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Ribbon Lake, AB Overnight Hike

Good morning everybody – and HAPPY FRIDAY!  Does anybody else feel like this has been a super long week?  Maybe it’s because I lost my entire weekend to epic adventure in the Kananaskis Backcountry…I don’t know.  Not that I am complaining.  It was freaking awesome.

Speaking of which, this post is going to be all about our weekend camping in the Alberta Rockies.  Two full days of hiking, one night of backcountry camping, countless delicious snacks, and a total of just under 25km covered.  Here we go…

RibbonLakeGraphic

 

Day One – Buller Pass to Ribbon Lake

We were set to leave at 8am, so it was a relatively early morning since we had to get our packs ready to go.  Oh – I should probably introduce who “we” is.  There was four of us on this hike – Myself, Sean, Sean’s Dad, Gord (the epic Mountain Man who loves to plan these kinds of things) and Carie – who can only be described as a family friend who is more like a second mother.  She’s always game for cool outdoorsy stuff like this.  This was a last minute hike (we decided to go only a few days before) to celebrate Carie’s very belated Birthday.  Gord got the camping permits, gear, food and logistics organized – as he usually does, because he’s freaking fantastic – and we were packed up and set to go bright and early on Sunday morning.

My Pack, Boots and Poles all ready to go
My Pack, Boots and Poles all ready to go
IMG_6889
Adventure Mobile

We left the city and headed for Kananaskis Country in two vehicles so that we could park one at our starting point – the Buller Pass Trailhead – and one at our finish point, the Ribbon Creek Trailhead.  Once all was said and done, we hit the trail at around 10:30am, and began our 10.5 km, 5 hour ascent to Ribbon Lake.

The first part of the Buller Pass hike is a steady uphill trail through the trees, but unfortunately many of the trees in the area were wiped out by a forest fire.  But instead of taking away from the experience, it added a sort of eerie beauty to it all.

Hiking through the Burned Trees
Hiking through the Burned Trees
A little Waterfall on the Buller Pass Trail
A little Waterfall on the Buller Pass Trail

After about 3 hours of hiking, sweating and cursing (this is all a part of the experience for me) we arrived at a large valley with a massive wall of a hill at the top of it.  I was then informed that we were going to hike over that wall.

"The Wall" at Buller Pass
“The Wall” at Buller Pass

“The Wall” actually wasn’t as bad as it seemed, although it was partly loose rock and scree, so I was grateful to have my poles and my full hiking boots instead of just my trail shoes.  It took us just under 30 minutes to reach the top of “The Wall” – which provided the most stunning, rewarding views.  We stopped here to have a long rest and a snack before we began our final stretch of the hike down to Ribbon Lake.

At the top of Buller Pass, with Ribbon Lake in the Distance
At the top of Buller Pass, with Ribbon Lake in the Distance

We hiked for another hour and a half-ish before arriving at our Backcountry Campsite at Ribbon Lake.  The site is actually quite large, with 20 tent sites, 4 picnic tables, several bear-proof food lockers, 2 firepits with ample firewood, 2 outhouses, and of course the stunning Ribbon Lake itself, which was bigger than I imagined it would be.

Campsite Amenities
Campsite Amenities
I will never be able to stop laughing at Outhouses that look like this.
I will never be able to stop laughing at Outhouses that look like this.

By the time we got the tent set up, our beds made, and all of our food stored, it was after 4pm.  We spent the remainder of the afternoon fishing, building a fire, and cooling our reward beers in the ice-cold creek until Gord cooked us the most delicious dinner I’ve ever had in the Backcountry – Fettuccine Alfredo with Herbed Chicken and Veggies.  I swear, one of these days I have to convince Gord to start a blog of his own.  He’s a backcountry genius.  (Spoiler alert: He has no interest in starting a blog, ever.  Haha.)  We hung around and chatted by the campfire for a while, enjoyed a hot chocolate with Baileys and homemade Banana Bread, and headed to bed around 10pm exhausted but sooo satisfied.

