Whale Lake is near Rocky Mountain YMCA camp in the Bow Valley west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Whale Lake is a tiny, ecologically sensitive oasis in northern Kananaskis Country.
On this relatively flat hike, originating from Rafter Six Ranch Resort, interesting ground features alter the original plan, and morph into the favorite mode of travel, wandering somewhat aimlessly and driven by seasoned senses, on or off trail.
From the field adjacent to the Rafter Six Ranch Resort church, an obvious trail into forest leads me quickly to the north border of Kananaskis Country. The little black dog buddy, after a few moments of indecision, turns about and heads home.
Within a short distance, trail emerges from forest onto a short descent into a large field. Crocuses are abundant in all the open, grassy areas. The trail continues to the left, but distant, mid-field, corral structures capture my attention and curiosity drives the direction.
Approaching the wooden structures, it becomes obvious this has been a site of a Sundance celebration in past years, a Ti-jurabi-chubi event with structures very similar to those in Sibbald Meadow.
The initial intent to return to plan is interrupted by features at the far end of the field so the hike continues west, off plan, towards snow-capped mountains.
Passing under hydro lines at the west end of the field, the view of a lake captures the attention. The lake appears to be more marsh than open water. Working the way to the edge, there is a faint, distant sound, like hundreds of squeaking wheels, coming from the far side of the lake.
A quick map reference informs of arrival at Whale Lake. The lake's name likely comes from its shape when viewed from above.
From the south-east corner of Whale Lake, the hike proceeds south below the power lines on rustic road for a short distance.
Subsequently a partially iced trail through forest continues to the south-west on land surrounded by Kananaskis Country, Camp Chief Hector, Bow Valley Provincial Park and Rafter Six Ranch Resort. Whale Lake is nestled in the middle of the planned circuit.
About a kilometer later (⅝ of a mile), arrival at the east edge of the Rocky Mountain YMCA complex turns north on trail adjacent to the fenced off property with tepees dispersed in the forest waiting patiently for occupation by young people in the upcoming summer months.
Arrival at the west shore of Whale Lake features the previously fainter sound from the opposite side of Whale Lake which is now very loud as bushwhacking is required to access the marshland shore and discover the source of the noise.
Although the marsh is alive with sound, there is little evidence of the source. The long lens captures birds in open water. They are loons. There must be hundreds of them nesting in the marsh and diligent effort is engaged to avoid disturbing them.
There are a few loons on the surface of open water in Whale Lake.
Leaves are just beginning to bud on trees surrounding Whale Lake. When the trees are fully leaved, the little lake will be nearly completely concealed.
As the hike proceeds around and above the lake level, a turn towards lower ground along the north shore, works the way to shoreline again with great caution.
The lake is ecologically sensitive and significant lengths are justified to avoid disturbing the delicate structure. No evidence of my presence, including footsteps, will be left in the hope subsequent visitors will do the same and leave the lake's pristine beauty exactly the same for others to discover and enjoy.
An old road leads east through a large, grassy field to Rafter Six Ranch Resort where my hiking day ends.
There are a large number of undocumented trails in the area and wandering is easily done with multiple options for recovery. This has been a wonderful, undisciplined, warm, spring day in the sun with lots of unexpected and unplanned discovery.
All that remains is a pleasant return drive home to Calgary.