Prairie Mountain - Winter
Date Walked: 31st January 2012
Distance: 4.8 miles (7.8km)
Actual Ascent: 2506ft (764m)
Time Taken: 3.5 hours
Though this Mountain shares its name with a another recent hike (Prairie View) there doesn't seem to be any relationship between the two. Prairie Mountain is even closer to Calgary and the city is actually visible from the summit. On arrival I parked up at the winter gate across highway 66 and sat on the rear of my truck pulling on my boots, soon another car arrived and I was stunned to hear "is that Chris" from the driver. Whilst walking Prairie View almost 3 weeks ago I had met a Canadian guy named George and oddly enough he had chosen today to visit this area though he was doing a different hike to me, he invited me to join him but I had my heart set on the chosen route so declined the offer, but I did take his number for a meet up in future.
both of us began our walks in the same direction along the closed road ahead (closed to vehicles not people) and shared a 1/2 mile chatting before I branched off to the right and set off up the embankment.
there was no time for warming up as the path ascended steeply from the road before curving back on itself and rising with the ridge in a continuous uphill slog.
occasional breaks in the trees provided views out across the Elbow river below and I stopped to take them in frequently as the initial steep ascent showed no sign of abating.
at last, after a considerable slog uphill a short section of more gentle gradient appears and I meander with the pathway through the lodge-pole pines slowly getting my breath back
all too soon the pathway begins to ascend steeply again but I can see my target for the day ahead, the second hill on the right holds the summit cairn
over the rise I am treated to another glimpse of the foothills behind me and just the slightest sighting of the mountains to the West
back into the trees and the relentless slog uphill continues in this most direct of ascents
the trail heads out toward the Western flank of the hill and I am hopeful for some more of the stunning mountain scenery to spur me on
the trees are thinning out a little now and I am at the same height as the foothills behind me, I see snowstorms out to the West but they are far away.
to the East, beyond the last of the foothills is the city of Calgary almost 50km away in the open prairie though it looks much closer
after meeting a lady from Switzerland with her Romanian husband and chatting for a good while, she told me the wind almost blew her away when the trees cleared toward the summit. A short while later I knew what she meant as the biting cold wind hit me at the first clearing, the view soon made me forget the wind.
looking ahead the trees had thinned out and I could see the ridge opening up as the ascent eased to a gentle slope once more
the South-West face of the ridge had lost most of its snow to the incredibly mild week but the Eastern side hung on to a dicey little cornice that I made a mental note of as I made the final ascent
at last a little blue sky to brighten the day but the temperature on the open ridge was still very cold, and the wind whistled up out of the pass below and over the barren ridge
then at last, there is was, the modest summit cairn complete with pole for when the snow is so deep it's buried, and of course the beautiful open views through 360 degrees
I actually had to weigh my camera down with cairn stones to take the triumphant 'thumbs up' shot on the timer, worth the effort though ; ) unusual to see me in gloves but I needed them today.
as the ridge continues I left my bag and set off to explore a little further, I was hopeful of finding a descent route that would make a circuit but the lady from Switzerland told me the one I was considering I 'must not' do in winter.
I can't help but gaze in wonder at the staggering number of mountains around me which represent just a tiny proportion of the mountains available in this incredible landscape.
its a shame that it is so damn cold up here as it would have been a great spot to sit and have a cuppa and a bite to eat, but turning back toward the summit cairn I know that I'm going to head back into the trees before stopping..
a zoomed shot of the Western range shows the snow showers still falling, as I pick up my bag and head back along the ascent route
once in the cover of a few trees I found myself a nice little spot, shaded from the wind and cold and having the bonus of a snow free log seat and a hastily arranged stone table, I sat and enjoyed the last of the blue sky with a smile on my face from ear to ear
it was then just a matter of returning down that knee jarring beast of a descent until I am out of the snow and almost back at the truck, with a last look back to see (as is often the case when you leave the summit) blue skies all over the mountain!!
another enjoyable hike, short but very strenuous in terms of effort though certainly worthwhile for the stunning 360 from the summit.