The passionate hiker

The passionate hiker
Early days in the outdoors

Friday, July 27, 2012


Fri. 27 July:  Missinglink

This was a good test of my route-finding skills. For such a gentle foothill, it posed several challenges.  I passed with flying colors. 

It’s hard to find new areas of the Elbow and Sheep Valleys to explore.  Thanks to the new edition of the Kananaskis Trail Guide, just published (Vol. 4 – Sheep/Gorge Creek) I noticed a possible circuit by foot and bike, linking Gorge Creek with the Sheep River road at Bighorn viewpoint, via Missinglink Mountain.  I was surprised to learn that this forested foothill actually has a stunning viewpoint on its western edge, and so I was keen to check it out.

After work on the Thursday I headed out of the city to camp at Sandy McNabb campsite.  Expecting it to be fairly quiet, I was a little surprised to find the large campsite almost full.  So I continued up the valley to the Bluerock campsite.  Although the main camping area was also full, there was, for some strange reason, a section which was almost deserted.  I set up camp on a perfect spot of ground.  Just one other trailer arrived in this leg of the campsite, and so it was peaceful and undisturbed.  I fell quickly asleep to the gentle sound of the Sheep River running through the trees down below.

By just after 7 a.m. the following morning, I had struck camp and was driving the few kilometres east back up the valley to the Gorge Creek road.  This road ends at a gate after just a few kilometres.  Here at the trailhead for Mt. Ware, and other grand hikes, I hid my bike in the trees.  High above me to the east I could see the summit ridge of Missinglink Mountain, and I would be dropping down from there to pick up my bike for the return leg (if I could figure out the route!).

In the parking lot, I was surprised to see a mound of snow.  Surely it had melted weeks ago?  A second look showed me that this was a big pile of hail.  There must have been a gigantic hailstorm up here the previous day, to have left this evidence behind.  I was relieved that I had not been out there in such an onslaught.

Driving back down the Gorge Creek road I turned east onto the Sheep Valley road, parking at Bighorn viewpoint.  My hiking route took a direct line northwards up onto the lower slopes of Missinglink Mountain.  The grass was wet with dew, and my boots and my hiking pants were soon soaking.  But very quickly I was up onto beautiful grassy slopes, with immediately great views westwards to the head of the Sheep River valley, and the Front Ranges.

I climbed the slopes to a rounded tree-lined ridge, then turned northwest to follow the ridge top.  There was no obvious trail, except for a few short sections.  But the general route was obvious.  The trail stayed mostly in the trees, with a few open sections giving views to the valley below.  I was on the look-out for a path dropping gradually off the ridge, and by good fortune, or keen observation, I saw a faint trail which I followed.  It was not easy to see, and a couple of times I lost it, but regained it as it tracked gradually downwards along the side of the forested ridge.  Eventually it crossed a tiny stream and disappeared altogether. 

Pulling out my map, I tried to figure out which direction to take from here.  I made a line up the hillside through the open forest, and continued to keep to the highest section of a wide hillside with only an occasional view through the trees to guide me.  I continued on up the rising ground for what seemed to be several kilometres.  Just when I was convincing myself that I was lost, I saw ahead the dramatic end to the trees and a large inukshuk perched on a clifftop directly in front of me.  I had hit the summit of Missinglink Mountain head on.

I popped out of the trees onto an open clifftop, from where I had grand views westwards to the mountain wall.  Directly below me was the trailhead and (I hoped) my stashed bike.  There were heavy clouds building to the north, but still plenty of sunshine overhead.  It looked to me as if thunderstorms were very likely that afternoon.

My descent was steep.  Again, I found the right route by good judgment and by lining up a distant cutline with the terrain directly below me.  The trail became more obvious as I dropped down off the mountain, in thick forest.  Lower down, the trail was soaking wet, but finally I came out onto the Gorge Creek road just a stone’s throw from the closed gate and my hidden bike.  I had navigated very well – if I say so myself.  I’m sure that some people would struggle a little on this route, although with common sense  the average hiker would not have too much difficulty.

The bike ride back down the Gorge Creek road and along the Sheep Valley was swift and enjoyable.  All too soon I was back at the car.  I had avoided missing any links on this enjoyable route across the foothills and back.   This route could do with some occasional blazing to show the way – but then maybe not too many people come this way, and perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.  Best to keep this as a nice little test of the hiker’s art.

Missinglink Mountain
Fri. 27 July

Total Dist.

 6.4 km (hike) +
 6.3 km (bike) =
12.7 km

Height Gain

 1,530 ft.

Max. Elev.

 6,380 ft.


3 hrs. 27 mins.

Other Stats.

Start hike:      7.51 am
Summit:         9.49 am
Start bike:    10.51 am
Ret. to car:   11.18 am

Temp: +11 C to +21 C

Cloudless => building clouds.  Warm.


Joanne said...

Very sad to report that our beloved Inukshuk has been destroyed at the end of Oct/2015.
Jo (Sheep River Ramblers- Turner Valley)

The Editor said...

There must be divided loyalties when it comes to Inukshuks and stone cairns in Aberta. I had been noticing over the years that somebody had been systematically destroying them as fast as they were being built. After many years hiking in Scotland, where a cairn discovered in the fog can be a life-saver, it seemed counter-intuitive that a hiker would tear one down. There may be a different reason for tearing down the Inukshuks, based on respect for what they represent and who has the right to build one, but that's just a guess. But somebody knows, and it would be interesting to hear their side of the story.