It’s 8 a.m. and the sun is just peeking over the shadow of the Three Sisters mountain range. I am standing at the base of Heart Mountain just east of Canmore in Kananaskis Country. It’s only an hour west of Calgary, yet it is a different world. Pin-drop quiet. No cars. No skyscrapers. Just peace and pristine beauty. The layers of light refract against the side of the mountain, bathing the terrain in purples and pinks. My stomach jumps in anticipation of a new adventure – scrambling up a mountainside. It’s a combination of hiking and mountaineering. No ropes required. Just a great attitude, a sense of adventure and sturdy hiking boots.
Onward and Upward
I’m with a group of friends, some experienced, some not. We wind our way beneath the evergreens along trails leading up the mountainside. The scents are delightful – sweet clover, damp earth and pine needles warming in the sun. Tendrils of new growth push through the forest floor, while groves of aspen and birch create a canopy of green. We make lots of noise, chatting with vigour as we trek through the forest undergrowth. We are on an animal trail but our voices will alert any nearby forest creatures who will do their best to avoid us.
We ascend as swiftly as caution and the terrain will permit. It’s invigorating. I can’t wait to break through and see the view from the peak! I scramble up the last few metres, using my hands for balance and gasp in awe. The entire valley spreads out below me, circled by a spectacular array of mountain peaks. Better than my wildest dreams.
Simple Treks to Intense Hikes
If you’re a beginner, start with Heart Mountain, which peaks at 2,135 m (7,005 ft). It’s considered an easy scramble, mostly hiking, with little exposure to really steep grades. If you want to experience a more moderate scramble, then Big Sister (the highest of the Three Sisters peaks) in Kananaskis at 2,936 m (9,633 ft) might be more to your liking. Expect frequent use of handholds and more exposure to steepness. The trail is ready by mid-May but watch for snow patches. Check out Gillean Daffern’s Kananaskis Country Trail Guides for in-depth info on trekking adventures in the region.
Learning Scrambling Basics
Yamnuska Mountain Adventures in the town of Canmore offers a two-day scrambling and safety course for experienced hikers. It’s a great way to learn about the basics of scrambling and then venture out with an experienced guide. If you do plan to scramble without a guide, make sure to bring a backpack to carry the essentials – a water bottle, some energy snacks, a lunch, sun screen, emergency equipment and of course, a camera. Wear comfortable clothing. Think layers. Rally some friends. Get ready and go!