Like many hikers in this corner of the planet, Dinah and I wanted to see the larches turning yellow as we swung into fall. So we chose to do Pocaterra Ridge on Highwood Pass. Starting from Little Highwood Pass trailhead, we wanted to traverse the ridge north to south and return via Rockfall Valley.
Right off the bat, the trail crosses Pocaterra Creek. Since Dinah doesn't like log crossings and since we didn't know what state the creek was in after the historic June floods, we decided to ford the creek in hip waders. We reached the creek in five minutes, crossed, and stashed our waders in bushes. As it turns out, however, the logjam crossing mentioned in the guidebook looked good and appeared unaffected by the flood.
After the creek, we climbed a steep trail in the trees before popping out onto a delightful open ridge. We continued up to the broad, featureless top of Peak 1. Before the day was done, we would climb three more peaks along the ridge, the last being the highest.
After Peak 1 the trail dips into a larch forest before rising to meet Peak 2. After knocking off Peak 2 we deliberated on doing Peak 3. Peak 3 can easily be sidestepped, but in her guidebook, Gillean advises against this, and we didn't want to be found “guilty” of a ridgewalk transgression. We hiked up and over Peak 3 (it was worth the effort). Peak 4, the summit, was next in line.
Along the ridge we enjoyed solitude, but as we hiked up to the summit, we began passing groups traversing south to north, sparing themselves the extra 300 m gain we did, the height difference between the north and south trailheads (presumably they all had a shuttle car at Little Highwood parking lot, although one three-person group told us they had left a bike there).
When we reached the summit we were in for a surprise. Our friend Raff was sitting next to the cairn. He and his friend Sachi hiked from the Highwood Pass parking lot and were returning the same way.
Looking up, I noticed clouds moving in, casting dark shadows in Rockfall Valley. Suddenly the long hike down the valley back to our car looked gloomy and uninviting. We asked Raff if he could give us a lift back to our car.
The last 4.4 km went quickly. We chatted and joked all the way back to the Highwood Pass parking lot. In good company and passing yellowing larches, Dinah and I couldn't have asked for a more enjoyable ending after traversing Pocaterra Ridge.
Looking for a place to cross: recent deadfall completely hides the creek
We waded across although later realized the logjam crossing was okay (mouse over)
Emerging from the trees. Gap Mountain behind.
The first of a few false summits leading to Peak I
The view behind us
The larches aren't yet completely yellow
Hiking through the larch forest between Peaks 1 and 2
Heading up Peak 2
Rockfall Valley (the lake is completely dry)
Looking back along the ridge to Peak 1 (click for a larger image)
Peaks 3 and 4
Although Peak 3 can be easily avoided, ascending it required little time and effort
Peak 4 ahead
The trail was slippery with mud and snow (mouse over to look back)
In these rocks just before the summit, there's an easy trail
Raff, Dinah and Sachi on the summit
Last look at the valley and the ridge (click for a larger image)
Heading down the south slope. Grizzly Ridge and Mount Tyrwitt fill the view.
(click for a larger image)
Looking back at Little Highwood Pass and the summit
Following the trail through the larches
Last look at the summit
Before reaching the parking lot, we saw this tiny snowman, a harbinger
of what we can expect to see in the coming months
82 J/11 Kananaskis Lake and 82 J/10 Mount Rae
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