August 11th, North Interlakes Trail Head to Palliser Pass Wild Camp, 27.5 km, 1300 m elevation gain, 960 m elevation loss, 10 hrs 45 min (all distances and elevation are as per the guide book, Viewranger App will vary), Section C Segment 14 and start of 15.
Laura got up early with us and drove with us to the North Interlakes Trail head at Upper Kananaskis Lake. We had everything organized the day before. I was pretty happy with our packing. My pack came in right around 45 lbs which included 13.5 lbs of food (the 2 lbs per day goal) and 7.5 lbs of camera gear. In hindsight this is definitely a day I would split into two. Either an afternoon hike to Forks CG (8 km) or a comfortable day to Turbine Canyon CG (15.6 km).
The trip got off on the wrong foot for Micah as a moose walked through the parking lot while they were in the biffy, harbinger of things to come. Just after 8:30 am we were on our way. Thanks Laura.
Our goal today was about 24 km to a wild camp at the confluence of the Palliser River and LeRoy Creek. The initial 8 km to Forks CG was very straightforward on excellent trail. We took the high route along Upper Kananasksis Lake and stayed straight at the junction to Points CG. No topic is off limits when Micah and I hike and we got right into the hot topics of the day which really helped pass the time along this initial stretch of the trail. We arrived at Forks CG at 10:30 am 2 hrs after we had left the trailhead. The campground had several families staying there and looked like a pleasant place to stay, but not today.
Micah note: What dad skims past here is that as we were exploring a creek at one point, I spectacularly rolled my ankle. I have very flexible joints and this took me by surprise as I’ve gone over on my ankles before without hurting myself, but this time it REALLY hurt. The pain faded once we got moving again, but it was not the last we’d hear of it. An auspicious start to the trip, for sure.
We walked through the campground and as we were about to leave we decided to rest and have snacks before the climb up to Turbine Canyon.
It was 7.5 km to Turbine Canyon which included about 500 m of elevation which we would gain over the first 4 km. It was quite a steep climb out of Forks CG which was quite a shock to the system after the easy undulating trail we had been on. Up this first climb of the trip it readily became evident that, despite all my physical preparation, Micah would be consistently outpacing me up the hills during the trip. At noon we found a pleasant place to set up lunch and enjoyed our first meal on the trail accompanied by an aggressive swarm of mosquitos.
After lunch the trail became an easy stroll over rolling terrain as we slowly continued to gain elevation. A bonus of hiking in mid August was that we were provided with almost two weeks of flower fields. At 1 pm we popped over a small hill and came across a small pond known unofficially as Putnik’s Pond which signified our entry into the high alpine. As we made our way over to Lawson Lake I remarked to Micah while looking at the spectacular views all around us that “this is why I hike”.
It took us another hour to hike the 3.5 km to Turbine Canyon CG. We stopped several times along the way to take in all the scenery. We would not always be above treeline so it did not hurt to linger a bit. We rolled into Turbine Canyon at 2 pm. We had been hiking for 5 1/2 hrs and covered 15.6 km. I was fairly happy with our progress as it was mostly downhill to our targeted campsite. We chatted with some campers when we arrived at the campground. We were eager to find Turbine Canyon as it is suppose to be a worthy side trip. The campers had no idea about the canyon but the guy wearing the Pittsburgh Penguins hat asked me about the results of the NHL draft lottery. Unfortunately for him I had not kept up to date on the draft lottery. It only took us a few minutes to find the canyon. We traced a small unassuming stream away from the campground to where the stream suddenly vanished from sight down a big hole! Turbine Canyon lived up to our expectations.
It was a pleasant hike from Turbine Canyon up to North Kananaskis Pass. It did go up 140 m but it was never very steep. As we left Turbine Canyon we met a group who had stayed over at the campground. They had just popped over to look at the pass and were heading out. Not sure if they had another campground or were aiming to get back to the trailhead. Upon arriving at Maude Lake just before the pass we were beset by very strong winds. We stopped at Maude Lake and quickly refilled our water. At 3:05 pm we said goodbye to Kananaskis Country and entered Heights of the Rockies Provincial Park.
As we descended over the pass I recalled that the guidebook did not have much good to say about the trail down to the Palliser River. We had no trouble navigating the trail but it was very steep near the top. I was thinking how glad I was to be descending when we came across a group coming up. They were looking very tired and very happy to be nearing the top. Going down was aided by a bit of scree skiing in the loose rocks. A controlled descent was out of the question. We would lose 500 m of elevation in the first 2 km of the descent. Luckily the trail became more reasonable the rest of the way down. The clouds from the west that had been threatening us all day finally decided to give us a bit of rain on the downhill. We quickly donned our rain gear. I use a Zpacks poncho and rain skirt while Micah uses a Zpacks rain jacket and rain skirt. (Yes, we have a lot of gear from Zpacks, we’re a bit predictable.) The hill was so steep I had difficulty staying still while putting on my gear. The rain did not last long but it made the many downed trees we would come across slippery to negotiate.
Our plans got upended when we met a women coming up the pass and she informed us that there was a bear feeding at the meadow which we were planning on camping at. Like us, she had planned to camp at the confluence of the Palliser River and LeFroy Creek but she decided to hike up to the pass and camp at North Kananaskis Pass. She was going to stay on the Heights of the Rockies side as she did not have a permit for any campgrounds in K-Country. We thanked her for letting us know about the bear and started trying to figure out our options and making much more noise.
