May 30, 2020
Heart Mountain is a classic Bow Valley scramble. It is also ridiculously easy to access, which means everyone and their dog go up it. However, as a guide friend of mine once said, “a lot of people underestimate Heart Mountain.” This is a scramble, not a hike. True, it’s on the easy end of things, but for pure hikers, this will be a step up.
The first time we took our kids up here, they were about 10 years old. It was pouring rain in the parking lot, which turned to snow the higher we got. By the time we arrived at the first scramble, we were soaked through. We had to make a hasty retreat, which wasn’t as easy as going up. Heart has an abundance of slick, flat rocks that are treacherous when wet or snow covered. As this was one of the few mountains my kids didn’t successfully finish, they asked to go back.
Quality hiking boots with proper grips. It’s best to not attempt this mountain in the winter or when it’s snowing. Heart is full of slab rocks that are deadly slick when wet or covered in snow. Also, you are on the edge of the ridge for most of the way. A young man died in 2019 when he got too close to the edge and fell off.
From the parking lot, head east on the trail. Once you cross the creek, head straight up Heart Mountain’s west ridge to the summit. To continue the traverse, stay on the undulating ridge until you hit Grant MacEwan Peak. From here, stay on the ridge as it curves back around, gaining two more mini-summits marked by large cairns. The trail quickly descends through scree, and then heads into the forest for the remainder of the elevation loss. Once off the mountain, head back to the parking lot.
From the Heart Mountain parking lot, start at the main trail and hike for about 1 km. Some people to prefer to park on the highway and cut out this section, however I find that a flat bit of warm up and cool down is great for the muscles. Your choice.
We started hiking at 7:30 am, which was a very respectable start considering we had two teenagers with us. As it was the weekend, we were expecting crowds and we ended up leap-frogging with a group that would rush ahead, and then stop. Repeatedly.
At almost the 1 km mark, the Heart Creek washout area starts. What was once a cute little stream is now a major boulder field from the massive 2013 floods. The reconstruction has included two new bridges further upstream that will hopefully survive any future flooding.
Once across the second bridge, there is a rather cryptic sign. To the right is the Heart climbing areas. Go left to reach the base of Heart Mountain.
A new trail has been graded out of the flood gravel.
Follow the new trail until you hit the start of the climb, marked by the Scrambling sign.
From here, head straight up the ridge for a good 2 km until you hit the summit.
Unfortunately, with the vast increase in the number of people heading up mountains, the Heart Mountain trail is pretty much destroyed, especially on the lower sections. It used to be a fairly obvious trail right from the bottom, but it is now one big mess of braided trails and trampled bushes. I think this mountain is ripe for the same kind of volunteer attention that Ha Ling receives.
As you near the summit, the scrambling fun begins. Kananaskis Search & Rescue has bolted blue arrows to direct scramblers to the appropriate spots to climb up. When we arrived at the first scramble, there was a group sitting and waiting for someone to show them how to get up the ‘crux’ point.
A short bit later, there are some more bolted blue arrows showing the way up a wide chimney.
Finally, there is one more scrambly bit.
After this, the trail finally lays back and you are magically on top. A few more steps takes you to the Heart Mountain summit cairn. It took us 2 hours of travel time, 3.2 km, and 736 m (2’428) elevation gain.
Heart Mountain Traverse
There is no shame in turning around here, as I’ve done many times before. This is ideal if you only have a few hours and want to get done quickly. To do the traverse, continue to follow the ridge line. This is the first view of the traverse and its three ‘peaks’. There are four major cairns on this route. The first is Heart Mountain, the second is Grant MacEwan Peak, and then two more high points before you descend back to the highway.
To get to the second Grant MacEwan Peak, follow the ridge as it undulates up and down. Despite the temperature being about 25 Celsius and it being the end of May, we still found a lot of snow on the north facing slopes.
Make sure to look back, as the views of the undulation ridge are gorgeous.
We arrived at the second Grant MacEwan Peak after 3 of travel time, 4.87 km, and an elevation gain of 833 m (2,748′) from the start.
The Grant MacEwan Peak is a panoramic feast for the eyes. First, someone brought up a Canada flag, which is always a nice touch. Thank you to whoever did that! On your right is the imposing Mount McGillivary and Skogan Peak. Straight ahead is Twin Peaks. Down to the left is a unique view of Barrier Lake, and across from that is Mount Baldy.
We had a bite to eat here, and then prepared to lose some elevation. We tightened our boots, and my daughter Kayla and I put on our knee braces.
To get over to the third summit cairn, we had to lose some more elevation. Luckily for us, there was still quite a bit of snow, so we slid down it.
The ascent to the third peak cairn included the ubiquitous scree slog, which turned out to be both short and enjoyable with a quality trail that switch-backed nicely.
We arrived after 3.5 hours of travel time and 5.58 km. The elevation here is 2,132 m, or 29 m lower than Grant MacEwan peak.
The third peak actually has the best view of Mount Baldy.
Directly beside us, I spied the now decommissioned Barrier Fire Lookout. Your UCP dollars at work – not!
There was still some lingering snow, even on this more exposed area, as we hiked over to the fourth and final ‘peak’ cairn.
The fourth and final cairn has great views across the valley to Loder and Door Jam. Further back is Mount Yamnuska.
This marks the start of the descent. The first section is a straight down, knee jarring, skittering scree. I envy those without knee issues! This eventually backed-off to a regular steep grade.
Thankfully and unexpectedly, the trail entered the forest. This was way easier on the knees and it was blessedly cooler in the forest.
We followed this trail straight down until we were fully off the mountain. At the cut line, we headed left to go back to the parking lot.
When we arrived back at the car around 1:00 pm, the parking lot was jam packed. Plus, people had parked all the way along the road to the highway. Dozens more were parked on the side of the road at the base of the scramble. So much for social distancing in the time of Covid-19!
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Totals – Tracked on Strava
Date: May 30, 2020
Group: Four (Alisen, Mike, Kayla & Mackenzie)
Distance: 12.28 km
Elevation: 996 m (3,286′)
Time: 5 hours 30 minutes (1/2 hour lunch)