The Mushroom Garden is a natural feature on Mount Allan above Nakiska Mountain Resort in Kananaskis Country west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Today's mission has two major objectives.
The primary objective will enjoy the boulder formations at lofty altitude on the south ridge of Mount Allan which hosts Nakiska Mountain Resort on its south flank in Kananaskis Country, Alberta.
The second objective is to look down from Mount Allan and evaluate hiking conditions at Memorial Lakes wedged between Ribbon Peak, Mount Bogart, Mount Sparrowhawk and the southeast terminus of Mount Lougheed. The location is an awesome spectacle.
The hike begins from the Ribbon Creek parking area at the kiosk guarding Hidden Trail. Less than half a kilometer up the trail, the first signed junction requires a left turn onto the trail to Coal Mine Scar.
At the second signed junction, either option will deliver but continuing straight passes an old and interesting mining cabin. Flood damage on the route has been repaired. The Centennial Ridge hiking trail veers off to the right just past the drainage near two converging mining roads.
It is worthwhile to pause a few minutes and enjoy the view over Coal Mine Scar to Mount Kidd which hosted the old fire lookout on it's north, grassy ridge. There are expansive, spectacular views along and across Kananaskis Valley.
The Centennial Ridge Trail ascends through forest above Coal Mine Scar into a sustained gut-wrenching, thigh-thumping, lung-sucking, heart pounding ascent on open, steep and periodically challenging terrain gaining 610 m (2,000 ft) of elevation in less than 2 KM (1¹⁄₃ miles).
There is often a welcome and potentially life extending breeze.
Surrounding scenery provides emotional relief from the physical endeavor as altitude is gained rapidly. The view of Ribbon Creek, in the valley between Mount Kidd and Mount Bogart, brings back excellent memories of the hike to Ribbon Falls a week earlier.
There are a couple of short, easy scrambles along the way which will require the use of hands. Exercise judgment and caution on trail braids. The overall goal is to arrive at the meteorological instruments near Olympic Summit just before you have lost the will to live.
The character building ascent transitions to civilized trail between multiple small peaks with the rusty-colored summit of Mount Allan clearly visible in the distance ahead. Mount Collembola is prominent off to the right.
Along the relatively level stretch of the approach to the boulder laden ridge at the Mushroom Garden, there is a viewpoint to the southwest towards Ribbon Peak and the location of Memorial Lakes. This is an opportunity to look down and evaluate hiking conditions into the Memorial Lakes Memorial Cairn.
Normally, it would be too early but this year has delivered a dry Spring following a relatively, mild winter. The tiny, second Memorial Lake, known as 'The Emerald', resides at the bottom of little Ribbon Peak. Ribbon Peak is the tower in photo center beneath the massive walls of mighty Mount Bogart.
The third Memorial Lake, higher and to the left of Ribbon Peak, is filled to the brim. Snowbanks are still present at the surface of the lake. Progressive long lens views expand the detail.
Can the hike be achieved this early in the year? Well, it probably can be done. It is just a matter of how much a person chooses to suffer. Individual threshold of pain will dictate a hike after the middle of July based on the conditions observed from above on Mount Allan today.
The Centennial Ridge Trail continues towards the summit of Mount Allan and the Mushroom Garden is clearly visible in the near distance at about current altitude.
However, prior to arrival, it is necessary to negotiate the 'dip of despair'. After such aggressive ascent, a short descent should seem positive but the prospect of climbing back out on the return looms unattractive. Perhaps it should be called the 'dip of mixed emotions'.
The Mushroom Garden hosts a fascinating route through jumbled piles of moss and lichen encrusted conglomerate boulders.
A short distance beyond the Mushroom Garden, is the final approach to the impressive Rock Garden ('the Pinnacles') and a short down scramble for the easy final ramp to the nearby summit of Mount Allan.
There is shelter from the wind near the plaque commemorating the Mount Allan Centennial Trail constructed by the Rocky Mountain Ramblers to celebrate 100 years of Canada's Confederation (1867 to 1967). The Mushroom Garden is the destination for this day and a magic place to enjoy lunch.
Commercial aircraft, heading west, are flying high above. There are no vapor trails so the atmosphere five miles (8 KM) above Mount Allan is very dry.
The picas can be heard but not seen. No doubt there are marmots nearby as well.
The return hike is via the same route with the entire field of vision consumed by majestic mountain scenery as far as the eye can see. The sunny warmth of a gorgeous summer day is moderated by lofty altitude and refreshing mountain air.
The descent is long and eventually views of the Coal Mine Scar from above gauge progress and promise relief in the forest from the sun.
The final stretch is normally achieved on the lower road but today's decision is to use the signed Centennial Ridge Trail to meet up with the Coal Mine Scar trail further down for the short hike back to the Ribbon Creek Parking area on Hidden Trail.
Today's weather has been close to ideal. There is often a stiff breeze on Mount Allan.
The traverse from Dead Man Flat to Ribbon Creek is a major undertaking which requires a full day with a vehicle at each end. It is also a sustained, high elevation ridge hike surrounded by awesome natural scenery and a plethora of unique wilderness features. Not a season opener and best attempted by well-equipped and experienced hikers. The route is a life-long memorable experience.
Kudos to the Rocky Mountain Ramblers for the effort and time taken to create this phenomenal wilderness hiking experience. It is an easily accessible, high altitude trail in the Rocky Mountains which exceeds the altitude of the justifiably infamous Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada.
Today's hike to the Mushroom Garden from Ribbon Creek parking is estimated at 14 KM (8¾ miles) return with net elevation gain near 1,300 m (4,265 ft) to a maximum elevation near 2,750 m (9,022 ft). Gross elevation gain will be marginally higher. The important thing to remember is the elevation differential contains a concentrated section of ascent and descent which require determination and care. Quality footwear, combined with good descent technique and discipline, will help maintain hip, knee and ankle health.
The trail, on steep sections, is being compromised by shortcuts. The switchbacks are there to moderate elevation gain and to reduce trail erosion. A few extra steps are required but this is far better than the alternative. The shortcuts will increase erosion and escalate degradation of the trail. Working together is a noble goal for the benefit of those who follow and for those who have assumed the responsibility for trail maintenance. Thank you very much.
Photographs for this hike on Mount Allan from Ribbon Creek to the Mushroom Garden were taken on June 22, 2015 near Nakiska Mountain Resort in Kananaskis Country west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.