Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Hiking with Kids in Kananaskis: Burns Ridge

Over the last couple of years leading kids hikes, two of the things I learned are:
  1. I don’t give kids enough credit. They can handle a lot more than I think can, whether that’s in terms of kilometers, meters of elevation gain or the steepness of a trail. Kids hikes don't have to be easy hikes.
  2. Picking a trail that ends somewhere fun like climbable boulders makes the entire experience more fun for kids and helps motivate them.
I put both of these learnings into practice on Father’s Day this year. The previous Sunday I’d scrambled 700 m to the high point of Burns Ridge in Kananaskis. A little over halfway up, I looked down to find a couple of big rocks with fossilized clams in them. I checked the altimeter on my watch: we’d ascended 400 meters from the trailhead. After snapping some photos I continued up the ridge.

Click here for more kids hikes in Banff, Kananaskis, Kootenay and other areas of the Canadian Rockies.

Back home, I told my seven-year-old and 12-year-old sons about my find. They thought it was cool, wondered how clams got up on a mountain (answer: what’s now a mountain used to the seabed), then kept on playing. I knew they would have a blast searching among the rocks for fossils, but I wasn’t sure if bushwhacking and scree slogging 400 m up a steep and trail-less mountainside beneath the "ridge" part of Burn's Ridge would make for a good kids hike.

I decided to risk it. After all, if the hike/bordering-on-scramble was too much, we could turn around and find somewhere else to play. With the exception of one boy and his dad who turned around because they were freaked out by the thought of going off trail (dad had phoned 20 minutes before the hike to see if he could join, and he clearly hadn’t read the hike description beyond the title: “Kids Hike—Fossil Hunting Expedition on Burns Ridge"), all the kids seemed to enjoy the route finding and what was for them an extreme experience. Michael, my seven-year-old, looked proud of himself as he firmly planted my ice axe in the scree above him and pulled himself up for most of the way. 

After a couple hours and maybe 250 meters of elevation gain, we popped out of the trees to find a scree slope that was literally littered with fossilized clams. While the other adults ate lunch, myself and all five kids scattered across the scree, yelling when we found a particularly fine specimen. Although the boys gave me a two-way radio set that I’d been looking at for a while, their real Father’s Day gift was persevering up the side of a mountain so I could share my experience of the week before with them. The wrapping paper on the gift was watching the amazed looks on their faces as they slid down the scree on their bums, as if they were tobogganing on rocks without a toboggan. Which, of course, they were.

Distance: 7 or 8 km round trip
Elevation gain: Up to 400 m
Hiking/Exploring Time: 4 to 6 hours
Directions: Take the 22x to Highway 22 and head south. When you get to Turner Valley, turn right at the four-way stop and you're on Highway 546. Drive west all the way to the end, where you should find the Junction Creek day use area. Hike up the old logging road for 45 minutes to an hour, watching for a scree slope on the right that descends close to the road. Here, leave the road and bushwhack up and slightly to the left to follow the ridge up. You'll cross game trails that traverse across the slope but don't lead up. When you reach the treeline, start looking for fossils.

Click here for a driving map. 

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