This was not our first trip up Powderface Ridge this year, Earlier in the spring we hiked it, but a thick fog prevented us from seeing anything once at the summit. What a bummer, as we heard the views were stupendous. Even before we finished that first trip, we vowed to return. With blue skies foretasted this wonderful fall day, we felt the time was right for another stab at it. This day was near perfect and we had a blast!
On this latest visit we not only took in the summit but also two outliers, or high points, on the ridge’s south end (on the way down).
The trailhead for this adventure is at the end of Highway 66 near the Little Elbow Campground. Park at the side of the road just before the pavement ends and follow the obvious path heading up and right into the trees.
Until a col is reached, so most of the way up, the trail heads up fairly steeply without so much as a break. For a time, trees are all you’ll see. Later on though you’ll pass through some grassy meadows. This up section is fairly rocky in places with the occasional loose bits here and there.
When the trail tops out at a saddle, take the path heading left into the woods. As a side trip, climb the the bare bump to the right for some good views. It’s not much work. We’ll visit it on the way down.
For the next while you’ll traverses the east face of Powderface Ridge a little below the crest. The trail has got a a bit of a roller coaster profile and so you’ll drop down here and there and head up here and there, many times over. There are a few flat sections thrown in for good measure. Some parts are muddy.
Part way in, a large slump is passed where a section of hillside gave way (spring 2013). A new trail has formed across the mess.
In pretty much no time you’re at the top. Step out of the trees onto a broad flat and mostly featureless ridge crest. The actual summit is hard to determine, but I think it’s one of the small bumps just to the north. Take the time to explore this wonderful place – you can head both north or south for quite a distance without loosing any real elevation.
Now take in the views, they are simply amazing. To the west, a wall of rock called Nihahi Ridge stretches off to the right. Later it connects with Compression Ridge further on. Almost directly north is Jumpingpound Mountain and in behind a bit, Cox Hill. To the east are Moose Mountain and Prairie Mountain, two places we’ve been up before (Prairie Mountain twice). In the southeast are many rolling hills and ridges, the most prominent one called – depending on the source – Iyarhe Ipan (Stoney First Nation’s language) or Quirk Ridge. I’m confused since there is a lot of contradictory information on this modest bump. Anyway…
Directly south is Forgetmenot Ridge (sometimes Forget-me-not Ridge), another place we’ve been up. Large barren peaks seen in the southwest include Mounts Glasgow, Cornwall and Banded Peak. Highway 66 can be seen below at many points as can the Elbow River which is Calgary’s water supply.
I’ve been told the summit of Powderface Ridge is often a windy place and it did not disappoint this day. In fact the gusts were sometimes so strong that it was often hard to stand. You’ll notice that a few gnarled and stunted trees grow in this very harsh environment, I can’t even image what it’s like in winter.
On the way back down we took time to visit that one high point we spoke of earlier. The views were good and somewhat different when compared to the true summit. Lower down, we flanked another outlier to examine a couple very larger boulders. I love rocks. Strange, yes.
The rest of our trip down was uneventful.
This is a fairly popular trail but it’s stretched out enough that crowding does not appear to be a problem. We passed perhaps several dozen people in total, including a small girl, maybe four or five years old, who incredibly was able to trudge up and down the trail all on her own. We saw her at the summit! By the way, it appears that a lot of people turn back at that one outlier.
The Powderface Ridge trail is also used by mountain bikers. Expert mountain biker’s I’d say – but we saw none this day. With it being so steep and rocky it must be a real challenge. I guess equestrian riders also visit here, based on the horse poop we saw.
There are options to continue north up the ridge if you wish. After dropping down you’ll intercept the Powderface Creek Trail which can take you to Highway 66 or the Powderface Trail gravel road if you so wish. But then where do you go? Hike back along the road? No way! Bike back? Workable. Arrange a ride or use two cars? That’s best.
This is an official trail so it’s marked, although the way is always clear anyway. This status also means that deadfall (always a problem), gets cleared periodically.
The name Powderface is taken from a First Nation’s fellow that once lived in the area.
To see our first visit here, follow this link…
If you wish more information on this trail, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: October, 2014.
Location: Elbow River area, Kananaskis, AB.
Distance: 15km out and back.
Height gain maximum: 610m (last trip said 640 – Powderface Ridge is shrinking).
Height gain cumulative: 760m (estimated).
NOTE: all heights and distances are approximate.
Reference: Kananaskis Trail Guide by Gillean Daffern.