route through shallow snow reduces excessive post holing. On the far side of a small patch of snow bound forest there is a clear path to the summit of Read's Ridge, at 2,353 m (7,720 ft) for an up close and personal view of Read's Tower. We hike mainly on trail, for a fairly short distance beside the giant snow cornice, until arrival at the ridge summit cairn.
The notch separating the base of Read's Tower from Mount Sparrowhawk is filled with deep snow and there is ample evidence of recent Spring avalanche activity. The dip off the east end of Read's Tower is clear and we can easily gain access to the trail which will deliver us over the flat, steep surface of Read's Tower to its summit.
The effort to achieve the summit of Read's Tower consumes an additional 0.8 KM (½ mile) and 274 m (899 ft.) of elevation for a total round trip distance of about 6 KM (3¾ miles) with a formidable elevation gain of 920 m (3,018 ft.) within a fairly short distance. Not for the weak of spirit. Best done later in the season.
Many photos are captured at the summit and a brief video is taken to provide a sense of the overall surroundings and how they fit together.
The descent from the Read's Ridge summit to the east end of Read's Ridge is swift and easy. Cloud is forming up.
The hike down the ridge is cautious and time consuming to reduce the risk for injury.
The views on the hike down are no less amazing than on the ascent. Descent progress is swift after Seija and I reach good trail through forest at the trail junction cairn. Seija chooses to drive south on the Smith-Dorrien Trail for new views followed by the scenic drive north on Kananaskis Trail. Prophetically, this is an excellent choice because, unknown to us, the north Smith-Dorrien Trail has been closed by a significant rock slide from the East End of Mount Rundle which has closed Canmore Hill.
The curious barricade on south Smith Dorrien at Mount Engadine Road, explains why there is no northbound traffic on Smith-Dorrien while southbound traffic seems unusually high.
The drive to Calgary is tedious in heavy traffic returning from the May long weekend ritual migration from city to mountains but nothing can reduce the impact of images from the summit of Read's Ridge on this spectacular Spring day.