A Moun­tain Full of Heart

Just out­side of Can­more, and a short drive from Cal­gary, the trail up Heart Moun­tain is an ideal first moun­tain run­ning ex­pe­ri­ence

Canadian Running - - CANADIAN TRAILS - By Adam Campbell Adam Campbell is an elite trail run­ner based in Cal­gary.

Like many trail run­ners, I have a rather strange dis­dain for outand-back runs, so I often find my­self seek­ing run­ning loops when­ever I can. If I can add in a bit of a scram­ble, a ridge tra­verse, an es­thetic peak and some amaz­ing views into the run, then its sta­tus is in­stantly el­e­vated in my mind. The Heart Moun­tain Horse­shoe loop ticks all these boxes.

Lo­cated 75 kilo­me­tres west of Cal­gary and 16 kilo­me­tres east of Can­more, Heart Moun­tain’s as­pect makes it ac­ces­si­ble year-round, al­though it can get icy in win­ter and the sum­mit ridge can have deep snow drifts, adding to the dif­fi­culty. Trac­tion de­vices are strongly ad­vised in win­ter, spring and fall. By mid-June the ap­proach to the first false peak is typ­i­cally com­pletely clear and dry. Strong winds here are a force to be reck­oned with on a cold day.

To get to the trail, take High­way 1 west from Cal­gary past Dead­mans Flats to the Seebe/Exshaw exit just east of Lac Des Arcs, pro­ceed over the over­pass to the south side of the high­way where you will find a park­ing area. From here fol­low the Heart Creek trail that runs par­al­lel to the high­way for ap­prox­i­mately 700 m. Due to re­cent f lood­ing, you have to find a way across the creek, which isn’t re­ally a big chal­lenge. Once on the far side of the creek, a sign will point you to­wards the Heart Moun­tain trail­head to the left of the trail.

Al­though named for the heart-shaped dual peak that marks the sum­mit of the route, the name is also ap­pro­pri­ate for the heart­pound­ing climb at the start of the loop. The first 2.8 kilo­me­tres of the route are steep, climb­ing al­most 750 m over a well-de­fined trail. Hik­ers have been known to wan­der off route and have had to be res­cued from the cliffs to the right, so give them lots of space and stick to the trail.

The open­ing sec­tion in­creases in steep­ness as you make your way up a se­ries of slabs, roots and loose rock. All but the fittest of moun­tain run­ners will have to hike this sec­tion. About two-thirds of the way up the climb, there is a short crux that in­ter­rupts the trail. For many peo­ple new to the moun­tains, this crux is their first

sim­ple scram­ble ex­pe­ri­ence. The crux is a short, ver­ti­cal scram­ble of about four me­tres, but it has good hand and footholds that see fre­quent use and the eas­i­est route is marked by a small sign. From there the trail’s steep­ness fi­nally re­lents and gives you some re­lief to the first sum­mit cairn.

From the first cairn, the trail con­tin­ues to un­du­late along a roller coaster of a ride along a fan­tas­tic and tech­ni­cal sec­tion un­til you reach the true sum­mit at the 3.5-kilo­me­tre mark. The view from the ridge is spec­tac­u­lar. With sweep­ing vis­tas of Grotto Moun­tain, Mount Yam­nuska to the east, Mount Lorette and Mount McGil­livray to the west as well as the south view of Cal­gary and north view of Exshaw. Even on a cloudy day, the drop along the sides is vis­ually coun­tered by mist-filled val­leys and it’s not un­com­mon to see moun­tain goats graz­ing in the up­per bowls.

From the sum­mit cairn wrap back down the moun­tain, where the some­what tech­ni­cal de­scent will dis­tract you from the views and will give your quads a good shake. Fol­low the worn path to the forested val­ley. From the base of the moun­tain take a left turn onto the f lat, often muddy, but good qual­ity Quaite Creek trail. You’ll pass a pris­tine swamp with mir­ror sur­face wa­ter as you make your way past the moun­tain trail­head and back onto the Heart Creek trail that takes you to the park­ing lot.

Due to the views and ac­ces­si­ble na­ture of the route, the trail can get busy on a warm sum­mer day, so an early start is ad­vised. Most hik­ers turn back at the first cairn and go back down the ini­tial climb­ing route, so keep your head up for hik­ers com­ing down upon you. I strongly ad­vise fol­low­ing the full horse­shoe as the de­scent is far nicer and the ridge is ab­so­lutely worth the ef­fort.

“Al­though named for the heart-shaped dual peak that marks the sum­mit of the route, the name is also ap­pro­pri­ate for the heart-pound­ing climb at the start of the loop.”

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