I was dropped off at the Elbow Lake trailhead, and shooed up the trail. The menfolk would be meandering their way up to the lake and back, while I ran the loop all the way from Elbow Lake, through the Sheep River Valley, up Rickert’s Pass and out along Mist Ridge. It was to be a little over 30km I thought, all through the Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park. I was hoping to do it in under four hours – although with the enormous climb up Rickert’s Pass in the middle of that, there was always the probability of taking longer.
Out past Elbow Lake the crowds thinned considerably. Once I turned off up towards the Sheep River valley, just before Tombstone campground, I only saw a couple of other people – so most of the time on the trail it was just me and the imaginary bears that were going to eat me.
We’d read about the trail as a suggested mountain-bike route, but I think I’d be more inclined to bike up Mist Valley and back along Mist Ridge if I was on a bike. The trudge through Sheep River Valley and up Rickert’s Pass wouldn’t be any more fun on a bike than it was on foot (although it’s always nice to explore new terrain).
There were lots of streams to cross on the Sheep Trail. The first I tried to keep my feet dry, but after that I just gave in and waded straight through. Seven streams later, and the deepest had nearly reached my knees. Wet shoes and socks, but that was about it – and warm enough that they dried out quickly enough.
As you travel along the Sheep River Valley, you leave the Provincial Park and enter private land. The trail up to Rickert’s Pass is marked on many maps, but according to a sign posted now, the trail up to the pass from the Sheep River is now closed: “Private Property – Trail Closed – Travel restricted to main Sheep River Valley bottom trail as marked on map… Travel off main Sheep River Valley bottom trail by written permission only”. By the time I’d gotten that far, I wasn’t about to turn around, so I headed on up, wondering what had prompted the posting of the sign, and hoping I wasn’t about to be chased off by shotgun-wielding property owners.
After an interminable hill-slog, I reached Rickert’s Pass, and then set out along Mist Ridge (after briefly considering just throwing myself straight down the Mist Valley trail instead). I’d been dreaming of flat running along the ridgeline, but there was still plenty of up. But at least there were spectacular views to go with it.
After one final awful uphill, it was finally downhill to connect to the Mist Valley trail, where Alex was waiting for me on a bike, with a bottle full of water. I drank it down, but declined the offered bike – I had nearly made it by then, after all, even if it was looking like it would be a few kilometres longer than I’d imagined. A long few kilometres when you weren’t expecting it. But then, finally, back at the car, and done!
Elevation gain: 1200m
Time taken: 4hr20min
Location: Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta
Bears seen: 0
Bears imagined hiding in the undergrowth about to eat me: ∞
(And yes, they’re all phone photos, I was not tempted to carry a heavy camera, strangely enough)