It started with a simple email on a Wednesday night which read “Any interest in a short hike/bike up the Evan-Thomas Trail on Saturday morning to Fisher Ridge Cap?”
It sounded intriguing. It was an area of Kananaskis I had never explored before and I’ll never pass up a chance to log another find on the Brass Cap Cache, a virtual Geocache which moves throughout the province of Alberta. I was certainly apprehensive because I very rarely ride my bike and I was concerned about the amount of effort it would take.
After a few email back and forth to iron out the details the plan was set. Friday night I came home after work, loaded my bike into the back of the truck, stuffed the backpack full of supplies and set the alarm for 05:30.
Saturday morning I woke up just before the alarm went off, had a quick breakfast and was on the road well before sunrise. My nervous anticipation growing with every passing kilometer as I drove westward towards the turnoff to Highway 40 and Kananaskis Country.
My nervousness was not eased any when the headlights of an oncoming car revealed the water drops on my windshield? Rain? I don’t remember the forecasts calling for rain. At least the temperature was holding out around freezing so it wasn’t too cold, but I wasn’t really prepared for wet conditions as I had only brought along my rain shell but no rain pants.
It was still pitch black when I pulled into the parking lot of the Evan-Thomas Recreation Area. The high-beams revealed there was only one other car in the parking lot. Sure enough, it was Don, the sender of the original email. Don, who caches under the name Sleepy Hollow, is a prolific cacher; he has more Finds than anyone else in Alberta and is in the top ten cache seekers in all of Canada. He is also legendary for his hiking abilities so we both knew he was going to have to slow his pace a lot for me on this trip.
After getting our equipment organized we set out from the parking lot using the light from Don’s headlamp to guide us through the trees. In the darkness we missed the actual trailhead so we spent some time walking our bikes over deadfall before locating the actual trail.
The trail was quite muddy so the going was slow. There was also a slight uphill grade and some larger ruts, so I was spending a lot more time walking my bike than riding it. This pattern of “ride a little ways and then walk some more” carried on for about the first 4km or so of the trip. We finally decided that we should ditch the bikes in the woods and just carry on with the hike.
Fisher Ridge is just to the right of center in this photo.
Without the added burden of pushing/riding the bikes we started to make better time. We soon found ourselves at a creek crossing. While Don went upstream to find a suitable crossing location I opted to make an attempt at rock hopping across at a location closer to the trail. The rocks were wet and covered with a fine layer of ice and, combined with my wet and muddy hiking boots, things didn’t go exactly as I had hoped. I soon found my left leg completely soaked after taking a quick dunk in the water. While I waited for Don’s return I took off my boots, wrung out my socks and tried to get myself put back together.
Another kilometer or so past the creek crossing we came to another creek crossing and we decided it was time to start the ascent to Fisher Ridge so we could avoid another fording. I knew this was going to be tough, as the GPSr showed our target was about 1.5km away, but the topo maps showed it was still 650m above us. That’s one steep climb, especially for someone like me who is still a good 30lbs overweight.
We started up. There was no real trail to follow so we just picked the best line we possibly could through the trees. There wasn’t too much blow down so the going was easy – easy except for the steepness and our frequent stops to allow me to catch my breath.
After about 400m we emerged from the trees and came upon one of the most intimidating sights I have seen. Rocks. And rocks. And more rocks. As far as the eye could see. Scree. Talus. And still more than a kilometer to go with more than 500m of elevation to gain. Whoa!
Looking north up the valley from the scree slope
We picked our way around the edge of the rocks as best we could, sticking to the treeline while still ascending and heading in the direction of the brass cap. We eventually had to tackle the scree and it was very slow going. Sliding around, stepping on rocks which appeared to be solid and would then give way underfoot, puffing up the steep slope. At this point the hike was becoming just as tough mentally as it was physically. I have no doubt that if I had been alone I would have turned back and given up. You mentally push through past your common sense, all the time trying to put out of your mind the thought of “We still have to get back. Every step I take is taking me further away from the truck.” We were often forced into using our hands and feet to get a grip on the surface to pull ourselves up. It was a grunt, no doubt!
Don is on the left side, the Brass Cap is just beyond the ridge on the far right.
After much effort we finally emerged onto the top of the ridge about 400m from the cap. The wind was fierce and we had crossed into the snow zone. At first glance it appeared like we had stepped onto an alien world, with the snow being whipped across the land. If you turned into the wind it would push your breath back into your lung making it hard to exhale, when you turned away it would suck your breath from you making it hard to inhale. When the strongest gusts would come along we would turn our backs to it and brace ourselves – leaning back and letting the wind hold us up. When the gusts would subside slightly we would move on, crossing the grass, snow and rocky surface until we finally reached our goal.
If it weren’t for the wind and the snow the views from this spot would have been more enjoyable. We quickly snapped our photos as proof of visit, Don hid a Geocache in the rock cairn at the cap location and we started the trip back.
The view to the east from the brass cap location.
The return trip was uneventful. It involved the careful manoeuvring through the rocks, trying to keep our footing to avoid sliding. Many of the rock edges were sharp and would cut you up quite badly if you were to slip. Once we made it down off the ridge and back onto the trail the going was much faster.
It got even faster when we returned to the bikes. Most of the trail from the spot where we dropped the bikes to the truck was downhill so I was able to coast a lot of the way. There were only two mishaps on the way back – my back brakes on the bike were not working properly so I got going too fast at one point and when I tried to slowly apply the front brake to help stop the descent I ended up flipping off into a bush on the side of the trail. The second mishap was just 300m from the parking lot when my right leg cramped up and I was forced to walk the bike back to the parking lot trying to work the cramp out.
It was a very long day, taking us about nine hours to complete the trip. I came home exhausted and sore. I’m not sure I’ll ever bother doing Fisher Ridge again to go find the cache Don hid up at the top, but I’m glad I was able to persevere and at least do that climb once. It’s always good to know where your limits are so you can push them further next time.