*Not-so-fun Fact: Sean caught a few fish, and one was big enough to keep – so we cooked it over the fire in butter minutes after it came out of the lake.  It was delicious.  But just as he was about to dig in to the best part of it, he dropped it and the fish fell into the dirt.  I felt so bad for him, I almost cried.*

Sean Fishing in Ribbon Lake
Sean Fishing in Ribbon Lake
This is how Canadians keep their Beer Cold ;)
This is how Canadians keep their Beer Cold 😉
EPIC MEAL TIME
EPIC MEAL TIME
Sean and I slept in the tiniest tent we've ever slept in and it was hilarious.  We don't even sleep in the same room at home so this was an accomplishment.
Sean and I slept in the tiniest tent we’ve ever slept in and it was hilarious. We don’t even sleep in the same room at home so this was an accomplishment.

Day Two – Ribbon Lake to Ribbon Creek

I actually slept surprisingly well, considering that I usually get nighttime anxiety, especially in the wilderness.  It was a quiet night and nothing exciting happened, which is just the way I like it.

We woke up with the sun and went out to the group area to start a fire.  At first, it was gorgeous and sunny, but pretty soon some massive dark clouds rolled in and it started to thunder and rain.  Chef Gord struck again at breakfast with Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Breakfast Wraps, and we ate pretty quickly so we could get our stuff packed up and hit the trails to try and beat the storm.  We didn’t.

Sunrise over Ribbon Lake
Sunrise over Ribbon Lake
Hiking out from Ribbon Lake
Hiking out from Ribbon Lake
Carie and Gord take a selfie!
Carie and Gord take a selfie!

I think the majority of people hike IN to Ribbon Lake the way we decided to hike OUT.  It was a long day (13-ish km, almost 6 hours of hiking) and included every type of terrain imaginable, from scree to scramble to trail to sand to scaling down a cliff face with chains.  In the pouring rain.

We stopped at a BEAUTIFUL waterfall for about 15 minutes so that Sean could do a bit of fly fishing.  It was honestly so stunning, I wish we could have stayed another night, right there.

I’m just really grateful that I was hiking with such a supportive team.  I was ready to have a complete mental breakdown when we were climbing down the chains.  I’m not the best with heights to begin with, but trying to hold on to a wet, slippery chain and find foot holds on wet, slippery rocks made it that much more challenging.  But with the kind, supportive words from my team of kickass humans and a lot of guidance and encouragement when I was coming down the face, I was able to complete it without a temper tantrum.  My legs were shaking for about an hour afterwards, though.

*I’m pretty sure this would be a LOT easier going up.  And also in fair weather.  I don’t want to deter anyone from doing this hike, we just had terrible timing.*

The first stunning Waterfall we came across on our Descent
The first stunning Waterfall we came across on our Descent
Sean fished in the waterfall pool for about 15 minutes and caught-and-released several small fish.
Sean fished in the waterfall pool for about 15 minutes and caught-and-released several small fish.
Sean told me to smile, so I smiled.  But I was definitely freaking out.
Sean told me to smile, so I smiled. But I was definitely freaking out.
This was almost a meltdown.
This was almost a meltdown.

After we got past the chains, the rest of the hike down was relatively easy.  Slight decline, nice trails (for the most part) and lots of trees to protect us from the rain.  We passed the legendary Ribbon Falls, which did not disappoint.  The end of the hike felt so long, mostly because we were just sore, tired and hungry, but once we got back to our car, we drove to Canmore and gorged on a well-earned meal at Wendy’s.  #AllOfTheSalt

Ribbon Falls
Ribbon Falls

By the time we got back into the city, it was after 8pm, so we threw our laundry in the wash, aired out and put away all of our gear, took a long, hot, well-deserved shower, and passed the F out.  It was an absolutely incredible weekend, and I would recommend this hike to anyone.  It has now become one of my favourites.  It’s challenging, but not impossible, and it is so, SO rewarding.

 

Have you ever been to Ribbon Lake?

What is your favourite Backcountry Hike?

Ashley Dempster is a twenty-something Canadian Travel and Adventure blogger based in Calgary, Canada. Her passions include good food, minimalist packing, running, music, and chasing down every opportunity for adventure.

5 Comments

  1. Wow, what an amazing and beautiful weekend! Those outhouses are hilarious! I’ve never gone backcountry hiking, mostly because I don’t like going to the bathroom in the bush, haha!! Outhouses, no problem! 😉

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