The amazing Northover Ridge

First of all, a taster of what lies ahead:

We’d all been talking about running Northover Ridge for a while. The plan had always been to do it in a day, and finally we had chosen the day. Many folks were invited, but in the end it was just the four of us who made it. Debate began about how long it might take us, what gear we should take, and how early we should leave Canmore.

We settled on a 6am departure from Canmore, which crept a little later, and after the one hour drive down to Kananaskis Lakes, and getting gear together, it was 7.50am before we set off. We were parked at the northern carpark at Upper Kananaskis Lake. Part of the southern section of the lake was closed, so the plan was to run out and back via the north shore of Upper Kananaskis Lake.

After running for a while, we hit the turn-off to Hidden Lake, and were instantly slowed to a crawl, as we clambered over, under, and through the snarl of fallen trees along the eastern shore of the lake. The trail was easy enough to follow though, just not easy going.

It was up and away once we reached the south of the lake, as the trail climbed steeply through the forest and out onto the open scree slopes of Mount Sarrail.

The Kananaskis Lakes shimmered in the distance behind us, and white fluffy clouds made the sky seem even bluer. We met a couple of groups on their way down from the Aster Lake campground, but by and large had the trail to ourselves, as we continued to climb up to Aster Lake.

Eventually we popped over an edge and into the Aster Lake basin. Sadly, the lake was not wildly picturesque, but instead a dingy brown colour. I am in the process of drafting a letter of complaint to Parks Canada about the poor state of their lakes.

We had a brief snack stop at the lake, but then pushed onwards and upwards, around the south shore of the lake, and up the scree between Warrior Mountain and Mount Northover.

The clouds were getting a little cloudier at this point, and the breeze a little windier.

I marched along with a little trepidation, as I eyed off the clouds and the wind suspiciously, hoping neither would conspire to prevent us from being able to hike the ridge. We wouldn’t be at the half-way point of the day until we were well and truly along the ridge, so I struggled with my internal monologue, trying to find sensible justifications for continuing on no matter what the weather was doing.

We re-grouped as we drew closer to the scree slope we would climb to gain the ridge. In the photo below you can see a couple of black dots further along the trail – we were to overtake them half way up the scree slope; they were overnight hikers travelling with enormous heavy packs. The path to the top of the ridge lay in the grey slope directly above them, although to get to the path up, you first had to traverse almost all the way to the snow.

Looking back down the scree slope, towards Northover Tarns and Warrior Mountain

And then we were on the ridge! And it was wonderful! There was even a glacier!

But wonders never cease, as we then got to hike along the ridge for a few more kilometres… it was largely wide enough that we could have easily been running, but we were too busy admiring the views. And trying not to be blown off.

Then, sadly, it was all over. There had only been a couple of narrow points, nothing that was too tricky, although I’d probably not take anyone up there who wasn’t happy with heights and exposure.

And so, we dropped down, and said our final farewells to British Columbia (as the ridge follows the provincial lines).

An awful scree slope took us back down into Alberta. Doing the trail clockwise definitely seems like the best option.

Before we dropped down to Three Isle Lake, we spent some time frolicking in a meadow full of wildflowers.

Looking back to our path travelled across the river plain

Three Isle Lake

We kept going by Three Isle Lake, and lost a lot more altitude as we followed the trail down by the flood-ravaged Three Isle Creek.

From here on, there were quite a few places where the trail had been re-routed due to flood damage.

But, we started running again!

Although we eventually lost motivation over the last couple of kilometres of rough trail, and settled back into a steady plod. All of a sudden, we were at the car! And there were cupcakes, and stashed food of all sorts.

I stood waist-deep in the lake eating my cupcake. Jacket on top, but naught but underpants, socks and sneakers on my bottom half, as I stood in the water, soaking my legs for 10 minutes, to ensure they’d be feeling wonderful again tomorrow (it works wonders!). All were in awe of my trend-setting fashionista ways. Meanwhile, Kim actually jumped in for the full submersion experience.

Overall, highly recommended, five stars, would run again!

Distance: 35km
Elevation gain: 1,610m
Time: About 10 hours

8 thoughts on “The amazing Northover Ridge”

  1. Loved your article and the pictures were fantastic!
    I’m wondering what you used for navigation? Are there good maps available for the trail or did you just go by written descriptions as the trail is easy enough to follow? I’m thinking of hiking it soon and doing some camping. Then probably going back to run it at some point.
    Anyway, again, great writing and beautiful photos. Keep up the good work and enjoy your future adventures :)

    Cheers, Dave

    1. Thanks Dave :)

      There’s the usual Gem Trek map for the area that we brought along, but once you know where you need to go, it’s mostly pretty easy to just follow the trail as long as you have the description. Hidden Lake is probably the trickiest part, but it’s easy to get around there on the shore if the lake is low.

      It’s way more fun getting over the ridge without a big pack on, but I would have loved to spend some more time hanging out at the campgrounds up there.

  2. Thanks for this post! I realize this comment is a few years late but I’m doing this hike (with the big packs!) in a month of so. Looking for all the information I can before heading out! Am slightly terrified.

    Thanks again for this!

    1. Heya Babs – glad it’s helpful for you. It’s an amazing hike, definitely top five for me!

  3. Great post girls!
    I’m getting ready to attempt this hike in a few weeks and have a few questions… I see you guys wore sneakers instead of hiking boots? Was the trail hard on the ankles? Sneakers seem like they’ll be a lot easier for running though!
    And what did you guys pack in your packs? The goal is definitely to keep it as light as possible, got any advice?

    Thanks!

    1. Heya Liz – doing it in a day, we were definitely happy in sneakers. In general I find unless there’s a really strong reason to wear hiking boots, I’m happier in lighter shoes. My knees are dodgier than my ankles, and a good trail running shoe lets me be nimble, and I’ve done plenty of running in the mountains – it takes a lot of scree or a really heavy pack to make me want to wear boots! But your mileage may vary, everyone is different, and it depends what you’re comfortable with. It was nice to have mini gaiters for the scree descent, but most of the group managed without.

      Between us we shared water treatment stuff, sunscreen, and a couple of first aid kits, a couple of GPSes, a map and a couple of compasses. Otherwise we each had bear spray, about 2L water, lots of high calorie foods, shell jackets, merino long-sleeved layers, hiking poles, emergency headlamps, and phones for photos! I think that was about it :)

      1. Thank you so much for the response and advice! I shall do it in sneakers and attempt it this Friday! Wish me luck :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *