This city hike has everything! Urban blight, a dull overcast day, gritty industrial areas, noisy highways, airways and rail yards, funny smells, neglected city parks, icy pathways and an unexpected and intense snow storm to round it all off. What more could one ask for?
In winter our hiking options are severely limited and so to keep in shape you’ll often find use travelling along Calgary’s extensive pathways system. We do this more for the exercise than the surroundings.
By this time of year however we’ve passed over many of the sections numerous times and in our desperation to find a place we have not visited recently, we take in a stretch that passes through a mostly industrial area along the Bow River. An odd choice I have to admit. I find the industrial scene interesting, even in spite of all the down sides to it. I guess it’s the boy in me who likes trains and rail yards and noisy dirty factories. Near the turn around point of the trip, things actually change and we get to see clean tree filled parks. But that’s only at the end. Otherwise it’s not very photogenic, as you will see.
Oh yeah, then a storm rolls in and for about twenty minutes it becomes almost impossible to move. The wind was so fierce making it hard to stand and to see. What a great end to the hike! Actually, it made it pretty interesting, if not a little bit chilling.
This “adventure” starts at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, a wilderness oasis near downtown Calgary. While it has trees and rivers and birds and animals and looks like a serene place, it still can not escape the noise. The nearby rail yards, the passing jets and nearby Deerfoot Trail make sure you do not forget you are deep inside a city.
Heading south from here we pass a rail car repair facility. A number of freight cars are lined up right next to the pathway and each shows signs of damage. Dents, scars and missing parts, but they’ll get repaired. Of interest is an old flat car painted blue. While you can not see in the picture, it’s marked for the Milwaukee Road, a railway that ceased to exist in the mid 1980s. It’s clearly past retirement age so what it’s doing here is anyone’s guess. And why the baby blue?
Continuing on we flank the huge Alyth yards, one of CPR’s largest and busiest terminals. You can hear the trains rumbling by and it’s a noisy smelly place. Not long after we duck under two railway bridges of very substantial construction.
Soon after we cross over the Bow River at Ogden Road and we enjoy the traffic noise and road spray as we make our way across it. On the east side we head south again following the river. In spite of the industrial area we’ve passed through (plus we are on the downstream side of downtown), the Bow River is remarkably clean here and we see many fishermen along the shore.
After passing under the noisy Deerfoot Trail under the Calf Robe Bridge we enter the Old Refinery Park. It’s the former home of, guess what, an old refinery. The ground is likely too contaminated to be used for anything but a park. Not without some serious cleaning up that is. There are trees here but one can still not avoid the noise.
The Calf Robe Bridge by the way is well known to Calgarians and typically at every rush hour there is an accident or two here. There are relatively sharp approaches on both sides, plus it’s often slippery, leading to daily mayhem. And it’s named the Calf Robe not the Calf Rope as it’s sometime mistakenly called. The bridge was named for Ben Calf Robe, a Siksika chief, from a reserve east of Calgary. At various times in the past, family members of the chief have blessed the bridge in an attempt to help calm the carnage. It was an admirable gesture but I am afraid this did little to change things – perhaps they could have blessed the horrible drivers that in the end are the real cause of the problem.
In addition to the traffic noise, we are greeted by some wonderful smells. The Calgary sewage treatment plant sits across the river from us and the stink wafts our way. Intermixed with those wonderful aromas, we catch smells of yeast coming from a factory. The two odours mix and together it was almost nauseating. Fortunately the wind shifted or something and they were gone. Along here there are large patches of ice on the pathway which we had to be mindful of.
Leaving this park we enter another, or is it part of the first park? I do not know, but a fence and rail line separate them. We’re back in the trees and the Deerfoot Trail is far enough away now that its only a low hum. While it could be a nice place the park appears quite neglected and seems to be reverting to a wild state.
From here we head up to the neighbourhood of Lynnview Ridge. To the left are low income housing and to the right a steep escarpment that goes down to the river. Given we have not done a summit for some time, we’ll call this “airy” location our fist of 2013. Hahaha. From this height we can see a driving range across the river and in spite of the cool conditions, the tees are full, proving that Canadians are both tough and that they love their golf.
Lynnview Ridge is connected to the Old Refinery Park in a way. The latter was where the tank farms were and former the site of the refinery itself. Until about ten years ago there used to be houses there, but they are gone now and the whole site bulldozed and fenced off. I guess while they figure out what to do with the contaminated land. There is a small buffer zone of housing between it and us, so we can not clearly see it.
Heading back down again we pass under noisy Glenmore Trail and before long we are in Carburn Park in Riverbend, a more well kept place than the others we’ve visited today. This will be our destination too.
Enjoying our lunch it’s not long before we see a storm in the north and it’s really moving. We finish up and make a run for our starting point. These fast moving winter storms are well known in Calgary and they are often very intense. Within minutes it has already swallowed downtown and not long after it’s on top of us and it’s here our trip comes to a grinding halt. The wind is so strong making it hard to stand and the blowing ice crystals sting our eyes. Soon we’re looking like snowmen and we worry that it will be hard to get back to the car and how slippery things will be for us both on the pathway and late the roads.
As it often happens however, as soon as it came, it left and before long we are in blue skies and sunshine and what snow accumulated melts quickly. Thanks goodness, as both Connie and I have trouble when the footing is slippery.
Soaking up all the smells and noises that greeted on the trip in, we head back and before long we are at the car. What a bizarre choice for a hike, but what’s interesting is the whole trip was on a city of Calgary Parks Department pathway. As would be expected this section of the system was pretty quiet (meaning users that is). Had we been anywhere else on the system we would have seen dozens and dozens of passersby. On the way back under the train bridge, a photographer was busily doing a fashion shoot. A gritty fashion shoot, with a pretty model and ugly surroundings. I take a quick look at the rail car repair facility on the way back. This stuff interests me.
By my report you may think this was a bad trip but to be honest, I love exploring depressed and industrial areas as much as I love the wilderness. There’s a strange vibe I really like. I could have done without the nauseating smells though. In spite its “unique charm” I am sure one day we’ll travel this route again. Just not soon.
To see a much nicer section of Calgary’s pathway system, follow this link…
‘Round the Glenmore Reservoir.
Click these links to see some other paved pathways we’ve explored…
Calgary to Chestermere (and back) canal pathway cycle.
Cochrane river path.
Happy Trails High River cycle.
If you are crazy and wish more information on this route, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: February, 2013.
Location: Calgary, AB
Distance: Did not measure – estimate 14km round trip.
Height gain from start: 50m
Height gain cumulative: 100m
Technical bits: Urban blight, bad smells, ugly surroundings, etc.