I am big sucker for Ridgewalks and open, far-reaching vistas they offer. Labelled as "one of most enjoyable Ridgewalks you will ever do", Tent Ridge Horseshoe is true K-country classic:
The trip is well-described in various hiking guidebooks, such as Daffern "K-country Trail Guide" and Mike Potter "Ridgewalks in the Canadian Rockies". I opted for clockwise direction, as suggestions led me to believe it holds scenic advantage (it did). Only possible confusion is near the start -- identifying correct parking spot and logging road(s). I stopped at the pullout on north side of Mt. Shark access road, just before it starts losing elevation -- 1.8 km from Smith-Dorrien Trail. It was midweek and I was the only one there, but this won't be the case during the weekend. Still not sure I was at the right spot, I walked a bit in both directions to identify my start and exit spots -- they are about 300-400 meters apart, old deactivated logging roads with clear trail in the middle. Here is the map of entire trip:
In B.C they flag just about everything (even the wrong way!) but in Alberta this is not so. In dry conditions the trail is easy to follow, but in winter I could see potential for some confusion. Critical part is turnoff from logging road, some 15 minutes from the start:
Trail splits right (west) -- note branches laid down across the road in left part of photo above (wrong way) From here trail gently ascends forested slopes, with much more deadfall than expected -- it shows BC border is close [}
] -- before emerging to wide open Bowl inside the Horseshoe in 30 minutes or so:
This is such a calm and pristine place; it was tempting to sit down in the meadow and spend the day. Trail heads south for 10 minutes, then turns east and ascends small bench dotted with golden larches leading to start of Ridge itself:
Good trail switchbacks in scree across first bump, then reaches the "crux" -- brief wall that calls for handhold in only one or two spots and is best tackled head-on:
Casual hiker could find this a bit exciting, but Steven Song would probably go over with his hands tied behind his back. All difficulties behind, trail reappears and leads in another 20 minutes to first "summit" -- East Peak with orange Weather Station on top:
Turning west, gentle slope descends towards low saddle between East and Center Peak (Hub of the Horseshoe). The saddle could be used as potential access (or exit) point from Tryst Lake deep bellow. Views were simply fantastic in all directions:
1. East Peak from the saddle, with Mt. Chester in the distance right
2. Tryst Lake -- looks quite dried out
3. Views north from the saddle -- Horseshoe Bowl meadows bellow, upper Spray Lake behind
Center Peak is reached in about 20 minutes from the saddle, and is by far the most rugged of all 3 "summits". This is fantastic vantage point, so close to the Fist I felt I could almost touch it. I walked a bit on crumbly and deteriorating ridge leading north -- it looked it could be scrambled as alternate access point to col between Fist and Smuts and intersection with normal Kane route. As I haven't done Fist yet, this is the likely way I will attempt (via Tryst Lake), and then come down via Commonwealth Creek thus completing the loop:
1. East Peak with Chester Group behind
2. Fist left, Smuts right with connecting ridge directly ahead. Birdwood behind
3. Views north towards Tent Ridge and upper Spray Lake
Turning north, the most scenic part of the day arrives. Descent from Center peak was more rugged than expected. There was path beaten in scree to the left (west), but I stayed on the crest which called for couple of scrambly moves. Last part is awesome hands-in-our-pocket walk on grassy Tent Ridge leading to third and final "summit", with out of your mind views of Smith-Dorrien corridor, Spray Lakes and Bryant Creek/Mt. Shark area. This is another fantastic spot and it can be accessed via normal Tent Ridge Trail (Daffern Trip 73 in old edition) in just about 1 1/2 hr from Mt. Shark road, thus making it great after-work hike for someone living in Canmore.
After about 1/2 hr of soaking these magnificent views I started my descent. Trail descends ridge a bit, then turns right and dips steeply towards the treeline (Do not follow side trail leading left -- it contours for a bit then completely disappears. Instead just drop down straight and look for good trail emerging near large boulder as first sparse trees start appearing).
I was ready now for fast march to the car, but one more excitement awaited. As I dropped down deep gully leading to the meadows and treeline I noticed some movement ahead. I stopped; right across the trail some 100 vertical bellow was the largest grizzly I have ever seen! It stopped too as it saw me. We looked at each other for about 30 seconds, then he casually scampered away. I waited a bit, not sure what was the best thing to do -- as I had to go directly down where he just crossed the path. I considered briefly just hiking north off-trail and trying to pick up my ascent route, but that seemed too much of trouble. So I descended carefully making a lot of noise (in case some of his friends were nearby). I had no further trouble, and after entering treeline picked up speed and hiked back to the car in another 45 minutes or so.
Taking to a friend afterwards he told me he and his girlfriend saw the bear at exactly the same spot couple of years ago -- so if you go, beware: This seems to be a hotspot. Finally some stats:
Round Trip: ~11 km
Vertical: ~850 m
Time: 6 hrs (including breaks)
Not feeling tired (or maybe with too much adrenaline from grizzly encounter), I drove to nearby Chester Lake parking lot and hiked to the lake in dwindling daylight. I sat on the shore for few minutes enjoying the solitude, then hiked out by moonlight which was great experience on its own:
At the end, is Tent Horseshoe best Ridgewalk I've ever done? No -- Northover Ridge and Panorama-Gentian traverse in Garibaldi are better, to name a few. But it is pretty darn good, and offers fantastic rewards without too much effort. As such it should be on the list of any K-country explorer!
Alternate report with more high-res photos, map and downloadable GPS Track here