Hike: Biking Highwood pass

Quick Summary

Difficulty: Paved road, with hills
Distance: 75km
Elevation gain:____
Time Taken: ____
Cool points: lots of critters
What it's Not: ____
Date of Hike: June 12, 2004
Recommendations:group of 6 or more
Notes: ____

No Map avail

How to get to the trail head

Ramble on about the hike

Here in Southern Alberta, we have Kananaskis country, it is not a national park, but it is some kind of forest reserve. You can hunt there, you can graze cattle there, but it is a lot like a national park.

One of the park like qualities, is that the government closes Hwy 40 every winter, through the Highwood pass. This is so the critters can have an acceptable amount of grazing, and living room while the upper altitudes are no fun to live in. ( The cynical part suspects it is also to stop people from killing themselves on a hwy that would be expensive to maintain.) Every year the hwy opens to motorized traffic on June 15th. However, prior to that, the snow is usually long gone, and the cyclists have free run of a well paved Hwy in some of the nicest country on the continent.

Last Friday, A friend invited me out on the ride. There were 7 in our group, mostly teachers, or retired teachers. The trip is 75km or so, to the top of Highwood pass, and back. The top eleivation is around 2200m. Forgot my new toy (GPS) so I that is about all I know. I will say I more or less slept for 2 days after, and I will not complain about the 200m tall hill I have to bike up to get home from work ever again. There are a few hills on this route, the last one being 6km long. All that is because it is set in the Rockies, which is what makes the ride such a pleasure. today it is overcast, we drove through storms to get here, and it is a week day. No one else is at the 'set in' point, and we meet no one else on the ride. Truely fantastic. So the trip started out great, middle part was great, and finished great. great is a subjective word of course, but you can tell I really like it.

It soon became apperant that one other and I were the slowest in the group. I wish I could remember his name, but every time he told me I'd forget after about 5 seconds. It was an unusual name, the fellow was African decendant, and told me it was a Catholic (or biblical) name. We were fairly far behind the group, less than a km but not by much, and slugging up the 3rd or 4th hill, when we caught up to the rest of the guys.

Nice of them to stop and wait... We came in and, were makeing our re-introductions, when one of them pointed down the road. About 150m down was a big (biggest I've ever seen) Grizzly.

He knew we were there, and was snacking on the dandilions on the side of the road. We watched as he casually crossed the road and continued his munching on the other side. Eventually walking down the enbankment to be about 40m from the edge of the road. Pretty awsome, kinda spooky. We now got to bike past him.

So, according to Myrl: 1) Never been grizzly attack on a group of 6 or more, a little factoid from hiking. 2) never run from a Griz, it cuts in the preditor instinct. So seems simple, just slowly bike by, letting him know we are doing so, and stay as a group.

Well, the 'group' got going a bit fast for my liking, but the bear heard us (hollering, and ringing bells) and slowely ambled into the cover of the trees. So I thought fine, I don't want to fall victim to the number one rule of these bears. "You don't need to be faster than the bear, just faster than the slowest guy in the group". Problem was, I sure I was the slowest guy in the group.

We were just past the Bear, and everyone was taking off... fine, I gear up, and start to do the same... Chain fell off... My God!!! You guys know that picture with the sufer, and the "shark" in the wave. I think I've a good Idea how he felt. I've never!! ever!! got off the bike, put the chain back on and been back up and peddeling so fast in my life. Trust me if there is a record in the books, I crushed it, although I'd no doubt be disqalified, as the bike never stopped moving. (no lost fingers either) We all made it, the bear quickly became somthing put behind us. I wondered if we'ed see him on the way back.

About an hour later, we stop for lunch, at the bottom of the last hill, the 6km long hill (3.5 miles). A porcupine wanders across the road 30m infront of where we are stopped. that is cool. As we get going, one of the guys points out two 'elk' up on the ridge around 1/2mile away. Sharp eyes, however, turns out not elk TWO MORE GRIZZLIES... wow. What a cool animal symbol that Canada could have taken.

The top of the pass, it is raining/sleet , it is a hot +8 Deg C. Still snow on the sides of the hill here. Looking at the mountains we are about 200m below the tree line. Nice, but not sticking around, to darn cold. I'm still not to bad, Earlier I'd borrowed some nylon pants and a jacket. I now turn down some full finger gloves offered (I have the cut out finger biking gloves). I was tired, guess all the oxygen was in my legs, not sure what the excuse could be, but what a dumb thing to do.

