Hiking Kananaskis Country – Arethusa Cirque

Mr. GeoK and I ventured into the Highwood Pass again on Saturday. We first hiked Arethusa Cirque about 10 years ago, and have done the straightforward 5 km loop at least once each year since. It’s one of our “go to” hikes when we’re introducing other families to one of our favourite outdoor activities.

This year, for the first time since we started hiking with our kids, they opted to stay home – another sign they’re growing up all too quickly!

Just a few days before Halloween is the latest in the year that we’ve ever done this hike, so we were prepared for relatively deep snow and icy trail conditions. About 50 meters into the woods, we stopped long enough to strap on MICROspikes/crampons, which we didn’t remove until we were leaving the cirque to traverse the rock field between Mount Arethusa and Little Arethusa. And I donned my gaiters along that stretch, after sinking up to my knees for the third time! Overall, the trail conditions were pretty much what we expected – modest snow cover and some icy sections – and easily managed with the right gear.

At the end of the short ascent through the woods, the trail opens into a meadow. The pond is already partially covered in ice. This is the view looking towards Little Arethusa (the peak on the left) across the valley.

At the end of the short ascent through the woods, the trail opens into a meadow. The pond is already partially covered in ice. This is the view looking towards Little Arethusa (the peak on the left) across the valley.

We saw plenty of evidence that the hard-packed snow fell well before the larch trees dropped their golden needles.

Mr. GeoK’s hands got pretty cold when he took the time to attached a neutral density filter, set up his tripod and take some longer exposure photographs along the creek.

I was glad I packed my Kahtoola MICROspikes. They provided great traction on the hard packed trails (but needed to come off to safely traverse bare slabs and comfortably cross the rock field).

I was glad I packed my Kahtoola MICROspikes. They provided great traction on the hard packed trails (but needed to come off to safely traverse bare slabs and comfortably cross the rock field).

Mr. GeoK set the 12 second timer on his camera to photograph the two of us in Arethusa Cirque. That's Little Arethusa behind us to the right, with some not very golden larches in the valley between.

Mr. GeoK set the 12 second timer on his camera to photograph the two of us in Arethusa Cirque. That’s Little Arethusa behind us to the right, with some not very golden larches in the valley between.

While Mr. GeoK came away with some great landscapes and panorama photographs, I was happier with my photographs of some smaller details.

Crossing the rock field on the shoulder of Mount Arethusa, heading towards Little Arethusa.

Crossing the rock field on the shoulder of Mount Arethusa, heading towards Little Arethusa.

Mrs. GeoK makes her way along the boot-beaten path through the rock field connecting the shoulder of Mount Arethusa to Little Arethusa.

Mrs. GeoK makes her way along the boot-beaten path through the rock field connecting the shoulder of Mount Arethusa to Little Arethusa.

The midday sun reflected off the hard-packed and wind-sculpted snow blanketing the shoulder of Mount Arethusa.

The midday sun reflected off the hard-packed and wind-sculpted snow blanketing the shoulder of Mount Arethusa.

This smaller cirque backs up against Ptarmigan Cirque. There are still a few needles on the larch trees and you can see that the snow is fairly thin on the ground.

This smaller cirque backs up against Ptarmigan Cirque. There are still a few needles on the larch trees and you can see that the snow is fairly thin on the ground.

We saw evidence of heavy machinery repairs to the unofficial parking area when we arrived. The other spot we noticed obvious flood damage was when we spotted a missing section of the trail as we descended from Little Arethusa towards the meadow.

One section of the trail is gone! Must have slumped away during the June flood. Aside from the unofficial parking area, this was the most visible damage at Arethusa.

One section of the trail is gone! Must have slumped away during the June flood. Aside from the unofficial parking area, this was the most visible damage at Arethusa.

Back at the meadow, Mr. GeoK seized the opportunity to capture a photo that would be very challenging (due to direct sunlight) in the summer season.

We've never hiked Arethusa this late in the year. One of the advantages? The sun is so low in the sky that it's possible to photograph the cirque from the meadow - something not really possible in the summer and early fall because the sun is right over the back wall of the cirque at midday.

We’ve never hiked Arethusa this late in the year. One of the advantages? The sun is so low in the sky that it’s possible to photograph the cirque from the meadow – something not really possible in the summer and early fall because the sun is right over the back wall of the cirque at midday.

This is where the creek starts to wind down through the forest towards Highway 40. I'm afraid Mr. GeoK got his feet a little wet when crossing back over near the end of our hike!

This is where the creek starts to wind down through the forest towards Highway 40. I’m afraid Mr. GeoK got his feet a little wet when crossing back over near the end of our hike!

Highway 40 will close at the winter gates on December 15 (normal re-opening is June 15 each year). If you think you might like to do this half-day hike before then, please read this blog post for a more detailed trail description. And for the sake of comparison, on this outing to Arethusa Cirque we spotted one coyote, 4 bighorn sheep, 2 gray jays and a couple of guys eager to hit the slopes. At the parking area we watched as they strapped some sort of skis/boards to their packs and headed up to the bowl of the cirque to try to get in their first runs of the season. I wonder if they found enough snow?

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One thought on “Hiking Kananaskis Country – Arethusa Cirque

  1. Pingback: Hiking Kananaskis Country – Arethusa Cirque | Out and About with the GeoKs

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