Distance: 13.5 km
Elevation gain: 1440 m View map Download GPS track
With the second heat wave of the summer settling over Alberta, Sandra and I figured we'd battle the heat in the best possible way: By climbing a mountain! It is much cooler at high elevation, afterall. As an added bonus this would also be my 35th summit in my 35th year, a goal I had set last September upon reaching what I call middle age. The mountain we chose was Mount Lougheed, a peak so huge and prominent that it even has its own sign and small viewing area on the trans-Canada highway. The face visible to the tourists, however, is not a scramble, but an easy scramble route does exist on the other side.
To avoid the extreme forecast heat of the day we got an early start and began the hike up Spencer Creek at 7:45 am. I had expected this to involve a bit of bushwhacking on faint trail, but the trail that starts just north of the creek was in spectacular shape and better maintained than many of the official trails in Kananaskis. No bushwhacking or routefinding whatsoever was necessary along its entire length. Nice mossy forest complete with a wonderful stream in the beginning and vast meadows near the end made for a very pleasant approach and had both of us thinking a lazy return trip up Spencer Creek would be worth it on its own. Even if you have zero interest in scrambling you might want to check the creek trail out.
From the back of the valley we began to make our way up the steep grass and rock slopes to the north, detouring from the best ascent slope to avoid some resting sheep. A small grassy plateau above this then granted a view of the impossible-looking ascent slopes of the Mount Lougheed scramble route, but armed with the knowledge from many reports on the web we started up the enormous 300 m high scree cone in high confidence. Thankfully our ascent was greatly aided by a stiff breeze and frequent cloudy periods that kept us from overheating too much. Near the top of the scree cone cliffs started to block the way, but a visible trail in the scree and a few cairns led us easily through. Unlike other scrambles I have done this route seemed obvious, although I was probably aided a bit from studying photos from others. Above the second small cliff band we detoured a bit from some web reports, ascending quite high on a scree rib before cutting across a scree and slab bowl, but this worked well and there was even a good trail through the scree. After this it was a straightforward 200 m slog to the summit ridge, followed by an easy walk to the summit. I've tried to make this all obvious in the photos that follow!
Starting out we weren't sure what to expect on Mount Lougheed. I'm just beginning to gain experience scrambling and Sandra is quite timid on scrambly terrain, but both of us found it quite easy. For comparison, I thought it was much easier than both Heart Mountain
Our summit stay was unusually pleasant too! With the cloud gone the combination of sun and a stiff breeze kept the temperature just right, and with no threat of incoming thunderstorms (a bit of a rarity, actually) we were able to lounge around for well over an hour. We also took a wander over to the western false summit hoping to get a good view of Spray Lake, but the narrowing ridge and the foolhardiness of taking a risk to get a photo stopped me before the full lake was visible. After a brief stay here that included the production of a short video for Sandra's family (during which I *may* have made rabbit ears on her), we headed back down. The descent was no more difficult than the ascent, but it did require a bit of care to stay on route.
We capped off the adventure by stopping at the upper reaches of Spencer Creek and soaking our feet in the icy water while relaxing in the shade. As our general laziness would put us home quite late we also decided to stop for fast food in Canmore on the way back, calling it a celebration of reaching my summit goal to justify the glutony. Unfortunately the only stopping we did was in traffic for 20 minutes and we never did find a place to eat (I HATE cities!), but a DQ and Subway near our place in Calgary did satisfy our fast food cravings in the end. Overall a fantastic day! I highly recommend a hike to the beginnings of Spencer Creek to anyone and a scramble up Mount Lougheed to anyone comfortable with a bit of routefinding and easy scrambling.