Spring hiking is always an adventure, no matter how hard (or simple) the hike you choose. The unpredictable weather, mixed with the varying conditions based on altitude and exposure to sunlight can make a hike feel like walking through different seasons altogether. Many hikes are not recommended during this shoulder-season due to the slushy/muddy conditions that can make a normal path treacherous (not to mention can damage the trail), but there are many still accessible, especially those with less elevation. For our first official spring hike of the year, we chose Evan-Thomas Creek Loop, a 11.1 km trail with 506 metres of elevation gain.
Evan-Thomas creek is about 1 hour outside of Calgary, less than 5 minutes passed the turn-off into Kananaskis Village. With only the afternoon available to us, we were looking for a hike that was not too far away, or too long. We started off the hike at around 2:30 pm. The weather was warm, but the breeze has a chill to it. As always, I recommend lots of layers while hiking. The first part of the trail was wide and full of puddles. There were patches of unmelted snow, but most of the area proudly announced spring. Sage (our canine companion) was thoroughly muddy less than ten minutes into the trail. When we reached the fork where the loop began, the trail had become snow-packed. However, due to the soft, melty quality of the snow, the spikes we brought were not necessary.
We chose the path to the right, leading us counterclockwise around the loop. The path slopes gently downhill until you reach the edge of the creek bed. Here, a path brought us down to the creek’s level. As we moved out of the trees, we could see mountains across the valley. The creek bed is largely dry, with unmelted snow still zigzagging across the rocks and flowing water. We crossed the creek and turned left, away from the washed out bridge ahead of us. We follow the path along the creek, which passed back over the water and into the trees roughly 100 metres beyond the first crossing.
The trail continued to dip into the trees and back out the the creek as we made our way down the first side of the loop. The snow came and went along our path. A few times we lost the trail. As the snow had been melting in some spots but not others, footprints disappeared, and normally clear trails were obscured. Keep a sharp eye out for the trail during this section, especially during the shoulder season.
We enjoyed views of the mountains both ahead and behind us. Sage enjoyed the smells of the forest and the abundances of partially buried sticks in the snow. Aside from a few creek crossings however (none which were too difficult with the low creek) this trail could be considered more of a walk in the mountains rather than a hike. Therefore, it worked well for our limited time frame.
We reached the halfway point on the loop around 3:45 pm. We had to cross the creek again, but the water was higher at this point, and the path crossed over a once frozen spot over the water. However, due to the melting of the snow pack, there were holes in the snow that opened into the creek. As we had already watch Sage accidentally break off some snow on the creek’s edge while crossing the stream in lower areas, we were concerned about the stability of the snow. We debated crossing the creek and finishing the loop, but decided the risk was not worthwhile with the dog. So here we turned around and began the return journey.
Spring hiking is often filled with unexpected obstacles that do not appear in winter or summer hiking. It is important to check trail reports before you head out, and always use your judgement when it comes to risky maneuvers. Trails that are safe and simply during the summer may hold hidden dangers under the melting snow. That being said, spring is a beautiful time in the mountains and should be appreciated! So get out and hike, but stay safe!