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post #1 of (permalink) Old 06-16-2021, 03:23 AM Thread Starter
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Default Highwood Pass/Elbow Lake Bike&Hike

Highwood Pass in K-country is highest mountain pass reached by paved road (Hwy40) in Canada (2206m, 7239 ft). Road is seasonally closed Dec 1 - Jun 15 past Kananaskis Lakes turnoff (plowing + wildlife reasons). This makes it excellent cycling destination; but window is fairly narrow, due to high altitude; couple of weeks only. I drove that road countless times, but with good weather on June 14, day before re-opening I decided to finally do the ride. It's about 17km & 400m vertical from the gate. Grade is sustained with only couple of brief downhill sections near the start. Final part from Elbow Lake trailhead to the pass is quite steep, But ride down .. wow, you are basically coasting (and occasionally burning brake pads) for 17km, so it is well worth!

Looks like bear(s) were following road too, because every km or so I'd pass by fresh dump. Upon arriving by Elbow Lake trailhead skies turned dark and rumble could be heard; knowing how exposed the Pass is, I decided to wait out potential storm by doing quick walk up to Elbow Lake; this was great call. Really enjoyed total solitude sheltered at Elbow Lake campground. Final cycle to the pass was a grunt, but I made it without pushing. Up there was Park conservation officer, placing red tapes at Ptarmigan Cirque trail; that's one way I guess, open the road, but close the hiking trails ;-) In brief conversation she explained they were doing it for couple of weeks to prevent erosion until snow melts. She also told me previous day (Sunday) there was huge amount of people cycling. What is happening to K-country, once sanctuary of solitude and beauty now getting overrun.

Here are some photos:

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[Gate at K-Lakes turnoff; there were lots of cars parked, even if it was Monday]

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[Approaching south end of Mt. Pocaterra; road bends to the left here, then curls towards Little Highwood Pass. This is probably the most level part in terms of riding]

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[Elbow Lake trailhead; weird to see it without cars. I stashed bike here and went up to the lake, 20-25min only]

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[Elbow Lake shore, just below the camp area. Made me a nest under tree and watched fish jumping, then waited brief hailstorm here]


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[Elbow Lake pano; there were some snow patches continuing towards Tombstone Pass]

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[Beautiful Light walking down from Elbow Lake as air cleared after the storm. Mt. Rae outlier bathed in late afternoon sunlight]

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[Final rise to the pass; steeper than it looks here and sustained; apparently steeper than steepest part of Tour De France]

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[Made it!]

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[South side of Highwood Pass, less steep - but longer. Some people cycle from this direction. Of course one way traverse would be the way to go (south - north), but car logistics are quite problematic]

I did this with mtn. bike (only one I have), but road bikes are better. If whole thing interests you, google "Highwood Pass Cycling" there are some quite interesting pages around.
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post #2 of (permalink) Old 06-16-2021, 08:30 PM
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Awesome, good choice for the bike. Reminds me of State Route 20 across the border, the northernmost road connecting eastern and western Washington. In the spring the state spends a ton of money plowing the road and it is a good time to bike the road without cars on the weekends.

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What is happening to K-country, once sanctuary of solitude and beauty now getting overrun.
Same thing around here, everyone is "working" from home these days I guess.
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post #3 of (permalink) Old 06-16-2021, 10:19 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by martin View Post

Same thing around here, everyone is "working" from home these days I guess.

It is quite amazing watching ripple effects of this pandemic, isn't it. Reminds me of history classes, "this happened and caused that", but it was always some other time & place. Now we are living through it; overpopulation on global scale that has people running away from congested cities, coupled with technology 'advancements' that allows remote lifestyle. Which is all good, except for increased pollution and overall nature destruction as many simply don't care. I've been enjoying K-country for some 30 years and can't believe the changes; nowdays for the most part it is like Joffre Lakes over there.
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post #4 of (permalink) Old 06-17-2021, 08:37 AM
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You sure got some really great trips. I read the Highwood Pass is the highest paved pass in Canada & is rated as difficult. It appears that a lot of people cycle the road before it opens up to traffic.

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......Which is all good, except for increased pollution and overall nature destruction as many simply don't care. I've been enjoying K-country for some 30 years and can't believe the changes; nowdays for the most part it is like Joffre Lakes over there.
Same up Chilliwack Valley. Back in the late 1970's, the road wasn't paved all the way to the lake. It was gravel which kept away a lot of traffic. Regardless, traffic was light in those days. Now, there are abandon RV's which eventually get towed away & the garbage strewn about the roadside is disgusting. Homeless people camping here & there. Logging has been going on since then & up to now. Maybe it's time to go back living in a smaller town.
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post #5 of (permalink) Old 06-17-2021, 01:57 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by solo75 View Post
You sure got some really great trips. I read the Highwood Pass is the highest paved pass in Canada & is rated as difficult. It appears that a lot of people cycle the road before it opens up to traffic.

Yes, I mention this in write-up. There are several seasonal road closures around here that offer great springtime cycling. On a really positive note, Parks Canada are now experimenting with perm. closures (south part of 1A from Banff to Castle Junction), 1 day/week closure (Minnewanka road) etc. & cyclists are more than happy. I'd be strongly in favor of closing Moraine Lake road too.


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Same up Chilliwack Valley. Back in the late 1970's, the road wasn't paved all the way to the lake. It was gravel which kept away a lot of traffic. Regardless, traffic was light in those days. Now, there are abandon RV's which eventually get towed away & the garbage strewn about the roadside is disgusting. Homeless people camping here & there. Logging has been going on since then & up to now. Maybe it's time to go back living in a smaller town.

Ya, but small towns are not so small anymore. Canmore is small town & there is unprecedented "development"; condos like mushrooms after rain. And now pandemic ripple effect & everyone wants to move away from big cities. This led to huge demand for "recreational" properties & they fly off the market even before listed, with hugely overblown prices. I imagine similar in Whistler over there.
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post #6 of (permalink) Old 06-22-2021, 08:35 PM
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Kananaskis enchanted me from the moment I laid eyes on it. An elk standing in the middle of the road at Elk Pass! A place where one could breathe. Sad that its character is changing in certain ways. Or that my future experience will always be different from past.

(I will look into some of the places you suggested for howesthehike.)
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