Friday, 28 September 2012

Hiking with Kids in Kananaskis: Ptarmigan Cirque

Ptarmigan Cirque
Exploring the creek through Ptarmigan Cirque
They were everywhere. Clams in the meadow. Coral in the scree.

How the kids found all the fossils I'm still not sure. On our last kids hike to Ptarmigan Cirque in Kananaskis, one of the kids found a coral fossil in the rubble heap at the end of the meadow, but I had no idea there were so many. And they were everywhere on this hike. Mack found a big rock sunk into the soft moss of the meadow that had perfectly preserved clams. Michael went looking for marmots in the scree on the south side of the meadow, and came back with pockets full of rocks embedded with the outlines of corals. Soon, all the kids were looking for fossils.

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

The meadow below Ptarmigan Cirque
Ptarmigan Cirque is my favorite easy kids hike in Kananaskis. It has enough elevation gain to challenge the kids, and rewards them with a broad meadow, a lazy creek to explore, scree to scramble on, and pikas and marmots to chase. There's even a grizzly that frequents the area, but on weekends there are enough people on the trail to reduce the risk of stumbling across it (reduce, not eliminate; I always start my kid's hikes with a brief lesson on what to do if they see a bear). Now, I can add fossils to the list of things I like about it.

This summer I've definitely learned more about the mountains by watching Mack and Michael than they've learned from watching me. As I've mentioned in previous posts, one of the most important lessons has been to tear my eyes away from the big, majestic views in front of me and look--really look--at the ground under my feet. Ever since our fossil hunting expedition on Burns Ridge in the spring, they've been finding clam and coral fossils on almost every hike we've been on. Here I was thinking I'd stumbled on something rare when I noticed the fossils on a scramble up Burns Ridge, and in reality I've been walking over fossils without even seeing them for years.

This year we stopped at the meadow instead of continuing up the valley to the true cirque beyond the rubble heap. The wind was howling over Highwood Pass and it was just too cold to linger very long. (That was early September and it felt like winter was coming to the high country, yet the next week I was sweating in short pants and a t-shirt across the highway on Pocaterra Ridge.) Next year if the weather cooperates we'll make it further, maybe even to Rae Pass just beyond the cirque and around the corner.

Distance: About 3.6 km return
Elevation gain: 230 meters
Hiking/Exploring Time: 3 to 5 hour
Directions: Head west on the Trans-Canada. Take the turnoff for Kananaskis Country/Highway 40. Drive south for about 67 km to Highwood Pass parking lot. Follow the signs to the Ptarmigan Cirque trail across the highway.

Click here for a driving map. 

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