Pigeon Mountain soars above Lac des Arcs in the Bow Valley west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Pic des Pigeon was named for its profile by the 1858 Palliser Expedition. For those unfamiliar with the area, the mountain is easily accessible from the TransCanada Highway.
Driving west, on the south side, the TransCanada Highway passes McConnell Ridge, Heart Mountain, and massive Mount McGillivray before the familiar mountain-top profile of Pigeon Mountain soars above Lac des Arcs across the road from Grotto Mountain to the north.
By all standards Pigeon Mountain is small, topping out at just 2,394 m (7,854 ft). Reaching the summit is achieved on 8 KM (5 miles) of good trail gaining 990 m (3,250 ft) of elevation. To stop the car safely at the side of the highway adjacent to Lac des Arcs, in exactly the right place, to gaze at the east face, the profile explains why the mountain was appropriately named.
If the profile is not immediately obvious, take a picture and gaze at it later. When the likeness reveals itself, it may lead to an ‘ah-ha’ moment and cause a smile.
An early start begins the quick drive west towards hazy mountains to the exit at the hamlet of Deadman's Flats, then briefly south to the trail-head opposite the direction of Banff Gate Mountain Resort.
Many years ago the mountain was the site of a ski resort which closed initially in 1968 before being given a temporary reprieve in 1979 until closing permanently in 1981.
The Skogan Pass trail-head, where the hike begins, has a rich history. First documented evidence of the trail shows up on George Dawson's map of 1886 as an old Indian trail.
Skies are clear and the day warms up quickly. The hike proceeds under or alongside overhead power lines for 5.3 KM (3.3 miles) along the Skogan Pass Trail. Then, two reasonably obvious left turns loop around and lead up the mountain and out of the tree-line onto the prominent, triangular-shaped grass spur below the ridge. The alpine meadow is abundant with fragrant and colorful flowers.
There are two summits. The further true summit of Pigeon Mountain is the target. The sustained ascent is an easy and spectacularly beautiful uphill hike in brilliant sun to the top. A slight breeze above the tree-line combined with the warming effect of physical exertion moderates the cooler air temperature .
Lunch and basking in the sun consumes the next two hours. This day there is no-one else near the summit of Pigeon Mountain and the entire hiking route to the top is visible beneath.
The ascent route seems to be a long, round-about trail and the thought occurs that perhaps the distance can be reduced to half by off-trailing straight down the mountain to where the car is parked.
The theory is, if one of the old ski runs can be intercepted the terrain will be easier to navigate. A decision is made to attempt the direct off-trail route. Big mistake.
The descent of the talus slope is relatively straightforward. Surrounding mountains can be periodically be used as reference points for direction down the mountain after entering the tree-line. Unfortunately, the old ski runs elude the chosen path.
Indian Paintbrush near the summit of Pigeon Mountain
For three and a half hours the battle down the mountain continues on very steep slopes through dense forest with virtually impenetrable undergrowth.
In spite of route finding difficulties, bushwhacking through and around gullies, canyons, cliffs and impossible forest, the descent concludes about 500 m (0.3 miles) east of the objective at a small picturesque pond.
The descent has gone well with the exception of being bitten, bleeding, bruised and mildly hypothermic after running out of water an hour before. All is good except for the hypothermia which requires immediate attention.
A quick dash to Dead Man's Flats nets a bottle of apple juice, a bottle of grapefruit juice, 2 liters of Evian water and a large bottle of Powerade which are all voraciously consumed on the drive back to Calgary for an emergency soak in a hot tub.
Another sensational and energetic day in the mountains!