Old Baldy is a popular ridge to climb in the Kananaskis area of the Canadian Rockies, off of Highway 40. Starting from the Evan-Thomas parking lot, it’s roughly 75 minutes West of Calgary. From the trailhead to the summit, it’s roughly 13km with an elevation gain of 2,830 feet to 7,830 feet in altitude.
A little back story on this hike for me: Last September, I was part of a group of 6 that decided to hike Old Baldy. (I forget who initially decided on this hike, but I recall being intrigued by reading a review on Hiking with Barry.) We were a rather odd group, with connections between work, a meetup group, flood recovery, and twitter. As a result, the hike seemed like a good choice: a solid, but innocent enough hike that I thought everyone would manage fine…
Coles notes version: The day was beautiful and everyone was in a great mood. We were making good time, finding the first cairns to leave the horse trail, following the river on and on and on… until someone’s GPS unit said we weren’t going the right way. Turns out the 2013 flood had done some pretty serious damage to the trail and we simply lost the main path. Then someone suggested that we immediately head up the mountain. Not a good idea. This was quite a steep hill that only got steeper. Then we hit the head wall! So we then tried to follow the base of the head wall for a while. This strategy sort of worked until we realized that we had spent too much time hiking uphill and people had time commitments back in Calgary. So… we decided to call it, headed down the steep mountain towards the river and followed it out…
Fast forward to this year: I was determined to return and get to the top, so on August 16, a group of 3 of us decided to head out again. The day started off great. The sun was out and we left the parking just after 10am. We were also more prepared and observant this time around! At the ~2km mark, we found the proper cairn on the left to follow the river, then followed the flood ravaged river while we found a few more cairns (that we missed originally) that branched away from the river, and we were heading up the mountain with much more confidence then last time.
The hike was going great until we started to look behind us and saw some massive clouds coming in! The forecast had been some “scattered showers” in the afternoon, so I was expecting a bit of rain, and we kept going because the sun would poke its head through the clouds from time to time.
We ascended pretty quickly through the tall trees with the nicely cut path that later followed the ridge, only stopping to pick juniper berries and admire the view. This led us to an open valley where a massive rock slide had occurred. From here, it was a good game of “Where’s the next cairn” as the large slide had left behind some fairly tough scree to navigate through.
After a brief lunch where we met a Canadian Reservist and his dog, we started to ascend the scree. Also at this time, the skies opened up and we were climbing up some pretty difficult slippery moss-covered rocks that felt like it went on forever.
Eventually, we arrived at the top of the ridge and found the path again; however, it was raining so hard we couldn’t really tell how long we had left to go. We must have spent a solid 45 minutes following the ridge until we hit the clearing and could look around. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see Mount Allan (thanks to the rain), but it was still an incredible feeling to look around, despite being drenched. (I tried to protect my camera, but it got pretty wet and you see quite a few water marks on some of these pictures.)
On the way down, after a brief break from rain, we began to hustle as we could see more showers coming towards us!
All in all, it was a fun little hike with a pretty good variety of terrain. Unfortunately, we got hit by a pretty good storm going through, so we couldn’t fully appreciate the view of the amazing landscapes in the area.
(All photos are credited to Andrew D. Forbes.)