Up and Across Lusk Creek Ridge

July 18, 2011

I knew the climb up and across Lusk Creek Ridge in Kananaskis was going to be a challenge for me and indeed it was. Just over a year ago I did my first ever off trail hike up to the “Central Summit”; today, a day I’d anticipated for months, my goal was to climb to retrieve a dozen caches along a route that would make a big square: up and across the ridge, down and back along the gravelled Highway 68 to my parking spot.

Preparation

After spending the night at the Ribbon Creek Hostel I made it to the parking spot at Sibbald Meadows Pond, prepared my backpack. This didn’t include all the food I’d hoped for: my store of energy bars were stupidly left in a duffle bag at the hostel so I scrounged up all the spare hiking bars and granola bars I could find in the car. I felt a bit stupid having done that, but I wasn’t going to let that oversight delay my start. When doing a long hike like this, a powerful psychological weapon I have is to remind myself I have all day to do it and so frequent rests are completely fine and just part of my routine. For this reason, ample time was just more important than ample food.

I filled up my large water bladder (3 litres) which makes for a weighty pack to start off the day, but running out of water on a hike generally makes me partially insane with worry so anything to avert that, even a heavy pack is worth it.

Starting Out

I set out just after nine at the trailhead, a bit of misnomer I guess, because there really isn’t much of a trail. But after a bit of a jog in the wrong direction I quickly picked up a piece of pink trail tape. I’m not exactly sure who — probably the people who need to go up and check the rain gauge further up the slope – but someone has tied a great series of pink and (older) orange trail tape up as far as the weather station. And in fact there is a fairly worn trail in this section, again probably because of the the back and forth those maintenance trips take. No matter, it was such a great feeling not to be completely lost in the woods; I had the comfort of a trail during this first leg.

That said, I did linger a few times searching for the next bit of tape to guide me along. Those forest scanning sessions were great excuses to stop for rests, but sometimes when I’d lost the trail, I’d just continue on slowly, knowing I eventually had to go up anyway.

 

Making My Way Up the Ridge

My first cache was near the weather station and I made the find in pretty short order. I retrieved my hiking poles which I’d left at the rain gauge and continued on up. This was the beginning of the feeling of living this experience in clearly defined chunks: the caches along the ridge, my goals and waypoints along the route, all seemed be either 400 and some or 700 and some metres from each other. This made it easy to fool myself as I lost energy throughout the day: all I had to do was this next bit and, “Hey look! It’s only 400 and some meters!” I’m so gullible; and I know this so I can easily fool myself into continuing on, despite the slow and steady onset of exhaustion.

There were three more caches between me and the first summit. I found the first one easily; I wasn’t able to find the second (and nor were a couple of others before me, but I think now we all might have been looking in the wrong – in the trees not the rocks where I think it might be if it is still there) and a third which I had a bit of trouble finding because my GPSr was playing tricks on me. After those I made my way to the East Summit.

There was still some elevation to gain as I made my way to the East Summit, but because the trees were more sparse, it became easy to navigate through them and acutally pick up speed. Before long I was at the East Summit and found the cache quickly under some sticks. After signing the log I had a long awaited lunch: it was just after 12 noon when I arrived and I’d been on the trail up for three hours already. That time represented a lot of walking and a lot of resting. I set out after taking about 20 minutes for “lunch”, which was really only a Cliff bar: a hunk of unidentified, but pretty tasty, stuff to eat, and some “gorp”. It was enough to satisfy me; good thing too, because in about another 20 minutes I would find myself anything other than satisfied.

The Blow Down

Between the East Summit and what the cachers are calling the Northeast Summit, there was an amazing amount of “blow down”: rafts of trees felled by the wind every which way like a gigantic game of pick up sticks. The section of the hike was slow, demanding and frustrating. In small 50 meter increments, it was a constant case of knowing where you wanted to go, not being able to get there because of the mass of obstacles in front of you, imagining a possible way through, retreating and flanking, retreating from your flank move and flanking that again and by that time being so far of course that you needed to figure out where you wanted to go again. It was a long, slow process!

I did finally make it through, however, first to a cache called “Near the Top”, a name that was important in spurring me on through that little bit of hell, and then the Northeast Summit. When reached that spot, the sun was high in the sky and beating down hard on my tired body. After finding the cache I extracted it and escaped the hot sun, planting myself down in the shade of a nearby tree. While quietly signing and reading previous logs, I heard a noise to my right and looked up to see a mature doe about 10 m away. Her head snapped around at the movement of my head and she was off in a flash before there was any thinking to be done. That was nice close encounter with the kind of four-legged animal I don’t mind meeting on the trail.

Making it Over to “Lusk Creek Ridge – East”

After a needed lie flat on my back in the shade rest break and a bit of a snack I continued on to the next cache and soon saw what looked like a formidable leg in front of me. First there was a LOT of DOWN and then there was an equal amount of UP after that. In this case, the UP was “capped” with a rocky ridge which looked like a castle rampart. I have to admit I found all this a little discouraging, but what’s to be done? I had to move on, so I did, very slowly and surely down, across and up to the next summit.

