King Creek Ridge
Time: 6 hours
Distance: 6.2 km (return)
Elevation Gain: 730 m
How To Get There: Driving west on the TransCanada highway from Calgary, turn south onto Hwy 40. Drive 40 km until just before until you reach the turn-off to Kananaskis Lake Road (just before the winter gate). There is a creek and a turn-off to the parking lot for King Creek Day Use Area. I parked at the gate as the Day Use area was closed for the season.
Another free day meant another day hike was on tap! This time, I planned to hike King Creek Ridge based on a suggestion from Andy Dragt, organizer of Slow & Steady Hikers. He told me that while the ridge was a steep climb, the views were worth it at the top. I wanted to make sure that I got the hike in before there was too much more snow fall so a mid-October day seemed like the perfect time to do it.
Once I parked my car, I walked around the King Creek Day Use area, not entirely clear on where the trailhead began. I ended up walking along the creek, picking my way through the rock until I looked at my map and realized I was heading up the King Creek trail. So I walked back down the north side of the creek until I was nearly back at the highway. That's when I spotted the cairn and orange ribbon indicating I had finally found the ridge trailhead.
As I started the climb, it began immediately obvious that Andy wasn’t kidding around about the steep climb. I felt like I was practically moving straight up!
The first part of the hike moves up through the trees, with the trail changing from dirt to graveled scree and back again. It didn’t take long before I was able to see the exposed boulders to my left that indicated I was already getting close to the alpine. When I looked back behind me I could already start to see a decent view of the Kananaskis range.
The trail itself contains virtually no switchbacks and it really is a straight up climb the whole way. At one point, there is a vertical rock slab that you have to scramble up, using your hands for balance.
I had to keep a close eye on the orange ribbons so as not to get off course as the trail was not always very well defined. Once I got past this portion, I moved back into the spruce trees where the trail became a bit more obvious (but still very uphill).
One upside of this was the views continued to get better and better. Off to the south was Mt. Burney, which kept me company on my way up.
Various cairns and boulders guided my way up until the trees began to thin and I could start to see the start of the ridge.
At the top I was taken back by how much snow had already accumulated. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying my first view of the other side of King Creek Ridge.
While I hiked, I was able to stay on trail by continuing to follow the orange ribbons as well as the faded snow prints of a previous hiker. The trail led me through various tree clumps and ridge hills
I moved from the east side of the ridge back to the west side of the ridge, moving along until I ran into a cairn in the middle of the trail. I mistakenly thought that I was at the highest point of the ridge and so I took a few pictures of the valley below. It wasn’t until I spotted the footprints continuing on that I realized there was still a bit more to go.
Moving through the snow, I continued to enjoy the views of the valley on either sides of me. There were various other snow prints in addition to the ones I was following, including a snow hare and a large group of mountain goats (sadly I never spotted either).
Finally, I managed to make the final climb to the exposed ridge summit where there was a much bigger cairn waiting for me.
The summit offered a panoramic view of the surrounding Kananaskis mountains. I fought against the wind in order to take various pictures before also taking a quiet moment to enjoy where I stood. No one else was on the mountain which was a strange but tranquil feeling.
Once I got my fill, I started back the way I had come. The descent isn’t very easy on the knees and the scree is a bit loose in parts so it’s best to take your time at this point. This definitely is a difficult trail and not one for beginners. There is a bit of route-finding involved and there isn’t much of a break on the way to the top. But the views were definitely worth the effort!
*Once I reached the bottom of the trail, I turned right, instead of left (the way I had come), walking towards the highway. It became apparent to me that the real start of the trailhead actually starts at the closed gates, moving north alongside the highway, instead at the actual day use area. Lesson learned!*