A short and steep trail heads up to the South End of Lawson, aka Little Lawson or simply South Lawson, a rocky summit with stupendous views of Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Lakes and the Opal Ranges (among others). This destination is a highpoint on a long undulating ridge that extends north for many, many kilometres – it’s possible to go further. Much of the hike is in the trees but don’t let that dissuade you. Once they thin you’ll be treated to some amazing vistas.
On this trip we technically did not summit. We got very close though, to within a hundred metres or so and within sight of it. Strong winds made the final section, which is narrow, loose and somewhat “airy”, a bit dangerous. That’s no biggie since the elevation difference is only a couple metres anyway.
The day started off with lovely blue skies but at times things got hazy. We hoped that we’d catch larches this trip, which in the fall turn a lovely yellow colour and which we knew grew near the summit, but we were a little late. Most had already shed their needles – larch: the only conifer to do this each fall.
The trailhead for the South End of Lawson route is along the Smith-Dorrien or Spray Lakes road. There is lots of parking along a pullout (don’t block the gate) across from the trail.
Head north-ish following a rough 4×4 track that parallels a man-made channel, home to a small creek. In no time, you’ll come to a flume and at the intake, look for a faint trail heading right (don’t take the marked snowshoe trail a bit earlier on). Cross a dry wash and then head up steeply. For the next while all you’ll see is trees.
The trail, while hard to see in places, is still easy to follow for the most part. We lost it a couple times, but just as qucikly found it again. If all else fails, just head up and keep on the narrow-width ridge crest – it’s the only way you can go. The grade is mostly moderate with a few steep and sometimes loose sections thrown in for good measure. Any flat spots, few in number, are quite short.
As you gain elevation, there are occasional views where the trees thin. At a meadow, we get our first idea of just how high we are – there is a big drop-off to our right. Along here is one of the steepest sections we’d see this trip, but it’s on grass and was quite easy.
We pass through a larch belt (darn, they’ve already turned) and then drop down to a col. Next up is a steep, rather loose section that gets awfully close to the edge of a high drop off. Having a fear of heights, I choose to avoid this section by bushwhacking through some dense woods to the left. Connie on the other hand is not so bothered and tackled the trail head-on without fear or concern. On the way down I challenged myself…I was going to hike it, but at the last minute chickened out and dived back into the safety of the trees. While I thrashed about trying to find my way down, Connie hiked it like it was nothing.
The ridge levels out for a bit and for a time is nice and grassy. Shortly after is the final push to the summit just above the treeline. This last bit is on loose rubble – careful it’d be easy to trip or twist an ankle. As you head north on South Lawson, the rocky ridge crest quickly narrows and the drop offs become steeper and more precipitous. This took me out of my comfort zone, as you can see on my face in the one picture. Okay, the question on everyone’s mind, why, if you are so scared of heights, do you climb mountains? I can’t answer that. I know, it makes no sense.
As you recall, strong winds kept us from reaching our planned objective, but in the end, we missed our mark by only a minuscule amount. We made it to what’s called the false summit which was real close by and almost as high – there is only a couple metre difference in elevation between the two. Good enough, especially given the potentially dangerous conditions. There is even a summit cairn here, telling us we’re not the only ones who turned back at this point.
Mountains seen from this lofty position include numerous interconnected peaks in the east, Mounts Denny, Potts, Evan-Thomas and countless others, that make the Opal Ranges. In front of them is King Creek Ridge. Mt Indefatigable looms over Lower Kananaskis Lake in the southwest. Beside it is Mount Invincible. To the west is Mount Kent, a long impenetrable wall-like ridge, much like Mount Lawson.
A deep forested valley to the west is the source of Kent Creek, which we walked alongside earlier (the flume stream). To the east is another much wider valley, home to the highway we came in on (Highway 40)
Somewhere in the south is the small wooded hill that is home to the Kananaskis Fire Lookout, a hike we did recently (in the snow!). Partially obscured is Upper Kananaskis Lake, which we love to hike around too. It’s stunning!
It’s possible to go further north along the ridge to Mount Lawson proper, but the terrain becomes technical at the next high point. Plus you’ll have to travel many more kilometres in distance, initially in dense woods, and then gain many hundreds of metres of elevation in the process. That’s a little too hardcore for us.
Take some time to soak it all up, then return the way you came – if you’re like us you must hate leaving wonderful places such as this. Our trip down was completely uneventful.
Back at the bottom, I take time to hike up Kent Creek a bit, which feeds the flume. Perhaps half a click in, I find a lovely little waterfall. Very nice!
Getting close to the car, the blue skies returned allowing us to take some nice photos of Spillway Lake and the same Opal Ranges we looked at earlier, but from higher up.
Of all the summits we’ve visited the last couple years, this is now one of our favourites. It’s sweet. Sure the in-the-trees part is mundane, but the views and all later on more then make up for it. Given its modest height, it feels much higher then it is. In spite of appearing in a popular trail guide, and that’s it’s incredibly easy to both access and to summit, it does not appear many people hike up South Lawson. Strange. Looking online, I see a few people have done it in the winter.
If you wish more information on this trail, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: October, 2014.
Location: Peter Lougheed Park, AB.
Distance: 8km there and back.
Height gain maximum: 700m.
Height gain cumulative: 760m.
NOTE: all heights and distances are approximate.
Technical bits: Loose sections of trail, wind this day (strong enough to knock you over)
Reference: Kananaskis Trail Guide by Gillean Daffern.