Time: 6 hours
Distance: 7.2 km
Elevation Gain: 450 m
How To Get There: (Summer time trailhead) From Calgary, drive west on highway 22, which eventually becomes highway 66. Once you drive past the winter gates (which is closed from Dec 1-May 15), you drive until you reach the Little Elbow Campground turnoff. Park in the ditch just before this turnoff and this is where the trail starts.
This hike was incredibly special for me. It was going to be my last hike of the season before I started a new adventure in the balmy plains of Saskatchewan, far away from any mountains for a long time. I wanted something close by but I still wanted a hike that would end in nice views, since I was going to be devoid of that chance for quite a while afterwards. That’s why I decided on Powderface Ridge which was only a 45 minute drive from Calgary. This trail can be hiked from two different ways. I decided to take the “summer” trail as the winter gate was still open but there is also the “winter” route that can be taken as well.
The day was absolutely beautiful with blue bird skies all around. I told myself it was because mother nature wanted to say a goodbye to me after all of our time spent together in the last couple of months. It was a wonderful send-off.
The pine-needle covered trail starts by winding up a coniferous tree forest, ascending at a gradual pace. Not even a minute into the hike, there was an orange diamond sign on a tree indicating that I was in fact on the right trail.
This would be a great ‘beginning of the season’ hike. There was no grueling elevation gain like Mt. Baldy but it was enough to give the legs a consistent workout.
The trail continued through the trees, braiding every now and again this way and that until I reached a point where I could see a brief glimpse of Nihahi Ridge off to my west.
The trees cleared here and there, allowing the sun to melt a lot of the old built-up snow (but also causing a mucky mess).
I finally broke from the trees to a huge and beautiful mountain meadow where random boulders scattered across the grass.
When I looked back behind me, I could see the Elbow river winding it’s way through the mountain valley. It was a wonderful sight.
The trail followed along a line of trees and the meadow until it finally ducked back into the trees. That’s when the snow began to make more of an appearance (higher elevation gain and the shadows from the trees tend to cause that).
After another 500 m through the pine forest, I reached a second meadow. The trail was clear of snow but was incredibly muddy. I was lucky enough that the only footprints on the trail in that moment were my own.
There was a quick second where I considered walking up the large knoll that sat in the middle of the meadow but then I made the wise decision to just keep moving on (there is even a cairn indicating where you can turn if you want to take that route).
After this, the trail begins to sink down into the valley. There aren’t many views for the next 3 kilometres or so as you are completely surrounded by forest.
There is the occasional moment after you gain a bit of elevation where there is an avalanche chute that allows a view into the Kananaskis valley below.
The trail for the most part is straight going (with the occasional small creek thrown in for fun) until near the end when you start to hit a few switchbacks.
That’s when the elevation gain really increases.
It’s all worth the effort though as you finally come around the corner and see your first hint of blue sky.
You make one final push over a cornice and find yourself on top of the wide ridge of Powderface. The trail immediately reaches a cairn where you can stop and take in the view of Nihahi Ridge to the west.
The mountain seems to stretch on forever. The trail itself moves to the north, moving across the ridge. Instead of trees, there was now an endless view of grassland and lichen covered talus. No matter which direction I turned, there was something beautiful to view.
I decided that this would be the perfect chance to do some exploring. I walked up and down the trail, looking around and taking pictures of all of the sights.
Then it was time for lunch. This included beef jerky, an apple, cheese and crackers. It definitely tasted good after the long journey. I decided to sit down and eat my food at the north side of the ridge, which is also the rockiest.
Now at this point, I could have continued north up the trail, moving around the ridge until I was going west. But I didn’t have another vehicle with me so I had to turn back around and go back the way I had come. I hope that one day I can take a partner up to the ridge so we’ll be able to split the drive and explore the northwest part of the hike.
The parts that I did see were very beautiful and absolutely worth the effort. I definitely think this is a great hike for getting back into hiking-season shape or for beginner hikers who are looking for a bit of a challenge.
It was the perfect hike to end the season!