The Highline Trail begins at Quarry Lake above Canmore, Alberta, Canada.
The plan is simple. Implementation becomes different from plan. From Quarry Lake parking, the clearly marked trail-head leads south towards Ha Ling Peak and Mount Lawrence Grassi to the power lines. A quick jog left will intercept the West Connector. Word of warning. In this area, there is a complex labyrinth of trail created over generations of logging, mining, real estate development and recreational activity. Only main trails are shown on the map but there are many opportunities to get off track (lost) so it is important to pay close attention. Signage is cryptic and occasionally, mildly confusing. This hike is spectacular in many ways and worthy of the time and effort.
The turn onto the West Connector of the Highline Trail is signed with a warning to be aware of descending mountain bikers. The West Connector is a sustained, moderate ascent on variable-surface, winding trail through beautiful and lush forest canopy, shading moss bordered shrubbery. The energizing and musky forest odor complements the effort of the climb until the next cryptic sign announces arrival at the junction with the Highline Trail. A right turn would lead west towards the junction with the Riders of Rohan trail and Grassi Lakes. The left turn will take the Highline Trail to the East Connector.
Hiking east on the Highline Trail is like a roller coaster past significant drainages and through lush forest with borders of thick moss. The aroma is fresh and haunting. Natural artistic features along the trail keep the camera busy and extend the length of the effort. Curiosity requires investigation of many trail branches to discover what each has to offer. At occasional drainages along the Highline Trail there are often open views across the valley which create opportunities to investigate the features of the opposite range hosting Grotto Mountain, Mount Lady Macdonald and Squaw's Tit past the Town of Canmore. Occasionally, there is an excellent view of Quarry Lake and, reassuringly, the car remains in the parking area.
The fascinating hike with undulating elevation continues. Photographic opportunities are endless and frequently irresistible. Expansive views from many drainages provide views of the opposite range and outstanding views across the Bow River and Canmore. The images bring up fond memories of past hiking partners and vivid memories of previous hiking adventures on a rich and rewarding time-travel experience layered on top of the relaxing and wide-eyed wilderness adventure.
Following more lateral and undulating forest navigation on good but rocky trail, another drainage provides an excellent view of the new aqueduct emanating from Cougar Creek to mediate any future events like the June 2013 Flood which devastated parts of the Canmore area. Occasionally, changes in elevation are moderated by tight switchbacks which quickly modify the leisure of the relatively flat sections. One of these switchbacks is the intersection with the trail to Three Sisters Creek further east.
Hiking through lush, aromatic and artistic forest scenery on the Highline Trail in the Bow Valley Corridor above Canmore, Alberta, Canada
A view up a drainage to Mount Lawrence Grassi above the Highline Trail in the Bow Valley Corridor above Canmore, Alberta, Canada. The urge to scramble up the drainage is nearly irresistible. Another day.
A good view of the new aqueduct at Cougar Creek between Grotto Mountain and Mount Lady MacDonald as seen from the Highline Trail across the Bow Valley Corridor above Canmore, Alberta, Canada.
The original intent does not include the Highline Trail past the East Connector but this is a grand weather day and the sense of discovery is clearly overpowering common sense and recognition of age. The trail immediately passes a stream with cascading waterfalls and then a beautiful, moss covered rock outlier. Blue posts mark the location of the Highline Trail where there are frequent intersections with other, undocumented trails.
Clearly, at a left turn, an even better trail continues straight. This will need to be investigated. There is a log bench visible on a rise along this rogue trail that begs for attention. After passing some interesting features, the beautiful, old-road trail leads to another, different trail junction for continuing east on the Highline Trail towards Three Sisters Creek. However, at this trail junction, there is evidence of an old road that has been blocked by a log barrier. This will need to be investigated.
Apparently the bench has been placed to watch people die from some form of mountain biking lunacy near the Highline Trail in the Bow Valley Corridor above Canmore, Alberta, Canada.
This will need to be investigated. The next half hour will be spent on an old, nearly forest-reclaimed road interrupted with multiple blockades and substantial dead-fall. Much of the time is spent crawling, military-style, on the belly or climbing over old barricades and dead-fall.
There is an old derelict camp stove at roadside confirming this is likely an old and long-abandoned logging road. When the heavily-forested and nearly-reclaimed road swings right, away from the original intended objective, the turn about repeats the physical endeavor to get back to the junction with the Highline Trail.
