Winter snowshoeing along the Lower Kananaskis Lake shoreline is an ethereal winter experience.
Heels are compromised from the Coal Creek Ice Climb on New Years Day. The off trail return hike, through very challenging terrain in ice climbing boots with crampons, chewed the heels up.
With everything taped up, a relatively flat, short snowshoe is within reasonable reach and mid morning of the following day, the drive west proceeds from Calgary to Lower Kananaskis Lake in Kananaskis Country.
There is time to stop for photos along the drive south on Kananaskis Trail on this gorgeous, sunny day. Each pause taken to appreciate and reflect brings back memories of past adventures.
The frozen , windswept surface of Barrier Lake in Kananaskis Country, with a view from the south end towards McConnell Ridge, brings back pleasant memories of hikes in the area including: Barrier Lake Lookout, The Colonel's Cabin and Jewell Falls.
Views from Kananaskis Trail to the Nakiska Ski Area, between Mount Lorette and Mount Kidd, prompt fond and powerful memories of hikes to Mount Allan, Troll Falls, Ribbon Falls and Guinn's Pass where tragedy led to the naming of Memorial Lakes.
The drive further south on Kananaskis Trail begins to show more signs of recent snowfall.
The view of The Fortress always brings back fond memories of August, 2002 when the summit was achieved with my son via the head wall approach south of Mount Chester.
The long day climb on the col between Mount Chester and The Fortress achieves the dramatic view from the sheer face at the summit, before returning past Elephant Rocks and Chester Lake to the trail-head at Smith-Dorrien on a long, arduous day.
The Canyon parking area off Kananaskis Lakes Road, just past the Peter Lougheed Visitor Centre, is the starting point for the Lower Lake Trail along the east shore of Lower Kananaskis Lake and the same parking area which serves the Penstock Loop Trail.
Recent snowfall has created ideal snowshoeing conditions under bright, sunny skies. The trail-head to the left of the kiosk heads directly into the forest on obvious trail.
Views through the forest, on mildly rolling trail above the surface of Lower Kananaskis Lake, provide wonderful views of mountains soaring above the far side.
Dropping out from the forest to the relatively parallel lake shore trail provides better, more open views.
This goes well prior to rounding the bend to head directly south into the sun. A howling wind, hurling drifting snow into the face, promotes retreat back into the forest for shelter.
The walk through snow laden trees filters the sun and tames the wind with periodic, outstanding views through openings in the forest. The lake shore route can be employed for return, with wind and sun at the back. The neck scarf will keep out the breeze.
Strong, gusting wind subsides somewhat on arrival at the Interpretive Trails below William Watson Lodge. This amazing lodge is well hidden in dense evergreen forest above Lower Kananaskis Lake.
William Watson Lodge is a very special place worthy of support. The snow-covered and snow-swept peninsula jutting into Lower Kananaskis Lake, points directly toward Mount Indefatigable looming large above the far side of the lake.
The wind is reduced for the return snowshoe along the lake shore. Sun over snow requires serious eye protection and surrounding mountain vistas are awe-inspiring.
Wind has sculptured the snow into artistic patters and the blue-ice, beveled lake shore edges are created by the surface ice following the reduction of water volumes below the lake's frozen surface.
There are a few people snowshoeing the Lower Lake Trail between the dam and William Watson Lodge but, on this weekday, the traffic could be described as sparse. It is easy to adjust pace for privacy, or for company, as preferred.
On the return snowshoe to the trail-head, the Opal Range mountains are shining from the direct sun and rapidly gain dimension on the approach to the parking area where this adventure began 7.0 KM (4⅜ miles) earlier.
The entire snowshoe excursion can be done in about 2 hours at an easy, average pace with time to pause for photographs or to enjoy the fresh air, sun and awesome scenery.
On the final approach, the snowshoe proceeds towards a half-moon hanging in the sky over mountains while the warmth of the sun is tempered with fresh air from a cool breeze. It does not get much better than this.
There are specks from a few people walking on the Lower Kananaskis Lake dam. At least some of them will have undoubtedly come to see the blue ice and snow enhanced ice sculptures on the old wooden penstock which is putting on it's best and last show this year prior to upgrading.
Note: The leaky penstock is gone now (2013).