Memorial Lakes – Kananaskis Country – Hiking Alberta


Memorial Lakes are accessed by a challenging hike along North Ribbon Creek in Kananaskis Country.



Interest in this hike is inspired while enjoying lunch at the summit of Mount Allan and marveling at the mountain view south and down into Ribbon Valley.

The small cluster of three lakes (only two are visible from Mount Allan) around the base of the north-west side of Ribbon Peak are beautiful, particularly the second lake called 'the Emerald'.  

While researching this potential hike, an amazing and tragic story unfolds along with the explanation for the reason these pristine, alpine lakes are named 'Memorial Lakes'.


Memorial Lakes – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Sunrise on Kananaskis Trail, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada


On June 6, 1986, a young and well-respected, Calgary-based, wildlife biologist named Orval Pall and pilot, Ken Wolff, tragically die instantly in a plane crash near Guinn's Pass in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada. 

Within hours, the largest man-hunt in Kananaskis Country, Alberta history begins as volunteer searchers start combing the massive Kananaskis Valley.  Weather is terrible.

Three searchers in a small Cessna heroically and tragically perish when their search aircraft crashes into the north-east face of Mount Lougheed.  Their names are Bruce Pratt, Rod Harradence and Hayden Evans.


Memorial Lakes – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Mount Kidd from the bridge over Kananaskis River near Nakiska and Ribbon Creek


In the immediately following days, hundreds of volunteers including family, friends, Park Rangers, along with Provincial Government, RCMP, RCAF and Military personnel join the search which is hampered by poor weather, rugged terrain and an uncertain flight plan. 

On the eighth day of the search, June 14, 1986, five Civil Air Rescues Emergency Services members, named Patricia McLean, Carl Grant, Jerome Schindler, Charles Masur and David Hall, and three military personnel from Edmonton, Captain Donald Wayne Plumtree, Captain Edward M. Kates and Sergeant Brian Burkitt, heroically lose their lives when their Canadian Armed Forces twin-engine Otter crashes and starts a forest fire on Cox Hill.  Firefighters clear the way to the wreckage. 

The remains of Orval and Ken's plane is discovered on June 18, 1986 at the 2,134 m (7,000-foot) level of a steep, unnamed mountain face at the south end of Mount Kidd.  The location is just below Guinn's Pass. 

On September 28, 1986, the Alberta Government holds a dedication service to name three lakes in the Kananaskis Valley as the Memorial Lakes in honor of the people who sacrificed their lives in heroic endeavor.  A cairn with bronze plaques stands at the third and uppermost lake as a perpetual memorial.


Memorial Lakes – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada The trail head at Ribbon Creek, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada


The plaques list the names of the people who gave their lives in service and the final line from a sonnet called  'High Flight'.


High Flight


Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence.

Hov'ring there I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,

I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace

Where never lark, or even eagle flew -

And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand and touched the face of God.


It is obvious the 19 year-old, Spitfire fighter-pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee of No. 412 squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force could not have known, when he scribbled this sonnet on the back of a letter to his Mother two months before he sacrificed his life on December 11, 1941, during the Battle of Britain, that it would become an enduring inspiration to pilots around the world.

President Ronald Reagan recited this sonnet in his address to the Nation following the loss of the Challenger astronauts.


Memorial Lakes – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Trail side along Ribbon Creek


The Hike


Note: The characteristics of this hike have been substantially altered by June 2013 flooding.

The objective for this day's hike is to visit and photograph the three Memorial Lakes and the Memorial Cairn.  The sunrise is inspiring. 

The hike from the Ribbon Creek parking area begins early and the first 3.4 kilometer (2 mile) leg of the hike on the Ribbon Creek Trail is on old, frozen forestry road due west before a cairn marks the rustic trail north, then west along North Ribbon Creek for another 4.6 kilometers (3.0 miles) to the third Memorial Lake.


Memorial Lakes – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Tumbling water on the way in to Memorial Lakes in Kananaskis Country


Memorial Lakes – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Iced waterfalls on gaining elevation towards Memorial Lakes


Elevation gain is either gradual or steep and ground-cover snow is getting deeper on the ascent.  The creek is typical with cascading rapids and waterfalls.  After hiking some distance below the towering 915 m (3,000 ft.) sheer walls of Mount Bogart, and about 7 kilometers (4⅜ miles) into the hike, there is a magnificent multi-faceted, 200 meter (656 ft) waterfall surrounded by massive ice seeps and sculptures.


Memorial Lakes – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Surprised to discover the first Memorial Lake is iced over


Some photos are difficult to interpret because they are taken looking down from the edges of cliffs.  There is no opportunity to retreat far enough away to provide perspective.  The multi-faceted waterfall is an awesome spectacle and the roar of falling water is overwhelming.


Memorial Lakes – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Land end waterfall will prevent the scramble to the second Memorial Lake


Arrival at the first and lowest Memorial Lake reveals the lake is frozen over early in the season.  Hiking around to the end of the lake in 15+ cm (6 inches) of snow finds the route to the second lake called 'the Emerald'.  The day is warming up and creating large volumes of running water. 

The remaining two lakes above me are tantalizingly close.  The route is either wet or covered with ice and snow and far too dangerous to attempt solo.  It is much easier and less risky to scramble up than to scramble down.

Five unsuccessful attempts to find an alternate route over snow-covered ground are unsuccessful.  It is very disappointing but the Memorial Lakes hike will need to be achieved another day.


Memorial Lakes – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Looking up at Bogart Tower - so close, but not today


Memorial Lakes – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada The iced trail to 'the Emerald' which will not be attempted solo this day


Memorial Lakes – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada


Returning on the same trail, frozen ground has turned to mud.  Footing is tenuous on the steep descents.  Towards the end, the Terrace Trail returns to the Ribbon Creek parking area.

There are baby mountain sheep at roadside on the return drive to Calgary, Alberta, Canada.


Memorial Lakes – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Mountain sheep along Kananaskis Trail


Memorial Lakes – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Mountain sheep along Kananaskis Trail