Time: 4.5 hours
Distance: 8 km (return)
Elevation Gain: 500 m
How To Get There: From the TransCanada highway follow Highway 40 south. Highway 40 will be closed beyond the Kananaskis Lakes Road turnoff from December until June 15 each year as it is a critical wildlife corridor. From the Kananaskis Lakes Road turnoff continue along Highway 40 until you reach Little Highwood Pass parking lot. If you have two vehicles leave one here. If you only have one vehicle leave it here and try hitch hiking the last few kilometers to the Highwood Pass Parking lot.
The weather was calling for a storm in the early afternoon so I decided to meet up with my good friend and hiking buddy, Nathan, earlier in the morning. Our original plan was to park one vehicle at Little Highwood Pass Day Use Area and then drive to the Highwood Day Use Area to hike the entire ridge. However, plans changed (as they often do) and we ended up hiking only the Pocaterra Ridge summit instead. As the name suggests, it's the highest point of the hike so we still got a chance to see the amazing views the ridge has to offer.
Once we parked at the Highwood Day Use Area (also the parking point for Ptarmigan Cirque Trail), we put on all of our gear quickly, as the wind was a bit unforgiving. This part of the highway is the highest paved point (elevation wise) in all of Canada so it wasn't very surprising that things were already a bit chilly. We walked across a fairly new looking bridge and then followed a nicely graveled path for a few hundred meters.
There is various information on the internet about which is the best way to approach Pocaterra Ridge. Nathan and I ended up taking the first narrow dirt path that leads to the left. We weren't sure if it was the best way to go but it ended up getting us to where we wanted to go!
The trail almost resembles an old wagon trail as it separates into two tracks before coming back together as it enters into the trees.
The gradual elevation gain starts here, guiding you through a thick knot of pine forest as you try your best not to trip over the tree roots that seem to come from everywhere.
It was June which meant that there was still quite a bit of snow to go around. There wasn't enough to worry about post-holing but it was definitely causing a lot of muddy run off that we had to jump around. The trail is heavily braided at first, so much that at some points we were wondering which trail we were supposed to follow (as long as you continue to move in the same direction, it doesn't really matter which trail you take).
Even when the trail flattens out a bit, it continued to offer different options on how to get to the Ridge.
Just in case you aren't sure if you are going the right direction, there are various orange ribbons wrapped around tree branches to keep you confident that you're hiking the correct trail. I found the ribbons necessary as the trail actually loses elevation for 1 km or so and it felt a bit off-putting. But in this case, you need to go down before you can go up.
Reward comes quickly and before we knew it, Nathan and I found ourselves spit out into the Rockfall valley. The bowl that encompassed the valley made for stunning pictures.
And so did the Pocaterra creek that flowed down into the valley bottom. From here we caught our first glance of the south side of the Pocaterra Ridge. I was happy to see that while there was a little bit of snow, it would be completely climbable.
In order to reach the summit, we had to traverse along the bowl, making our way across the snow that had built up over the winter months.
As we moved along, we were provided yet another angle of the beautiful valley. It was a great teaser for what was to come.
In order to start making our way to the base of the ridge, we had to move through a small patch of forest. At certain points we lost the trail because of all of the snow on the ground covering the worn path.
But eventually we found ourselves gaining a bit of elevation as we followed the creek waterfall up towards a small body of water.
I'm curious if the body of water that sits near the base of Pocaterra has a name or if it's only there in the spring when the water is at its highest.
After moving along the left side of the water, we found or way back to the trail, moving along scree that had fallen from the bowl.
It was very evident to me why this trail would be so popular during the fall months. Larch trees began to pop up everywhere, guiding us along the way, and I could only imagine how beautiful the foliage would be come September.
We reached a fork in the road after making our way to another clearing in the larch filled forest. If we turned left, we would be heading towards the Rock glacier. But our goal was a bit further along, so we veered right instead.
As we carried along the trail, we had to rock hop across the creek. It roped through a beautiful vast meadow, providing a picture perfect view behind us.
From there, we had to start working for our views as we faced a steep up hill climb. It was yet another teaser for what was to come.
Not long after, we were able to get a good glimpse of Mount Tyrwhitt.
After what seemed like forever heading west, we finally reached the base of where we would begin climbing up Pocaterra Ridge. If you look at this picture, you'll no doubt be fooled like we were. You can't see the actual top of the ridge from this point of view so the climb doesn't look as daunting as it actually is.
Our immediate climb was rewarded by passing through a field of gorgeous yellow avalanche lilies.
Not to be outdone, a spot of Rocky Mountain Penstemon helped even out the color hue.
The trees are quick to disappear and the elevation gain is mostly reached entirely from this point on. It's not an exaggeration to say that the climb is virtually straight up. The trail is well marked but there are no switchbacks to soften the blow.
Interrupting our lung-bursting climb was interesting rock formations to gaze at along the way and and we had a great view of Little Highwood Pass.
After a few hundred meters, I was able to look behind me and reap the reward of climbing a high elevation in a short amount of time. The rock wall at our backs was incredibly impressive.
As I looked up towards my objective, I couldn't help but feel continuously thrown off by the path in front of me. Just when I thought the summit was close, a whole new hill rose in front of us. Loose dirt and occasional patches of scree made the journey even more challenging.
As I moved up the ridge, I could easily see the Highway 40 to my right. It created the perfect vantage point to see how far we had traveled thus far.
After what seemed like the longest uphill climb, we finally reached the highest peak along the ridge. The views were as breathtaking as described.
The summit was entirely exposed so we could definitely feel the wind trying to push us over the edge. But we still managed to take a few pictures at the top.
And did a hiker really make it to the summit if there are no panoramic pictures to prove it?
From here you can can get a glance of Rockfall Lake, which at the time was still covered in snow.
It seemed like we could see for miles in all directions. Off to the north was Mount Rae.
After hunkering down beneath the summit cairn to eat our lunch for 30 minutes or, we finally decided to head back down. I was a bit disappointed that we were unable to walk the entire ridge but felt satisfied knowing we had reached Pocaterra's highest point. On the way back down, I was able to get some good shots of the Alpine Forgetmenots that were scattered over the ridge.
The trail was amazing and could be rated as easy until you get to the actual ridge portion. Then the trail jumps quickly from grandma's hike to...not grandma's hike. While some people count this hike as a scramble, it's more just a really tough uphill battle the whole way as you gain 250 m in 1 km at one point. But the views are definitely worth every step!