The Highline Trail begins a steep and sustained descent with the benefit of switchbacks to reduce the grade. Some of the switchback turns are very tight. For the past several kilometers there have been many red and yellow trail flags resident along the trail for no apparent reason. These are likely route flags to guide mountain climbers on their way from the valley to climb Canmore Wall or the Ship's Prow on the steep slopes of Ha Ling Peak and Mount Lawrence Grassi.
The aggressive descent levels to the sound of rushing water and soon, trail markers lead to a newly constructed foot bridge over Three Sisters Creek. During this well-timed pause, there is an obvious opportunity to quell thirst and hunger.
Hiking through lush, aromatic and artistic forest scenery on the Highline Trail in the Bow Valley Corridor above Canmore, Alberta, Canada. An unusual structure appears straight ahead.
The fairly elaborate lean-to may be an novelty construction or, covered with a tarp, an overnight staging point for rock climbers from the Highline Trail in the Bow Valley Corridor above Canmore, Alberta, Canada.
Well marked trail at the bottom of the descent and near Three Sisters Creek on the Highline Trail in the Bow Valley Corridor above Canmore, Alberta, Canada.
The Highline Trail continues past Three Sisters Creek. The decision is made to call the creek the turnaround point following lunch in the sun beside the cascading, white-water creek at the newly constructed sawn-log, picnic bench with it's own Inukshuk and an incredible view of Three Sister Mountain looming above. Kudos to the people who performed this post-flood reconstruction. Fabulous Job!
Highline Trail continues into urban development past Three Sisters Creek in the Bow Valley Corridor above Canmore, Alberta, Canada.
The sawn-log picnic bench and Inukshuk at Three Sisters Creek on the Highline Trail in the Bow Valley Corridor above Canmore, Alberta, Canada.
Open sections provide lower elevation views across Canmore to mountains on the opposite side of the valley which are different but equally spectacular. In one open section, there is evidence below of old demolished buildings in an open field.
Although no signs are evident, a large boulder barrier suggests the hike is proceeding on private land. There is no expectation to be challenged and when leaving, there will be absolutely no evidence of my presence. Passing one old, decrepit, mountain biking ramp features a leap into more than 30 m of vertical descent over rugged forest and rocky terrain with little margin for error.
For some distance the hike proceeds past forest debris on the left which has been placed there to obliterate passage on an old road. Additionally, the hike is over trail that is black, coal dust. This portion of the retreat is through an old abandoned coal mine.
A prominent trail branch to the left, which proceeds uphill, is the only exception made to the hiking strategy of west and down only. The trail passes an old coal strip mine. Exit past another row of boulders, with a mountain biking ramp, leads to a modern gravel road. Following a bit of exploration in this area descent on the road past open coal outcroppings to a gate clearly, indicates leaving restricted private land.
The wide grassy cut-line heads west from the gate and passes a single beehive to urban development where the trail finally intersects with the East Connector from the Highline Trail far above. A brief descent collides with urban development and gravel road leads to signage beneath power lines with the East End of Rundle prominent to the west. This is mercifully the home stretch.
Good, wide, flat and well signed gravel trail leads to an obvious turnoff into Quarry Lake and paved path around the lake leads to the lonely car in the parking area. The day has been much different and more aggressive than planned or anticipated, with fascinating discovery. Boots are off. Sandals will be fine for the drive back home near Calgary Olympic Park in Calgary.
The day is a much more aggressive project than originally planned. The original plan to ascend the West Connector, hike east on the Highline Trail and descend on the East Connector with a return beneath the power lines would have covered about 13.6 KM (8½ miles) with a net elevation gain in the range of 210 m (690 feet).
The extension to Three Sisters Creek via the Highline Trail would bring the total distance near 18 KM (11¹⁄₃ miles) with similar net elevation gain.
With additional side trails and adventures, the estimated hiking distance on the day is something in the 25 KM (15⅝ mile range). Important note: Gross elevation gain substantially exceeds net elevation gain due to the undulating nature of the Highline Trail.
Photographs for this hike on the Highline Trail and surrounding terrain were taken on September 1, 2014 above Canmore in the Bow Valley Corridor west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.