The cairn at the 3rd Memorial Lake honors lives given in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.
The Memorial Lakes hike has been substantially modified by the June 2013 flood event.
This hike is dedicated specifically to Lorelee and Melanie, and generally, to every family member, or friend, or acquaintance of every name on the monument, and to every participant in the Kananaskis Country search and rescue operation during June of 1986.
For new visitors to this heroic and tragic story, you will benefit from reading a previous Memorial Lakes post at Memorial Lakes – Kananaskis Country – Hiking Alberta which will make this post more meaningful.
This is the third attempt to complete this hike. The hike is difficult and the risk profile is too high to responsibly attempt solo. A close friend and long-time hiking partner has agreed to share this mission and the best time has been chosen for good weather combined with long daylight hours. The objective receives absolute commitment and resolve to photograph the Memorial Lakes Cairn near the shoreline of the third and uppermost Memorial Lake on a departure the Ribbon Creek trail-head in Kananaskis Country near Nakiska at 9:30 AM.
The Ribbon Creek trail is flat, wide and easy to navigate. For the first kilometer it tracks cascading, clear-water Ribbon Creek.
There are bridge crossings back and forth over Ribbon Creek on what was originally an old logging road.
Following a 3.4 KM (2⅛ mile) hike on good road, the narrow trail along North Ribbon Creek is marked by a roadside cairn branching right.
The trail is rustic, littered with roots and rock outcroppings. Occasional level sections are punctuated by a series of steep climbs. Trail conditions are diverse and variable.
There are several very beautiful stream crossings past a mecca of running water.
At the prolonged and steep ascent trail, time is taken to photograph the cascading tiers in challenging light along the maze of trails at the cliff edges before returning to the main trail.
The waterfalls originate from the outlet of tiny Memorial Lake # 1. Tight quarters make photography challenging but time is taken to relax and enjoy food and fluid.
The hike proceeds on wet trail through dense undergrowth to the other end of Memorial Lake # 1 for arrival at a T-junction at the base of pyramidal Bogart Tower. The turn right leads to and begins the climb up and around the base of Bogart Tower to pass Memorial Lake # 2 (The Emerald) and achieve Memorial Lake # 3.
Route finding is challenging on a variety of braided human and/or game trails providing many alternatives. The best views of Memorial Lake # 1 are achieved on the climb above it. Following a good climb, arrival at the stunningly beautiful Memorial Lake # 2 is achieved. The sub-alpine, emerald gem is justifiably known as ‘The Emerald’.
Arrival at Memorial Lake #2 provides a stunning and breathtaking view of emerald water, with a tiny island and a peninsula with trees, in a bowl surrounded by the sheer rock cliffs of majestic mountains.
As difficult as it is to leave this beautiful place, the hike proceeds on and through talus and scree. Again the best views of Memorial Lakes # 2 are achieved as the hike above it proceeds on the route towards the scramble zone at the far side of Bogart Tower.
The easy scramble to the next hiking level is intimidating. It is always easier and safer to scramble up a route than it is to scramble down the same route. Three potential routes are analyzed and the best is chosen. The route up is fairly straightforward.
Rock helmets are a good idea. Vision is hampered by sun sitting directly on the horizon at the mountain peaks above.
The first safe opportunity to take pictures occurs at arrival in the gorgeous meadow above us. The short scramble takes less than 15 minutes.
Hiking through the meadow leads to the top of the scree slope ahead. On the left is a forested area and above is another scree ridge beneath the summit of 3,144 m (10,315 ft) Mount Bogart.
The lake is to the left through the forest. One heads left through the forest and the other ascends further to the top of the scree slope for potentially better photographs.
The higher position provides outstanding views of Memorial Lake # 3 below. The Memorial Cairn is a dot on a scree rise above the far shore of the lake. The objective is clearly in view and it is a good moment.
Ken proceeds towards the monument as I work my way down the scree slope to follow behind in a counterclockwise direction along the dark talus shoreline of the lake which is about 1.5 m (5 feet) below completely full.
