Distance: 22.5 km
Elevation gain: 1615 m View map Download GPS track
* *Maps are reported to be poorly calibrated for this area.
Odlum Ridge abuts the Elk Range west of Mist Mountain and is prime territory for larch trees, which was exactly what we were looking for today. It's also a very difficult hike involving a river crossing, bushwhacking, and the strenuous ascent of its three major summits and many other small ones. Toss in a bit of easy scrambling and even with the fantastic scenery and weather we figured it was nearly guaranteed we’d have the ridge to ourselves. Since we love hiking through larch forests but abhor the crowds this seemed like the perfect destination for us, despite the fact that I was suffering from a nasty cold.
We found the trail (an old road, actually) about 500 m north of the Lantern Creek parking lot, blocked by a few boulders that we glimpsed just beyond the forest edge on the west side of the highway. We followed this road down to the Highwood River, crossed it (less than calf-deep), then picked up the trail on the other side of the flood mess. After pushing our way through alders that have taken over more than a kilometer of trail, we reached a deep washout on the road. We crossed it a bit upstream, continued approximately 200 m further on the trail, then started heading up the eastern end of Odlum Ridge. The going was relentlessly steep for the first 300 vertical meters, but remarkably there were many very good trails heading up the slope (presumably animal in origin) that made the ascent relatively easy. The grade eased near 2200 m, then eased further when we reached the ridgecrest. A short time later we reached the eastern summit. I've seen it identified as the true summit of the ridge, but my GPS recorded the center summit as having the same elevation.
From the eastern summit we followed the ridge west as it undulated up and down. No continuous ascent along the ridge exceeded 135 m, but we accumulated 800 m of elevation gain as we worked our way along the ridge and this tired us out quite a bit, especially since I was having a bit of trouble breathing (a cold + asthma + strenuous hiking do not mix well!). A few sections of the ridge got a bit scrambly, particularly at the west end, but none were more difficult than easy scrambling and there was no exposure at all. Along the way we passed a few larch forests on the sides of the ridge, then entered a massive forest of larch several kilometers in length near the midpoint of the ridge. All were glowing yellow and orange and absolutely beautiful!
We reached the western end of the ridge above Odlum col after a few hours of fantastic hiking. The Kananaskis Country Trail Guide
describes a trail that descends from here to Odlum Creek and the old road that would lead us out, but we couldn't find it. After a bit of bushwhacking we did intersect an old skid road (the area has been logged) that had evidence of a human trail in spots, but the spruce and fir trees had grow up so thickly along it that the bushwhacking was quite intense at times. The old saw mill site near the creek was also very overgrown and covered in rocky flood debris, but for the most part the old road that led from here to where we'd began our ascent was in excellent shape. A few washouts weren't difficult to cross, but near where we'd started up the ridge the road crossed Odlum Creek and we were forced to climb above it on animal trail for a few hundred meters to avoid the creek crossing.
Difficulty discounted, this is perhaps the best larch hike in Kananaskis. The scenery is so beautiful that a photo of the midpoint of the ridge was chosen as the cover photo for Volume 5
of the Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, and the absence of crowds on a prime larch weekend makes it that much nicer. It was an absolutely fantastic way to spend a day!