Centennial Ridge/ Mt. Allen
Time: 6 hours
Distance: 16 km (return)
Elevation Gain: 1400 m
How To Get There: After travelling west on the TransCanada highway from Calgary, turn left onto Highway 40. After about 20 minutes, turn right at Kananaskis Village and Nakiska Ski Area. Then make your first left and then the first right after that. This is the Ribbon Creek Parking Area and where the trailhead begins.
The larches were out in full colour this weekend so I decided to get out and explore! I had originally planned to do this hike solo but I was lucky enough to find a hiking partner on Hike Alberta’s Facebook page. Her name was Amanda and she loves hiking just as much as I do. So we decided to meet up at the Ribbon Creek Day Use area at around 8:45 am. The weather looked completely sunny…everywhere but in the direction we were going to be hiking. But that seemed to be the common theme of the summer of 2016 so it didn’t faze us much.
The trail for Centennial ridge starts at Hidden Trail, which is about as wide as a fire road.
There are several Kananaskis signs that tell you which way to go when trying to reach centennial ridge trail. At the first sign you turn left and then once you reach a crossroads, you turn right (when we reached this point there was caution tape blocking off the road that keeps going straight and I’m not completely sure why).
After only a few hundred metres on the wide trail, you come up to another sign and that’s when you make a left into a more narrow trail that immediately begins to move upwards.
Around this point, Amanda and I ended up joining another hiker and his dog momentarily. We talked for a short bit before he ended up moving on. It seemed like a long time of walking on an upwards trail that widens and narrows periodically before it finally reaches two separate breaks in the form of what seemed to be old fire roads.
After climbing through a thicket of trees, we turned to our left on a narrow trail.
Eventually, the trees momentarily cleared out, giving us our first sighting of the Kananaskis valley below.
With the changing colours of fall, it was a wonderful view so we took this opportunity to start taking pictures.
We continued on, moving up and following another sign that pointed us to our right.
We moved through a thick forest of coniferous and broad-leaved trees. The trail really narrowed at this point and was littered with tree roots and pine needles.
The slope only became more inclined as we climbed on-wards. The trees eventually thinned down, indicating that we were getting close to the edge of the tree line.
Suddenly, a beautiful shot of Mt. Kidd came into full view, blocked only by a light dusting of clouds.
We continued to move upwards, the elevation gain seemingly never ending, hints of fall all around us. Behind us, the view of the valley only got better.
Random switchbacks mixed with straight up trail took us across a vast expanse of grass, flowers and shrubs as the trees were gradually left behind. People often describe this part of the trail as the “hill that never ends”.
We could definitely see what they were talking about! Once you get over one hump, you’re immediately faced with another! One particularly hard part ended with a large pile of red stained rock build-up.
At this point, things started to get really windy! I almost got blown off the ridge when I climbed on top of the rocks! It was a cold wind so we both ended up putting on every layer of clothing we had brought with us. Unfortunately, Amanda had trusted the weather forecast of sunny skies and only had knee-length shorts but she pushed on anyway.
As we kept climbing, now making our way along the named Centennial Ridge, we began to see more and more larch trees mixed in with other spruce trees. They were evident from their bright yellow needles.
There is a portion of the ridge where we dip down into the trees and its one of the most beautiful parts of the trail.
Then it's upwards again as we used both hands and feet for a short scramble up a rocky portion of the trail.
Once we popped up on the other side, the wind became even more hostile, whipping us around as we began walking towards the Olympic Summit. Below us was the Nakiska Ski Resort.
As we continued walking, we ended up passing one of two weather stations that is situated on the ridge. At that moment, I almost wanted to kick it for providing such inaccurate information! Or maybe I wanted to kick myself for thinking that mountain weather can ever accurately be predicted.
After that, we walked to the cairn that indicated that we had reached the Olympic Summit. After taking a few pictures, we took in the view of the rest of the trail.
Off to the north was Mt. Allen and Mt. Collembola. Beside the mountains was a dark whispy cloud that was clearly full of rain and sleet. To make things even more exciting, another cloud was hovering just to the west of the ridge and the wind was blowing frozen snow right into our faces.
We decided to keep pushing on, passing several people who had opted to turn back around because of the force of the wind. We made it another 500 metres or so before Amanda finally decided that enough was enough. Because of her unprotected legs, she was a lot colder than I was. So while I decided to keep going for Mt. Allen, she turned back around with the promise that we would meet again for another hike.
After passing by a few more cairns, the trail dipped downwards and then upwards again, heading towards the famous Rock gardens. I was very excited about this portion of the trail as I had seen a lot of beautiful pictures of the crop of rocks that had formed thousands of years ago. It also didn’t hurt that I knew I could use the rocks as a reprieve from the relentless wind.
Though the weather was gloomy and cloudy, it didn’t stop me from feeling like I was in awe once I reached the rocks. They were jagged and large in size, looming over me like old giants, guiding me towards my destination. It was cold, so I didn’t spend much time taking pictures.
As I walked along, I was able to see the other side of the ridge, looking down towards a gorgeous valley. A person needs to be careful walking along this part of the trail as it’s filled with rocks, both big and small.
At this point, luck finally was on my side as the wind died down just enough for me to decide to continue on to Mt. Allen. This is when things start to get a bit tricky. In order to get to the remaining part of the trail, you need to begin descending down the west side of the rocks, using your hands to make sure you don’t drop suddenly.
Once you get past this part, you begin walking along a scree trail that follows alongside the west side of the ridge. It stays fairly flat for the most part until you get closer to Mt. Allen. Then it’s literally all up hill from there (that pun will never get old, I don’t care how many times you roll your eyes at it).
This is when the trail turns into a bit of a scramble.
You climb, climb, climb until you finally reach the top (always staying to the west side of the mountain). And man oh man is it worth the effort! Being on top of Mt. Allen gives you panoramic views of Mt. Collembola, the Kananaskis valley and Mount Lougheed. There's even a marker button at the top.
On one side you can see small bodies of water and a vast expanse of other mountains. It’s gorgeous!
I took a few pictures of myself on the summit and then made sure to touch the metal button that indicated I had reached the top.
Then I got myself out of there before I blew away!
Phew! Moving back down the trail was a leg killer! I was definitely feeling it for a few days afterwards. But it was also kind of fun making my way back down. I was able to see a constant view of the mountains that I had had my back to not only a few hours ago. With the clouds moving around and creating new imagery, it was like doing a completely different trail.
The elevation gain is intense and there is a bit of scrambling involved so I this definitely isn’t a trail for children or dogs. But if you’re looking for a challenge and beautiful views, this is the trail for you!