Friday, October 3, 2014

Not Really a Run on Northover

Type: Loop
Distance: ~40km
Elevation Gain: 1580m

I'd heard good things about Northover Ridge from a few people. It was also another destination that Katherine and I had attempted while she's been injured that we had been turned around on. That time we were turned around because it was a) super cold out and we were freezing mid-day, b) the ridge was getting nailed by howling winds and c) it was completely enveloped in fog and as much fun as bivying in a)the cold and b) howling wind without anything more than a lightweight down jacket and an emergency blanket, we decided that we're old and soft and turned around.

Northover is about 40km car to car and it's a loop so there's no hitchiking or stashing of a bike which pretty seriously reduces the logistical faff which means you spend more time actually doing stuff and then drinking victory beers. The route starts and ends at Upper Kananaskis Lake. I did the loop counter clockwise, heading along the west side of the lake until the Three Isle Lake trail splits off. From Three Isle Lake you head up valley towards a steep scree col which you gain, hang left, and then climb to the obvious peak. From there it's a 5km or so ridge walk before you drop down towards the Aster Lake Campground. From Aster Lake you drop to Hidden Lake, skirt the west shore to it's outflow which doesn't outflow, and follow an overgrown trail until you reconnect with the Upper Kananaskis Lake Trail and follow that out to your car. Piece o' cake.

So I set off, late (10am, not really an alpine start) and slightly hung over from hanging out with friends the night before and started running the trail. I was doing this solo again which I'm finding is just way easier for these longer days, it's nice being able to set your own pace. At least this time I actually brought some bear spray with me. I also had music playing from my speakerphone again as a pretty useless bear deterrent.

Cruising around the lake goes quickly and is pretty gorgeous in places.
I cruised around the Lake pretty quickly and maintained a pretty good pace up to Three Isle Lake. From there though, I slowed to a crawl. This isn't a run - at least not if you're solo. Google Maps shows the Lake having a big southern spur. It doesn't. Or at least it didn't when I was there, maybe when water level is high it fills in, but it was kilometres of lake bed. And not good lake bed. It's shitty talus. I fucking hate talus. Running it solo is suicidal, the odds of blowing an ankle are way too high.

A valley of ankle destroying talus
After a few kilometres you need to gain that col and it's steep scree and talus the whole way up - totally un-runnable. Once you arrive on top of the col the view is great, but you also shows you that you have a bunch more elevation to gain up to a sub peak. More steap, totally un-runnable scree and talus. Gain that sub peak and congrats, you're on the ridge. You can sort of run sections of it, but a number of places have decent exposure and sections are downright a scramble.
From the col, there's a steep talus and scree trail up to the sub peak
I don't like doing scrambles solo. The problem is that the guide books/people/beta out here seem to have really different definitions of what a 'scramble' is. I figured that the route was probably just a hike, but this is a very easy scramble in my book. I used my hands for balance a few times and a fall in a few places a fall would have really sucked. So yea, scramble. I cruised along, ran into a couple that seemed pretty out of their depth who were also trying to do it in a day. They were struggling with the exposure and where moving at a pace that meant they were probably going to end up finishing out their day by headlamp. The nice thing is that the start and end of the route is the trail around the lake which is easy to follow in the dark, so not the end of the world. Actually, I sort of figure that any day that ends up with you slogging out by headlamp is a good day as long as you're comfortable with that sort of thing.
Amazing views from Northover Ridge

Anyway, the ridge is gorgeous. Amazing views, super aesthetic, fucking talus the whole way. You can run some sections but the talus and the exposure are pretty limiting, especially if you're solo. I was missing the ankle deep mud of the Rockwall trail or the alpine meadows of Healey Pass. Another issue on this route is water. Even though it had snowed a few weeks before, some warm weather had melted it all out and it was actually pretty blazingly hot and sunny all day. After Three Isle, you don't have a chance to get any more water for quite a while and up on that ridge, you're getting hammered by the sun - the single Nalgene bottle in my bag wasn't enough and by the end of the ridge I was starting to feel a little wobbly. Nothing major, just had to watch my foot placements and pay a bit more attention to what I was doing. Pack water. More than a litre.

Eventually you drop down off the ridge, follow more talus garbage out to Aster Lake where I stopped for what little food I had left. I way underpacked on food. I had a sandwich, some wine gums and that gawd awful ziplock bag of mangled, melted cookies that I'd been carrying since the Rockwall. The cookies had travelled something like 150km in my pack at this point. I just wanted to finish the supid things. I failed. Even though I really didn't have enough food, I just couldn't eat all of those damn cookies, I was just sick of them.

I was pretty surprised to not see anyone out at Aster Lake. It was later on a Sunday, but I still would have thought someone would have been out there. In fact, I was super surprised how few people I saw all day. Once I left Three Isle Lake, the only people I saw was the couple up on the ridge. I'd expected way, way more traffic on the route. I'm glad I had my inReach with me and had been touching base with people throughout the day - if something had happened, I sure couldn't bank on some nice person passing by and helping me out.

From Aster is a cruise down to Hidden Lake which is actually really pretty. There's a ton of trees that have been died but are still standing, roots exposed, looking like vertical driftwood.
Vertical driftwood
I'd given up on running at this point. The first few kilometers had gone well but after all the talus, any idea of a fast day were long gone so I just hiked out the remainder. As it got dark I dropped into a jog in a few places just to speed things up, but really, I was hiking.

I got back to the car around 7pm, 9 hours after I set off. I hung out on a picnic bench at the lake, guzzling water to try and rehydrate and watched the sun set over the lake. Big mistake, meant I got to try not to mow down wildlife on Highway 40 the whole way out.

Shitty planning, inadequate research, not enough water, not enough food, too many cookies, absolutely fantastic day. Despite the talus, I love the route, it's gorgeous and I'll definitely go back. With more food and water, and someone to patch me up when I blow an ankle on the talus.

GPS, elevation profile, usual stuff is all on Movescount.

No comments:

Post a Comment