In the end I was surprised at the fairly good time I’d made when I found myself at the “castle rampart” of the next summit. I’d stopped many times for rests, and I think that was the trick to just making it through. I climbed up some rocks, again very slowly, and was able to pull myself up onto the summit plateau just like climbing over a castle wall. Wow, what a great feeling to be past what looked like an impossible obstacle.

 

I followed the GPSr arrow over to the cache site and the cache hint actually threw me off for a while because it advertised the cache was in a cairn. There were no cairns to be seen, but pretty soon I found a pile of rocks beside a ledge that did indeed hide the cache. Then I followed my own tradition: I lay flat on the ground and rested yet again, this time right in the hot sun, but at this point I could have hardly cared less. As I looked back at the northeast summit, where I’d just been, I think it was this point of the entire trek that marked my proudest moment because it there was a true sense of accomplishment having done something that looked so daunting not so long ago. I’d acknowledged that I was daunted and then just went ahead and did it. Slowly, yes, but I did it.

“Along Lusk Creek Ridge” – The Last Cache of the Trek

The trip to the next cache was actually fairly straightforward and, as I remember it, rather tame when it came to how much it sapped my energy. There wasn’t as much elevation loss and gain to get this one and I was thankful for that. After passing the cache sight once, I circled around and spied it from a number of meters away. This cache was hidden by BVPete, who often crafts his own wooden containers that in turn hold the plastic lock ‘n lock containers one usually finds while caching. These wooden containers are always a treat and I’d found a few during this trek.

The next cache was the last of the bunch and thought it would be all downhill from here on. For the most part it was, but there was just a little bit of surprise “up” still to do. Once I grew closer to ground zero of “Along Lusk Creek Ridge” I realized that I’d need to ascend to get the cache. After arriving close to ground zero, I noodled with a rock that looked a little out of place, but quickly gave up the search session to have a rest. On most previous finds today, it was the other way around, – find, then rest – but by now I was really, really tired.

After having that short rest and looking around at some scene that resembled a summer version of the winter spoiler photo, my GPSr lead me back to the exact rock I’d noodled with earlier and after spying inside, there was the very well hidden cache! Happiness.

 

To the Highway

Now it was time to make my way to the road; I was all to ready to do so by this time! The slope was extremely steep at first, but gradually leveled out to where I entered the tree line again. The way down was actually quite littered with blow down, which made the pace slow again. There were heartening bits of trail tape which I’d follow for a bit and then loose until I made my way to what was obviously the beginnings of a logging road. I followed it for a bit, but it ran out to nothing, making me give up and decide to continue to follow the straight through route toward the highway which I saw as my salvation at this point. I believe now that if I’d followed that road the opposite way, I might have had a much easier time of it: another cacher’s log mentions following it out to the highway, so I’m quite sure I could have if I’d only followed it the other way.

Oh, well, if I’d done it that way, I never would have had the opportunity to see (plus side) and negotiate my way down the crest of rocks (negative side) that make up a little two-tiered waterfall that I found a little later. I’d seen logs that mentioned the falls, and winter pictures of it, but as it turns out I came upon it in such a way that I had to make my way down very gingerly to the highest tier, across the mouth and then again down some heavily moss-covered ledges to the first tier. I was well aware of the danger here: the a tired hiker, potentially slippery rocks and downward climbing can make for a scary combination. But I made it unscathed, again because I took it slow and easy.

The Return Trudge to Where I’d Parked – and a Surprise Ending

You wouldn’t think this leg of the trek that took me to multiple summits and more than a few hardships along the way, a leg that would basically be about a 2 and some kilometre trudge back to the car along the wonderfully gravelled and often dusty Highway 68 would be worth writing about in a log. But I ended up feeling that “the powers that be” wanted to make sure I’d experienced a “full course” hike, so I do feel the need to write about it.

As I very joyfully and triumphantly emerged onto the highway and was finally able to walk in a straight line for more than 20 meters at a time (those who have done this trek will know what I mean) I felt the rain that was falling ever so lightly while I was still making my way down, pick up and come down in ernest. So my thoughts were something like, “Oh, hey, there’s Too Many Dave’s!” (a cache I’d already found, hidden along the highway); later, “There’s what I think is the parking for “Sleepy Hollow’s Hill!”; not too much later, “Oh, there’s my back getting pelted even more with this rain” Other than that, my mind was blank. I’m not saying I can’t remember what I was thinking, I’m saying my mind was blank! I was too tired to think, really, and this putting one foot in front of the other thing was just something I was doing by relying on instinct, based on having learned it in childhood.

A little later during the trudge, freakishly for only about a 400 m stretch, the wind picked up to first pelt the rain sideways onto my face and then actually be strong enough to blow me sideways partially off my feet. Yikes! Then it simply went away. It was like “the force” was dishing out this, then that to see how I’d react. I guess it didn’t know I was too tired to react to much at all.

Then, at long last, with not a single car coming along going my way from which I might have begged a lift, after those seemingly endless twists and turns of that stretch, the pond came into view with its oiled stretch of road in front of it. Then something special happened: it’s as if those same “powers that be” dished out a grand prize in congratulations for having survived the trek: there before me was a beautiful rainbow. This was awesome enough, but a couple of minutes later this morphed into a double rainbow (one rainbow much stronger than the other, but double it was). I truly felt I was being rewarded for accomplishing what was a challenging trek for me today.

 

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