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The trail head to this hike is right in the townsite of Canmore, at the East side of town.
This hike was recommended to me by a friend from work, I knew that it would be a fairly steep hike up to a partially build (or maybe partially destroyed?) teahouse about 80 percent of the way to the peak. From there it is a good scramble to the peak of the mountain. the plan was that any in the group that did not want to go to the top could wait at the tea house.
This trail starts off a litterally a paved path along Cougar Creek (??) It follows along the north side the creek, with some of the new houses in canmore on both sides of the creek. The trail quickly leaves the houses and the paved trail behind, maybe 200m from the trail head. the creek itself was quite small, but it is obvious from the size of the creek bed that it probably swells to a pretty impressive water flow during the spring run off.
This trail is listed in two of my hikeing books. Both the 'Scrables...', and the 'Kananakis ....'. We had the Scrables book with us on the trip, we had just finished looking at the hike in the the book at the trail head of the hike. So when we came to a thre way fork in the trail, about 500m into the hike we did not reconsult the book. Of the 3 options 2 would have kept us on the trail, and the third was simply the wrong way. Of course we took option 3, by the time we figured out we were simply walking along the base of the mountain, apperently just circling the golf course we were around a km off track.
Rather than go back on the trail, we decided to follow the next trail up the mountain. We found and followed a small trail heading up, this eventually came into an old large rock slide. So we ended up doing a fairly easy scramble up this rock slide for an hours or so. After deciding that we were way to far north to cross the main trail we cut south through a steep medow to hit the trail. (note when hiking through a medow, with no path, do not hike single file, rather spread out a bit. This helps prevent wearing trails into the medow. Trails will quickly collect water flow and more orless destroy a wild medow. If there is a trail stay on it and single file)
The proper trail was pretty much at the far side of the medow. The point where we met the trail provided for a pretty step hike up the trail. We were now at the base of the ridge that the trail follows up to the tea house. Looking to the south you see the canyon that Cougar creek flows through, and the North side of MT ______. To the west you look down to the Townsite of Canmore, and across to a panormamic view of the other side of the valley, including views of the Three sisters, Ha Liang Mt, Mt _____ and the view North and south along the Bow valley.
The where we met up with the trail was 1/3 of the way up the steepest portion of the hike to the teahouse. Here the trail does small traverses up the West face of the of the slope, near the ridge. The trail has a small branch, where you can continue up either side of the ridge. This ridge is kinda neet in that it is almost like walking at the base of a wall on the south east side. for us we walked along the south/east side of the ridge which gave a bit of protection from the wind. It also gave a great view of an open medow on the south slope of Lady MacDonald.
The trail along the ridge eventually levels off a bit and become a nice easy walk the last few hundred meters to the foundation of the tea house. As we were walking along the ridge it became obvious that a storm was comming over the peak of Ha Liang mountain. Weather in the mountains is not to be taken lightly, I recomended to the group that we turn back. It is pretty hard to turn back with an obvious goal just in sight (ie the tea house), and it was voted on, and decided to keep going to the point were the ridge became less steep, once there we would re asses the storm, and have a quick bite.. Once we got to this point, we stopped for a quick bite to eat (a 5 minute break). It was during this break that the crack of lighting and the accompanying boom of thunder resounded off the mountain walls. Oh joy!! we are now on an exposed ridge with an electrical storm about 15 minutes away.
For myself I could have made it down into the large trees quite eaisly in 15 minutes. Unfortunately, one of the members in the group was very green (but smart enought to have wanted to turn back earlier) and was scared going down such a steep slope with her feet sliding out beneith her. It make for a pretty tense treck down. In a stroke of Irony, one of the girls who voted to keep going (made doubly ironic, that she did have experince in the mountains), was pretty 'wigged out' by the lightning. Seems she had her dish washer explode into flames when her house was hit by lighning when she was around 14 years old. A long story short we made it off the steep section of the trail and down into the semi-treed slope of the trail before the rain and lightning was at our mountain.
The final strech back to the car was not to bad, the Storm went over fairly quickly (about 10 mins), It was Electrical, but it did not have any real winds and blowing rain. The trip down was pretty hard on the old legs, this was the first real hike of the season, but we made it. With about 1km to go another storm went over, this one had a bit more rain to dump on us. It was during this storm that we saw another group of hikers headingup the hill, man!! I thought we were idiots for not turning right away, oh well, from the looks of the two I doubt they made it above the trees.
Carry a map, or if you have one look at it when you come to a branch in the hike. By making a wrong turn on the hike is not usually a big deal, it just delays the hike. On this hike however, makeig a wrong turn cost us around an hour, which incombination with being turned around by the storm before we could complete a hike cost us the view from the summit.
When the weather looks to be turning bad on you, you should be looking to turn around right away. We were on an exposed ridge when it became obvious that the weather was going to become nasty. We did turn back, but in my opinion it was quite a bit to late. I knew I was with a novice hiker that was slow at decending steep slopes. I did recomend turning back about 20 minutes earlier than we did, but I was out voted for the old 'lets just get to the top of the next ridge'. Ironiclly one of the people that out voted me was terrified of lightning, due to a child hood lightning hit on her house. She made a quick decent to say the least. We made it off the exposed ridge before the lightning hit, but it was a pretty dangerous decent to do it. It could have been alot worse if it had just started raining sooner, which would have made the slope pretty trecherous from being slippery, nevermind the difficulty in dodging ligntning strikes.