The top of King Creek Ridge provides outstanding views of the Opal Range.
The King Creek Ridge hike is relatively short at 3 KMs (1⅞ miles) but the first kilometer gains 2,200 ft (671 m) of gut-crunching, heart-pounding, relentless elevation.
The late-start drive west on the TransCanada Highway from Calgary is under sun but heavy weather is stalled over the Canadian Rockies west of Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.
The front is forecast to move slowly east toward King Creek Ridge in the afternoon. Hike completion prior to the arrival of heavy weather will be a bonus. Steep descents on wet trail can be challenging and potentially more dangerous.
Barrier Lake water levels are unusually low. On the drive south along Kananaskis Trail there is a stop for photographs in early morning sun. The south end of Barrier Lake is empty later in the season than recollection recalls.
The King Creek Ridge trail-head is at the junction of Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40) and the turnoff to Kananaskis Lakes Road and the Smith-Dorrien Trail (Road 742). Heading south, a left turn leads to the King Creek parking area from the same intersection.
The trail gains nearly 2,200 vertical ft (671 m) in the first kilometer. There are few switchbacks. The trail ascends aggressively on difficult terrain of roots, gravel and scree through dense forest. The primitive trail is progressively compromised by a labyrinth of many intersecting game trails.
Route finding is an issue. Often the game trails are as good as the hiking trail and occasionally they are better. There are many mountain sheep in this area. Losing the route is easy and backtracking frequent.
Achieving the ridge begins the traverse as temperature and ceilings are dropping. A breeze has developed. The views of the saw tooth Opal Range on the other side of Kananaskis Trail are spectacular.
The steep descent on treacherous, unstable trail is challenging but route finding is improved. It is always easier to find trail when hiking descent rather than when ascending.
The King Creek Ridge hike is a full body workout and hiking poles are an essential aid for stability and balance. Upper body is working hard on hiking poles to remain upright with feet on the ground. There is plenty of time after arriving back at the trail-head to do a bit of touring on the way home.
A quick foray along King Creek is short-lived. All the bridges into King Creek Canyon were wiped out in the 2005. 2008 and 2013 floods and there is more water running in King Creek than will be negotiated this day.
On the return drive north there is time to stop in for a short hike around Wedge Pond. The sky is heavily overcast now. Wedge Pond is a popular, stocked, fishing pond and picnic area. Catch and release.
The reason there are no mountain sheep spotted on the King Creek Ridge hike is because they all appear to be down here licking winter salt off the road.
Further north on the Kananaskis Trail, a quick stop into the Barrier Lake boat ramp reveals the low end of the ramp is 30 feet above the water level and at least a hundred yards from the shoreline.
This very late spring is the reason but warmer weather and rain will encourage snow melt at higher elevations to refill the lake soon. Vibrant, multi-hued spring foliage creates a colorful foreground to the dramatic contrast of surrounding mountains.
Looking up at the cloud-enshrouded summit of The Fortress from the shore of Wedge Pond recalls fond memories of adventures past over several decades.