Pocaterra Ridge is a classic hike near Highwood Pass in 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.
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.
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.
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!
Surrounding scenery is sustained and spectacular. Elbow Lake is nestled between Elpoca Mountain and Mount Rae. Kananaskis 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 Ridge. Rockfall 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.