Aug 022016
Mount Armstrong Kananaskis

If you crave splendid full-on remote middle-of-nowhere not a soul around isolation, in a beautiful mountain setting, this is the hike for you. We picked it for just that reason. After an incredibly busy couple weeks documenting all manner of historic and industrial sites across Alberta. Saskatchewan and British Columbia, and interviewing those associated with them, we wanted to head into the wilderness to unwind. It just had to be away from the crowds and scenic.

No pulling punches here, the hike in, all eight plus clicks each way is…well..a bit mundane, the path always in the trees and at times seemingly to go on forever. Worried? Don’t be, the reward at the end makes it ALL worthwhile, a valley rimmed one on side by beautiful forested hills and the other by impressive towering peaks. It’s gorgeous and chances are you’ll be sharing it with absolutely no one. It’ll be all yours. There’s the possibility of continuing on, potentially to even more breathtaking environs, if you’re feeling energetic and/or have lots of time.

Mountain Solitude: a trail that’s in the trees with little to see until its end…then its wow! A Chris & Connie Adventure!

The route, officially the Baril Creek Trail, used by hikers, bikers and equestrian riders, follows an overgrown logging road. The going is easy with some minor ups and downs – nothing hard. There’s a few muddy areas. Navigation isn’t a challenge, even with many off-shoot roads (most overgrown), the route being marked by light blue rectangles painted on trees. This is prime bear country, so come prepared. We saw none this day, nor even any signs of them, but we know they’re there.

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The trail head is along Highway #940 (gravel) in the southwestern part of Kananaskis, an area of rolling green hills and towering mountains. Find an obvious pull-off just past (south of) Baril Creek and take the trail heading north into the woods. Soon on, intercept that old logging. It follows a mostly westerly-trending line for the remainder of the trip. At some points Baril Creek is close and can be heard far below in a deep canyon.

Notice all the Buffalo Berry bushes lining the path. The bright red fruit is edible, and even full of all kinds of goodness, but taste awful. Bears like them. With lots of rain recently, the forest floor was blanketed with mushrooms of many different colours and shapes and sizes. Wish I was better at IDing them. Have read numerous books, studied up on them, and just can’t seem to get it. Many Grouse were passed. These dumber than a post birds survive by blending in and not on wits. They can often be approached to the point of touching, giving this “what the hey” blank-stared look before sauntering away or half-heatedly flying off. If they even move at all.

Come to the occasional meadow, otherwise it’s an endless parade of passing trees. If you’re like Connie, you can keep occupied by scanning the ground for four-leaf clovers or strawberries as you walk. Both seemed plentiful. At one point see the remains of the log loading ramp. Up until the 1970s (or thereabouts) the area was harvested of trees. Those former cut-blocks have grown in well since then and it’s hard to tell where they are. Isn’t nature resilient?

A few small streams are crossed. Look for the grassy sloped Coyote Hills to the north, where the trees thin. It’s an objective we’ve been eyeing up for some time. Every now and then, the big mountains in the west can be seen too. Stop teasing! We’ll be there yet!

The going, while a little mind-numbing, is at least fast. Join up with a road, one much more used than the one just left. This route comes in from the next valley over in the south. Soon on come to Baril Creek. There’s a foot-bridge of sorts here, a bit out of sight upstream, that we could have used, had we noticed it before plunging into the damn chilly waters. Doh! We’ll use it on the return.

After a small rise, there’s a break in the trees. Finally, some views. And they’re glorious! The hills in back and to the west, an impenetrable wall of Limestone that is the Alberta Rockies. Worth the price of admission right here. From south to north, Baril Peak, Mount Cornwell and Mount Armstrong are the most prominent massifs. These sit right along the Continental Divide and incidentally the Alberta/BC border.

Back into the trees, temporarily, meandering a bit, soon on drop down to a large meadow (scan for bears). Notice the wood cut-offs scattered about, the remains of a small sawmill operation that once operated here. Do a three-sixty and take in those views more.

On the far side, back in the woods (again), just past a junction (Great Divide Trail), come to a campsite. I could see spending a night here…or anywhere in this valley for that matter. It appears as though the trail west would remain in the trees for the next while, and we already had our share of dense greenery, so we made this our turn around point. Unbeknownst to us, we could have continued on for a click or so and come to a lake. Not sure if it’s worth the visit or not. It looks small and rimmed by dense woods.

Further still, one could go up to Fording Pass but that’s for the ultra-ambitious. It’s probably not doable in a day unless you start real early and have tons more energy than us, biked some of it to save time, or set up base camp nearby and did it as part of a multi-day outing.

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Head back the way you came. We take time to enjoy some well-deserved lunch at the first view point. The wine went down real easy. Finally, exhale! This is what we came for! Our return trip was uneventful and fast. Yours will likely be too. It’s mostly downhill (always a gentle grade). Keep in mind the potential for bears.

If the dull approach is a turn off, but the goal interesting, one could bike in saving some time. Recall, I said it was remote with likely no one around. We did bump into three people who had overnighted in the area, so we did have some company, albeit just briefly.

More trails with minimal elevation gain with at least some nice or interesting scenery…
Upper Kananaskis Lake Loop.
Lost Under Yamnuska.
Jura Creek.

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

Date of adventure: August, 2016.
Location: Southern Kananaskis AB.
Distance: 17km in total there and back.
Height gain maximum: 300m.
Height gain cumulative: 400m-ish.
NOTE: all distances and heights are approximate.
Technical bits: This trail? Come on!
Reference: Kananaskis Trail Guide by Gillean Daffern.

Baril Creek Trail

The trail follows a former logging road.

Four Leaf Clover

We’re in for a lucky day!

Baril Creek Valley

An occasional meadow is passed…

Kananakis Hiking

…but otherwise this is a pretty typical view.

Logging Kananaskis

Remains of a log loading ramp.

Kananaskis Grouse

None too sharp in the head, the Grouse survives by blending in.

Mushrooms Kananaskis

With all the recent rain there was lots of mushrooms around.

Baril Creek Hiking Trail

We intercept a more used trail.

Icy Trail Ahead

Good to know.

Baril Creek Kananaskis

Wet feet! Damn it was cold.

Mount Armstrong Kananaskis

Mount Armstrong dead ahead.

Sawmill Kananaskis

Site of a sawmill

Horse Camp Kananaskis

An outfitter’s camp.

Wood ladder

A primitive ladder.

Baril Peak Kananaskis

Baril Peak behind.

Mt Armstrong Kananaskis

Heading back.

Mount Cornwell Kananaskis

Mount Cornwell centre.

Lunch in Kananaskis

A toast to this wonderful playground we call home.

Hiking with wine

And all hail the wine! Oh no, it’s empty!

Kananskis Baril Creek

Turns out there was a bridge (of sorts) upstream.

Hiking Baril Creek Trail

A stroll in the forest.

Baril Creek Route

The route in uses the Baril Creek Trail. Star=start.


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4 Comments on "Mountain Solitude"

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John Reid
John Reid

(via Facebook)
I find camping at James Lake provides a great launch point for exploring the area including Fording Pass, Mt. Boulton and Armstrong. Extremely quiet. Been there twice and only ever saw a couple of people; those being day hikers.

Julie Bartlett
Julie Bartlett

Looks like a wonderful day!