McConnell Point via Quaite Valley Trail in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.
This hike to McConnell Point will become a collection of adventures and great memories.
Meeting at Petro Canada on the TransCanada Highway west of Calgary, Alberta near the junction with Hwy 22 precludes the drive west to the Heart Creek exit for the loop around to drive east on the highway for about 3 KM (1⅞ miles) where parking is informal off the highway near the Quaite Valley gate.
After overshooting the well-camouflaged trail-head for McConnell Point, the small error provides the opportunity to meet a trio of intensely interested deer. Leaves are finally unfolding on deciduous trees and brush, obscuring the trail even further from the previous week on the failed Quaite Valley solo hike.
The trail-head is on the left when hiking south-ish from the gate, about halfway between the gate and the trail sign for the Heart Creek link trail. This is a moderate trail.
The trail squeezes through dense brush for a few meters (yards) then pops out into open ground to begin fairly aggressive ascent on consistently faint dirt trail.
Occasional footprints on the ground, and occasional red flagging tape assist in following the route. Frequently the surface is interrupted by patches of limestone characteristic to McConnell Point.
As elevation increases views west toward Mount McGillivray provide scenic vistas over Lac des Arcs and mountain-bordered Bow Valley.
Higher on McConnell Point, views of the east face of Heart Mountain unfold and Bow Valley vistas expand on this gorgeous, sunny day. The hike is subjected to intermittent delays as frequent stops for photos and time to soak up the scenic views is liberally taken.
This hike could be briefly summarized as an ascent that switches between limestone slabs on the route to the top.
Cheyenne tests the ability to scramble a large slab but the angle and nature of the slab surface is better suited to rock climbing shoes with the safety of a top roped belay.
The surface of the slabs, once scraped smooth by glaciers 20,000 years ago, have weathered to a surface with sharp protrusions. It would not be a good slide, so safe places are sought out to scramble short hauls using veggie belays or finding routes around obstacles.
Often there is no distinction between old trails or the profusion of game trails, but as long as elevation increases the ascent will eventually achieve the objective. A flat, clear, level spot provides the opportunity for rest, food and refreshment while enjoying the spectacular views before making the final push to the top.
Testing the nature of scrambling a slab on the way to the summit of McConnell Point in Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada
Past the last slab, the final approach to the top is over broken rock to a small, grassy ridge and north-ish to the summit cairn, and a bit further for an excellent viewing location at another rock cairn.
At one point, the trail is shared with a grey ptarmigan.
During a break near the top of McConnell Point, in a little meadow sheltered from the breeze, options are discussed for retreat off this modest little 'mountain'. The forest behind is plugged with snow.
There is a primitive trail from Quaite Campground which may be an option so an off-trail reconnaissance exercise sweeps the forest for a potential route. There is a labyrinth of trail but most, if not all, is likely game trail.
Large tracts of forest are under snow. At regroup to exchange information, the collective decision is to follow game trail and off trail where necessary, to head south toward Quaite Campground followed by a final descent on Quaite Valley Road back to the trail head.
The initiative works well as a team, sometimes together, sometimes apart to find best route. The overall requirement is to head in a consistent southerly direction and descend. The first obstacle is a deep draw so the route goes higher to reduce the pitch for regroup on the other side. The next hour is allocated to finding trail on terrain which is the path of least resistance. Eventually a draw containing old growth forest rising above an aromatic floor of deep moss is discovered. It is like walking on broadloom. The natural aroma is intoxicating.
At the bottom of the shallow draw, a small creek is an easy crossing onto Quaite Valley Road just a short distance below Quaite Campground. The final leg of the hike travels northerly on Quaite Valley Road, for the return to the car.
The flood damage in Quaite Valley is profound. Trail repair crews have made further improvements while nature has continued to cause further damage as rain and snow melt bring down compromised valley banks. There is ample evidence of small land and rock slides along the periphery.
Spring runoff has more water running and the trail is traversed many times by shallow streams. A University of Calgary geology class is mapping rock formations in the valley.
The final stretch is on decent road and the memories of the day are summarized passing the trail-head where the adventure began in the morning.
This old, no-longer-documented, trail is featured in the 3rd Edition, Volume 1 of Gillean Daffern's Kananaskis Country Trail Guide. This specific trail is not shown in the new 4th edition Volume 3.
There are alternatives. The Kananaskis Country Trail Guide lists the summit is achieved by a 5.4 KM (3⅜ mile) hike against elevation gain of 448 m (1,470 ft). On rugged terrain, it feels longer but those numbers seem representative of today's effort by a different route.
Photographs for this post were taken on May 21, 2014.