walkhighlands

Canada - Prairie & Powderface Circuit

Date walked: 18/03/2014

Time taken: 4 hours

Distance: 14.2km

Ascent: 494m

The warm weather continues to melt away the snow and even though we got a few inches of snow overnight it didn't settle for long due to temperature. So with my eye on another hike I made the short trip down to the winter gate on highway 66 at Elbow Falls.

As I set out from the truck the sky was streaked with wonderful clouds racing across the top of the foothills, my trail today begins with a short stretch of the (still closed) highway.
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It's an easy start to an easy hike, I guess some people might find the distance a little far but generally speaking it is a lovely steady half day wander. The trailhead actually begins just over the bridged creek but at this time of year you can cut the corner by dropping down at the 'Prairie Creek' sign and crossing the frozen creek.
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The early part of the trail is very popular and well trodden as it meanders alongside the creek but beneath that snow coating is a sheet of solid ice and after a couple of 'dances' along there I stop and put on the microspikes.
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The trail remains level and easy as it works its way through the forest still staying tight to the creek, a small bridge is an indication of the first short ascent.
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I'm very surprised and pleased that the bridge survived the June floods. Soon after crossing I'm ascending the icy trail beneath a rocky overhang with icicles dangling from its walls.
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Out on the ridge it's possible to see along the valley where the trail hugs the hillside and beyond that to the outcrop that provides a return view to here.
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The lack of foliage at this time of year does make for great views from the trail, with all the birch trees it perhaps makes for great autumn viewing too (I'll try to remember for later in the year)
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I'm soon at the outcrop and looking back along the trail toward that rocky ridge, the clouds are slowly turning into those beautiful fluffy lumps that challenge you to find form in their shape, it is a wonderful day to be out on a leisurely hike rather than grunting up a huge mountain wondering why the hell you do it.
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On the ridge opposite a little thundering noise draws my attention as a small avalanche cascades down a narrow channel to the creek below, I stand a while hoping for another that I might capture in an image but none were forthcoming.
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I turn back to the valley and head off toward the west knowing I have some way to go yet before my crossover point to Powderface Creek using the 'Prairie Link' trail.
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I drop back down to creek level once more before rising back on a sheet of ice, thankful for the microspikes I had donned earlier and left on whilst walking in the snow, there is a reassuring crunch, crunch as the teeth bite into the ice underfoot. The noise is welcome today as the first Grizzly of spring was spotted this week so it's time to begin the 'Yo Bear' shouts (or other forms of noise making) again.
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On sight of Compression Peak in the far distance I know I'm nearing the connecting trail as I've made this hike twice now, having done it in April 2012 soon after we came to Canada.
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I was again pleasantly surprised to see the bridge across Prairie Creek that marks the start of the link trail had also survived the June flooding. As I had been pursued for some time by a couple of hungry 'whiskey Jacks' I decided to stop here and share a little bite with them.
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I love these little birds, in wintertime they follow hikers around in the mountains waiting for them to stop and share a bite to eat. They are brave little things too and think nothing of sitting on your hand for 15-20 seconds at a time. They usually sit and eat a little then take a beak full of food and fly off and stuff it between the branches of trees nearby before returning to your hand and doing it all again. Two birds (which I had for company today) can get through a full granola bar in about 3 minutes.

They are actually called a Canada Jay (or Gray Jay) but I've never heard anyone use those names, they are a member of the crow and jay family. They seem to be pretty intelligent too as they will pursue you for quite a while but once they've had some food they disappear back into the forest.
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I get myself going again after a wonderful short break with the Whiskey Jacks and head across the open snow patch back into the forest for the only real ascent of the hike as it crosses the hills to reach the Powderface Creek trail.
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The forest here is blackened by a forest fire that occurred some years ago, the lodgepole pines have recovered but their bark still bears the dark soot colour making for a striking contrast against the crisp white snow.
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There are few openings along this section but at a little over 3 km it soon passes, the forest floor still has a significant depth of snow and any straying from the trail results in a knee deep plunge.
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Once over the peak in the middle of the hill it is a constant steep gradient back down to the opposite valley, ice is still present under the snow coverring and descending this without micros would be an 'interesting' event.
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As I reach the valley floor I'm reminded of my last trip when I fell on my ass right here squashing a banana in my backpack and squelching it all over everything, at least the same lunch spot was available and I parked myself on it for 10 mins
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Once I'd had my fill of tasty oranges and snack bars (free of whiskey jacks) I made the remaining short distance to the Powderface Creek Trail. To the west (right) is a hike I've yet to do that reaches up onto Powderface Ridge and would make a nice long circuit one summer day.
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To the east (left) is my route which makes its way back through the Powderface Creek valley to highway 66, whilst I was in the forest section the clouds have transformed into a wide thin blanket almost filling the sky and out here in the open a cool breeze is blowing.
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I remember these dogwoods and their bright new growth from the last time I was here when they looked remarkably similar, they make a lovely splash of colour in otherwise desaturated landscape.
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After 'dogwood corner' the trail climbs steadily above the creek and provides some more open views back along the valley.
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Soon I'm dropping back down to the valley again, that is the thing with this trail, though it is easy the undulation is relentless and as you move toward the end of the hike it does begin to give you those rolling eyes moments as you see yet another short ascent ahead.
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Dropping back into the shade of the valley the depth of snow is made apparent by the gate that has become little more than a small step in the trail, I can see tracks through the narrow opening where cross country skiers have been grabbing the last of the snow.
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Rising again for a short section lifts me from the shaded valley and back into the sunshine which is very welcome as temperatures in the shaded section were a little cool with that breeze.
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The trail rises one more time before falling through the trees back to the car park at Powderface Creek which is currently closed by virtue of the winter closure of highway 66
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The end of the trail brings me to highway 66 just a little further from trailhead I began on at Prairie Creek, it's nice to get the micros off and wander along the sun soaked highway back toward the truck.
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This is a really nice shoulder season hike and one I might try to get back to more often, it takes a few hours but is close to home and has enough to keep you interested as you go, and if I can convince Sarah to help me out with a second vehicle I might just make the longer hike to Powderface Ridge then back along the length of the ridge to highway 66.....but that's definitely one for a long summer day.
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ChrisW


User avatar
Location: Calgary - Canada
Occupation: Management Consultant - Semi Retired
Interests: Photography, Walking, Kayaking, Golf, Mountain Biking
Activity: Mountain Walker
Mountain: Mt Rainier - USA
Place: Loch Muick
Gear: Quality footwear
Member: None
Pub: Sutton Arms
Camera: Canon 5D
Ideal day out: Getting up high and seeing the world
Ambition: Get fit - lose weight

Munros: 18
Corbetts: 5
Grahams: 3
Sub 2000: 6

Contact:



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Statistics

2014

Trips: 7
Distance: 69.9 km
Ascent: 2728m

2013

Trips: 9
Distance: 92.1 km
Ascent: 5308m

2012

Trips: 43
Distance: 476 km
Ascent: 22860m

2011

Trips: 41
Distance: 596.35 km
Ascent: 26477m
Munros: 19
Corbetts: 5
Grahams: 3
Sub2000s: 6

2010

Trips: 2
Distance: 13.4 km
Ascent: 675m

2009

Trips: 8
Distance: 46.3 km
Ascent: 622m


Joined: Jan 25, 2011
Last visited: Apr 12, 2014
Total posts: 3809 | Search posts




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