May 092016
 
Kananaskis Gunnery Mountain

It’s a modest-sized lump of limestone in the foothills of Kananaskis. That’s Gunnery Mountain and hiking it is nothing short of pure and unadulterated fun. Sure, it’s a bit rugged looking as seen from the highway, what with all those steep cliff bands, rock outcroppings and scree slopes. But…using a back side approach one can gain the summit quickly, simply and easily. If your wuss meter is easily set off, like mine, you need not fear. There are no worries at all. The going is easy.

Great rewards await you at the top. Enjoy far reaching views extending off in many directions of low rolling hills, treed ridges, river valleys, endless forests and even the plains to the east. Throw in some towering peaks for good measure and it’s scenery overload. It may be a small mountain, but is a giant when it comes to enjoymnet.

Gunnery Mountain: a small peak located in the foothills of Kananaskis that’s well worth the hike. A Chris & Connie Adventure!

Some of the route used here is off-trail with some minor bushwhacking, so be sure that’s in your comfort zone. It appears a bear or bears frequent the upper valley used on the ascent (we saw many signs) so keep your eyes and ears open.

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The trailhead is along the highway just east of the old Eyrie Gap day use area – gone after the 2013 floods but still marked on most maps. There is an obvious cairn at the start just to the right of a small creek. Look west-ish and up and see your goal for the day directly above.

Head up the initially steep-walled valley, Gunnery Creek far below in a rocky canyon. The grade is mostly gentle with occasional steep parts and very rarely some loose bits. Dip down to the same creek (often dry this high up), crossing it and recrossing it many times. The trail braids at times. Trees thin in places.

About half way up the valley widens. Break out to a meadow and enjoy the first views to the south. To your right is a long ridge which can be hiked. We visited it last year: Ridge 710871 – Gunnery Ridge?

To the left is your objective. Make a note of a break in a cliff band. This is where the trail you’ll soon be on bypasses all the hard stuff. Holy Cross Mountain, higher and even more rugged, connects with Gunnery here (technically, Gunnery is a simply an outlier of Holy Cross – a lower connecting peak that’s part of the larger mountain…now you know!).

At one point, at a small wet draw, the trail splits. Take the left branch.

Now here’s where it gets a bit tricky, the off-trail part. Look up at Holy Cross and spot a deep gouge high up. Line up with it and head up into the woods (occasional game trails). Trend a little left, jumping over deadfall the whole way. aiming for the base of an obvious scree slope where the trail reappears – faint at first but better and more defined as you travel south and upwards. I fully expect, as this route becomes more popular, that a more established trail will form in this gap over time. At this point your traversing the lower and sometimes very steep slopes (don’t trip) of Holy Cross.

Look down at the valley you came up earlier. We spotted some hikers below but they must have had another objective in mind. Maybe Holy Cross Mountain, Gunnery Ridge, the saddle between the two? They didn’t come up our way and we had the summit of Gunnery to ourselves. In fact beside that group we saw only one other hiker this day. Nice solitude.

You can see the top of Gunnery Ridge now. In behind, the Bull Creek Hills, a hiker’s playground, comes into view.

Head up steeply through a gap in the cliffs. This is what hiking legend Daffern calls the “Notch”. Go up and up, then level out at a saddle between Gunnery and Holy Cross. Some rudimentary trails head up in dense trees aiming for the summit (I guess), but we elect to circle round a bit, hitting slopes that are less wooded with many interspersed meadows.

Views to the west open up here. Just to the left of Holy Cross is Junction Hill. Notice the old coal exploration roads on its east facing flanks. See the post: Junction Hill recon to see what they look like up close.

The grade is easy. There is no trail, but the way is clear. Just keep heading up. In no time, top out at the summit. There are a few trees here, but it’s mostly open. You can continue down Gunnery’s south ridge for a bit, losing some elevation in the process, or simply enjoy the views from this high point.

Directly south, across the highway and Highwood River directly below, and with Gunnery forming Eyrie Gap (or Highwood Gap), a small opening in an otherwise impenetrable wall of rock, is Mount Mann. On either side are numerous ridges. Directly south is the flat top of Plateau Mountain. Beside it is Mount Burke, home to an abandoned fire lookout.

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We can also see Raspberry Ridge (we’ve been), Coyote Hills (we haven’t been) and a wall of barren and very rugged mountains in the west (we’ll never be). Holy Cross dominates the view in the north. Looking a little to the right, are a series of treed ridges in a near inaccessible and hence seldom visited part of Kananaskis.

