The Rae Glacier hike in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada has been dramatically altered by recent flooding events over past years.
Access to improved and clearly signed parking is achieved following the drive west from Calgary along the TransCanada Highway (Hwy 1) and south on Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40) to the clearly signed and recently repaired, improved and expanded parking area for the uphill hike to Elbow Lake.
Occasional rest stops along the short but steep uphill hike provide the opportunity to enjoy and absorb the expanding mountain-surrounded views on this very pleasant Autumn day. Autumn color adds an additional level of beauty to the aerobic beginning until a mid-way bench and short flat spot offer the opportunity for resting the legs prior to the second half of equally challenging ascent.
Throughout the rigorous ascent there is ample evidence of extensive flood damage. A short distance past the crest of the ascent, the initial forest-framed view of pristine Elbow Lake is nearly surreal. A road around Elbow Lake and along the scenic lake shoreline veers off the left. Rae Glacier is most easily accessed by trail off to the right.
Important: Access to Rae Glacier is via trail to the right which soon accesses trail past the bear bins and food storage tower for scenic trail along the lake shore south towards Rae Glacier. The right branch at the bear bins heads through forest and camp sites to link up to the Rae Glacier trail.
For diversity, Jen and I choose the forest route through the campground where isolated, empty and groomed camping pads accent the trail passing through dense, mature and aromatic forest. The pristine, reflective pond marks intersection with the main trail heading south to Rae Glacier.
The small picturesque stream which once flowed through dense forest is bordered now by a plain of boulders where raging flood waters have scoured the landscape clean.
Trail is well established and relatively obvious most of the time as altitude is gained and given back several times before the rocky, scree approach continues towards the Rae Glacier tucked into the large crevasse behind Mount Rae and adjacent to Pocaterra Ridge on the other side of the mountain.
Decent trail, interrupted periodically by tree root systems exposed by heavy hiking traffic, continues along the edge of the substantially widened river path.
Rapids and a shallow waterfall once enclosed within a canyon are open and clearly visible now after surrounding land has been scoured clean by raging flood water. The original canyon is largely obliterated and a mere shadow of its former self.
Final approach to Rae Glacier is rugged and longer than visually perceived. Arrival at the final lateral moraine is accompanied by a persistent cold breeze which requires additional protective layering. The surrounding view includes a picturesque waterfall.
Past hikers have constructed a small but protective rock alcove with large boulder seating which provides a more protective environment to enjoy lunch with a unique view of the unique and substantially flood-diminished Rae Glacier
The view back towards the mountainous corridor containing Elbow Lake is breathtaking and a constant reminder during the return hike of the magnificent beauty and therapeutic power of the mountains.
Although the same trail for access is used for retreat, the experience and views are substantially different on this fortunate fair weather day. The awe-inspiring scale of surrounding features are humbling even though careful footing over scree and rugged terrain is important on the return hike to Elbow Lake where we exit via the lakeside trail.
Back at the bear bins, all that remains is the descent to parking. Autumn color is just beginning and a mere suggestion of the spectacle to unfold over upcoming weeks. Weekend crowds will be abundant and weekday enjoyment is a better alternative. Remember, this section of Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40) is closed to traffic for late fall, winter and early spring. Check at Alberta Parks.
The downhill hike into the expansive view of Pocaterra Ridge and Mount Tyrwhitt beyond provides overwhelming scale of surrounding mountain magnificence. The mountains are humbling and time taken to rest weary muscles within these magnificent vistas remains persistently memorable.
This popular and often busy hike to Rae Glacier, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada is enjoyed with hiking partner, Jen, on Monday, September 16, 2019.