Sparrowhawk Tarns beneath Mount Bogart in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.
From parking at the Sparrowhawk Day Use Area, the trail-head is on the other side of the Smith-Dorrien Trail. Initially there is a short, moderate gain in elevation before the trail levels on the 5.1 KM (3¼ mile) route one-way with an elevation gain of 675 m (2,215 ft) to a maximum elevation of 2,410 m (7,907 ft). This is the same trail used to access Read's Ridge and Read's Tower. At the cairn, about 0.9 KM (0.56 miles) from beginning, it is important to continue straight past the left turn to the trail for Read's Ridge. Initially the trail climbs above the valley hosting Sparrowhawk Creek before the hike continues adjacent to the cold, crystal-clear water of the creek.
The trail to Sparrowhawk Tarns is initially through forest with multiple trail junctions along the way. Many of these intersections access the base of Read's Ridge before continuing along and past the base of Read's Ridge, gradually gaining elevation until breaks in the forest begin to provide dramatic views of Red Ridge on the right, Read's Tower on the left with 3121 m (10,239 ft) Mount Sparrowhawk peeking over the top, and massive 3,144 m (10,315 ft) Mount Bogart beginning to consume the horizon ahead. Powerful imagery!
There is a cairn where forest breaks out to the massive rock fall area between Mount Bogart and Red Ridge. The most prominent branch turns right, away from the direction of Sparrowhawk Tarns. Note: Turning right is correct.
On this hiking day the left, more lightly used trail is taken towards Sparrowhawk Tarns based on instructions from an older hiking guide. The next hour is consumed navigating rugged terrain on occasional sketchy trail mixed with off-trail intuitive sections. As altitude is gained more aggressively, spectacular views unfold and wind speed increases exponentially. At a key marker cairn, the view back to Spray Lakes Reservoir, where the hike began, is quite beautiful and inspiring.
The more sensible approach to the tarns is achieved by taking a right turn at the junction. The trail will pass through a few large boulders and then loop around to head in the correct direction towards Sparrowhawk Tarns. The approach views will be much different than the photos which follow.
Heading for the scree slope to the left at the end of the rockfall approaches the top of the difficult to navigate scree and the force of the wind requires tethering down hat and glasses. Photography is either challenging or not an option. Gusting wind eliminates the ability to hold the camera steady.
The wind disappears almost immediately on the other side of the ridge. There are several other hikers in the area over on the Red Ridge side.
The view back to Spray Lakes Reservoir from the top of the scree ridge above Sparrowhawk Tarns in Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada. Mount Nestor and Old Goat Mountain back Spray Lakes.
At the bottom of the bowl beneath Mount Bogart the number and size of the ponds vary by season. In the spring there are more and bigger tarns with lots of melt water caught in the basin. In late fall, the tarns often disappear as feeds dry up and trapped water drains off or evaporates. This hike is towards the end of the cycle. In spring, lingering snow at higher elevations can make access more challenging. Mid summer would be an ideal time in a normal year. Just kidding. There is no such thing as a normal year.
Beneath the massive bowl on the flank of Mount Bogart, a field of delicate alpine grass provides a brilliant green patch. A walk towards the grassy patch reveals an Inukshuk crafted by previous visitors.
Lunch in the sun at Sparrowhawk Tarns is a relaxing experience beside emerald water sheltered from the breeze by warm surrounding rock. Following lunch the scramble up the rocks to a plateau beneath Red Ridge picks up a prominent trail heading back towards the Spray Lakes Reservoir.
The scenery on the return hike is amazing. There is a sweep to the right after tracking the bottom of Red Ridge for considerable distance. A few meters past a large, very interesting boulder, the trail arrive at the cairn where the hike originally entered the area of massive rockfall. The remainder of the return hike tracks the base of Read's Ridge on familiar trail back to parking at the Spray Lakes Day Use Area. All that remains is the return drive to Calgary.
Photographs for this post were taken on August 18, 2013.