Distance: 16.5 km
Elevation gain: 1435 mView mapDownload GPS track
I've wanted to traverse Highwood Ridge since driving over Highwood Pass for the first time in 2008. With few mountain skills at the time, however, and many on-trail adventures beckoning, this trip got pushed to the bottom of my to-do list and was nearly forgotten. My interest was rekindled in 2013 when a trip report
appeared on the web in which a group traversed both Highwood and Grizzly Ridges in one adventurous and demanding outing, but with a season-ending snowstorm hitting the Highwood region days later I once again had to delay the trip. Then in August of this year, the view of the two ridges
from the summit of nearby Mist Mountain skyrocketed this trip to the top of my list. With wonderful fall weather in the forecast, turkey and saskatoon berry pie calories to burn, and the promise of a day to recover (in theory...) we set out on this adventure.
Our chosen route had us ascend the north end of Highwood Ridge, traverse to the south summit, descend to the southern end of Paradise Valley, ascend the south end of Grizzly Ridge, traverse to the north end with a detour to Grizzly Peak, then descend via Grizzly col to Pocaterra Cirque and then head back to the car. The route is adequately described in volume 1 of Gillean Daffern's Kananaskis Country Trail Guide
. We strayed from the directions in the guide twice: On the ascent of Highwood Ridge where the maze of trails at lower elevations had me default to my own routefinding, and again as we navigated from Highwood to Grizzly Ridge where we preferred a much more direct route than the one suggested in the guide. Regarding this latter deviation, it appears that Daffern's more southerly route is designed to detour to the south of a gorge carved by the creek flowing out of Paradise Valley; we found a route to the north, although there was likely a component of luck in our discovery as I had no idea there was a gorge there until I was standing on its edge.
So was this hike worth waiting six years to complete? Yes! Despite highly variable weather ranging from sun to snow to wind in the late afternoon strong enough to literally blow me down (that was not fun, nor safe), the scenery along both ridges is mind-blowing! Nearly the entire trip is above treeline and with 8 km of superb ridgewalking it makes for a fantastic trip. The only downside - and it's not a minor one - is the descent from Highwood Ridge and the subsequent ascent of Grizzly Ridge, entailing a loss and immediate regain of 400 m over a distance of just 2.8 km. At the low point you'll actually be lower than where you parked at Highwood Pass! It's the only way to do both ridges in one day, however, and the views from Grizzly Ridge are sufficiently different than those from Highwood Ridge to justify the effort. It also makes the hike a loop!
With the exception of the ascent of Grizzly Peak, this entire trip was nothing more than a difficult off-trail hike. The short traverse to Grizzly Peak, while appearing difficult from a distance, was nothing more than an easy scramble with minimal exposure. I suspect that anyone adventurous enough to complete the circuit of both ridges would also have the skills to ascend Grizzly Peak with little difficulty, and the panorama from it is spectacular and gives a nice view of the trip you've nearly completed.