Past His and Hers to the Cave through Grotto Creek Canyon in Bow Valley, Alberta, Canada.
Plans to snowshoe at Lake Louise are altered by atrocious winter driving conditions.
The flashing lights of emergency vehicles attending to several cars which have spun off the TransCanada Highway result in abandoning the original mission for an alternative near Canmore, Alberta.
A trek up Grotto Creek from the trail-head at Grotto Pond on Hwy 1A will be interesting and provide an opportunity to see the effect of the June 2013 floods.
Following a short traverse west on snow-covered, icy trail passes the noisy Baymag Mineral Processing Facility and turns north at the Grotto Creek trail sign.
Hiking crampons are strapped onto sturdy leather hiking boots. The familiar sound of metal spikes crunching into slippery ice under fresh snow is reassuring.
A short, flat walk through forest brings us to the edge of Grotto Creek where raging flood water has widened and flattened the creek bed substantially.
The beginning of the hike through Grotto Creek Canyon is typical of the past but on the route through the canyon it becomes increasingly apparent the level of the canyon floor is higher.
Additionally the floor through the entire canyon has a new grade which eliminates the ability for water to accumulate. The infamous Grotto Canyon Ice Walk has essentially been eliminated by the flood event in June of 2013.
The hike is different and the wall to wall ice on the canyon floor no longer exists along the entire length of the canyon to the waterfall ice at the junction hosting His and Hers and Grotto Falls.
The only remaining ice is in narrow channels carved by flood waters or tucked against curves in canyon walls. Perhaps the original experience can be restored with careful reorganization of new rock.
After watching a few of the ice climbers practicing their sport, the hike continues left on snow-covered trail through a short stretch of canyon leading to the open valley where a recently constructed Inukshuk guards the Cave and Hoodoos.
The formations of sandy conglomerate show little effect from the flooding but surrounding terrain on the valley floor has been noticeably swept clean.
The exterior floor of the shallow cave appears to have suffered from some erosion. Access to the cave is possible from a ledge along the left-facing side but it is more difficult than it appears. The surface is unstable so caution is prudent.
On the return hike through Grotto Canyon, clearing skies provide warmth and sunlight within the winding canyon walls.
Ancient ochre pictographs on the walls of Grotto Canyon remain in place.
The lowest pictographs may be underneath ice adjacent to the canyon wall or covered by displaced rock. The canyon floor has been raised by new rock from the valley floor being washed into the canyon.
These historical drawings have survived hundreds of years of weather events and it is highly likely floodwaters have been through here many times in past years.
Most of the canyon walls within the Bow Valley Corridor are popular with rock climbers. The walls have been bolted and anchored for many years to encourage and aid the development of recreational climbing skills.
The bolts and anchors are considerably closer to the canyon floor than they were previously.
Exiting Grotto Creek Canyon through the narrow entrance into full sunlight provides magnificent views south to mountains past Gap Lake and the Bow River.
The hike through Grotto Creek Canyon is easy and relatively short with minimal elevation, so there is time to investigate construction underway in Canmore on the Cougar Creek Restoration Project.
The west side of new construction is fenced off which prevents access to trails into Cougar Creek Canyon as well as traditional trail heads for the east end of the Montane Traverse Trail and for Mount Lady Macdonald.
Across the bridge, on the east side of the Cougar Creek aqueduct, there is an accessible path upstream with outstanding views of Mount Lady Macdonald.
Wandering along the path to observe and to enjoy the sun before heading into town leads to checking out the very impressive Elevation Place.
Coffee at the Good Earth Café in Canmore, prior to the return drive to Calgary, completes another excellent day in the mountains.
Photographs for this post were captured on January 26, 2014.