Ridge 710871 (Gunnery Ridge?)
Story and photos by Chris & Connie.
An unexpected early season dump of snow in the high country meant sticking to the foothills. We decided on Gunnery Mountain as a goal, a modest sized chunk of rock overlooking the Highwood River in Kananaskis west of Longview. Well into the trip a bear gets in the way forcing us to make a change of plans mid-stride. Opposite our original objective is a long arrow straight mass of rock topped by grass and many stunted trees with the wonderful name “Ridge 710871”. We’ll hike it instead. Getting to it is via the same access route, making this choice a no-brainier.
The trail up starts at a bend in the highway just east of the Eyrie Gap day use area (closed due to the 2013 floods, but still signed). An obvious path can be seen heading north into the trees next to tiny Gunnery Creek. It heads up and over Gunnery Pass, with an offshoot trail to Gunnery Mountain near the high point. In places the route is fairly faint but the way is always obvious. Getting to the ridge we visited means easy off trail hiking.
From the start, the trail heads up, but never too steeply. It parallels the creek most of the way crossing and recrossing it many times. In lower reaches water flows, but higher up it’s dry. At one point it’s deep inside a box canyon.
Soon the valley widens slightly and the trees thin. Gunnery Mountain is on the left. From this angle, it looks far too rugged to summit. Holy Cross Mountain, a much higher peak, which can be scrambled, is right behind. To the right is the gently sloped ridge we’ll end up visiting.
Soon we’re in the white stuff. Things get slippery in places, but the going was still mostly easy. At some flagging, just before Gunnery Pass, we head left off onto the Gunnery Mountain trail. A half a click in, we see bear tracks, lots of them and from what we could see they were very fresh. They head off following the very trail we were to use. Time to “Plan B” it!
The ridge to the east looks nice. To gain it we simply backtrack, make our way up to Gunnery Pass turn right, climb up a bit and we’re there. Well almost. The “summit” is still away off, but not much higher and the going is easy. We continue along the straight barely undulating ridge top. There is no trail but none is needed. The way is obvious. We pass some cat tracks in the snow – a Lynx or Bobcat we suspect given their size. “Here kitty, kitty!”
A storm blows in, gusts at times almost knocking us over. The cold is insufferable. It feels like mid-December not early September. Passing weather beaten Limber Pines, we’re reminded that difficult conditions here are the norm.
We stop and eye up Gunnery Mountain across the valley. The trail we were to take can be seen here and there across the valley, passing through the “Notch” (a name given by hiking guru Gillean Daffern), a break in the otherwise impenetrable cliff bands that protects the summit. We scan open areas for that bear…
We’re soon on the summit of Ridge 710871. This strange moniker (it has no official name) is a GPS “grid reference” coordinate and was coined in a Kananaskis hiking guide. How about we give it a real name? Gunnery Ridge maybe? Anything’s better than a number.
From here we have great views all around. Holy Cross Mountain, in the northwest, dominates the scene. It’s really storming up near its lofty summit. All around are an endless series of large hills and rolling ridges, most whose names are unknown to us. In the southeast is a view to the prairies – the weather is much nicer down there! Directly south is Mount Burke, the tallest peak in that direction, home to an abandoned fire lookout. The flat top of aptly named Plateau Mountain can be seen behind it. Tiny Mount Mann is right across the Highwood River. Gunnery Mountain is so close we can almost touch it. It’s all cliffs from this side.
We take some time for lunch, hunkering down under some trees on the lee-side of the summit and out of the wind. The skies boil above us but only a few flakes fall. We have a great view of the Bull Creek Hills (we’ve been), directly east. Some hikers are seen making their way up via the Grass Pass Trail. The ridge we’re on could easily be accessed from that side – I see the makings of a loop route.
While Connie relaxes, I head south, losing some elevation in the process, to check out more of the ridge. Not much to see except trees, so I soon turn back.
Our trip down was uneventful. It was nice to get out of the wind and blowing snow! In spite it of being a substitute destination, we liked Gunnery Ridge a lot (come on, make that name stick). Gunnery Mountain is still very much on our radar however…
Gunnery Mountain, Creek, Pass, et al, was named after Billy Gunnery, a fellow who in the 1920s, worked on roads in the area. The mountain’s name is unofficial.
Date of adventure: September, 2015.
Location: Highwood River area, Kananaskis AB.
Distance: 9km there and back.
Height gain maximum: 480m.
Height gain cumulative: 520m.
NOTE: all heights and distances are approximate.
Reference: Kananaskis Trail Guide by Gillean Daffern.