Micah’s note: As we were barrelling down this section at high speeds shouting for the bear, I turned my ankle twice more. If I’d hoped that injury would go away, I’d probably just set those hopes on fire.
I had scanned all the pages from the guidebook into a PDF document and loaded it onto my tablet for viewing on the trail. I had reread the description of today’s hike in the morning so I knew that there was a campsite 4.5 km beyond the confluence. This would lengthen our distance from just over 14 miles to just over 17 miles. After having a couple of long distance hikes (Micah had hiked the JMT and sectioned hiked the Te Araroa in New Zealand) Micah had determined that they do not enjoy hiking more than 15 miles in a day. I was dismayed that we were going to go over her magic number on the first day of our trip. We had to cross over LeFroy Creek via a fun simple stream crossing. Once across careful scanning the bank found a single piece of orange flagging tape marking the entrance to the trail.
Micah’s note: I’ve had several occasions to hike 30km+ days (18miles) and while I expect when I scale up to longer adventures like the PCT I’ll toughen up to them, on shorter trips I just can’t enjoy them. I can’t spend as much time soaking in the trail and I often feel ragged the next day from overwalking. While longer days are possible and sometimes unavoidable, sticking to more modest numbers means I feel consistently stronger and I get to see more because I’m not heads-down plowing my way through the last few kilometers to the campsite.
Micah’s note: Obviously this is a bit overkill for such a small stream, but this is the technique I learned on the TA, when stream crossings were sometimes close to hip-deep.
It was not long after reaching the other side that we saw evidence of large furry animals. We increased the noise level and decided that we would definitely be pushing on past the confluence.
It was 5:20 pm when we arrived at our initial destination, the meadow at the confluence. We had already decided to continue to the next campsite. So, despite seeing no sign of bear activity, we marched on through. The quality of the trail took a turn for the worse. While we were never in any doubt as to where the trail was, the trail was faint and overgrown in many places.
I had a new toy on this trip: the SPOT X two way GPS communication emergency beacon. I had used a SPOT II satellite GPS device for about 6 years. I have never used my SPOT device for an emergency but people back home appreciate a little bit of communication from the Check In feature that everything is going OK. Since this was going to be a longer trip I thought it would be nice if we could exchange a bit more than the Check In message with those back home. I chose the SPOT X over the Garmin because the SPOT X is a stand alone device. The Garmin needs to be paired with your phone to enable texting. Here is a link to my full review of the SPOT X. There are some definite shortcomings with the SPOT X that are not very well explained.
Despite the shortcomings the SPOT X was instrumental in saving our trip. We used the texting feature for the first time during a break after leaving the meadow to let Laura and Kathleen (Micah’s mom) know that we were OK but continuing on to another campsite. We found an open slope so I could send the text. Sometime during our hike to the campsite I received return text messages indicating that everything worked as it should.
We kept our eyes open for spots to camp but despite the fact that it was wild camping there was nowhere to camp. We came to a stream crossing, as detailed in the guidebook, which took us back to east side of the river. Still nowhere to camp.
I did not think it was possible but the vegetation got thicker and taller. The trail was well defined but you basically just had to look down at your feet. It was getting close to 7 pm and we had not had dinner only snacks, but somehow neither of us were grumpy. I knew that we were getting close to the campsite when not only did the trail get steeper but it started to rain. We quickly threw our rain gear on and kept working as hard as we could up the hill. Micah still gets testy when they remember the description in the guidebook about the approach to the campsite, “the trail ascends moderately”. Micah disagrees strongly that the trail was doing anything “moderately” as we pushed up that final hill. The trail flattened out and suddenly we ran into a person. The campsite detailed in the guidebook was only another 30 seconds away. Two other tents were set up in a small and not very level meadow by a small pond.
Micah’s note: He’s not exaggerating about my testiness. I don’t mind steep trails, but I do mind expecting a moderate one and getting a steep one. I was lied to.
Arriving at 7:15 pm with a storm approaching was not ideal. We set up our tent as quick as we could and made dinner. I had brought two beers to celebrate our first day on the trail but there was really no time to enjoy them. The beers would travel in my backpack for several more days before we found the “right time”. The evenings entertainment was not over, as we had to hang our food from the branches of some trees. I had purchased two Zpacks Bear Bagging Kits (as I said before, we have a lot of Zpacks gear) and we set off into the forest to hang the food. I had read in both Chris Townsend’s book and in an online blog I used extensively for gathering information about the trail, Walking With Wired, how challenging it is to hang food in the Canadian Rockies. The trees are simply not designed correctly. The branches bend down as they leave the trunk of the tree. This makes it hard to just toss the rock bag over as the cord slides down the branch towards the ground. I do not know how long we spent trying to hang the food. But it was very dark and had started to rain by the time we were satisfied we had done the best we could. It probably would have been graded a Meeting Minus (C-, if you’re note familiar with the updated school division grading scheme) by an Outdoor Ed instructor. Despite being a long day we were both happy to be on the trail but tired. Sleep came very quickly, followed by several thunderstorms.
Micah’s note: I think I ended up climbing a tree barefoot at one point trying to get our rope through a split in the branches so we could string the bag between two trees. It was not my finest moment, but hey. The bears didn’t eat our food. That’s good enough in my books.