Heart Mountain is west of Calgary near Lac des Arcs in Alberta, Canada.
Heart Mountain is west of Calgary, Alberta, across the TransCanada Highway from Lac des Arcs and Grotto Mountain. The 2,149 m (6,020 ft) mountain is easily distinguishable by its heart-shaped summit, on the south side of the highway.
The short drive to the signed parking area travels west through the foothills from Calgary into the front range of the Rocky Mountains.
The day is overcast and the heart-shaped summit of Heart Mountain is cloud enshrouded when entering the virtually empty parking area across from Lac des Arcs.
The hike begins with a marginal start and hopes the sun will burn off the cloud and lift the ceilings to create an excellent hiking day.
The hike makes a short traverse east along the mountain base from the trail-head, crosses Heart Creek on the wooden bridge and soon arrives at the signed trail-head for the summit hike and scramble.
A less aggressive alternative is the hike of the valley bottom, crisscrossing Heart Creek on a short 5 KM (3 mile) return, interpretive trail to the idyllic lunch area at the base of a waterfall hidden by a sharp turn in the canyon walls.
Along the valley floor, between steep cliffs, there are bolted and anchored walls for summer rock climbing and a bit further along there are two excellent ice seeps which are fairly easily top roped for ice climbing in the winter.
The sustained climb up Heart Mountain is on rocky trail overlooking the valley between Heart Mountain and massive Mount McGillivray to the west.
As the challenging ascent proceeds, the weather worsens and mist morphs from drizzle to light rain, then to bouts of corn snow in mercifully near-still air.
Although hiking conditions could justifiably be called less than ideal, the ethereal experience is enhanced by the mist drifting through the valley and dancing slowly up and down the mountain sides.
The cool temperature is a good balance for effort expended and umbrellas provide nearly complete protection from moisture.
About two-thirds of the way up the 2,560 ft (930 m) of net gain in elevation, the Crux interrupts the hiking trail. For many people who choose to venture into the mountains, the Crux is their first simple scramble experience when adding new skill set to hiking.
The Crux is a short, vertical scramble of about 15 ft (4 m) but good hand and footholds require extra caution today over wet rock. Very good trails leading both directions from the bottom of the Crux, have been created by hikers seeking an alternative from the intimidating short scramble but they lead nowhere worthwhile.
From the top of the scramble there is a steep trail option around a long, rocky crevice. The choice is to scramble the crevice. The rocky route is easy, faster, and just too much fun to avoid. Very soon after, the hike achieves altitude and arrives at the first summit cairn. The mountain's high point is 2,042 m (6,700 ft).
Heart Mountain has two recognized summits but there are cairns on top of each rise so it remains uncertain which of the six are the official two.
Popular opinion suggests they are the nearest and the farthest on the counterclockwise route. Those carrying altimeters can make the determination.
One of the great features on this hike is the ridge walk along the top of the mountain. Narrow trail, with steep drops on either side, commands attention and the discipline of walk, stop, look around is wisely employed.
Hiking and gawking around at the same time is not recommended. On this day, the height of drops is visually countered by mist-filled valleys as the hike proceeds in cloud along the top of the mountain.
The drop around and down the other side of the mountain continues to migrate past awesome views from rocky scree slopes before entering dense forest. Careful footsteps are occasionally required over wet terrain.
Forest aroma is overwhelming and fresh. Wild flowers are garnished with water droplets which enhance their delicate beauty.
There are a couple of brief, steep spots where muddy trail is so slippery that a firm grip on adjacent trees is required. The veggie belay.
From the base of the mountain, a left turn onto the flat, good quality, Quaite Creek trail passes a pristine swamp with mirror surface water on the hike back to the parking area.
The 11 KM (7 mile) loop has been a unique experience in what some would call less than ideal weather conditions but the day's images and memories of a first scramble and first mountain summit are special.
To call off the day would, in hindsight, have been a mistake and the hiking milestone day is completed with photos of Heart Mountain from Heart Creek.