Elbow Lake – Sheep River Valley – Rickert’s Pass – Mist Ridge

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.

The signage out there certainly isn’t fancy…

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).

Dropping down into the Sheep River Valley

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.

Mist Ridge stretching out before me

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
Distance: 34.5km
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)

5 thoughts on “Elbow Lake – Sheep River Valley – Rickert’s Pass – Mist Ridge”

  1. hehe – love the number of imaginary bears. :)

    And are you enjoying running? 34km trail running seems hard work!

  2. Running a long way on trails has been the main goal of all the running to begin with – mainly so I can actually get out onto some of the trails that would just be too long to do as a day hike with Finn. I have to say that this wasn’t the best one to do (too much boring double track and travel through valley bottoms), but in general the long distance running has been awesome fun – lots of fantastic views, fun trails, just like hiking but in fast forward. And I’ve gotten accustomed to running now so that I can manage 30km or so in a day ok (although I just walk the steep bits, and any long uphills). Now I just have to convince more people that it’s a good idea, so I have lots of running partners to go with!

  3. Well if I make it over this winter, and manage to hang around long enough your photos have totally sold me on trail running in the Rockies. I’ve got a similar focus with my running back in Oz (weekend bush walk? Naaah, run it on a lazy Sunday morning!), but have been a little frustrated by injury of late.

    1. Yep, I’ve totally been sucked in to running again, purely so I can get out and cover awesome terrain, without having to spend a couple of days out. Because although spending a couple of days out can be great – it’s not always feasible! The trails around here are just all crying out be be run though, I have a wish-list of runs about a mile long.

    2. Oh, and you have to come over and work in IT at Sunshine! Unless they find more staff, Alex might have trouble getting away on our planned mountain-biking road trip to the US in late winter. And we could always use another ski/adventure partner-in-crime!

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