Running Rain Lake South Ridge

Hoping to see some yellow larches on 26 September 2020, Asieh Ghodratabadi, Shaun Luong, Ali Shariat, Zosia Zgolak and I hiked up the officially-unnamed ridge east of Running Rain Lake in Alberta's Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park.  The hike is described in Gillean Daffern's Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, but we got most of our inspiration from Bob Spirko's visit two weeks earlier.  Oddly enough, Spirko refers to the objective as Running Rain Lake South Ridge even though the bulk of the ridge is clearly northeast of the lake, but I shall use the same nomenclature to avoid confusion.

The unmarked trailhead is located along a wide, grassy strip on the west side of Highway 40, 27 kilometres south of the junction with Kananaskis Lakes Trail or 27 kilometres north of Highwood Junction.  Park anywhere on the grassy strip.

As we were gearing up at the trailhead, a truck pulled up behind us, and the driver, a man, asked us where we were going.  He and his family, including two young boys and a dog, had planned on hiking in the Highwood Pass area, but the crowded circus there on this day prompted him to go elsewhere.  When I described to him where we were headed, he nodded in approval and directed his family to get ready.

Dropping immediately down to Storm Creek, Asieh, Ali and Zosia began taking off their boots in preparation for a chilly ford.  Two flimsy logs spanning the creek did not hold much appeal to the three of them, but the man and his family took a chance and safely crossed on the logs.  Shaun also followed suit while I simply walked through the creek in my hip waders.  I did the same through a beaver pond a short distance beyond the creek crossing, but everyone else was able to walk across the adjoining beaver dam without getting wet.  While the man and his family took off up the trail, everyone else in our group waited patiently while I stashed my hip waders.  Once we got going, we enjoyed a very straightforward hike up the valley to Running Rain Lake.  Fresh snowfall had rendered some parts of the trail quite wet and muddy, and after all the fuss with trying to stay dry at the creek crossing, my hiking shoes ironically were soaked by the time we reached the lake.

Passing the man and his family, we carried on along the north shore before crossing a causeway on the west side of the lake.  We then worked our way southward up a steep and snow-covered scree gully.  Before reaching the top of the gully, we traversed to climber's left into the forest and soon gained the crest of the ridge separating the Running Rain Lake valley from the next valley to the southeast.  Just before entering the trees, I glanced back toward the lake and spotted the man following behind us with only his dog in tow.  Heading in a northeast direction, our group followed the crest of the ridge and eventually reached the high point with only some minor route-finding difficulties.  The man and his dog also caught up to us on the high point, and during our lunch break, we would learn that his name was Theo while the dog's name was Zara.  Theo's wife and kids had opted to hike out and wait for him at the trailhead while he followed us up the ridge.

When we resumed hiking, Theo and Zara accompanied us as we dropped down the far side of the high point.  Instead of returning the way we came, we decided to tag a subsidiary bump to the northeast and then take a short cut down into the valley.  As we reached the dip just before the subsidiary bump, Theo opted to part ways with us since he did not want to keep his family waiting.  I pointed him roughly in the direction that we would soon follow, and he quickly disappeared down the slope with Zara.  The rest of us quickly scrambled up to the top of the subsidiary bump before retreating back to the dip.  Our short cut descent was initially quite steep, and we had to be careful with our footing especially on some sections of hard-packed dirt.  We ended up funneling down a gully which worked out pretty well for us, and in seemingly no time, we were crossing the creek in the valley bottom and back on the main trail soon after.  The hike back to the trailhead was also quick, and after I retrieved my hip waders, we all made use of the beaver dam and flimsy logs to get back across the watery obstacles at the beginning.  Theo's truck was gone when we returned to the trailhead, and I presume that he and Zara had made it back safely as well.

As we drove back over Highwood Pass on the way home, we ran into a snow squall, but there were still a multitude of cars parked along both sides of the highway with numerous people milling about.  Many of them looked like they had just gotten there and were starting their hike.  I shook my head in bewilderment and felt blessed that we were able to enjoy both good weather and relative solitude only a mere ten kilometres away to the south.
The ford wasn't really necessary! Zosia fords Storm Creek at the start of the hike.
Damn beavers! Asieh and Zosia stay dry while crossing a beaver dam.
This also wasn't necessary! Already wearing hip waders, Sonny elects to wade through the pond beside the dam.

Photo courtesy of Asieh Ghodratabadi


Remarkably beautiful setting. Zosia arrives at Running Rain Lake.
Rock-hopping fun! Sonny crosses a causeway at the west end of the lake.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Can you spot the family at the far end of the lake?

Shaun and Zosia also cross the causeway.


Better to scree bash than bushwhack! The group aims for the snow-covered scree gully to the right of the trees.
I guess nobody brought helmets? The climb up the scree gully is steep, but the rocks are mostly stable.
The fishing here is supposedly good too. Here is a look back at Running Rain Lake from high up the scree gully.
Hmmm...looks like a forested high point from here... The high point of Running Rain Lake South Ridge can be seen in the distance between the larch trees.
And there are some nice larches to boot! Travel along the crest of the ridge is fairly straightforward.
Almost there! The group prepares to climb up the final slope before the high point.
At least 8 thumbs up! Zosia, Ali, Asieh, Shaun and Sonny show what they think of the hike up to the high point of Running Rain Lake South Ridge (2313 metres).

I suppose I should climb Mount Odlum and Mount Loomis one of these days...

The view to the south from the high point includes Mount Odlum (right), Mount Loomis (left), and Mount Bishop (far left).


Mist Mountain looks unfamiliar from this angle. The group heads for a subsidiary bump to the northeast (centre).  Dominating the horizon is Mist Mountain.
Looks even easier than the high point. The group reaches a dip just before the subsidiary bump.
And there was much rejoicing! Zosia, Asieh, Shaun and Ali stand atop the subsidiary bump (2298 metres).
I'm not usually keen on short cuts, but... Returning to the dip between the high point and the subsidiary bump, the group prepares to take a short cut down the slope at bottom right.
Yep, I would not want to climb up this way! The short cut descent to the valley bottom is initially very steep.
Actually, my shoes and socks were already soaked anyway from the hike! After retrieving his hip waders, Sonny crosses Storm Creek without putting them on.

Photo courtesy of Shaun Luong

A great place to see larches without the crazy crowds. Total Distance:  9.0 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  5 hours 4 minutes
Cumulative Elevation Gain:  589 metres

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