Technology. You know it fails at the most inopportune times. Today’s hike up Ole Buck Mountain was hindered by a glitch with my Garmin 60CSx. The small metal clip which holds the MicroSD card in place had broken off at some time during last week’s hike up Prairie Mountain. I thought I had solved the problem with a lot of tape — indeed, during my tests last night the unit held up to all the pounding and shaking I could throw at it. However, that was not to be the case today.
I shouldn’t get ahead of myself though. Today’s target was Ole Buck Mountain. At least it is called “mountain” on my topo maps — in reality it appears from the road to be more of a large hill than an actual mountain. From what I read on the topo maps the net elevation gain is something less than 300m, making it a pretty simple ascent.
Shirley and I, along with Tucker the Dog, set out from Priddis around 9:00am heading north on Highway 22 to the TransCanada. Access to Ole Buck is off Highway 68 in the Sibbald Flats area of Kananaskis. We were cruising along 68, thinking how nice it was that the road is now paved all the way to the Kananaskis boundary. We came over a slight rise in the road and had to brake for a baby beaver meandering down the middle of the road.
We quickly put on the four-way flashers and pulled off to an approach on the side of the road. I attempted to capture some photos of the little fella, but he was determined to not cooperate and pose for me. We watched until he made it into the small pond on the west side of the road before deciding to carry on to the trailhead.
The official trailhead for the Ole Buck Loop starts in the Sibbald Lake Recreation Area, somewhat to the west of the actual summit. We weren’t really interested in the official trailhead, however. We had our eyes on a couple of new Geocaches which had been placed by Peter Goodman, aka “BVPete”. These caches promised to show us a different way up, using the south ridge as an approach.
With that in mind we parked the car slightly off the road, something made possible by the total lack of moisture in the area. After going through the pre-hiking ritual of getting the backpack on, leashing up the dog, locking the car, checking the camera it was time to fire up the GPSr and set out. I turned it on and punched in the first waypoint. I was greeted with nothing more than a distance and an arrow. My maps were missing again!
I normally have two map sets loaded on my GPSr — Topo Canada v4 and the Southern Alberta Trail Maps. Unfortunately, both were loaded onto the aforementioned MicroSD card which was — once again — malfunctioning. No matter, the route to the summit promised to be relatively simple — gain the ridge and keep to the high ground all the way to the summit. Besides, the two caches would act as beacons, guiding us to the top.
Within the first 400m of the road we had already had to cross two barbed-wire fences and also ford Bateman Creek. The creek crossing proved to be no issue as it was still mostly frozen. I was able to make my way across the ice with only getting one boot slightly wet. Shirley opted to use a convenient log for her crossing, a situation which always leaves her in less than the best of moods — she doesn’t really enjoy the threat of getting wet, especially this early on in a hike.
The rest of the trip to the summit was as simple as expected. Although we sometimes lost track of the cattle / game trails we were following, we were never in any danger of losing the ridge. It’s pretty much a straight shot right to the summit, which is about 2km away. There is some light bushwhacking and some deadfall to deal with, but neither one was proving to be much of an issue.
By this point I was starting to feel pretty confident, even without maps on the GPSr. We took an extended break near the pathetic little summit cairn.
Frankly I wasn’t expecting it to be as warm as it was. The thermometer in the car was reading 16C when we had left and neither of us had needed our light jackets at any point along the way. There were only a few clouds in the sky and the sun was beating down on us pretty good.
At this point I must confess we were less than prepared in terms of the amount of water we brought with us. Shirley had her stainless steel bottle which carries about 750mL and I had my 500mL bottle and we had another 500mL bottle as a “spare”. Well, we were both sweating and the dog was panting pretty good too in the early season warmth. I also should mention that Tucker had some “stomach and bowel issues” all morning so he was pretty dehydrated before we even left. Shirley had a plastic bag with her and we fashioned it into a makeshift dog bowl and gave most of our “spare” water to the dog.