The ride down, at about 50 km an hour in the rain and sleet, was miserable. should have been a highlight. Stopping 2/3 of the way down, I asked for the gloves, and put on my second nylon jacket, the rest of the way down was great. Although the speed on the wet ashphalt was a bit unnearving. (I'm not a super strong cyclist).

A few 'small' hills up and down later, we came accross our buddy again. Still down on the lower side of the hill. I'm the second to get to the 'grouping' point this time, and skid to a halt when I suddenly see him. I give a holler, and he looks up. Again with the rest of the group coming in behind he ambles off into the woods again. We proceed on no problem. Starting to feel like a Grizzly encounter veteran, a joke, but this was much less "exciting" than the first time.

Just down the road we see a "big old porcupine" on the upwards bank of the mountain. Only is suddenly it jumps up and down a couple of time, grows wings and flys away. What a strange thing for a porcupine to do. Turns out it was a Golen Eagle. Kerry tells me it is the largest species eagle in North America. I beleive him it was huge. Kinda like a mutant bald eagle, with a golden head instead of white. Yet another cool symbol our country could have choosen. (or a wolf, or cougar, or... ) nope we get a giant rodent. Anyways.

Not 100m further down the road be big (mule?) dear runs accross the road.

I decide I want to stay in the front, so see more wildlife. coincidently the fellow I was riding 'sweep' with at the start is the only one infront of me, out maybe 20 ft ahead of me. He is riding along edge of the road, near the rail, overlooking the side of the embankment running down towards the High wood river (told ya there was a river). He is pointing back and down. I'm in the middle of the road, an swerve over to take a look. Well, later he told me he was gestering to stay on the other side of the road. Why you ask, Another Freakin' Griz, not a big as the first, but this one close to the road.

He (the waz-hiz-name cycling guy) had gone past HIM (the Griz), without him noticing. I on the otherhand basically swerved over to take a look and see what all the pointing was about, must have made a noise. The griz, swung around, and looked me in the eye, from only about 20ft away. We scared the livin be-jeez-ez out of each other. I saw him long enough to see him turn around and start to run, down hill. They run fast down hill, don't let anyone say otherwise, and talk about acceleration! I'm lucky the 'flight' responce kicked in, and not the fight... so lucky, I'd not have had time to blink.

Now Two of us are past the Griz, coming behind is my buddy Trevor, maybe 50 ft behind me. followed a bit further back by Pete and Kerry together. Finally the two older (than me that is) guys are somewhere behind Pete and Kerry. Trevor sees the bear, and lets out "He's comming Back!!". Well that's all I need to hear. I'm already 100m from the sighting point, and I sprint away another 100m or so. I stop at (shall we call him Ed?) and look back, worried for the others.

My veiw back is obscured a bit by the road itself, I am now part way down a hill, and a bend. I see Trevor, at least I think I did. I know I saw the Bear as it is part way accross the road, then bolting accross the far ditch, and then run up the side of the mountain to the trees. Again the trees are well back from the road so we have a great view. However I can not see Pete or Kerry, they are just around the bend... The three of us head back to check up on the rest of the group. Yes I was worried. We find them stopped and together. All is well.

So, what did Pete see you ask. His story went something like this. 'I saw Myrl holler and point (I do not remember pointing, hollering yes, but surprised anything that sounded like any word made it out, maybe a swear word.) He thought I said Dear, and saw me pointing to the down slope, so He moved over to take a look. He saw a bunch of Geeze flying in a 'V' formation below us. He thought that was neat, and assumed that is what I was pointing at. As he was watching the nice birds, and thinking nice relaxing thoughts about flight, the Griz, came running up jumped the guard rail right infront of him and ran off accross the road! No that would be exciting.

Turns out Trevor saw the bear, as he was running away from me, run through a bunch of geese which were on the ground, setting them to flight. Then the bear turned around, and Trevor decided to move it. These were the geese Pete was watching.

Finally the last pair in the group. One of them, said the Griz was charging directly at Pete, and Kerry. It only veared off after they hollered at it from behind them. Now that is just way to exciting.

The last 10 or so km back to the car were nothing special, other than the fantastic sceanery, and some (once exciting, but now pretty boring) elk.

3 days later, it still sets the heart to pounding just thinking about it.

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