Don’t leave yet. Summits are made for lunch…and wine! We take time to enjoy both. Do the same or just sit and relax. When ready, retrace your steps back to the car. I understand it’s possible to drop down to the highway on Gunnery’s west flanks, if you want to mix it up. Not sure how easy or hard it is.

Naming conventions: Gunnery Mountain (unofficial), after the fellow who built the road below the mountain – the present highway follows much of his grade. Holy Cross Mountain, by the way, is named for a snow formation that appears on it each spring, that takes the shape of a cross.

Some of our favourite summits…
South Mist Hills.
South End of Lawson.
Wind Ridge.
Turtle Mountain.

If you wish more information on this route, by all means contact us!

Date of adventure: May, 2016.
Location: Highwood area, Kananaskis AB.
Distance: 10km return.
Height gain maximum: 610m.
Height gain cumulative: 620m
NOTE: all distances and heights are approximate.
Reference: Kananaskis Trail Guide by Gillean Daffern.

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Gunnery Mountain

At the trailhead…

Gunnery Mountain Kananaskis

Gunnery Mountain in back.

Gunnery Mountain Trail

The valley is steep-walled to start.

Holy Cross Mountain

Connie eyeing up Holy Cross Mountain.

Gunnery Creek Trail

Looking back.

Gunnery Mountain Hiking Trail

We’ll soon leave the trail.

Holy Cross Mountain Kananaskis

At this point, head west into the trees…

Bushwhacking

The bushwhacking is easy.

Hiking Gunnery Mountain

The objective comes into view.

Gunnery Ridge

What we call Gunnery Ridge across the valley.

Kananaskis Gunnery Mountain

The trail makes a line for a break in the cliffs ahead.

Kananaskis Hikers

Hikers on the trail below.

Trail up Gunnery Mountain

Into the trees, heading steeply up.

Kananaskis Holy Cross

Looking up at Holy Cross.

Gunnery Mountain Hiking

Gentle slopes on Gunnery’s west side.

Gunnery Mountain Summit

The summit looks treed, but is mostly open.

View from Gunnery Mountain

Plains off in the distance.

Top of Gunnery Mountain

Connie joins me on the summit.

Mount Mann Kananaskis

Looking down the ridge – Mount Mann can be seen centre back.

Junction Hill Kananaskis

Junction Hill, centre.

Mount Burke

In behind Connie, Mount Burke (centre) and Plateau Mountain (to its right).

Hiking top of Gunnery Mountain

Returning to the summit for lunch.

Bull Creek Hills

Bull Creek Hills in the distance.

Raspberry Ridge

Just some of the bumps seen: Hell’s Ridge, Raspberry Ridge and Coyote Hills.

Junction Hill

The coal exploration roads on Junction Hill.

Holy Cross Kananaskis

The full south facing aspect of Holy Cross.

Views from Gunnery Mountain

Looking north into a seldom visited part of Kananaskis.

Gunnery/Holy Cross

At the saddle that separates Gunnery from Holy Cross.

Rock face Kananaskis

I check out the rock face…

Prairie Crocus

Prairie Crocus, the first flowers of spring.

Gunnery Creek Hiking Trail

Back on the the Gunnery Creek section of the trail.

Gunnery Mountain Trailhead

Time for home.

Gunnery Mountain Route

The Gunnery Mountain Route.

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10 Comments on "Gunnery Mountain"

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Lila Cugini
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Lila Cugini

(via Facebook)
Gorgeous scenery!

Howie Boyd
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Howie Boyd

Thanks for taking us on the journey with you. It was a nice read and gorgeous photos.

Naheer
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Naheer

This is great, thanks for the map. I have been wanting to do this mountain for a while but was a touch unsure on direction.

Randey Buela
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Randey Buela

Great photos, Chris! Looks like a great hike. Your site is always a pleasure to visit. Does the route you took follow the Gunnery Creek trail for the most part at first?

Glen Belbeck
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Glen Belbeck
Like your blog, but we printed only the first pages and not the GPS track, so had trouble finding “the left branch”. The bit that threw us off was “At one point, at a small wet draw, the trail splits. Take the left branch.” By last Friday (June 3), the draw was not wet. That draw was at exactly 2.5 kms. from the highway, I believe. Those of us who use their smart phones for distance tracking (outside cell coverage areas) would find that sort of distance note most useful! What a great quiet valley! Scared some other hikers who had whistles and two dogs. We were standing off the trail quietly catching our breathe. We’ll shout out a greeting next time, before they mistake me for a bear. Only other thing for us newbies is to post the Lat/Long of the trailhead, as it is on the side of… Read more »
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