Memorial Lakes Flood 1 - Kananaskis - Hiking Alberta

 

The Memorial Lakes trail along North Ribbon Creek is heavily impacted by June, 2013 flooding in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.

 

Memorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Memorial Lake # 3 rests above between Ribbon Peak and Bogart Tower

 

From the Ribbon Creek parking area at the base of Nakiska in Kananaskis Country, this hike begins in early morning with a crossing of Ribbon Creek to hike the Terrace and Kovach Link trails to the revised, post-flood restored Ribbon Creek trail.  This diversion adds about a kilometer (0.7 of a mile) to the revised Ribbon Creek trail-head while current restoration of the original trail is underway.

The reconstruction of the Kovach Link trail bridge, at the other end, is nearly completed and new log benches strategically placed around the area allow reflection and examination of the extensive damage done by June 2013 floods along Ribbon Creek.  Good trail past the ogre stump provides swift progress through forest and across two reconstructed bridges, to the cairn at the junction with the undocumented, unofficial and unsigned North Ribbon Creek trail.

 

Memorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Junction of the North Ribbon Creek trail with the Ribbon Creek trail

 

The rustic, but clearly-defined, North Ribbon Creek trail triangulates through forest to intersect with and follow the east bank of the North Ribbon Creek trail before beginning a steep, rugged climb on narrow, heavily rooted trail.  The trail levels and continues through forest above North Ribbon Creek.

Prior to the June 2013 flood there were three unique features along the North Ribbon Creek trail between the elevated position above the creek and the waterfall leading up to the first Memorial Lake.  They were:

  • a narrow sketchy path across a short landslide area
  • side creek one and
  • side creek two 

Approaching the previous landslide area reveals two new sketchy trail areas which appear to have the potential to create new trail interruptions.  Arrival at the original landslide area reveals substantial deterioration from the previous hike here on October 19, 2014.  Bedrock supporting the bottom of the landslide zone has collapsed into the creek reducing support for the steep slope above.  Further erosion deterioration of this steep landslide zone is likely.  Sensible care is justified.

Trail past the landslide gains elevation above North Ribbon Creek.  As flood-related erosion of the creek bank continues, trail quality and safety deteriorate.  There are trail sections which have no support beneath them.  Three-hundred year old trees have tumbled into the creek below while edge erosion continues as a consequence of the June 2013 major flood event.  Sections of trail which have completely collapsed into the creek valley have rustic detours established by previous hikers and rock climbers. 

Caution is sensible and expedient.  Close attention is being paid to where footsteps are landing.  This ongoing creek and river bank erosion has been underway since the June 2013 flood event and will likely continue for many years until banks reach a point where they can stabilize.

The second milestone, composed of small side creek number one, seems to have disappeared, at least temporarily.

 

Memorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Some appreciable distance later the hike arrives at side creek number two. Floodwater has expanded this tributary from a quiet, serene, picturesque, moss-bordered flow of water to a blown-out, debris-littered path of destruction.  Possibly the two previous side creeks have combined at source into one major tributary. 

The flood damage has a unique beauty and commands a fair amount of respect for the power required to make these changes.  Huge trees have been uprooted and shattered into piles of debris as the water has moved rocks weighing several tons like they were marbles. In the detail there is great beauty as rocks buried for many centuries are exposed and highlighted by moss canopies suspended in mid-air.

 

Memorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Memorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Trail continues through forest until a small diversion left delivers us to the base of the mesmerizing and spectacular cascading waterfall complex beneath the first Memorial Lake.  Most of the waterfall is hidden but scrambling up over rock ledges, and on adjacent braided trail close to the abyss, will reveal some of the waterfall's powerful beauty.

 

Memorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Above photograph captured by Justin of Howse-Photo

Memorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

The gut-crunching climb from the base to the top of the waterfall on sketchy, challenging trail is mercifully followed by a reasonable stretch of cool, delightful hiking through varied forest complemented by borders of diverse undergrowth.  This welcome stretch of civilized trail leads to a creek crossing which did not previously exist.  The original trail continues a short distance further until termination is secured by a tangle of flood debris.  On the other side of the creek, a  short forest walk leads to a completely surprising and totally unexpected view of the lowest elevation, Memorial Lake # One.

The lake is half empty.  There is negligible water flowing into the lake.  Massive boulders which are visible along the shoreline were previously underwater.  Streams from out-of-sight Memorial Lake # 2 and Memorial Lake # 3 above have been redirected by new flood-created water channels.  This development is completely unexpected. 

The waterfalls from Memorial Lake # 3, which is above and magnificently bordered by Bogart Tower and Ribbon Peak, continue to flow down the cliffs but are no longer feeding the lowest Memorial Lake # 1.

Massive Mount Bogart consumes the background with Mount Allan and Mount Lougheed in the distance.  These unexpected developments, caused by massive flood damage along the route, have consumed a lot of time in photo documentation so there will be insufficient time to continue hiking forward. 

 

Memorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Above photograph captured by Justin of Howse-Photo

Memorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Memorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Above photograph captured by Justin of Howse-Photo

Memorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Timed photo by Justin of Howse-Photo on the shoreline of Memorial Lake # 1

 

The return hike is interrupted by time taken to photograph the massive damage along milestone Side Creek # 2.  It is difficult to fathom the power required to wreak this magnitude of destruction.

 

Memorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Careful searching on return reveals the location of milestone Side Creek # 1.  There is less than a trickle of water running and what little remains of the creek bed is largely overgrown with moss and new plants.  Within a few years the location will be completely absorbed and indeterminate.