Under most circumstances this wouldn’t be an issue as we knew the route back to the car and it wasn’t very far. However, I can never resist the lure of “just one more cache” and there was another one to the west, just over 1km away “as the crow flies.” (One of Shirley’s least favourite phrases!)
Not having the maps in the GPSr I was forced to recall the route from memory. I knew the trail maps showed a route from the summit over to the south-west where the cache was. The problem was there was nothing at the summit that resembled a trail in any way, shape or form. There was a lot of deadfall though!
Never one to be deterred, I boldy declared I could find the route. I set off to the west and down the slope.
I was a good 150m or so down the slope when I decided that the bushwhacking was getting to dangerous for the camera. We stopped to put it away in the pack for safety. I normally don’t like carrying the dSLR on these rougher off-trail hikes, but a couple days earlier I misplaced the point-n-shoot somewhere in the house so I had no choice but to haul the D90 with us today.
We continued down and to the west but then I noticed there was a fair amount of snow ahead. I surmised that we must be dropping down on the north side of a ridge. Knowing that the road was to the south of our location I certainly didn’t want to get into a situation where we needed to go up and over a hump to get home. I veered off to the south and we bushwhacked to regain some of the elevation we had just given away and to get on top of a ridge once again.
The ridge carried on in a general south direction. Now, from the comfort of my house, I can compare our track log against the trail maps and I can see that I actually had gotten us onto the trail proper. That wouldn’t last for long though!
We reached a point where the ridge started to drop rather significantly. Had I carried on down that slope in a southward direction we would have hooked up with the Ole Buck Loop in just another 300m or so. Instead I again opted to not surrender the elevation and instead followed the ridge off to the west, taking as much of a straight line approach to the cache as possible.
What I learned on this hike is that if nothing looks like a trail then soon everything will start to look like a trail. Every broken branch became an indication that someone or something had passed this way “not long ago” and we simply HAD to be on the right path.
As I said during the trip: “I’m not lost. I know exactly where I am and I know exactly where I need to go — I’m just not sure how to get there from here.”
We eventually reached the cache site and “civilization” — a wooden bench at the viewpoint on top of the Ole Buck Loop. Wow, there was a well marked trail and everything! We were saved from another one of my patented “DanOCan Death Marches”. We ate the last of our food, drank the last of our water and hoped like hell that I could remember enough of the map to get back to the car.
My original plan for this hike had been to pick up the Ole Buck Loop and follow it down to the Sibbald Forest Exhibit Trail, follow it along Bateman Creek to the east until it swings south and then hooks up with Highway 68. From there it would be a short deadhead along the road back to the car.
The only glitch with that plan was I couldn’t remember whether the path I wanted was on the north side of Bateman Creek or not. The Ole Buck Loop lead us to a bridge across the creek. Now, most normal people when faced with the choice of crossing a creek on a nice bridge or facing a likely fording will choose the bridge. I, of course, choose to follow a game trail on the north side of the creek instead of using the bridge. I was wrong, naturally. The trail we wanted was on the south side!
Bu this point Tucker was really suffering. He had slowed his pace to a near crawl. He also wasn’t making an effort to carry a stick, which is one of his biggest pleasures on these hikes. We had to get back to the car soon.
The game trail was at least heading in the right direction. We managed to follow it back to the car, needing to only cross several barbed wire fences. Or, it may have been the same fence and we just crossed it several times. Frankly, the first time I ducked through the wires and stood up on the other side I got really dizzy, indicating I too was likely suffering from dehydration myself. We half-walked, half-stumbled to the car and started the drive home.
Honestly, it wasn’t that bad. We ended up doing 8km in our loop around Ole Buck which isn’t too much more than the 6.5km I had originally estimated we would do. We had managed to get the dog some water when we crossed Bateman Creek for the second time so he was quite content to sleep all the way home. After getting home and showering we headed off to the Water’s Edge Pub in Priddis for some grub and drinks and settled in to watch hockey. Heck, it turned out to be a good day.
Tomorrow? I’m thinking of checking out the east end of Lusk Ridge in the same general area.