Parking was free & easy to find in residential area near Cougar Creek, even on a fabulous Sunday with late start(10:30), making us feel welcomed. Parked one block west of the creek, we walked back one block east & then followed the footbed up to the little hill, looking down we saw big crowds marching towards the mountains along the creek banks & the road on the other side; apparently everyone & their dog was out in the sun today. Reluctant to join the march uninvited, we stayed on this quiet, nameless trail(not on my map) until it joined Montane Traverse (~1km from the start) where we turned right towards the creek.
We only met one friendly couple who, after learning where we were going, recommended we stay on this side of the creek & take Lady Mac instead because 1) it's nicer 2) we locals donít like going Grotto; itís crazy steep 3)this trail isnít well maintained/hard to follow & you are likely to get lost... to which I said: "we aren't crazy about the mountain highways & prefer quiet trails; a bit of route finding would be fun, & the steepness means to get us to the top sooner, isn't it".
Then she dropped the G alarm! "The grizzles are out there, with mom & cubs sightings & youíll probably see them in that treed area(pointing to the mountain)... anyway, itís not for the faint of heart". I appreciated their kind warnings & assured them that we came prepared ¬hing to worry. My young buddy however, got spooked by the grizzly news. To ease her worries, I reminded her of the fact that technically we also belonged to the elite mom & baby club, so Iíd expect the other mom to take note too should we have an encounter with the young furry family. I also mentioned some nice recent photos posted on CT (thanks to lobo) of the grizzly & how playful & adorable they looked, who probably couldn't care less about us unless we stayed too quiet & sneaked into their playground to panick them.
We followed the footbed on left near the end of Montane Traverse & came about 150m to the berm before heading down the creek. At this point the crowds were left behind; once crossed over the water we continued towards the berm along the creek bank & just picked up the first trail spotted - not on my map & no signage near by but it soon led us to the West Ridge Trail on my GPS map as suspected.
The ridge trail was delightful & surprisingly (after the warnings) easy to follow- thereís only one obvious trail all the way up so itíd be hard to get lost even if you wanted to. The pines were considerably smaller than those in North Shore, giving the look of a young forest- deceptively so due to the higher altitude. There was rarely any marker on the entire trail system, which was refreshing to me, contrast to the glaring tags on the trees every few steps along the popular trails in North Shore. This included the popular Horseshoe Loop we took near the end of the day& I found the signages at the major junctions to be effective. We made strange noise periodically so that our furry friends, if around, would get advanced notice that some rather annoying creatures were visiting. The forest trail was soft & mellow, after 3kms into the hike however, the steep climb started without any warning & it was relentless, comparable to Flint & Feather on Grouse if not steeper, but views are worlds apart, which only get better the higher you go making you forget abut your sore legs. We didnít see another soul on this trail until near the tree line, where a few groups of trail runners were flying down; more groups coming down once in alpine meadow. One guy told us it was so windy & cold on the top they didnít stay more than a few minutes. We decided to take lunch break at the meadow where it was a bit windy but warm enough in sun, savouring the epic vistas of the Rocky Mountains & the Bow Valley spreading out in front of us, including those iconic landmarks overlooking Canmore, from Lougheed, Three Sisters- Faith, Hope & Charity, Lawrence Grassi & Ha Ling, to Mount Rundle, and Cascade afar.
From the meadow to gaining the ridge was another 200m climb, which felt like the steepest section of all. A reasonably fit hiker, I had to slow down a few times, gasping for air. Then the best part started- the mile long ridge walk that was breathtaking all the way to the top! There was probably one step class 3 (North Shore standard=Crown/Brunswick, or 2 for Rockies) scramble down to the snow slope leading down into the abyss. We met the last two guys on their way out right there. It felt a bit surreal being at the heart of one biggest worldís tourist center weíd be left alone to enjoy this beautiful mountain, what a royal treatment. We took our time lounging about at the top, snacking on the most delicious homemade jerky & other goodies, marvelling at the majestic Rocky Mountains near & far all around at our hearts content. The wind was howling, but with layers & gloves it wasnít bad, until it picked up speed an hour later & time for us to head down. Shortly after we left the summit block the wind was getting ever stronger over a narrowing section; it was roaring like hurricane & the sound was deafening. To maintain balance we had to stay low & crawled our way out over one narrow spot. Then smooth sailing on the remaining ridge, different light & views from the way up but just as breathtaking everywhere we looked! The class 2/3 step down now on the way up was merely an easy scramble of 2m up with plenty of visible holds.
Going down ACC was brutal, with trail eroded at some steepest sections, poles would be helpful which we didnít use.
An epic hike with wonderful rewards we enjoyed thoroughly. I can't wait to get back to it again & try the east ridge up, walk the entire ridge crest then return next time.