Cana­dian Trails

Midnight-Tiara Tra­verse, Kananaskis, Alta.

Canadian Running - - SEPTEMBER & OCTOBER 2017 - By Ian MacNairn

Ihave a cat­a­logue of alpine tra­verses I wish to com­plete grow­ing in my mind. New routes and com­bi­na­tions come to mind ev­ery day I am out in the moun­tains. I had the Midnight-Tiara Tra­verse in mind for a cou­ple sea­sons. On a Sun­day this past June, I gave it a go.

The Midnight-Tiara Tra­verse is a link up of seven peaks in the front-range Rock­ies of Kananaskis. The route is a loop be­gin­ning and end­ing in the Baldy Pass park­ing lot on High­way 40. The route crosses the high­way and as­cends through forested sin­gle-track trail along the Baldy Pass Trail. The Tra­verse di­verges from the Baldy Pass Trail and climbs through chunky scree slopes up to the sum­mit of Midnight Peak, at 2,340 m. From the sum­mit, one crosses rocky and loose ridges tag­ging Mid­day, Bound­ary and Bel­more Browne Peaks, be­fore reach­ing Tiara Peak. Each peak is over 2,300 m with Tiara stand­ing tallest at 2,545 m. From Tiara, the route swings back to­wards High­way 40 and sum­mits both Crown Peak East and Crown Peak West be­fore de­scend­ing Por­cu­pine Ridge. From car-to-car, the route trav­els ap­prox­i­mately 23k, as­cends 2,210 m and de­scends 2,150 m – an av­er­age change of 185 m/km!

I no­ticed that my friend Nicki had named the tra­verse “Bitch Slap.” How­ever, given my unique predica­ment, I gave my out­ing the bas­tardized name of “Cast Slap.” Ten days be­fore my at­tempt, I un­der­went surgery to re­con­struct my left thumb. I suf­fered a se­vere avul­sion frac­ture dur­ing an alpine-run­ning ul­tra­ma­rathon in An­dorra last Oc­to­ber 10k into the race. I fell on wet rock while de­scend­ing the first moun­tain and braced my­self with my hands. By the be­gin­ning of this year, my thumb had not healed prop­erly. On June 8, my sur­geon re­moved the f loat­ing bone frag­ments and re­con­structed the thumb’s con­nec­tive tis­sues. It was a long-awaited fix.

I told my sur­geon of my fre­quent moun­tain es­capades dur­ing my ini­tial con­sult. He told me he typ­i­cally al­lows pa­tients to re­turn to sport three months post-surgery. I breathed a deep sigh of relief, hav­ing mis­tak­enly heard him say that he has pa­tients re­turn to sport “three days post-surgery.” I promptly sched­uled the surgery for as soon as ski sea­son ended, when I would no longer need to hold on to poles.

In the first week af­ter surgery, I cy­cled with my part­ner on the High­wood Pass in Kananaskis – the high­est paved road in Canada, top­ping out at 2,206 m. We cy­cled and ran on trails to­gether at home in Cal­gary, ran on Read’s Tower near Mount Spar­rowhawk and com­pleted a weighted two-day back­pack­ing tra­verse in Kananasks in prepa­ra­tion for an up­com­ing sum­mer ex­pe­di­tion. I fig­ured a long day out on a tra­verse I’ve been dream­ing about was just what the doc­tor or­dered.

I woke up early on Sun­day and drove out to Kananaskis. I had promised my part­ner that I’d be home early in the af­ter­noon to take her out to the moun­tains for a run to­gether be­fore head­ing to her par­ents’ for din­ner. I was go­ing to have to make the tra­verse a bit of a quick go to stick to sched­ule. I had mes­saged my friend Pa­trick to ask him about the route. He had re­cently com­pleted it and I knew he’d be a great re­source for es­ti­mat­ing how I might fare. The chat left me think­ing that I could likely get it done with, maybe, 10 min­utes to spare.

Baldy Pass Trail was smooth al­beit sweaty. I cruised along at a quick clip, mak­ing light of the cou­ple easy, f lat kilo­me­tres. The grade quickly reared over­head through the scree slope to Midnight’s sum­mit. Sixty-five min­utes af­ter leav­ing the truck, I stood on the first sum­mit and looked out across the myr­iad of moun­tains south, west and north of me.

The tra­verse is my favourite kind of run­ning – along (of­ten nar­row) ridge lines that fall away to val­leys with ex­pan­sive views all around. The morn­ing was clear, calm and warm – ex­cel­lent con­di­tions for ex­plor­ing. I en­joyed the tra­verse from Midnight to Mid­day to Bound­ary to Bel­more Browne Peak, reach­ing this fourth sum­mit, Bel­more Browne, two-and-a-half hours into the run. Along the way I only fell once – slip­ping on loose scree and bang­ing my bum and casted hand on the rub­ble un­der­neath. Oth­er­wise, travel was con­sis­tent and breezy, un­doubt­edly aided by wear­ing short shorts. How­ever, I was feel­ing tired. It was not the ex­haus­tion of long dis­tance or lack of calo­ries. Rather, a deeper feel­ing of ex­haus­tion – my body’s ef­fort at re­cov­er­ing from al­ter­ation. Go fig­ure.

I was lov­ing life as I reached Tiara Peak. How­ever, it has a 20 m ver­ti­cal face com­prised of blocky, moss­chunk-in­fested un­sta­ble rock. I thought it a waste of time (i.e. I was too lazy) to bother travers­ing around the base of the moun­tain’s sum­mit block to find a hik­ing trail so I climbed. I ad­mit, it was a wee bit spicy climb­ing up with one hand. But, I topped out on Tiara af­ter a few min­utes of te­dious, cau­tious climb­ing, three hours and 10 min­utes af­ter leav­ing my truck.

I gid­dily skied down through the scree en route to the fi­nal sum­mits of Crown Peak East and Crown Peak West. I reached the fi­nal, sev­enth sum­mit in three hours and

40 min­utes. The de­scent back to the val­ley’s bot­tom, along Por­cu­pine Ridge, was rad. It’s a blocky and dis­jointed ridge, with many por­tions sport­ing out­growths from the wi­den­ing cracks of small trees and shrubs. How­ever, what I love about ridge run­ning – the vis­tas and es­thetic lines – was f lipped on its head when I reached the tree line. I found my­self in a heinous bush­whack with no well-trod­den trail all the way from to the val­ley’s creek bed.

I crossed the creek af­ter a scratchy and stupidly slow bush­whack, rolled my eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. Only a cou­ple kilo­me­tres of meadow and a high­way stood be­tween my truck and me. My run ended at four hours and 56 min­utes. Not only had I kept the 10 min­utes to spare, as planned, but had run quick enough to add four min­utes of free time. Just enough to slip into f lip-f lops, have a drink and find a good playlist to lis­ten to on my ride home.

The Midnight-Tiara Tra­verse was a phe­nom­e­nal morn­ing out pro­vid­ing a run of my favourite va­ri­ety and tour­ing across seven peaks, new to me, in my home range. Check out the video of my tra­verse on YouTube: Ian MacNairn is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor and part of The North Face team.

PHO­TOS Pho­tog­ra­pher Tim Ban­field doc­u­mented an­other ex­pe­ri­ence of the 24K Midnight-Tiara loop by Ian Holmes and his dog Trango

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