Pocaterra Ridge - Kananaskis Country - Hiking Alberta

 

Pocaterra Ridge is a classic hike near Highwood Pass in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

The previous plan called for hiking from the Little Highwood parking area in Kananaskis Country, with an intended return via Rockfall Valley wedged between the bases of Pocaterra Ridge and Mount Tyrwhitt.  That hiking adventure was altered by unexpected deep snow conditions following a weather anomaly which prevented completion of the entire loop.  On this early morning, the second attempt begins.

From the Little Highwood parking area, crossing Kananaskis Trail finds the faint path leading directly into forest.  Within a short distance a right turn tracks the bank of Pocaterra Creek past continuing flood erosion until arrival at the log jam which provides interesting but relatively dry passage over the creek.  Passing through a field of boulders created by the June 2013 flood event leads to beginning the sustained ascent on narrow trail through dew drenched shrubbery leaving pant legs soaked.

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada The trail entrance across from the Little Highwood parking area which leads to Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Approaching the log jam past flood damage along Pocaterra Creek on the trail to Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Hiking past flood damage along the trail to Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Ascent through wet shrubbery towards Peak 1 of Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

The initial intent to hike into Rockfall Valley is defeated by the inability to locate the trail access.  In hindsight, a much closer look at that field of boulders near the beginning of the trail would have discovered the trail-head within extensive flood damage. 

The mutual decision is to continue the ascent to the false summit en route to Peak 1 of 4 along the top of Pocaterra Ridge.  After breaking the treeline, awesome scenery is relentlessly sustained and dynamic.

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Looking back at our starting position beneath Elpoca Mountain as we break the treeline hiking Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Early morning sun creates long shadows and dries clothing quickly as we ascend past the false summit at the north end of Pocaterra Ridge on good trail to Peak 1.

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaSurveying surrounding scenery on Pocaterra Ridge with Mount Tyrwhitt in the background in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada A view of mountain-surrounded Elbow Lake past the Elbow Pass parking area from Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Peak 2, 3 and 4 from Peak 1 on Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada The view into Rockfall Valley from Peak 1 of Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.  Rockfall Lake is dry.

 

There is a large and dense larch forest between Peaks 2 and 3.  At a trail fork, the hike proceeds right into the quiet, cool forest to enjoy a break from the ridge top.  The beauty of this larch forest is breathtaking near the 3rd week in September when larch tree needles turn golden before dropping to the ground. 

This is one of the primary mountain locations for viewing golden larches in Autumn before the needles fall.  For many people, the annual ritual, creates an indelibly memorable event hiking beneath sun through a golden, larch forest.  Today is an opportunity to enjoy the natural green forest about three plus weeks before the needles will turn from lush green to gold.  Just prior to leaving the larch forest on the hike up to the ridge top, there is a clamor to the left from large animals fleeing the invasion of their privacy.  What is heard, cannot  be seen.  

Breaking out from forest to higher ground, the five magnificent mountain sheep are carefully observing our arrival from an open rise above the trail.  The image is beautiful.  Continuing the hike and beginning to ascend along ridge top again results in the mountain sheep (all rams) charging down the hill to claim territorial rights for the location occupied just moments earlier.  Every few meters requires a stop for photographs as the rams settle down and stake claim to their territory recently invaded.  Magic!

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Five rams observe our transition from the larch forest to open Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada The rams thunder in behind us as we continue on the ridge top trail along Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada The ascent continues toward Peak 3 as the rams occupy their territory on Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada It is difficult to stop taking pictures of the rams on Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Surrounding scenery is sustained and spectacular.  Elbow Lake is nestled between Elpoca Mountain and Mount RaeKananaskis Trail (Hwy 40) at the bottom of Kananaskis Valley is the ribbon which separates the two mountain ranges.  Rock Glacier bulges from the bottom of Mount Rae.  Eventually the debris from the crumbling face of Mount Rae will consume Kananaskis Trail

The narrow ridge top provides grand views of Mount Tyrwhitt across Rockfall Valley beneath, dividing it from Pocaterra RidgeRockfall Lake is dry and 'trails' at the bottom of Rockfall Valley are likely dried channels of drainage.  Current position is too far above the valley bottom to see any evidence of the trail.

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Elbow Lake between Elpoca Mountain and Mount Rae beneath Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Kananaskis Trail at the bottom of Kananaskis Valley beneath Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Rock Glacier bulges from the bottom of Mount Rae across from Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Rockfall Lake is dry beneath Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada The view straight down to dry Rockfall Lake from the final approach to Peak 4 of Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada. Mount Tyrwhitt consumes the background on the other side of Rockfall Valley.

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Lunch in the sun with a gentle breeze at Peak 4 of Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Hiking past Peak 4 and dropping into Rockfall Valley via Little Highwood Pass above Pocaterra Cirque is discussed.  Without knowing the status of a viable exit at the north end of Rockfall Valley the prospect is less than comfortable and a decision is made to return the via the route taken in across the top of Pocaterra Ridge as cloud cover increases and creates dramatic sky. 

The mountain sheep, from more than an hour earlier, have staked claim to the sunny spot hiked through on the inbound route.  Our path proceeds off trail around them to continue on the ridge top alternative above the larch forest which provides different but no less spectacular scenery until the return to the Y junction retraces steps towards Peak 1.

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada 
 
 
At Peak 1 on the return hike a lone ram is standing guard at the summit.  Again the choice is to off trail around the gorgeous animal at a comfortable, non-threatening distance.   After passing, a ewe who has been grazing outside of view, climbs above the opposite side of the ridge.  This justifies the decision to avoid approach and potentially being challenged by the ram.
 
 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada A sole ram stands sentinel at Peak 1 on Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada The rams partner has been grazing on the steep slope beneath Peak 1 on Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.  The ram strikes a powerful profile at the ridge top as we begin our final descent.

 

On final descent, every possible hint of trail that might potentially lead into Rockfall Valley is investigated.  All are game trails which lead nowhere and dwindle off into dense forest.  At the bottom of the descent, the only feature left to investigate is the debris field at the creek outflow from Rockfall Valley.

The faint trail is a new access after June 2013 floods altered the course of the creek and wiped out the previous trail.  The faint and primitive trail is currently being established to the left of the flood-created path of the new creek.  A small cairn is constructed to help others before hiking in a short distance for reconnaissance.  There is neither the time nor inclination to begin the hike through the bottom of Rockfall Valley this late in the day.  The trail will be there another time.

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Rugged wilderness beauty along the descent from Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada A small cairn marks the faint trail heading into Rockfall Valley beneath Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada The faint trail is to the left of this new flood-created creek outlet from Rockfall Valley beneath Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Trees are still toppling into Pocaterra Creek near the log jam on the trail to Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

The score is Rockfall Valley 2 : Barry 0 which is a tad embarrassing but in spite of the frustrations getting through Rockfall Valley, this day's hike has entertained excellent weather and unique circumstances that will make this hike on Pocaterra Ridge a fond memory for many years to come.

Photographs for this hike on Pocaterra Ridge are taken August 25, 2014 in Kananaskis Country west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

 

 

 

 

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