View from the Top: Hiking Guinn Pass

The view from the top
The view from the top

Looking out across the valley below, I was reminded of what it felt like the first time I summited a peak.  I had been grinning from ear to ear, knowing I had gotten there under my own power and determination. Well, I may have had more than a few words of encouragement from my aunt as I whined and bitched my way up. I remember asking her if it was normal to feel like you’re going to vomit.  Her reply was “absolutely”.

I’ve learned a lot since then, and I still enjoy standing on the top. This days hike began about 4 hours before I was enjoying those amazing views, and the group consisted of myself, and two friends: Jess and Sabrina.  Jess is an experienced hiker and has been challenging herself all summer with long distance hikes. Sabrina is a newbie but , with a few more hikes, she’s going to be peak bagging too.  I’m somewhere in the middle.

Our objective was Guinn’s Pass in Kananaskis Country, Alberta.  All the info I could find about this hike told me it was stunning, but you have to work to get there. I figured it can’t be that bad. Hiking is just walking uphill.  Well, with 870m (just over 2800 feet) of elevation gain, and half of that being in the last 3km, we were definitely going uphill.

You can see our trail at the bottom right.
You can see our route on the bottom left. Guinn Pass branches off from the Galatea Creek trail, which we followed from the picnic area on the right.

As we set out to tackle the next 16km, we discovered the area had been seriously affected by the floods in 2013.  Many parts of the trail had been destroyed, and a few of the bridges were still washed out, waiting to be rebuilt.  This made for some interesting creek crossings, but luckily the water level was low so it wasn’t a big deal.  During spring runoff though it might get a little treacherous.

Bridge still waiting for repairs
Bridge still waiting for repairs
In high water your shoes are definitely getting wet
In high water your shoes are definitely getting wet
Not all the spots look that bad though. This one was pretty nice.
Not all the spots look that bad though. This one was pretty nice.

At one of the crossings, it was difficult to see the trail.  A trio of very nice older Asian gentlemen politely told us we were going the wrong way, and furiously pointed us in the right direction.  This wouldn’t be the last time they would ask us if we knew where we were going, but we were mostly sure about 90% of the time. That’s good enough for me.

Maybe not the crossing I would have chosen
Maybe not the crossing I would have chosen but these guys seemed to know what they were doing

We were also highly aware that we were hiking in prime grizzly bear country so we made lots of noise and carried bear spray.  We passed a guy who told us we didn’t have to worry about bears because there were lots of people on the trail.  I wonder how many people who run into bears thought the same thing?  When it comes to wildlife, I’m happier being more cautious than not.  I like telling stories, but I don’t want to tell the one about me having to outrun my two hiking partners while a mother grizzly chases us through the forest.  We continued to make noise.

Prime grizzly habitat
Prime grizzly habitat

Bears weren’t our major problem though, the weather was.  Just as we started up the steep section, we were blessed with rain, sleet, and a little bit of snow.  The weather in the Rockies changes fast, and it can ruin your day if you’re not prepared.  It’s even worse when you’re cold, wet and trying to climb up an unstable creek bed.  All of us reached a point where we were ready to go back down.  There was a lot of stopping and starting, and discussions about whether we should keep going but, in the end, we pushed on.

Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?
Yay! Hiking in the rain is fun!
Yay! Hiking in the rain is fun!

Thankfully, the weather eased up a bit and we were even treated to some blue sky as we reached the summit of the pass.  Unfortunately, the wind was relentless and we took the fastest photos possible before dropping down to a friendlier elevation.

We made it!
Summit Selfie
Looking towards Ribbon Lake. Apparently it's there somewhere.
Looking towards Ribbon Lake. The guide books swear it’s there somewhere.

The way back took less than half the amount of time to go up, and the whole thing took us 6.5 hours. Sabrina told me that was the longest and hardest hike she’s ever done and she was stoked to get to the top.  I totally understood how she felt.  The sense of pride you feel in accomplishing something physically and mentally challenging is immense, and hiking definitely falls into this category.  You don’t need to be a mountaineer or a world-class athlete to get out there and do this stuff.  You just have to want to find something beyond yourself and live outside your bubble.  I call this “Mountain Therapy”.  You can find your own term for it.  See you on the trails.

Looking out toward Kananaskis Valley
Looking out toward Kananaskis Valley

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