Porcupine Creek 2009

A Hike Report by Daniel Cohen

9 January 2009


It's winter in the Rockies, again. I have visited this creek, and this ridge, several times since my last report.

This Xmas, my beautiful daughter Anna gave me a digital camera, because she knows I take a lot of snapshots of rocks. Rocks and trees. And rocks. On this hike, I took 65 pictures. Later, at home, I cut it down to these 9 pictures. Maybe I could cut out even more -- that will come with practice.

Hey! Maybe I could simply publish a shot of the trail-head, with a caption "I was here". Or would that defeat the purpose of Anna's present?

The Route

This shot was taken from the "toe" of the ridge, looking right down to the forks. Stretching off into the distance, the creek runs down about a kilometer west to the highway, then a short way more to flow into the Kananaskis River.

This route is not an official trail, but it's popular because it's accessible, and scenic. Most the route is on riverbank flats.

The Creek

By Rocky Mountain standards, Porcupine Creek is gentle and easy to explore. You can see the hills on both sides: usually those hills are too steep and wild to hike on. In fact there's a rock-climbing cliff, just around the bend.

This river is also unusual because the stream flow is pretty constant all year long. It does not dry up in summer, and in winter it often runs open, not totally frozen.

Two-Log Bridge

There are several spots where you cannot hike along one bank, as you can see ahead. You must cross over to the "easy" side, and you don't have a choice. Sometimes the creek gives you a rock-hop. But here, some previous hikers had found these pine trees and simply laid them across. These "two-log bridges" are actually quite common, although this one has three logs. But really they are all so wobbly that I've seen hikers simply wade across, beside them, rather than trust these things. I've crossed on these things several times, and I can't say I like them. But they take you where you need to go.

Today the ice has locked the logs in place. It's too easy!

A Dipper

Small song-birds look alike to me, and I call them all "brown song-birds". This little guy is grey colored. He eats insects or plants on the bottom of the stream, underwater. To get there, he hops on rocks or ice, and jumps right into the water. He does not swim, he walks on the bottom, browsing. Soon he comes back up, perfectly dry, and hops around looking for another snack.

I tried following this little guy, hoping for a better snapshot. But he was heading upstream, and I could not keep up with his pace.

Wikipedia has articles for reference: Dipper and American Dipper

Porcupine Ridge

Boundary Ridge is just out of sight, to the left (north) and Wasootch Ridge is the grey rock on the right (south). They are both easily accessible from Highway 40, in fact the road skirts close to their western points.

But Porcupine Ridge hides about a kilometer up the creek. You can't see it until you get here, at the forks of the Creek. So there it is, the toe. This first forested hump rises almost 200 meters above the creek, but further along the ridge continues to rise another 400 meters.

One night I camped overnight up on the ridge. Not here, but up beyond the forested knoll. That night a thunderstorm kept me wondering when the next lightning would strike (it didn't). I counted the seconds from lighting to thunder, to estimate the distance, and they seemed pretty consistent at 5 kilometers away. So I rolled over and went back to sleep, until I remembered that this ridge is 5 kilometers long. But the big deal was, the next morning I was up and ready and hiking the ridge by 8:00 am.

Rocky Top

The previous picture "Porcupine Ridge" shows a forested knoll, which goes up and over a kilometer or so. The far side of this knoll has these rocky outcrops, they look like fins when you stand on them. There's a series of these things, all parallel, each one a little higher and more extended than the previous.

The snow had drifted on this lee side of each rock. You can see my footsteps heading back down to the Sheltered Alcove.

Sheltered Alcove

A few steps below this rock is a sheltered alcove, a few trees in a micro-climate provided by the neighbouring rock.

It's a peaceful place, and it's time for my mid-afternoon break.

Tea Corner

I have a comfortable seat on the log beside my backpack, and a tree to lean back on. I set up my one-burner stove, and melt a pot of snow for tea. This is easy and comfortable. The snowdrift is convenient source of clean dry snow. I melted enough to re-fill my metal water-bottle.

Tea on the trail! Mmmm!

The Valley Beyond

From the same rock as above, I took this shot of the valley beyond. On the left, Porcupine Ridge extends further to the left, although you can't see much. On the right is Wasootch Ridge, extending a further 5 kilometers. You can see how it forms a series of mini-summits, which get higher and snowier as the ridge goes along. Down below is Porcupine Creek, south branch, which never stops running, summer and winter.

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