Exploring the beauty of the mountains through easy hikes and scrambles

Prairie Mountain

5 February 2016

With Priyesh 

 

Prairie Mountain is probably the most boring, most unexciting hike I’ve done in the Rockies – if this even qualifies as being in the Rockies. And it’s also one of the closest “mountains” I’ve ascended near Calgary. Priyesh and I wanted to do something not too energy-consuming as he was feeling a bit under the weather and our original objective, End Mountain, would’ve probably been too long and strenuous on this relatively warm Friday in February. It was about 5 degrees outside in the morning! So on a whim, we decided to just do the popular Prairie Mountain since neither of us had crossed if off our checklist before.

There’s not much to say about this mountain other than that it’s easy, straightforward, and very boring. We parked by the winter gate on Highway 66 that closes off the rest of the road into Elbow Falls from Dec 1st to May 15th. There is a good trail that starts about 40-50 metres behind the gate on the right and goes straight up the mountain. There was almost no snow on the path and it felt like we were hiking on a pleasant spring day, but this was the beginning of February in what has so far been an unusually warm winter! Higher up, the well-defined trail was iced-over and microspikes probably would have made our lives easier, but there was enough soft snow or grass next to the trail to avoid the slippery spots. There are really no views to speak of until you arrive at the broad summit ridge, which on this day was extremely windy and we rushed to get to the large summit cairn with its oversized Canadian flag proudly fluttering in the wind. Nice views of Moose Mountain opened up right in front of us, but this area is also known for its long history of gas exploration so the picture wasn’t complete without sight of several well sites with gas flares below us. To the west, Mount Remus, Mount Fullerton, Nihahi Ridge and Banded Peak are just a few of the mountains on the horizon. Near the summit cairn, across a patch of snow, someone had built an igloo of sorts – a welcome shelter from the gales outside and a good spot to eat a quick sandwich. In fact, this well-built igloo was so impressive, it easily formed the highlight of our trip! The large central room comfortably seated three people and was accessed by crawling through an elongated entrance tunnel on the lee side. We joked that this igloo was the only thing that made the hike memorable…apart from enjoying each other’s company of course. Priyesh was so much fun to be around, his uplifting spirits and unwavering good mood was certainly the highlight of the trip for me!

On the way down we avoided the icy trail in the upper part and just hiked on soft snow through open trees alongside the trail, which worked very well. There were at least a dozen or so other people at this time that started up the trail, which proves the popularity of this route as a “workout mountain”. And this is all it is – simply a workout hike, no scrambling necessary.

 

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DOWNLOAD ROUTE (GPX FILE)

DISCLAIMER: Use at your own risk for general guidance only! Do not follow this GPX track blindly but use your own judgement in assessing terrain and choosing the safest route.

 

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We parked at the winter gate on Hwy 66 (closed between Dec 1st and May 15th). The trail starts just behind the gate on the right.

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Happy to be out in the mountains again!

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The trail on this little mountain sees regular traffic, even in winter.

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Much of it is in the trees. Here we avoided the icy sections of the trail by going on soft snow beside it.

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On the ridge past the trees – finally some views!

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The wind was so strong up here, it was trying to blow us back down!

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Summit celebrations complete with Canadian flag 🙂

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The wind was so fierce, it took about 10 shots to get one good photo that wasn’t blurry.

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Like a pantomimist, Priyesh leans against an invisible wall of wind.

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From left to right: Banded Peak, Outlaw Peak, Mount Glasgow (looking SW).

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On the way back, we stopped by a wind shelter someone had built out of snow (the small white knob just left of the trees). Whoever did this – thank you for providing us with the perfect place to eat our lunch!

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Our lunchtime igloo. The entrance looks small but we managed to crawl inside.

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Inside the well-crafted shelter: a mosaic of snow bricks keeps the wind out but allows enough light to come through.

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There’s even room for one more!

 


IN MEMORIAM: Priyesh Menon

My dear friend and hiking partner Priyesh passed away in a tragic accident on Mount Lawson in Kananaskis on May 23rd, 2016. He was only 30 years old. He touched on countless lives with his most generous and loving spirit that will be remembered by many, many people in Canada, India and around the world. Like many other hikers and scramblers from Calgary, I feel hugely honoured to have met him and to have had the chance to hike with him. To preserve some of the beautiful moments we shared, I have decided to keep the reports of my trips with him on my site (after consultation with his family). We would like people to remember him for who he was: the most joyful, uplifting, kind, and selfless boy who never stopped smiling. As many of his fellow-hikers recounted, he had the unique ability to bring people together and bring positivity into their lives. There was genuine happiness wherever he was. A true ray of sunshine in our world! Thank you, Priyesh, for enriching our lives. You will be dearly missed.