North Ribbon Creek provides access to Memorial Lakes in Kananaskis Country.
Access to North Ribbon Creek is via the popular and commonly hiked Ribbon Creek trail which was decimated by the June 2013 floods. After meeting at the Highway 22 Petro Canada on the TransCanada Highway, the short drive south on Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40) stops in at the Barrier Lake Visitor Information Centre for an informative conversation with Park Rangers.
The Ribbon Creek trail has reopened from the Ribbon Creek parking area near Nakiska, to Ribbon Falls, via a detour route. Today will be a reconnaissance mission to access and check out the new Ribbon Creek link and potentially North Ribbon Creek as well. This will become an eye-opening and interesting day.
Along North Terrace Trail there are occasional mountain views from wide, excellent trail (dirt road) through primarily lush forest. Along the route, which tracks the south ridge above Ribbon Creek, a trail side exhibit of ancient, moss-covered stumps seems to be an excellent subject for a bit of artistic photography.
The North Terrace trail initially climbs moderately then flattens to the trail junction at 1.0 KM (⅝ mile) with Kovach Link veering right. The Kovach Link and avoiding all trail options to the left continues for 2.0 additional KM (1¼ miles) until the short, curving downhill road/trail arrives at the nearly-completed but fully functional bridge over Ribbon Creek. A short ascent past the bridge leads to the T junction at the Ribbon Creek trail.
Views from the bridge over Ribbon Creek illustrate the extent of damage inflicted by the June 2013 flood event. At the trail junction with the Ribbon Creek trail the hike continues left, past the face on the stump, onto new trail.
The new Ribbon Creek trail section is excellent-quality constructed higher on the slope above the old trail. In one location a challenging hike off trail, down to the previous riverside trail, discovers how Ribbon Creek has washed away the banks and interrupted the old trail. The extent of the damage caused by powerful water is sobering.
Old trail sections have been covered with debris to discourage accidents on interrupted and compromised trail and to promote new growth. The new trail is impressive and intelligently crafted. Accolades are due to the hard work performed by Alberta Parks trail crews and Friends of Kananaskis Country. Well done!
Small sawn log benches have been placed along the new route. Occasional views through forest openings reveal Mount Allan to the right and the tight valley between Mount Kidd and Mount Bogart ahead.
The trail head to Memorial Lakes is deliberately passed to continue a short distance further past the new bridge at the confluence of North Ribbon Creek with Ribbon Creek. The view of flood damage here is surreal.
The meadow which once hosted the Eau Claire logging camp between the late 1800's and the 1930's has been largely obliterated. Major portions of the meadow, including old artifacts and the interpretive plaque, have been swept away in difficult to fathom terrain change.
This will be the end point on the Ribbon Creek trail this day in favor of returning the short distance to the trail-head along North Ribbon Creek which leads to Memorial Lakes.
Initially the North Ribbon Creek trail is flat, clear, and pleasant. At convergence alongside North Ribbon Creek, the trail, as before, becomes more rustic and climbs through forest on trail with many roots, above the creek bed which has sustained substantial flood damage. There are several sketchy spots on this unofficial trail which require above average hiking experience for safety. Today's minimum target is the first exposure.
The first more challenging section of trail is a narrow cliff side which requires cautious and experienced footsteps in proper footwear.
The first part of the ledge is marginal. The second part of the ledge has been obliterated by a landslide. Crossing is possible with the right gear and caution but exposure is significant. This trail is not suitable for inexperienced hikers including children and people with marginalized balance or reaction time.
The last thing Alberta Parks needs is additional rescue missions. This is my opinion: not everyone will agree.
From this point the hike will return to the Ribbon Creek trail to hike east past the Kovach Link trail junction for exploration of the section of the Ribbon Creek trail which remains closed. Lunch is enjoyed at one of the benches in the forest at trail side with the sun warming our backs amid pleasant conversations with other hikers along the trail.
Back at the junction of the Ribbon Creek trail with the Kovach Link trail, the hike continues straight to experience the remainder of the trail. Initially there are minor signs of flood damage along the river but the road is in relatively good shape.
Along the minor and gradual descent, the road gradually deteriorates with escalating erosion. Evidence of flood damage increases exponentially. A point arrives where the trail has been breached by flood water.
A short distance further the picnic benches remain unscathed in defiance of surrounding terrain. This small measure of hope is dashed by the Ribbon Creek trail ending at the flood-revised path of Ribbon Creek.
Where the road ends, a fairly good trail continues beside the flood altered and ravaged Ribbon Creek. The trail continues for a short distance until ending at the faster than expected water flow in Ribbon Creek. Several log jams have occurred along this section of Ribbon Creek.
Off trail segments at creek side are employed searching for potential creek crossings and alternative path to hike on the far side of Ribbon Creek. The flood-ravaged bridge is discovered but is clearly damaged beyond restoration and flood channels have formed around it.
The forces of flood water and debris have been sufficient to dislodge the massive concrete moorings. Further investigation on the bridge deck shows the heavy deck has been warped by the force applied. Incredible!
The hike continues on sketchy trail to the final conclusion. The real Ribbon Creek trail is actually on the other side of the creek now but the flow alteration is so profound there is no way of knowing what will be encountered on the final section to the Ribbon Creek parking area.
Following a couple of attempted and unsuccessful bushwhacks, the final decision is to return on the Ribbon Creek trail to the Kovach Link trail junction for the hike back via the route taken in.
The hike back to the Ribbon Creek parking area is very pleasant in the dwindling warmth of later afternoon sun.
The hike on this fine Autumn day has been portions of trail in the Ribbon Creek area. The drive north on Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40) takes us past Mount Lorette Ponds and the always amazing mountain scenery through Kananaskis Valley on another memorable and excellent hiking day. Currently it remains unknown when the first 2.2 kilometers (1⅜ miles) of the Ribbon Creek trail between the parking area and the Kovach Link trail junction will be restored.
Update: The initial section of the Ribbon Creek trail is restored in late summer of 2015.
Many will lament the loss of this trail along the creek but nature can make powerful and permanent changes. The trail planners and crews have been wise to recreate the trail higher above the original to reduce exposure to another flooding event. The same approach was used on the Jewell Pass trail. It just makes sense.
Photos for this hike along Ribbon Creek and North Ribbon Creek were taken on Sunday, October 19, 2014 in Kananaskis Country west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.