Diary Only - Elbow Valley

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Date walked: 31/08/2015
Distance: 15km
Ascent: 1021m
Views: 1

Canada - Beautiful Buller Pass

Date walked: 17/08/2015

Time taken: 4 hours

Distance: 16.4km

Ascent: 691m

Buller Pass has been on my 'saving' list for some time, saving until I have a two car scenario so I can make a fantastic traverse from Highway 742 (Smith Dorrien Trail) to Highway 40 (Kananaskis Trail) via Ribbon Lake. The truth is I never have a two car scenario and asking Sarah to make a drive of hundreds of kilometres so I can have a nice hike seems a bit selfish (to say the least) so today when I felt like having an easy day, I decided to make the hike to Buller Pass from the west. I can follow this at some point with a hike to Ribbon Lake from the east so I can at least see the whole traverse albeit in two sections.

Finding the car park for the hike is easy, simply take highway 742 out of Canmore heading south, check your odometer reading as you pass the Canmore Nordic Centre and travel a further 31km where you will see a signed turning for 'Buller Mountain'. Park in the first car park on the right as you enter, the trailhead is well signposted directly back across the main highway.

The day began a little worryingly as thick fog hung in the mountains as I approached the Bow Valley Corridor from the prairies, but I could see a few peaks poking out of the top and kept going hoping that altitude would clear the issue. I had begun to doubt my assumption as I reached the top of Whitemans Gap above Canmore when I emerged from the fog as abruptly as I'd entered it 40 km back along the TransCanada highway. In the shot below Ha Ling Peak emerges from the mist as the sun tries its best to break through. Image

With another 7 km on the clock I pass over the canal that moves water from Spray Lakes Reservoir to the hydro power plant above Canmore and stop to catch a shot of the fog bank drifting below Goatview Peak, there's no sign of the predicted cloudy skies above it and it looks like the drive out was worthwhile after all.

The gravel road leads away alongside Spray Lakes Reservoir for another 20 km, as I'm winding through forest a small herd of deer cross over in front of me and I stop to let them pass, they were all does with the exception of this guy who 'guarded' their crossing and then continued standing there after they were clear just to show me who's boss around here, it made me smile.

When I got to the trailhead I saw a family parked by the roadside just setting off along the trail, I stopped to say hi and the guy explained that the car park had a load of broken glass in it and he decided to back out and park by the roadside. After taking a peek I did the same (beer bottles galore) It's very rare to find such vandalism out in Kananaskis but when you do it is always in tourist season.

I took my time preparing and saw nobody else as I sat on the tailgate getting suited and booted, the shot below shows highway 742 looking north (back to Canmore) and the trailhead to the right. Image

The hike starts with a small bridge crossing a melt-water run off before plunging into incredibly dense forest. The trail is very well worn and remains so throughout the whole hike making it impossible (even for me) to wander off course unintentionally. I'd only been walking a short time when I came across this ptarmigan family on the trail, as they were in no hurry to get off it I stood and watched them for a while.

The second bridge crossing Buller Creek is a new construction, probably replacing a flood damaged predecessor. Every time I see these new constructions I'm reminded that there's no charge to enter the park (Kananaskis) and there's no charge for parking either and I am genuinely grateful for the hassle free 'arrive and get walking' result (as opposed to stopping to pay park fees, digging round for change for a meter, finding you have the only coin in the world that the meter doesn't recognise etc.)

The dense forest remains for quite a while before a short ascent above the creek brings me into a fire damaged area (not recent) which allows light in and offers a glimpse of the northern flanks of Mt Engadine

The fire damaged area is absolutely overrun with golden mantled ground squirrels, I've never seen so many in one location before and obviously its only a matter of time before one strikes a pose I can't resist.

The area is awash with the appropriately named 'fireweed' (or rosebay willowherb in the UK) which is the perfect example of a 'pioneer species' which quickly establishes itself on open areas where light is abundant. Interestingly as trees and shrubs return the fireweed dies out but its seeds remain in the soil awaiting the next forest fire or clear cut operation when they will germinate again.

After the fire damaged area the trail falls again to a lower dense forest once more where bridge number 3 comes into view, this is the 'split log' type of bridge typical of trails out here where a single trunk is cut vertically and pinned across a creek with the flat 'cut' side facing upward, a simple and effective bridge that is easily replace after flooding.

I am well into the hike before any real ascent begins and even when it does it's not the usual 'mountain goat' slope I've come to expect of almost every kananaskis hike. As I round a curve and stop to take photos looking back down the route so far I meet a ranger who is heading down. The unsung heroes of the trail out here these guys haul tools along the trials and cut fallen trees, rebuild bridges, create diversionary routes where necessary and generally maintain the trails. We have a nice long chat sat on the bank at the trail side and I tell him about the glass in the car park, he wasn't aware as he was dropped off at the trailhead this morning and says he'll have it sorted today. Before he sets off again to meet his ride at the trailhead I remind him how grateful we hikers are for his efforts and he seems genuinely uplifted as he wanders off.

Soon after my meeting with the ranger I reach another fire damaged area and hear a waterfall away to the left of the trail, I took a very short detour and found a lovely little plunge pool at the base of a small waterfall, I considered scrambling down for more photos but decided to keep going for now and think about it on the return.

I return to the trail above the falls where it runs beside the creek feeding the falls, I can't help but think that the trail and the creek become one during the melt season.

