Distance: 16 km
Elevation gain: 860 m View map Download GPS track
After being stuck indoors over the second coldest and snowiest Thanksgiving
long weekend in the past 85 years I was in desperate need of a hike today. While I really wanted to get up high, deep snow over much of the Rockies and forecast high winds at elevation convinced me to stick to something low and relaxing. Sheep River Provincial Park has a lot of hikes of this type and I decided Gleason Ridge would be my destination for the day. In 2013 I’d hiked to the southern end of this ridge, known as Windy Point, but hadn’t the time or motivation to continue north along the 8 km-long ridge. Today I planned to hike its entire length.
As I drove west along Highway 546 I was surprised to see that the only snow remaining from last weekend was on well-shaded north aspects, and even that was spotty. Apparently this would be an actual fall hike afterall! I parked in a small pullout at the base of Windy Point Ridge, hiked a short distance west to a gate in the fence running along the base of the ridge, then aimed skyward and powered up the grassy slope. Near the top I picked up a good trail heading for the summit of Windy Point. This continued into the forest along the ridge and for the first few kilometers was well maintained and easy to follow. Eventually it faded to the point that distinguishing it from the many animal trails in the area was difficult, but as I was following the ridge navigation remained easy. The only point of confusion was about a third of the way along when the ridge oddly moved sharply to the west. I could see this was about to happen on my GPS map and so simply headed west and shortly picked up another trail.
The hike along the ridge was as pleasant as I imagined it would be. Short and gentle ups and downs gave me a bit of exercise, game trails existed along most of its length, and the open pine and aspen forest made detouring around a few sections of deadfall very easy. There was tons of elk and deer sign and twice something large crashed through the forest just out of sight, so I’m assuming it was one of them and not something carnivorous.
I reached the end of the ridge after 8 km of hiking, then turned around and followed my track back to the midpoint of the ridge. Here I decided to descend to a trail that ran alongside Canyon Creek to the west. It was supposed to have a waterfall and I thought walking alongside the creek would be a nice change of scenery. This turned out to be a very big mistake. While my off-trail descent went ok, the valley bottom had a few inches of wet snow and the trail, when I eventually found it, was an incredibly braided and muddy mess. I’m not even sure if I was following the true trail as I never saw the creek, but whatever it was had certainly seen lots of cow and horse traffic. I could’ve – and perhaps should’ve – forged my own way back, but by this point I really just wanted to get out and the trail at least limited the odds of getting lost.
After an hour in the muddy valley I arrived back at the gate in the fence by my truck and drove home. With the exception of my return route this was a wonderful fall hike, however, and the layer of smog visible over Calgary as I drove home had me wishing it had been a bit longer!