Chapter 4. Traversing the Great Foothills Ridges
My adventurous group of hikers meets weekly to explore the high places that lie west of our homes in Calgary and surrounding region. For a decade, we have scaled peaks and tramped about in the foothills, mainly in this accessible Elbow Valley watershed. The high mountains are exciting, but we return frequently to the Elbow’s great foothills ridges which lie between the Front Ranges and the subtler boreal foothills landscape to the east.
This year we have planned a hiking week focused on the Elbow watershed’s high foothills. From the Little Elbow Campground at the end of Highway 66 in Kananaskis Country, our daily hikes will cover the great foothills ridges, the mountain outliers of The Family and the Elbow River that connects them. Three long craggy ridges span this watershed from northwest to southeast: Jumpingpound Ridge lies farthest north, separated from central Powderface Ridge by the deeply entrenched Canyon and Prairie creeks, and then, on the south side of the Elbow River, is Forgetmenot Ridge. The ridges have many similarities, including a relatively uniform elevation (just over 2,200 m) and a length of about eight kilometres. Subalpine forests cover their lower slopes, grassy meadows lie above and extensive patches of bare rock are exposed at their summits. Their gentler west-facing slopes contrast sharply with the steep east-facing sides. Both Powderface and Forgetmenot have resistant limestone outcrops on their east slopes, creating sharp cliffs and long, stomach-grabbing drops from the ridge edges. It is these three ridges, with their marked similarities, yet intriguing differences, that we have set out to explore.
The foothills which lie east of the Front Ranges in the watershed and far beyond to both north and south, are composed of younger, softer rock than the mountains. The relatively soft Mesozoic shales and sandstones of the Foothills region have been continuously eroded since the last major uplift, to produce the rounded rolling ridges of today. These contrast with the higher, more sharply contorted forms of the older limestone Front Ranges just to the west.