Normally done as two short and separate trips, parallel ridges Foran Grade and Windy Point Ridge, in the Sheep River region of Kananaskis, can be combined into a single and longer outing by following our special approach. Neither is that high, they are humble foothills summits after all, but the views from each is pretty darn good. One can take in towering mountains to the west or the vast Alberta plains to the east. It’s all gorgeous and there is much to see, more than one would expect given the modest height gained.
Easily accessible and doable most, if not all the year, conditions permitting of course, hiking this route is ideal in late winter/early spring when stuff deeper in is still under snow. These ridges and others around are great for early season conditioning hikes. Much of the trip described is on official trails but one section, the grind up near the end, is off-route (no risk of getting lost though). Moderately busy, expect to pass more hikers, birdwatchers, cyclists and those on horses.
In winter park at the Sandy McNabb campground winter gate on highway #546 and walk west down the closed road to the trailhead. There is a parallel hiking trail one could take, but it offers nothing more than the pavement route, unless you’re a fan of mud, which it always seems to have a lot of. In summer you can drive straight to the trailhead shaving about four clicks off the trip described in this report.
Leaving the pavement behind at the Foran Grade trail maker, head into the woods. Soon on come to a cattle gate (prepare to share the trail, certain seasons anyway, with moo-moos – watch for poop) then enter a pleasant meadow.
The trail heads up slowly, plunging back into the trees soon enough. In no time gain the ridge and turn north. Heading up, the trees thin here and there the whole way up, allowing one a look to the west. Always gaining elevation, but at a relaxed rate, before you know it you’re on the summit of Foran Grade.
Far below is the Sheep River, still frozen solid the day of our visit. The snaking highway can be seen as well. Bare towering peaks to the west are still a fair way off. Between them and you are a series of low rolling, and mostly treed hills/ridges many of which we’ve visited. They include Green Mountain, Mount Hoffmann, both just south of the river. Also seen close in, is your next objective, Windy Point Ridge which you’ll be on soon enough.
Follow the trail as it switchbacks down to a saddle between the two ridges and intercept the Windy Point trail (popular with equestrian riders) that heads up from the highway, then drops down into Death Valley to the north. We’ve hiked that trail before.
Windy Point Ridge towers above. Leaving the trail behind, confront the brutally steep slopes head on. The going is obvious, just go up taking what route looks suitable. We found it best to keep to the trees (they made good hand-holds) instead of the more open areas beside them. Grass always underfoot, things could be slippery if it’s wet or there is a frost or thin skiff of snow.
In no time, gain the ridge and join up with the Windy Point Ridge trail coming up from the highway (the normal approach). Finding a nice fallen tree to use as bench, we break for lunch. Wine, of course, is on the menu.
Take time to explore the ridge in it’s entirety. Heading south it drops down a bit. From one high point (a popular bird watching spot), get a good look Windy Point Ridge’s impressive cliffs, oddly rugged and mountain-like for such a lowly foothill. Be sure to walk atop them, it’s an airy feeling. Looking down the highway is directly below. To the east you can see Foran Grade, so close you could almost touch it, and in behind many other ridges (Pine and Carry Ridge to name a few). To the southeast are the Sandy McNabb Hills. Lost of other green bumps in the area too, far too many to name.
Back tracking, top out at the highest point on the ridge, in the trees. Continuing on, a meadow opens to the west. Hills, ridges and mountains of note seen include, Missinglink Mountain, Volcano Ridge, Mount Ware, Threepoint Mountain, Mount Rose, Mesa Butte in the north and countless others. Lots to see!
Dropping down, one can connect to Gleason Ridge if you want to extend the adventure. It’s fully treed however, so no views. There does appears to be a trail if you do decide to take a stroll along it. The lack of anything to see was a motivational buzz-kill for us.
Return the way you came, taking care on the steep descent to the saddle. A quick push up to Foran Grade, a drop down to the road, a couple kicks on pavement and it’s all done. This was the first foray into the hills for us since November and it was good. Nice workout, great company as always and some time reconnecting with nature.
We did some exploratory of the area, not shown on the GPS tracks, in search of a better, less steep way to conquer Windy Point Ridge from Foran Grade, but found nothing worth noting. No matter what, if you want to go up from the saddle, it’ll be steep. Well, we tried!
Naming: Foran was the name of a fellow given the task of making the road past here. Windy Point Ridge, well that one should be obvious. Expect it to be gusty.
If you wish more information on this trail, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: March, 2016.
Location: Kananaskis AB, Sheep River area.
Distance: 13km return.
Height gain maximum: 300m.
Height gain cumulative: 480m.
NOTE: all distances and heights are approximate.