Cycling Highwood Pass - Canada's Highest Paved Highway


Highwood Pass, on Alberta highway 40 is located deep in Kananaskis Country about 60 minutes south of the TransCanada Highway. It takes about an hour from Grandview Chalet's B&B in Canmore to the start.

Since it is a sensitive wildlife area, it's closed to car traffic from mid December until June 15 each year. There is a short period of time when you can cycle within the closed portion without pesky cars after the snow melts away in the spring (about June). The length of the closed area is some 54 km, with the big pass closer to the north end. There are many commercial tour groups cycling over the pass through the summer, but in this case, it's mostly locals with several cycling clubs and race clubs mixed in with recreational riders on whatever bikes (one on a big tricycle!). Some ride from gate to gate and back for maximum length (108 km). Today we parked on the north end of the closure, road up to the pass (500m), over the top, and did a speed descent to Mist Creek picnic area, and then climbed back up and over for a total of 70km (43 miles), and some 1200m of vertical (3937 ft).

The previous day, it had poured rain in Canmore (overdue), leaving snow in the higher elevations. By the time we got to the start, it was getting very pleasant, and the snows had retreated to leave absolutely beautiful scenery. There were hundreds of riders on this Sunday, but all spread out on a smooth swept highway in a happy mood. The grizzly's must have known this was going to be a bit crazy, so they were discretely somewhere else. But we did see some nice young big horn sheep lambs with their respective moms. The weather threw some winds at us, but they seemed to be swirling through the valley, and not too bothersome. People milled about at the top, getting trophy pictures of the sign highlighting the achievement, and then descending in either direction at various speeds depending on the necessary amount required to give you a big rush! Not too hard to hit 80+kph if you're in the mood. And not worried about cars.

Here's a Stava link for an overview:






Avalanche Control on EEOR

After a sizeable snowfall, avalanche control is sometimes undertaken on the East End of Rundle (EEOR) to ensure safety on the Spray Lakes Road (Smith-Dorrien road) that climbs some 300m from Canmore into the Kananaskis Country playground to the south. A helicopter is used to drop explosives on the slope near the peak, and as the attached video shows, there are several gullies that run off the cliffs, and down to the steep slopes below that the road traverses.

This video was shot from the deck of Grandview Chalet B&B in Canmore, AB, Canada.

Shadow Lake xc ski

From Shadow Lake Lodge

From Shadow Lake Lodge

A cold snap gave us a break, so we headed up to Shadow Lake in Banff National Park. The parking area is just off the TransCanada Highway about 30 minutes west of Canmore, AB. It was about -15C when we started out a 11 AM on a Thursday in early January.

The trail was trackset sometime ago, but in pretty good shape. So far, the winter has been rather stingy on the snow, and heavy on the polar air. So starting out, there was a fair bit of pine needles, but that quickly diminishes as you ski up into the hanging valley of Red Earth Creek. We saw one other couple coming down (early risers!), and after that, nobody. At about 6km, after a bridge crossing, you come to a backcountry campground. The trail is trackset for about another 1-2 km, and then it's just been snowmobile packed. At about 11km, we had a quick bite with tea, then bootpacked up the Shadow Lake trail until it levels off (about 150m). Much easier!

The remainder of the trail rolls up and down to the Shadow Lake Lodges (not opened as yet for the winter months). Alpine touring skiers with fairly fat skis had been up and down this trail recently, which was kind of nice for our longish straight BC 65 (metal edge) skis to fit into. The snow along those tracks was about 25-40cm deep, and very unsupportive due to the cold weather we've had. Your poles often went to ground.

It was five years ago that Carol and I got engaged on the deck of Shadow Lake Lodge. We were lucky to have some solar warmth, and perhaps -8C on that deck to enjoy some tea, cookies, and maple whiskey. There were old tracks headed towards the lake from the lodge, but we were fairly content to sip the fortified tea and enjoy the views of Mt Ball in the distant.

From there, we backtracked down the trail, onto the fireroad, and back into the Bow Valley. All tolled, it's a 28km return trip (5.5 hours with our short breaks), and a terrific way to spend a chilly January day in the Canadian Rockies.