Sparrowhawk Tarns

Sparrowhawk Tarns is relatively quiet trail that shares a trailhead with Mt. Sparrowhawk and Read’s Tower. The trailhead is more or less opposite the Sparrowhawk day-use area, there’ll be a well-defined path across the Smith-Dorien leading west into the trees. After a gentle start you’ll quickly start experiencing some elevation gain, and part-way through this you’ll come to a three-way junction. For this hike the correct path is the centre one, which continues up the mountain at roughly the same angle. Rather embarrassingly I wasn’t paying attention and took the rightmost path for a little while, which leads to what would be a very nice bike trail, but certainly doesn’t lead to the tarns.

Continuing beyond this fork, you’ll quickly come to another fork, with the NE path leading up towards Mt. Sparrowhawk proper, and the SE path continuing towards Sparrowhawk tarns. Beyond this point you’re just going to continue following the trail, ensuring that you’re travelling in a general SE direction.

Eventually you’ll clear the trees and see you’ve entered a cool little valley with Red Ridge to the SW. The easy part is now over, and you’ll need to go over a great deal of rock and scree. As far as I could tell there isn’t really a trail through the rock field, so you’ll end up just picking your way through wherever you deem to be easiest. You won’t be able to see the tarns for a while, but rest assured they are in fact there, you just need to keep pressing on towards the back of the valley. Upon reaching the top of the final hill you’ll have a very nice view of the tarns below you, as well as of Spray Lake behind you.

The only pieces of advice I have for anyone attempting this hike is make to sure you’ve got a decent pair of boots on as the last stretch provides plenty of opportunities for twisted ankles, and to be mindful of the route you take up to the tarns, as the forested area just after the rock field can be slightly confusing on the way back down.

If you’re fond of spending time by little mountain lakes and aren’t in the mood for dealing with a lot of other people, Sparrowhawk Tarns is definitely a hike for you!

As a parting note, I got a good chuckle out of finding a couple of beers stashed in the snow on the edge of the tarn. Whoever they belong to, I salute your ingenuity 🙂


The Orphan

As far as I can tell, The Orphan is not a very well known hike, I only discovered it myself by looking through my Gem Trek map of the Canmore and Kananaskis Village area. It’s by no means a trivial hike, but the views from the top were truly amazing.

You won’t find any signage or an obvious trailhead for The Orphan. Instead, you’ll be starting at a torn-up creek bed just NW of the Driftwood day use area. If you walk West along the Smith-Dorien from the Driftwood parking lot you won’t be able to miss it. The first portion of the hike is simply following this creek up towards the mountain. The creek was severely damaged by the floods, so be prepared to cross it several times as you work your way up.

You’ll continue following the creek until the path forks into two routes up the mountain. The west route is a fairly steep scree and rock slope that will require some scrambling, but is certainly doable. The east route however is an absolute death trap and I would strongly advise you to avoid it at all costs. It consists of a series of huge, angled stone slabs running up the slope. Combined with water this rock is slicker than ice, and if you slip on it you’ll quickly find yourself hurtling down the mountain.

After the, you’ll find yourself on a really quite nice mountain meadow leading up to a ridge between 2 peaks. Be prepared for some gale strength winds as you push further up the meadow, it will feel like all of the wind in Kananaskis is being funnelled out over this ridge. Upon reaching the ridge you’ll be able to see your goal, a stone outcropping to the north or, if you’re feeling like doing some climbing the peak, itself. Carefully pick your way up the final slope to the outcropping and you’ll be greeted with an awe-inspiring view. The Three Sisters loom up to the NW, to the NE you’ll be able to see as far as Ghost Lake, Rimwall to the SE, and you’ll have a brilliant view of Spray Valley behind you to the SW. There’s a video showing a 360 view from the top on my Instagram if you’re interested.

There are some things you should bear in mind for this hike. Solid boots with good ankle support are a must, there is a lot of difficult and varied terrain you’ll need to cover with lots of potential twisted ankles. Crossing back and forth over the creek won’t pose much of a challenge in the morning, but as the water level rises in the afternoon, you’ll find significantly fewer opportunities to safely cross on your return journey. Take precautions against ticks, this means tucking your shirt in, wearing a hat and gaiters, using bug spray and doing a tick check afterwards. I can confirm there are ticks up there, though I was fortunate enough to avoid getting bit. Gloves will also come in very handy for the scrambling portions of the hike.

The Orphan is a hidden gem, and I would highly recommend tackling it if you’re up for a bit of a challenge.