Saturday, June 20, 2015

Turtle Mountain (Crowsnest Pass)

I finally got a chance to reach the first summit of 2015 by going to Crowsnest area in southern Alberta. Although I had driven through Pincher Creek and Fort Macleod on my ways last year, I had never been to Crowsnest municipality district and I have to insist that it is such a beautiful area and I will have other programs for sure. I set my wrist watch as well as my new Fitbit Flex for early morning and my destination was Turtle Mountain where the disaster of Frank Slide occurred in 1903. I left the town when sun started coming up , heading south on Highway # 2 and at the town of Nanton I took Road 533 to west. The little town of Nanton where I had this idea in mind to buy a property in, maybe in a few years from now, is located almost 70 km from the city skirts. I was once thinking of doing my work commute from this town but that distance could be a problem, very tiring. That'd another subject to discuss maybe later.
Road 533 takes you to Cowboy Trail and Chain Lakes Provincial Park but at junction, I turned left and headed south for Highway #3 or Crowsness Pass. Cowboy Trail is such a beautiful road with ranches and wetlands at both sides. At the intersection of Cowboy Trail and Crowsness Pass, I turned right and that is where you see all the small communities one after another. There is Bellevue first and then Blairmore, Colleman and others. I was lucky that I had communicated with a very nice gentleman from Frank Slide Interpretive Center and he had directed me with any detail to the trail head. So at exactly 08:02 hours I had my boots on, the car parked and the gear packed and ready to hit the trail in the town of Blairmore. The trail starts basically in the basically  of 15th Ave. and it has a very rough starts. It is so steep that for the first half an hour or so I was sweating like a pig and I had to take the windbreaker out. The weather was nice and the trail and view were fantastic. I kept sweating a lot until I reached the false summit. I had to take my sunglasses off and clean the lenses or in fact dry them out every 10 minutes or so on the way and I was very tired when I reached there and had this great inclination to head back down because of tiredness but then I looked and I realized that I was not at the summit! I took my map out that confirmed it as well. There was still a challenge to reach the summit. I had to climb down the big rock of false summit and then work my way up from an exposed trail until I reach the highest point. I looked at my watched and I realized that I had wasted too much time and considering the wind was getting stronger, I took my windbreaker out, drank half of the water I had brought with me, fastened all of the straps and started going down the rocks, heading towards the summit. It was not too bad. Government of Alberta has installed monitoring tools on Turtle Mountain to observe any movement and they can be easily seen from false summit. So finding the way to go up would not be so hard. Just follow any way which heads towards to the tools. There's also a helicopter landing platform on the south side of the peak but I didn't go there. I eventually reached the 2210 m. summit of Turtle Mountain at 10:45 hours. 
View to the north from the summit. Frank Slide Interpretive Center is the white building which can be seen on the right side of the photo above the road which is Highway # 3 or Crowsness Pass. The rocky side on the right side of teh photo is where mining community of Frank was buried in 1903 as a result of part of the mountain being collapsed on the top of it. 
You have a very nice 360 degrees from the top and the peak is wide enough even to accept more than 20 hikers but fortunately I was alone for the entire time of the trip. I always like to have a photo on the summit, similar to everyone else and although this is not a fourteen-er, I wanted to try it with my flag which is always folded and in my backpack, particularly because there was nobody else around, the summit was not very windy, not as much as the Middle Sister's and there was enough room to move around. Just one day before my trip I was looking for straps to use them for the Alberta flag I had bought earlier, in fact the previous year but didn't find any and then didn't spend any time to look for it. On the summit there was a flag post with lots of plastic strap attached to it. No flags though. I took two of them and considering I only had a small tripod on me, took a few photos after strapping the flag to my hiking stick but none of them cam out well. At least I have to straps that even if they get damaged, I have an idea as what I need to get. As well it was a little bit of photography practice so for the next summit I know what I would have to do, in case I am by myself again.
After the photography, I finished all of the water in the backpack and I have to add that I didn't eat anything, as usual and when I started heading down, it was almost 11:15 hours meaning that I had spent half an hour on the summit which is very unusual for me. 
Going down is not easy and consists of two stages: Stage 1 you need to get yourself to false summit and that comprises of going down the summit and then scrambling up the rocks and reaching the false summit. The second part of the first stage is a bit hard and challenging and that is the part which make this hike falling in Class 4 category and I enjoyed it very much. Stage 2: getting down the false summit to the trail-head which is bad for the knees as the steepness is too much but the trail, as I said earlier, is very beautiful with lots of photo opportunities. 
On the way back to the trail-head you first need to reach the false summit and for that you need to do a bit of rock climbing and that in fact is very easy and enjoyable but at spots you need both hands and this passage is one of easy ones. 
A storm shows itself coming from west at almost where Crowsnest Mountain is located, the clouds started to filling in and the wind blew when I started Stage 2 of the return hike but that actually made the hike much easier and more enjoyable. There was a cool breath and the weather was so delicious to breath it in! I stopped a lot on the way down but when I finally got back to the car it was almost 13:15 hours. Turtle Mountain's regular return trip is considered 5 hours. It means I did not very badly considering the 900 m. elevation gain, lots of stops on the way up and down and the lengthy stay in the summit. 
I drove around the town for a minute or two but didn't stop anywhere because I had to go back. It gave me an idea of what I would be looking for the next time I was in the area. I drove back the same way I came down and the road was even more scenic! That means I'll be back! 
(Photo, top: Turtle Mountain summit from its false summit. Part of the town of Bellevue can be seen far bellow)

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