Final approach up the scree slope to the Memorial Cairn.
The Memorial Cairn lies majestically in honor of those who heroically gave their lives in June of 1986. These lakes were named, and this monument was erected for them, in September of 1986.
The Memorial Cairn is perched on a scree rise over Memorial Lake # 3 near the edge of a steep cliff face looking directly down on Memorial Lake # 1. The surroundings are nothing short of spectacular. The sun is warm. The air is calm. It is a beautiful and peaceful place.
Mount Allan is the rusty colored summit in the background of the picture above. Centennial Ridge leads up to it and there is evidence of the Rock Garden along the ridge. The time arrives to begin the return hike and a summit stone is placed beneath the base of the Memorial Cairn. The counterclockwise route around the shore of Memorial Lake # 3 is taken as the sun begins to dip below the summit of Mount Bogart.
It is always easier to find a down route than it is to find an up-route on steep terrain. At the top of the scramble, there is an outstanding view of Memorial Lake # 2, now in shadow. The trails in the meadow lead to a better route down than the one used for ascent. Like the scramble up, it is an easy scramble with brief moments requiring full attention as the scramble descends the steep slope to safe ground.
The route through scree and talus proceeds past Memorial Lake # 2 on a higher and better route to the steep descent past the waterfall and multiple stream crossings until the return to Memorial Lake # 1. Following a few minutes of rest and relaxation for weary legs, the hike proceeds slowly and carefully down the rustic trail along North Ribbon Creek. Light is lower now and photographs of beautiful tributary streams are difficult to capture.
From the shore of Memorial Lake # 1, the view of the ridge between Ribbon Peak and Bogart Tower has become more meaningful. Memorial Lake # 3 is on the other side of that ridge but the Memorial Cairn is not visible from this specific position.
There are tricky sections of trail which require extra caution on very tired legs as the descent proceeds to the Ribbon Creek trail and the welcome 3.4 KM (2⅛ mile) flat walk along good road back to the trail-head. On the approach at the end of the hike, light is dwindling rapidly and the setting sun creeps its way up surrounding mountains.
Spirits are raised by a setting sun channeled through valley openings to illuminate one mountain directly in the field of vision on arrival back at the Ribbon Creek parking area near 8:30 PM.
There are a couple of cars remaining in the parking area. All day there has been no sight of any other person so the Memorial Lakes belonged to us on this special and privileged day.
Those who have spent a lot of time with nature, specifically on water or mountains, will relate closely to the power of the experience. If you have made it this far, congratulations! I admire your tenacity. You may have what it takes to hike Memorial Lakes.
There is a powerful story here about a significant event in the history of Kananaskis Country. The memorial cairn is a fine tribute, situated at an incredibly beautiful place among pristine, alpine lakes named specifically to honor lives lost. There were thirteen lives lost nearby in June of 1986. These heroic and tragic events deeply affected the lives of families, friends and acquaintances.
Additionally, there are hundreds of other people who participated in the search and rescue operations. In total, there are thousands of people who were affected and undoubtedly there is some significant percentage who would like to pay their respect. They may not be able to do so.
The Memorial Cairn is very difficult to access and only possible for a short time each year. It seems the memorial has been, certainly unintentionally, only partially completed. The following recommendations are offered.
First, leave the current Memorial Cairn at Memorial Lake # 3 exactly as it is. Trail marking, signage and ongoing maintenance is required to provide safe access and risk reduction for those who are able to hike into this historic location.
Second, create two new, identical cairns. Place one at, or near, the Ribbon Creek parking area. Place the other at an easily accessible location near the base of Cox Hill. Accompany each of them with interpretive plaques, outlining the story. Certainly a lot was learned from this tragic series of events, albeit at unreasonable expense. To remember is a point of respect and a measure of preventing reoccurrence.
When you have a moment, please read the inspiring story of the family hike to honor Ken Wolff. The title is: Memorial Lakes Monument Epilogue – Kananaskis Country – Hiking Alberta