Distance: 9 km
Elevation gain: 400 m View map Download GPS track
It was snowing and blowing in the mountains again today, and while the forecast called for reasonable weather in the foothills I had a suspicion even that wouldn’t materialize. Sandra and I therefore decided to play it safe and stick to some pretty lowly foothills near Sheep River Provincial Park, an area that often seems to get better weather than other places and poses no difficulties should the weather turn. In the past few years it’s become our go-to place on days like this.
Terrible weekend weather is quite common in the Rockies so we’ve pretty much hiked to the top of every treed bump in the area, and coupled with the fact that I much prefer to explore new terrain than to repeat a hike, we were left with few good options for hikes today. We also weren’t very high on motivation, so settled on a mellow hike along a series of parallel ridges just a few kilometers west of the Kananaskis boundary. The Kananaskis Country Trail Guide
identifies them as Long Prairie Ridge, Pine Ridge, and Macabee Ridge, but where one begins and the other ends is pretty much impossible to determine on the map and not particularly clear when hiking them either. Trail maps in the area were even more useless as they lacked contour lines, making it impossible to know whether a particular trail was along a ridge or in a valley.
We parked by the Sheep River Provincial Park office building at the end of a very short road signed as Sheep Station Road. I wasn’t entirely sure where to go from the parking lot, but I found a trail behind the building that led us right to the base of super tiny Long Prairie Ridge and continued along its length. This ridge was the highlight of the trip as its southwestern side was open meadow and the morning light on the foothills was wonderful.
When the ridge trail started to descend towards Death Valley we turned to the northeast and forged our own route as we gently ascended along another ridge. A bit of crusty snow slowed our progress, but the bushwhacking was light and I found I had to move slowly anyway to keep on track; the gently rolling terrain made it very easy to just wander off in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, as we made our way through the forest the weather dramatically changed. In less than a minute it went from sunny and warm – I’d long ago removed my jacket – to cloudy, foggy, and -12 C. I’ve encountered very few weather changes as rapid and pronounced as this and so was a bit happy to intersect the relative safety of another official trail a short time later.
We followed this trail to a minor highpoint that was signed as the summit of Pine Ridge, but any views it might have sported were completely obscured by dense low cloud. This low cloud also dampened the explorer in me and so I decided to continue following the trail as turned to the south and headed back towards the parking lot. This quickly became monotonous, however, so when the north end of Macabee Ridge presented itself we left the trail and ascended it. Walking along its crest was quite nice and the views would have been great had it not been for the low cloud.
When we reached the south end of the ridge we descended a steep grassy slope, then made our way back to the truck. It wasn’t exactly the workout and views I needed today, but it was certainly better than staying home!