Canmore Nordic Centre / Grassi Lakes

Smoke from the forest fire between Kelowna and Vernon continues to drift east, causing intermittent hazy conditions in the mountains, so we decided against a hike in the mountains and headed to Canmore to search for some caches hidden along the network of multi-use trails at the Canmore Nordic Centre.
We had no idea that the Nordic Centre is the site for the “24 Hours of Adrenalin” event that started at 10 o’clock this morning until we approached the entrance gate where we were surprised that we were waved through. Casual users of the trail system were permitted to use the parking lot today, while registrants for the event had to display a special pass permitting them to park along the sides of Spray Lakes Road.
Since we arrived before the event started, we had no difficulties accessing the trail network. Since this was our first visit to the Nordic Centre, we were eager to assess the trails and whether we’d like to make a return visit with our mountain bikes. We concluded that there are trails for just about every riding level, ranging from the divided, paved beginner loop (that we used to make our way to at least one geocache) to wide, hard-packed pea gravel intermediate trails to challenging single-tracks to “kick butt” difficult and hilly trails. We all agreed that we’d return to ride some of these trails, but we’ll check to ensure there’s not a major event going on before we head out to ride.
There were at least 6 designated, temporary campsites on the grounds, so that riders can try to get some short rests and the support teams have somewhere to rest until their mechanical or medical skills are needed. One lonely tent was pitched less than 25 meters from the first cache we sought, just off the parking lot. We passed two camping areas as we headed onto and back off the trail network.

 

By the time we pulled out of the parking lot, we’d walked 6.8 km (with about 200 m of elevation loss / gain) and found 5 geocaches and a brass cap embedded in some tailings from an old coal mine. During our walk we spotted a Pileated Woodpecker and another pair of birds pecking at the bark in search of insects. We’ll be looking through our bird book to see if we can identify them.
Before we left home this morning, we decided that since we’ve never done the short walk to Grassi Lakes, we’d head there to enjoy our picnic lunch. The very full parking lot was our first clue that it was likely to be busy at the Lakes. The fact that we passed at least 5 groups coming down the trail as we were going reinforced our initial suspicion.
Once we made it out of the pine forest, we enjoyed the scenery: a nice view of a TransAlta reservoir and a section of waterfalls. One section of the trail went across a weeping wall, where I counted at least 10 springs flowing out of the mountainside. The boys had to walk with a bit of care, as they didn’t have waterproof shoes on today.
At the viewpoint for the waterfall we were disappointed to discover that a cache we’d been hoping to find was just 65 meters away but about 40 meters below us! We’d have to look for another approach once we returned to the parking lot. After we left the viewpoint, we started into a section of the trail that was constructed by Lawrence Grassi, for whom the 2 lakes are named. He constructed the original trail to the Lakes and we’re familiar with his hand-constructed stone steps from our trip to Lake O’Hara last summer.
As we reached the first lake, there was quite a crowd along the shore, most of them watching the tail-end of a rescue; EMS and the RCMP were carrying out a rock climber who fell while climbing above the second lake. We hope this climber is OK.
After the stretcher departed, the crowds thinned out a little, but there were still so many groups at the second lake that we could scarcely find a spot to sit down for lunch. Mr. GeoK quickly found the one geocache hidden between the lakes while the boys and I moved in on a vacated spot for lunch. It wasn’t a peaceful meal, with many groups passing us on the lakeside trail, dogs barking, shouting and laughing at dogs swimming in the lake, etc. As soon as we finished eating, Mr. GeoK and K headed up the stairs to take some photos of the pictographs while C and I repacked our bags and took some photos of the lake.
  
It was a quick walk back down the hill, for return distance of 4.4 km (5.3 for those who went to the pictographs) with just 150 meters elevation gain / loss. From the parking lot, we drove down at access road towards a TransAlta hydro plant, which was gated off about 800 meters from the cache we’d missed earlier.
I left the guys in the air-conditioned vehicle (it was 34 C) and walked to ground zero, searching for well over 30 minutes without finding the cache. I used my walkie-talkie several times to call back for the hint, and helpful tidbits from the cache description and any spoilers from past logs. I was ready to give up when Mr. GeoK appeared to join the hunt. Alas, we never did find GC1GXE9, so that one will go on our geocaching watch list for a while.
Total distance walked today was as follows: C = 11.2 km, K = 12.1 km, me = 12.8 km, Mr. GeoK = 13.7 km. We found a total of 7 geocaches and concluded that while we’d be happy to go back to the Nordic Centre, we have no interest in hiking to Grassi Lakes ever again. It was too crowded!
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