The reverse view of massive flood damage along Memorial Lakes trail above North Ribbon Creek is no less impressive on the return hike.

 

Memorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Bearberry plants are abundant at trail side.  The bright red berries are poisonous.  Their bitter taste reduces the odds of ingesting dangerous quantities but kids will eat anything so best to be aware.  Bearberry leaves have been used for centuries as medicine and the plant is still used by indigenous people and many foreign cultures.

  

Memorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Back at the landslide, a decision is made to drop off the edge from a low spot in the trail to hike along the rocky shore of North Ribbon Creek.  The supposition is this diversion may be potentially less risky and an easier transition across the fragile feature.  Wrong. 

The hike at creek level provides an excellent view of collapsed bedrock but walking further along the creek to avoid climbing back up to the trail is a miserable failure.  The only option is a hair-raising scramble on challenging and collapsing, slippery and sandy terrain to return to the trail above. 

 

Memorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

The remainder of the hike from Crown Land into Kananaskis Country is welcome relief via the same route taken in.  The North Ribbon Creek trail turns left at the junction onto the Ribbon Creek trail and the new bridge is used to access Kovach Link and the Terrace trail back to the Ribbon Creek parking area.

 

Memorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

When we left the Ribbon Creek parking area in early morning, a work crew was marching into what little remains of the beginning of Ribbon Creek trail.  The objective is restoration of the first kilometer of the trail to restore something similar to the original route.  This will provide a more expeditious alternative than today's current requirement to access via the Terrace and Kovach Link route.

Crossing the wooden plank bridge over Ribbon Creek from the Terrace Trail, the sun is getting low in the sky.  Work crews have gone home.  Following photographs show evidence of new bridges that have been choppered in to cross the creek and create a more direct path from the Ribbon Creek parking area.

In late fall, the Ribbon Creek trail was reopened from the parking area.  Kudos to Alberta Parks, and Kananaskis Country Trail Crews in combination with massive volunteer efforts from The Friends of Kananaskis and others.  Only those who have seen the massive destruction created by the June 2013 flood event can fully appreciate the gargantuan effort and expense of re-establishing these historic trails for recreational use. 

  

Memorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaMemorial Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Hundreds of photographs are taken on this full day mission.  The collective weakness for photographing awesome beauty and flood devastation prevented us from reaching the Memorial Cairn at Memorial Lake # 3 this day.  The plan is to return in late summer or early fall of 2016 when cameras will be set aside on a disciplined mission to reach the objective and capture images of the rugged route between Memorial Lake # 1 and Memorial Lake # 3.  

For those interested in further information, previous posts for Memorial Lakes can be accessed on these links.

 

 

Photographs for this hike to observe and record flood damage along the route to Memorial Lake # 1 were captured on August 12, 2015 along North Ribbon Creek and Ribbon Creek in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

Staggering damage. The amount of rain and the force of the water is mind boggling.

Yes, Helen, the force of the water is humbling and the creek bank erosion will continue for many years.  We plan to return in 2016 to survey and document damage between Memorial Lake # 1 and Memorial Lake # 3.  It will also provide the opportunity to evaluate the change on the route to Memorial Lake # 1.  The reconnection of Ribbon Creek parking at the beginning of Ribbon Creek trail will reduce time and effort a little.  Thank you for your comment, Helen.

Hi Barry, wondering if you've been able to make it back out here and if you have any updates on this trail? Thanks

No, Jim.  Early September will be the earliest possible this year due to other commitments.  And that may be too late for weather.  Unknown.  When I get back in there, photos will be posted soon after.  Check generally if others have been in and made comments.

Barry, it makes me so happy you are continuing to check on the trail and do what you can to have it restored. I would love to do it again to see how the flood had altered it once it is safe. I'll keep checking to see how your attempt in the fall goes!

Thanks for your comment, Clare.  On the down side, the two trips so far into Lake 1 have been reasonably challenging due to significant flood damage.  The damage continues with edge erosion along North Ribbon Creek.  On the other side of the equation, I have heard unofficially the trail is scheduled for work in 2016.  The trail boss for Kananaskis is a magician and beyond capable so, if this is true, there may be some activity to report in the near term.  The RCAF published a story on their website about the 30th anniversary of the tragic events.  The link is http://www.rcaf-arc.forces.gc.ca/en/article-template-standard.page?doc=thirty-years-ago-this-month-remembering-rescue-807-crash-victims/iqdipgl3 or a Google search on 'RCAF Memorial Lakes' will find this excellent article on the first search page.

We are scheduled to attempt Lake 3 this fall but the timeline is still uncertain and it may not happen this year.  Also I am not getting any younger here and am not completely certain I can get it done.  The trip is planned with one of my colleagues, Justin Howse, who is a hiking guide, and I am absolutely certain he can get there.  When we get meaningful photographic evidence of current conditions, they will be published ASAP ahead of whatever else may be in the queue.

Thanks for staying in touch.  Unexpected medical events over the past two years have reduced my contribution but others are aware and continuing with the initiative.  All the best to you and your adventuresome family.  I am still lobbying for duplicate Memorial Cairns to be placed in an accessible location near Ribbon Creek parking and on or near Cox Hill.  There are too many associated people who will not and cannot get to the third Memorial Lake.  The tragic events deserve to be honored and carried forward.  The RCAF visibility will be very helpful.

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