Mountain bound Rawson Lake is a spectacular hike in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.
The weather is less than ideal for this hike to Rawson Lake. The carpool west begins from the Petro Canada Station near the intersection of Highway 22 with the TransCanada Highway west of Calgary for the turn to Kananaskis Trail south on dry pavement to the winter gate. Kananaskis Lakes Road is wet but clear of snow until arrival at the upper parking area of Upper Kananaskis Lake. It takes a few minutes to gear up with gaiters and hiking crampons. Snowshoes are strapped on the pack in the event snow gets too deep at upper elevations. Cloud is low and the potential for rain and/or snow seems high.
The Rawson Lake hike is 3.9 KM (2 3/8 miles) one way with 305 m (1000 ft) of elevation gain to a maximum elevation of 2,027 m (6,650 ft). The trail begins with about 10 cm (4 inches) of fresh snow over packed trail beneath. Wind has drifted the snow along the trail and soon the tracks of a coyote are encountered that had been walking the trail towards us before sensing our presence and veering away to avoid contact.
Hiking clockwise on the Upper Kananaskis Loop trail, there are intermittent, small drainages which reveal snow depth and create attractive visual and audible oases worthy of a photograph. About a kilometer into the hike on relatively flat trail arrival at the flood-damaged bridge over snowbound Sarrail Creek discovers it leaning to one side and blocked from passage by boards nailed over each end but apparently no one informed the coyote. Passage across the lightly flowing creek creates excellent photo opportunities of icy water flow and the amazing view out to Upper Kananaskis Lake, even though the sky is overcast and cloud cover is low.
The trail junction to Rawson Lake is a short distance past the Sarrail Creek bridge and 1.2 KM (3/4 of a mile) from the parking area. A trailside map near the junction clearly illustrates the route and the nearly buried Rawson Lake trail sign hints at the trail location. The climb up to the lake is 2.7 KM (1 3/4 miles). Most of the 305 m (1000 ft) of elevation gain is in the first half. The drifted snow gets deeper as elevation increases and trail definition gradually morphs from subtle to intuitive.
Obscure depressions in the snow, hinting of possible past human activity, provide a bit of reassurance location is correct but the appearance of a nearly buried sign ensures imminent arrival at Rawson Lake. The snow laden evergreen trees block any view to the lake until the last moment. Arrival coincides with the beginning of a heavy fall of fluffy snow. Mercifully, there is no wind. A sheltered location near the shoreline provides the opportunity to sit in the snow on backpack rain covers while enjoying a well-earned lunch accompanied by the roar and visuals of a small avalanche on Mount Sarrail a safe distance away.
Following lunch the return trek begins, partially protected from the heavy snowfall by the evergreen canopy above. Snow is accumulating, but tracks created on the trek in remain clear to lead out on the descent. Heavy snow virtually eliminates visibility across Upper Kananaskis Lake. Temperatures just below freezing keeps snow on the trees but as we pass the Sarrail Creek bridge the snow is mixed with light corn snow and drizzle so it is good to get back to the warmth and comfort of the vehicle.
Kananaskis Lakes Road is initially covered with snow and slush. By the time the drive continues a short distance north from the winter gate on Kananaskis Trail the pavement is dry for the remainder of the return drive to Calgary.
Rawson Lake has been an excellent hiking day, albeit substantially more challenging than expected.
Photographs for this post were taken on Sunday, May 4, 2014.