A few times a year we find ourselves in the Crowsnest Pass, a favourite area of ours. A cabin we rent sits rights below Turtle Mountain and its famous slide and having spent many years admiring it all from below, we decided it was time to see it from the opposite angle.
Welcome to Turtle Mountain our first “Kane” scramble – so named after Alan Kane who’s book on the subject of climbing mountains is a bible for this hobby. It’s a rated easy by the author and is a short and popular route. Given its interesting history, the close proximity to town and the fun accent, I can see why.
We start by driving to the parking spot, a mere three minutes from our cabin. That’s the shortest drive to a trail head we’ve ever done. The route starts at the base of the mountain right behind the town of Blairmore, almost in people’s back yards, along the obvious pipeline right of way just before it dips down steeply. Park here, walk down the dip and look for the yellow rocks. These announce the start of your adventure.
And then from there head up, and up and up and up without any real break until you reach the top. Initially in the trees, the trail sometimes braids but always meets back up. While steep, the going is mostly easy with only a few scree patches adding to the challenge. The trail stays along the mountain’s western spine, sometimes ducking into the trees, but otherwise it’s out in the open. At times you are on solid bedrock, but as you gain height there is a bit more scree – so be careful.
Before long you are at the top!
There are actually two peaks, the second east one being only marginally higher, separated by a fair size gap. However large deep fissures between, many partially hidden by lingering snow patches made it unsafe for us to traverse. The gap used to be mountain and that slide material down below originated from here. I imagine the mountain was somewhat higher before the slide. One thing is for certain, it sure was interesting to see whole Frank Slide mess from this perspective.
From the top of Turtle Mountain we were able to see every town in the Crowsnest pass. And there are a lot of them, each generally associated with a specific coal mine or mining company. Starting from the east there is Lundbreck, Passburg (gone), Burmis (gone), Bellevue, Hillcrest, Frank, Blairmore, Coleman, Sentinel (mostly gone), and finally Crowsnest at the BC border. Today they are collectively known as the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass, although for locals each former town is still often refereed to by its original name.
Far below us we had a good view of the highway and rail line as they pass through the slide path. We could easily see the Frank Slide Interpretive centre too, an interesting place in itself to visit. It’s a great museum dedicated to the slide and the people it affected.
To the west we had a clear view of the pass’s namesake Crowsnest Mountain along with Sentry Mountain and Phillipps Peak / Mount Tecumseh (that mountain has two high points each with its own name). Directly below us and above our cabin is Bluff Mountain and all around there are other rolling hills to take in, including one we call One Mine Ridge, a place we’ve been up. Also seen in the north, if you know where to look, is the ghost town of Lille.
To the south is the Castle Wilderness and lots of ugly logging cut blocks – a necessary evil I guess, we all need wood.
On the way up a Canadian Forces CF-18 flew past and almost level with us (twice). I wish I had the camera out and ready, it was amazing! But alas, it went by far too fast to catch. I wonder to this day what it was doing here in The Pass.
This trip we shared the trail with perhaps a half dozen others and it looked like everyone had a great time.
The Frank Slide took place in 1903 and resulted the in the deaths of some 70-90 people. Missing the main part of town of Frank by an extremely narrow margin, it wiped out the coal mine, the railway and temporarily dammed the Crowsnest River, resulting in a further mess. The coal miners while trapped inside by the slide manged to dig their way out. It took many weeks for the CPR line to open.
Turtle Mountain still moves and there are many sensors up at the top, keeping an eye on things. Can it happen again?
This trip we were joined by our eldest son Will.
If you wish more information on this trail, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: May 2009.
Location: Crowsnest Pass.
Distance: 7.5km return.
Height gain from start: 890m.
Height gain cumulative: 890m
Technical bits: Some loose scree.
Notes: If bagging the second peak, watch for the fissures.
Reference: Bob Spirko’s Road Not Taken.