September 2018 – Kananaskis
Directions: From the Canmore Nordic Centre, continue west on the Smith-Dorrien (Hwy 742) as it winds up into the Spray Valley for 18.5km. You’ll notice cars parked on both sides of the highway, with a pull-out to your right, adjacent to Spray Lake Reservoir. There is no signage for this parking. You will be at the far end of Spray Lake Reservoir.
Time: Approximately 2-3 hours total
Elevation Gain: 390 m
It might be difficult to find the trail head to this hike but there likely are a few cars parked in the area. You’ll know when you get into the trees and see a sign where someone scribbled in sharpie, “west wind pass” one way and the other way “rimwall”. West wind pass is also the route to take you to Windtower, which is a mountain that seems un-summitable via a hike but you can go up the backside. This was our original objective, however it was too windy and the pass ended up being stunning enough on it’s own.
We got lucky with fairly blue skies. We had a ton of smoke this year as well as early snow so it made the day particularly nice feeling the sun. We stopped to take photos almost the whole way because the scenery was consistently beautiful. Definitely one of the more scenic hikes I’ve done. Once we got to the pass we scrambled a bit of the ways up Windtower before just settling down into the pass for awhile. There was also old pieces of wood a ways up where someone had made a makeshift hut that we huddled in. Not sure if this was at one point a heli-pad?! It was definitely a lovely afternoon but you need to be prepared, in all seasons, for the wind that goes through this pass. I mean how else did it get it’s name?! It should only take you an hour and a bit up and less than an hour down.
I would recommend this hike for older children, and dogs are a maybe if they are used to hiking. The only reason I say this is because the trail, although moderate, had some drop-offs and also braided quite a few times. A few of the braids take you up fairly high and you have to navigate some flat rocks. If it is even a bit moist then these rocks could be slippery. The path was also covered with roots that were slightly slippery as well if you weren’t watching your footing. That being said, if you stick to the right you should be on the easiest path but it’s definitely easy to get braided onto other ones. We actually downloaded the gps track for this because of our initial intention to do Windtower (alltrails pro) and even still it can get confusing. Just pay attention as you would with any trail really! This trail is so nice because it has it all, scenery nearly the whole way, and some elevation but also some nice flat parts. And it is not a huge endeavor time or effort wise but the payoff is still rewarding. I would definitely highly, highly recommend this hike.
Okay so every hike needs a good story. On the way down I complained that I felt a bit unbalanced today, probably due to drinking the night before, so I was a little slower. Within a few minutes of heading down the path in the trees I noticed that my 3 friends were suddenly not visible ahead! At this time I didn’t think twice and assumed they would stop ahead to close the gap. After about 15 minutes I became mildly stressed and tried to speed up. Despite speeding up I didn’t see them on the trail again. I believe what happened is they ended up on a slightly different trail. I called out for them a few times, and they me, as apparently they also realized I was gone and became confused. The wind must have prevented anyone from hearing each other though. So they ended up stopping and when I didn’t pass them within a few minutes they became worried and split up, going up and down the path numerous times and apparently beginning to assume that, due to me saying I felt unbalanced, they would find me as a highlighter-pink splatter off the edge somewhere ahah (or as Mack calls me “plum”, a splat plum). I eventually got back to the car and was shocked when I didn’t see them. Part of me figured they had gone down to Spray Lake to take photos so after waiting for 15 minutes at the car, I headed down to the lake where I had a nice peaceful zen 15 minutes until some guy yelled to me that my friends were desperately looking for me. Soon I saw Sarah, Mack and Michael come down from the trail and they all ran and embraced me. Sarah was like, “my baby!” and Michael was all “I’m sorry!” and Mack just seemed shocked to see me alive. That’s when I realized how worried I made them even though it was no ones fault. I couldn’t stop laughing though as they described their adrenaline running up and down and tripping over their own feet on the trail, meanwhile I was having this nice zen moment down at the lake. They didn’t feel like laughing until a few minutes later though ahah. Definitely a good lesson in how quickly you can become disentangled from a group and there is definitely no cellphone reception anywhere in that area. On a more somber note, a woman my age who was an experienced hiker died on East End of Rundle this summer, she slipped the wrong way and the visibility due to the smoke may or may not have been a factor. So I really don’t blame my friends for getting worried. The mountains are beautiful but they are not forgiving and do not care about you. So please, research your hikes and go prepared!
And definitely, definitely go up to West Wind Pass if you’re in the Canmore area! I plan to try to tackle Windtower next summer.