This hike started off on the wrong foot. I was only ten minutes down the road from home when I realized I had left the bear spray sitting on the shelf in the garage. Foolishly I choose to carry on despite knowing this was a dumb thing to do.
This was still on my mind as I turned off the TransCanada Highway and started down Highway 40 into Kananaskis. However, by the time I reached the parking lot for the Baldy Pass Trail the concern had faded into the back of my mind and I set my focus on the hike ahead of me instead.
The initial part of the trail is hard-packed and easy to follow. There are a number of roots and washed out sections, but it is quite simple terrain to navigate.
Eventually it becomes much more rocky. You want decent footwear to protect your feet from the pointy edges. The top of the pass is about 4km from the trailhead and involves an ascent of approximately 400m. I was able to reach this point in about one hour.
As you near the top of Baldy Pass you will reach a large cairn which marks the location where you can begin your ascent of the ridge. I actually carried on further up the pass first, as I wanted to look for a nearby Geocache. That cache, called Kenobi-15 Baldy Pass would eventually elude me and I could not find it. I also used this as an opportunity to have my first water break and to pull the D90 out of the backpack and snap some photos. My point-and-shoot Canon S3IS died on vacation so I’ve been forced to carry the D90 with me on these hikes, meaning it spends more time in the protection of the backpack than it does around my neck getting used.
I worked my way back down to the stone cairn and then began the ascent of the ridge. The first part of this trail is pretty straightforward — yes, it is steep and there is plenty of loose rock, but it is nothing more than a grind. It’s once you reach a gendarme that things get interesting. There is a well-defined path that appears to go around it to the right. I started in that direction and it immediately got very interesting. You find yourself on a ledge with some fairly serious exposure. I crossed a couple of sections that got my heart rate up before deciding I had reached my limit and needed to turn around. Convincing the dog to turn around on that section of trail wasn’t all that easy.
I returned to the base of the gendarme and decided to tackle it head on. As I started climbing the rocks I realized a couple of things — first, I make no claims to be a scrambler so this was a different experience for me and second, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as it looked from the bottom. It’s about a 4m climb but, as I proved, it is not much of an obstacle, even for someone handicapped by having a dog leash in one hand.
I reached the top of the crux and began making my way further along the ridge. The high point of the ridge was still well over 1km away, further than I had expected it to be, based upon my view from the top of Baldy Pass. (Only later would I realize I had identified the wrong peak as the summit while on the pass.)
The views from up there were amazing. You have open valleys on both sides — looking down Baldy Pass and along Highway 40 to the left and looking at the cut blocks in the Lusk Creek area along Highway 68 to the right. There are some spots where a misstep could land you in a world of trouble, but as long as you have a healthy respect for the elevation and take your time it is a very pleasant ridge walk.
The summit (or high point of the ridge if you prefer) is much like the gendarme in the sense that it looks worse than it really is. At first I wondered if my nerves would last long enough to reach my destination, but it ended up not being an issue.
I was about 100m from the summit when I noticed that for the first time on this trip I had human company. A lone hiker was standing there taking photos. I was hoping he would be able to take a photo of me on the summit, but he left the summit before I could reach him. I assume he headed north towards the summit of Baldy Mountain, but I was not able to glimpse him again by the time I reached the top.
I stopped and located the Geocache which was my target for the day: “Baldy Ridge Summit by BVPete“. I also snapped a number of photos and took the time to share my tuna sandwiches with Tucker. After that it was time to explore the summit, snap more photos and then prepare for the descent.
The trip down was uneventful. By the time I was ready to vacate the summit it was noon and the sun was starting to be a factor, especially since — like my bear spray, I left the sunscreen at home.
The descent was about 2.5 hours. My feet were very sore by the time I completed the ridge descent and reached the Baldy Pass Trail again. I only saw one other hiker on the ridge — she was just completing her ascent of the crux as Tucker and I were preparing to come down.
The crux actually is more intimidating to come down than it was to climb in the first place. I didn’t have any problems, but I did have to encourage a the dog in a few different places as he was unsure of his footing.
There was a lot more foot traffic on the Baldy Pass Trail. I would pass another nine hikers before completing the trip to the truck in the parking lot, some coming down like me but the bulk still heading up the pass.
With my detour for the first cache, the stops for photos, lunch on the summit and all the other rest breaks along the way the total trip time was about six hours. Actual hiking time was around five hours as I estimate I spent close to a full hour at the two cache sites.
The odometer on the GPSr showed I had covered about 14km with a total ascent of 1000m. The net elevation of the ridge’s summit is about 800m above the parking lot, so there wasn’t too much “up and down” on the ridge — I suspect if one didn’t go for the Baldy Pass cache you would be around 900-950m of total elevation and 13km in distance. It’s certainly not a hike for the faint of heart, but not nearly as intimidating as it looks. Or, perhaps, my fitness level and hiking skills have improved to the point where I can now do this sort of ascent without killing myself.
As always, this is not intended to be a endorsement of any kind. Hiking carrys a wide range of risks and you must take responsibility for your own safety. Trail and weather conditions are subject to change without notice and you must be prepared for whatever you may encounter on the trail. Don’t blame me if you get into a situation you can’t handle — know your limits and hike within them.