The last of the bridges (No.4) looks to have been here the longest and by the look of it won't be here much longer. There is a trail here leading off to North Buller Pass but it is hardly used and almost indistinct from its surroundings now. This shot looks back down the valley already travelled

Once across bridge No.4 the valley opens out with light streaming in through the burnt out remnants of the forest. The long ridges at the northern end of 'The Tower' make up the vertical wall to the right which curves around into the centre of the frame.

The ascent has flattened out again and I'm soon curving around the flanks of the unnamed lump that sits between north and south Buller Pass stopping to look back to the summit of Mt Buller with the long shadows of 'The Tower' covering its south facing wall.

The trail now points directly up the valley toward the headwall and I get my first open view of Buller Pass, the massive walls making up the northern ridges of 'The Tower' still fill the frame to the right and the unnamed lump between the two Buller Passes is to the left.

The trail drops back down to the valley floor and curves around the unnamed lump where I can now see the family of four who left as I arrived slowly making their way up the twisting trail to the pass (they are the black specks in the centre of the frame below)

As I begin my ascent of the final stage which is about 300m of vertical scree ascent over 800m of distance I find myself catching the family very quickly, so much so that I can hear one of the two teenage girls bemoaning the whole hiking thing and its futility "we're just going to turn round and go back down again....I don't see the point". I decide to stop and take a few shots back down the valley until the 'domestic' is sorted.

The family are steady on this last ascent and the girls have had enough by the look of it but its a very narrow scree trial and it would feel ignorant to barge past on the last section, so I hold back again and grab another shot of the valley showing the long curve around the unnamed lump on the right.

From here I can get a zoomed shot over Mt Turbulent to Cone Mountain (centre frame) and Beersheba Peak (right) with its summit still hidden by low cloud which now fills the sky to the west.

The family finally make the last push for the summit and I follow just far enough behind to avoid contact (for fear of becoming embroiled in the domestic) until I make the pass and get my first view of Ribbon Lake in the valley beyond. Last nights snow still lingers in a few places and, as with all mountain passes above 8000 feet the wind is howling over here and it's very cool (Buller Pass is at 8150 feet)

To the north is Mt Bogart still holding on to last nights snowfall and in front of that is the green valley that leads back around to North Buller Pass. I thought about making a circuit but there seems to be little to be gained in terms of views and it requires a full descent and re-ascent which I don't fancy today, instead I head to the bump on the left of shot.

From the top of the rocks I get a fantastic view back down the valley and beyond to the distant ranges in Banff National Park.

From the rocks looking over to Ribbon Lake numerous routes are visible, the one I really like the look of is continuing down beyond Ribbon Lake and out to highway 40 for a total of around 25km, and having done this first part I fancy it even more. There is also a hike to the right up the light orange scree to Guinns Pass, then down to highway 40, it would mean more ascent but shorten the route by using Galatea Creek trail to exit saving about 8km. Lastly there's the circular route from south to north Buller Pass through the green valley to the left of shot.

From my lofty perch I see the family of four packing up and heading back down the trail so I give them a cheery wave and get one in return, maybe they're in better spirits now they are going back down. Anyway, this allows me to drop back down to the spot they had stopped to rest in, so I can gain a different angle on the view.

Up to my right is the very end of the ridge that reaches all the way from 'The Tower' along the ascent valley to the pass, and even it still holds some of last nights snow.

I tucked myself into a nice cosy spot above some permanent snow and looked out over the stunning valley as I took my only short rest of the day. The dominating mountain to the right of Ribbon Lake is Mt Kidd behind which is Kananaskis Village and the wonders of highway 40. The dark snow covered peak is the main summit of Mt Kidd and the peak bathed in sunlight is the south summit. The distant snow covered lump visible through Guinns Pass is The Wedge which I scrambled up a few weeks ago.

To my left are the lumps I wandered around on until the fighting family left the scene, just visible beyond them is 'Red Peak' which is a hike/scramble I've been considering, the distant snow covered peak through the gap is Wind Mountain and to the right, again with snow covering, is Mt Bogart.

As the skies darken and a few showers drift past I take a last look at this wonderful valley which I'm absolutely sure I will return to, at least once. I would like to bring Sarah up here when her foot is fixed but I suspect the snow will prevent that this year and I'm not entirely sure I want to haul a picnic all this way.

On the way out I scrambled down to that little plunge pool at the bottom of the waterfall and found it to be surprisingly deep (about 4 feet) I lingered a while taking pics before wandering out through the dense forest the way I'd wandered in.

For anyone seeking a fairly easy hike to a wonderful location, this is it, I'm surprised there weren't more people here; it's close to a large town and well signed, it's also still tourist season. I can only assume the morning fog put people off and you won't hear me complaining about that. This is a beautiful hike and one I look forward to returning to.

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Comments: 14

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User avatar
Location: Cochrane- Alberta - Canada
Occupation: Management Consultant - Semi Retired
Interests: Photography, Walking, Kayaking, Golf, Mountain Biking
Activity: Scrambler
Pub: Sutton Arms
Mountain: Mt Rainier - USA
Place: Loch Muick
Gear: Quality footwear
Member: None
Camera: Canon 5DIII
Ideal day out: A scramble on a high ridge in Kananaskis
Ambition: Lose some more weight!

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


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