Story and photos by Chris & Connie.
The day’s objective is Mount Mann, a rather modest height, mostly treed ridge, overlooking the Highwood River in the foothills of south Kananaskis. It’s an easy task summiting this big chunk of rock and while the views at the top are limited in some directions, it’s still very much worth the effort. Along the way, explore a series of rocky canyons home to a noisy creek.
Our route takes in part of the Cataract Creek Trail, then for the rest of the time we bushwhack. If unsure one can take an established, or mostly established path, all the way to the top. We said no to that so we could take in more gorges, a great many more open areas and additional ridge-walking. Following our route one must be comfortable off trail. This is not a terribly popular destination, not sure why, it’s quite nice, so expect to have the summit to yourself.
Our visit took place on a glorious fall day. The colours were nothing short of breathtaking.
The trail begins at the former Sentinel Day Use Area on Highway 40, all damaged from the spring 2013 floods. It won’t be rebuilt I understand. There’s some parking in the grass by the highway or on the river flats.
Cross the east flowing Highwood River just west of where it meets up with Cataract Creek coming in from the south. In the fall, this is an easy task. In spring, the water is likely to be too deep and swift. Expect to meet anglers here.
Look up and slightly west and you’ll see the summit of Mount Mann looming overhead. From here it looks a challenge, with lots of cliffs and rock walls to get in the way. Heading further south, a nicely sloped ramp allows one to bypass all that ugly stuff. It couldn’t be more easy!
If you don’t see the Cataract Creek trail, explore the river bank a bit until you intercept it. This route is old and well established dating back some time and once first used by first nation’s people. Follow it south.
The trail rises a bit and soon meets up with Cataract Creek. From here on, it’s always pretty close by. Take time to admire the many rocky gorges, some of them quite deep, narrow and coloured a lovely green, and picturesque falls seen along this stretch. I can see taking a dip along here on a hot summer’s day. Expect to see more people fishing. Debris from the horrible 2013 floods has deposited a lot of uprooted trees here and there.
Still trending south, at an obvious ramp, treed with aspens and with grass underfoot, head right. The Cataract Creek trail continues south, extending on into an ever narrowing valley, for many, many kilometres. Something for another day.
Climb and climb some more, taking a line above a cliff band. The views open up. Enjoy them! Across the valley (east) is an incredibly long ridge (called “Lookout Range” in hiking guides) extending all the way from the Highwood River to the summit of Mt Burke far, far away. If you look closely you can spot the long abandoned fire lookout (and some modern weather instruments) on top of that peak. In behind it is the flat top of aptly named Plateau Mountain.
Gaining the ridge, head right (north). At times you’re in open meadows, other times dense woods. Occasional animal trails help here and there. The ridge drops and rises time and again. Just follow its apex.
A short break in the trees allows one the only view to the west. The Highwood River and the nearby highway which parallels it, can be seen. To their right is Junction Hill, which we’ve been up. Hells Ridge and the Coyote Hills are directly west. In behind them is a high wall of barren limestone peaks with British Columbia right on the other side.
Almost at the top, we intercept the beaten trail, the normal route, I guess, up Mount Mann. It takes a different line and drops down much sooner than the path we used. We liked our way – any chance to do extended ridge walking is most welcome.
The summit is reached and we break out the lunch. Today’s wine selection is Chateau Puech Haut, a nice dry (and cheap!) white from France. Wine always makes a great hike even better. We bring it every time.
A thick mass of trees blocks the view west. To the north they thin a bit, just enough so that Holy Cross Mountain and Gunnery Mountain can be seen. The latter, plus the one we’re on, Mount Mann, form a narrow breach in an otherwise impenetrable wall of mountains, the only opening allowing one in and out of the area, known as Eyrie Gap (sometimes Highwood Gap). From here you’re a stone’s throw from your ride and you might even see if far below.
At the edge of the Mount Mann summit meadow cliff bands fall away. Don’t venture too close.
The view east east is wide open. Across the Highwood is what we call Gunnery Ridge, aka Ridge 710871 in hiking books (we like our name better). In behind it and a bit higher are the Bull Creek Hills. Beyond is the prairies.
Directly in front are a good number of parallel ridges. Most seem to have no name. Some are treed top to bottom, others more open and even look to be good objectives in themselves. Cataract Creek can be seen below. You were just there! The highway and Highwood extent off towards the plains and beyond to the town of Longview. Our visit, fall colours were everywhere and the views below were simply “wow”! It was pure magic! We spend some extra time, we’re in no hurry, taking it all in.
Heading back down, we retrace our steps. We could have taken that established trail we spoke of earlier (which by the way must be very new as it does not appear in any hiking books) and probably shaved off some time. But why would we want to do that? Our way was too much fun! This new trail, by the way, meets up with (or leaves) the Cataract Creek Trail at a meadow just south of the first gorge. The junction is hard to see, we noticed it only on the return.
We come across a BB gun in the grass. The strange things we find in the woods. Hunter Thompson pose!
Dropping down, take in those nice gorges again then it’s splash, splash, splash across the river and the journey is over. Look up and see where you’ve just been. It’s not the highest peak, but most definitely so, it’s still quite satisfying.
Date of adventure: September, 2015.
Location: Highwood River area, Kananaskis AB.
Distance: 12km by our route.
Height gain maximum: 450m.
Height gain cumulative: 530m.
NOTE: all heights and distances are approximate.
Reference: Kananaskis Trail Guide by Gillean Daffern.