Cougar Creek is wedged between two large mountains above Canmore, Alberta, Canada.
Following the morning hike to Grassi Lakes, a quick drive down Smith-Dorrien Trail (Hwy 742) past the Canmore Nordic Centre proceeds into Canmore past Elevation Place, to the north side of town and the restored parking area for access to Cougar Creek and other trails including Mount Lady Macdonald. Following a quick lunch at the Eagle Ridge picnic tables there is some degree of optimism access into the June 2013, flood-ravaged Cougar Creek can be achieved. The day is hot and windswept cirrus cloud crowns surrounding mountain summits.
Near 1.1 KM (¾ miles), the trail-head for Mount Lady Macdonald sports an additional sign concerning trail wildlife protection closures between Cougar Creek on the east and Stoneworks Canyon to the west. Today's objective is not affected but a lot of popular and commonly accessed trail is closed (near end of July 2014) on the north side of Canmore.
Initially, there is concern about a large barricade across the entrance to Cougar Creek until it becomes obvious there is a wide path (road) up and over the fence for access to the canyon.
The volume of flood water, which swept through this canyon between Grotto Mountain and Mount Lady Macdonald, has wiped out nearly everything grown here in many past decades. The field of rock consists primarily of tiny rounded pebbles up to large boulders weighing several tonnes. There are peculiarities like boulder islands formed by circumstantial flow patterns and small stands of trees that survive in spite of logic.
Side drainages which were previously small trickles have been gouged out. The flow of the creek meanders from one side to the other as well as above ground and sometimes below. Occasionally water flow is robust; at other times a trickle. The detail is fascinating and mysterious. The power of the flood event is palpable.
Narrower sections between Mount Lady Macdonald on the left and Grotto Mountain on the right have been swept clean. As the hike continues northeast along an intermittent Cougar Creek within the canyon, the terrain becomes a bit more challenging. Water flow in Cougar Creek is occasionally high enough to make crossing a bit more difficult. Past hikers have placed markers and stepping stones at some locations which makes the process simpler and good fun. Sturdy footwear is important here.
There are many bolted and anchored rock climbing walls along Cougar Creek. Cairns along the featureless creek bed mark some of their locations. A few climbers are working the walls.
Further into Cougar Creek Canyon, the disorder of flood debris is more obvious. Portions of shoreline have survived with partially downed trees, torn moss canopies, newly created shoreline banks and jumbled piles of boulders in twisted paths. The devastation is significant and recovery will be measured in decades.
Route finding is simple on the broad river plain. Water flow above ground increases as distance into the canyon progresses. Occasionally, situations where the creek hugs a rock wall require switching sides on the creek. Surrounding mountain views are stunning. A cool mountain breeze tempers the hot day on open ground and the air is fresh and energizing.
The focal mountain, which seemed so distant at the beginning of the hike, now looms large above on the approach to Canada Forks where the path will split left and right.
The hike offers the potential along the left fork at Canada Forks for another 3 KM (1⅞ miles) on more challenging but spectacular terrain to Northwest Forks and beyond. The right fork continues for some distance to scramble routes on Mount Fable and Grotto Mountain for the younger or more esoteric adventurers.
The Cougar Creek hike can be altered from a half day, to a multiple day backpack. Today, another hike is planned for Heart Creek so the 4 KM (2½ miles) retreat to the trail-head in Canmore will begin. The elevation differential along Cougar Creek is virtually imperceptible.
On this hike there are many little miracles like this little evergreen tree surrounded by flood debris but firmly anchored in the newly exposed rock along Cougar Creek in the Bow Valley Corridor at Canmore, Alberta, Canada
Familiar views begin to form up on the return to the trail-head in Canmore. Climbing walls are significantly more active on the return but only a few hikers are encountered. Soon the barricade at the entrance to Cougar Creek becomes visible and passing the Mount Lady Macdonald trail-head leaves a single kilometer (⅝ of a mile) remaining.
Geo-science crews are conducting beneath-ground acoustic studies in the continuing examination of, and recovery from, the June 2013 major flood event. Major reconstruction on the viaduct expansion to protect creek side properties appears to be nearing completion.
Given more time, the day would become even more interesting by continuing left at Canada Forks for another 2.9 KMs (1¾ miles) to the Northwest Fork on potentially more rugged trail. Another day.