Old Goat Glacier is a cool spot high above Spray Lake west of Three Sisters along the Smith - Dorrien Trail south of Canmore, Alberta, Canada.
Past the Canmore Nordic Centre the steep uphill passes through Whitemans Gap wedged between Ha Ling Peak and EEOR, and the gravel road continues past Goat Pond to an easy-to-miss, right turn across Three Sisters Dam.
There is a parking area at the west end of the dam but the gate to Spray Lakes West Campground is open which allows a left turn for the drive south about 1.5 KM (1 mile) to the second parking area, near the water pump, for more convenient trail-head parking.
The trail leaves the southwest corner of the parking area and proceeds uphill over a ridge before descent to the relatively flat trail along moss-bordered Old Goat Creek. Recent rain has made the forest aroma rich and, combined with the adjacent babbling brook, makes the hiking experience over root-laden trail virtually transcendental.
Lingering and dramatic effects of June 2013 flooding are evident everywhere in Kananaskis Country and the trail along Old Goat Creek to Old Goat Glacier is no exception. Weakened and undercut creek banks continue to collapse causing adjacent trees to fall. Compromised moss canopies are lush, moist and brilliant green.
Following a mesmerizing stretch through lush green forest on trail softened by layers of pine needles, the hike begins to encounter short sections of easy-to-traverse rock slide. Trail adjacent to the winding, reflective creek, hosts hypnotic cascading water before the trail swings right past, and into, the forest area severely damaged and altered by June 2013 flooding. Since the previous visit, trail crews have been busy reconnecting and improving sections of trail.
The fascinating transition leads through difficult-to-fathom destruction. Rerouting of the watercourse from its original path has deposited tons of rock in the forest making it difficult to imagine the natural power required to create the extensive damage.
Following a short and moderate uphill hike, the trail pops out of forest onto a rocky ridge with an excellent view of the cascading waterfall emanating from the near end of the valley which contains Old Goat Glacier. The north end of Old Goat Mountain is soaring above within this excellent visible and audible experience which will be substantially less spectacular later in the season when water flow subsides.
To the left, the route over the mound of displaced rock rubble is marked by a series of small cairns and a fluttering beacon of flagging tape. A light drizzle compromises the clarity of the view and creates the need for rain gear.
Small, unnamed peaks on the left contain a series of solution caves as navigation of a brief forest section at the bottom of the ridge precedes beginning the relentless ascent on challenging rocky trail past massive boulders. The steep trail is short and ugly with brief sections of slippery rock over slab. Appropriate footwear is important. Staying on trail is also important. The stabilizing assistance of hiking poles is a benefit.
Following the merciful end to the rugged ascent section, views across the lateral moraine into the glaciers ancient path are motivating. Sketchy trail through a dip from the apron allows the short climb up onto the lateral moraine. There is an option to continue further along the trail for a slightly more graceful transition to the top of the lateral moraine but, quite frankly, it is far more visually stunning to get onto the lateral moraine sooner. Previous hikers have established reasonable routes for transition.
The view from the lateral moraine is awesome. There is potential danger. Landslides along the moraine have compromised original path along the top. Allowing reasonable allowance from the edge is axiomatically sensible and it is important to be aware of exactly where feet are landing. Walking and gawking should be separate and independent functions. Walk, stop, look around. Repeat! Feel the joy of the grandeur. Curious picas are scurrying about in the rock rubble.
On the right, Old Goat Mountain soars above on the far side of the valley. The ridge of Old Goat Mountain is the dividing line between Kananaskis Country and Banff National Park. Old Goat Mountain peaks out at 3,109 m (10,195 ft) directly above Old Goat Glacier.
On the left, the original scale of the glacier can be imagined by the scrubbed, smooth surface of the rock walls rising high above. Thousands of years ago, this entire valley was filled with ice. The crushed rock littering the bottom of the valley, and the moraines lie testament to the power of the ice flowing and regressing over many centuries.
On the approach to the glacier, ground hugging plant life becomes more prolific. Beautiful plants, growing in impossible terrain, are incredibly robust. A viewpoint near the toe of the glacier provides the perfect place to sit for lunch on a warm day with a refreshing cool breeze from the glacier. This is a magical place.
Following a casual lunch in astounding terrain, the intent to hike further along the moraine for views directly over Old Goat Glacier is interrupted by ceilings darkening and dropping to the point where cloud begins drifting into the valley. It is common for cloud, in close proximity to ice, to sock in a glacial valley fairly rapidly.
The better part of common sense justifies a reluctant retreat. The view down the valley from the glacier is magnificent. The link from the lateral moraine to the trail is achieved at the first convenient location.
Views to mountains on the far side of Spray Lake Reservoir are misty but stunning. The descent on sketchy trail requires caution. Compromising surface complexity is making Jen's unimposing presence comforting. Marmots watch us from the top of huge boulders as views of meadows and forest beneath are encouraging and the trail section through lush forest adjacent to Old Goat Creek beckons.
It is reassuring to see the long, cascading waterfall emanating from the glacial valley. At the bottom, the short ascent to top the rock ridge allows investigation of the damage wrought by June, 2013 flooding. The original landscape at the bottom of the waterfall is seriously and permanently altered.
One of the cairns is a work of art. The near Inukshuk is an artistic piece employing balance, moss features and a wide variety of stones differing in weight, color and shape. Very impressive and fully worthy of being immortalized as a digital image.
The hike back through the forest section is no less enjoyable than the approach. Gentle descent through the flood-damaged section is swift and frequent stops occur at some of the most spectacular features to listen to the water and to enjoy the powerful wilderness aroma within incredible scenery.
The final mission for the day is to discover if the trail continues along Old Goat Creek to West Side Road which would negate the need to hike over the forested ridge to the parking area.
OldGoat Creek exhibits escalating flood damage on the approach to West Side Road and Spray Lake Reservoir. Moss canopies are significantly undercut and many trees are down or on their way to collapse. The trail is good all the way to the road with a couple of edgy sections where trail support is tenuous and foot placement requires caution to avoid possibly punching through the trail surface into water.
The original trail-head is blocked off. The new parking area at the water pump is a better solution, however climbing over the hill can be eliminated by walking along the road to or from the original trail-head. There may be convenient walking sticks available which have been kindly left by previous hikers.
A short walk along West Side Road leads past washrooms to the trail-head parking area. The short diversion to the edge of Spray Lake Reservoir backed by Three Sisters and Rimwall reveals very low water levels in the Spray Lake Reservoir making it possible to walk to the center of the reservoir on dry land. Very unusual, at the end of June, 2015.
Dinner at the Rose and Crown in Canmore has been earned. This hiking day was excellent and the drive home to Calgary is predominantly under sun towards rainbows north of the city.
As referenced in the Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, 4th Edition, Volume 3, the round trip hiking distance for Old Goat Glacier from parking to the viewpoint is 9.5 KM (5⅞ miles). Elevation gain is 701 m (2,300 ft) to a maximum elevation of 2,408 m (7,900 ft). Note: Net and gross elevation are nearly the same. Most of the elevation gain is in the short distance gut-cruncher between the waterfall and access to the lateral moraine.