Fullerton Loop is a short, classic hike in the Elbow Valley of Kananaskis Country west of Bragg Creek, Alberta, Canada.
The trail-head under the bridge, at the east end of Allen Bill, has been permanently altered by the June 2013 floods. Allen Bill Pond is gone. The collapsed east span of the bridge over the Elbow River has been replaced but the first section of the Fullerton Loop trail has been washed away along the west side of the Elbow River. There is nothing remaining.
Total round trip distance for the Fullerton Loop trail is 6.9 KMs (4¼ miles) with a net elevation gain near 215 m (705 ft). Gross elevation on the undulating trail is nearly double, but within the range of most hikers, and therefore an easy hike for many.
Today could be classified as an exception with an early November snowfall leaving about 15 cm (6 inches) of fresh, heavy snow on the ground which makes hiking more labor intensive.
The new trail-head for Fullerton Loop is at the Ranger Station directly across Elbow Valley Trail from the Allen Bill main parking area. The entrance to the Ranger Station is via Ranger Creek Road directly on the other side of Elbow Trail (Hwy 66) from the entrance to Allen Bill. There is limited parking at the new Fullerton Loop trail-head but it is easy to walk over. The trail-head is well-signed and clearly defined in spite of the new, fresh snowfall. Almost immediately a left turn crosses a platform bridge over tiny Ranger Creek which is flowing robustly in the warming temperatures.
There is never a doubt about the location of the trail in spite of fresh snow cover. The wide swath through the predominantly Lodgepole Pine forest is easy to follow. The aftermath of the June 2013 flood damage along the Elbow River is evident to the right and wandering the short distance to the edge several times surveys the difficult-to-imagine damage. The trail passes through incredibly beautiful snow sculpture on flat terrain before turning right into a dogleg descent from the new approach trail to the original Fullerton Loop trail beside the Elbow River.
There is an opportunity to survey the incredible damage along the river course from near the junction of new trail with old. The landscape has been substantially altered.
The Fullerton Loop Trail continues over a small platform bridge to a gate through a fence before a left turn ahead leads to the trail junction of the Fullerton Loop with the Elbow Trail and the Snagmore Trail which will likely be an upcoming hike or snowshoe adventure.
The series of bridges cross the two small, but significant, drainages on the hill. It is clear these drainages became powerful torrents of angry water which have collapsed the banks. Large, well-established trees now lay at bizarre angles across the creeks. There is a huge amount of damage and the drainages are much larger and deeper than before, particularly at the small, wooden bridge which defines the end of the approach trail and the beginning of the actual loop.
On the other side of the bridge there is a set of stairs which would allow the trail to be hiked in a clockwise direction. Continuing straight to hike the Fullerton Loop in a counter clockwise direction makes sense because saving the south facing ridge for descent provides best views on return after using, arguably, the less dramatic trail for the beginning. The north side of Fullerton Loop makes a sustained moderate ascent through predominantly Lodgepole Pine forest, interrupted periodically by small open areas containing grassland and communities of Aspen trees. Heavy snow on branches is breathtakingly beautiful and branches bending with the weight drape over the trail.
The image is reminiscent of the heavy September snowfall in Calgary which sadly destroyed or damaged more than half a million trees. Today's warming temperature has heavy clumps of snow falling from the tree branches to the ground with repetitive thumps.
An old trail sign at a damaged bridge, close to the halfway point on Fullerton Loop, signals the beginning of the return hike along the south ridge. A moderate ascent leads through another gate to the first bench where the viewpoint has been heavily compromised by maturing forest.
The Fullerton Loop trail continues to climb through undulating terrain. The sky is clearing to bright blue and at hilltop the view explodes past snow-draped Aspen. From the hilltop, a sustained, moderate descent provides open views of the valley below. The warm sun is leaving the trail alternatively slushy and muddy. Throughout the winter it is common for alternative melt and freeze weather to leave this section of trail ice-covered and treacherous without cleats. There are many grand and fond memories of great hiking companions enjoying raucous horizontal laughter.
Past the open section along the ridge face, the trail returns into forest. Warming temperature is melting snow on branches above and the resulting 'rain' is sparkling in the sun. The imagery is spectacular and the aroma of warming and damp forest adds to the experience. At the steps, the retreat on the original approach trail begins. Along the way there are indelibly memorable views of flood alteration along the Elbow River.
The final hike through the new access trail is enhanced by the melting snow creating sun-sparkled rain in adjacent forest.
Fullerton Loop is a simple hike. There are great memorable recollections of past hikes with many companions.
Photographs for this hike at Fullerton Loop in Kananaskis Country Elbow Valley, across from Allen Bill where June 2013 flood damage was extensive, were taken on November 2, 2014.