Riding the Front Ranges - Rolling in the Rockies - Highwood Loop 2021 - CycleBlaze

May 30, 2021

Riding the Front Ranges

K Country Hwy 40 to Millarville via Powderface Trail

Cycling over Highwood Pass before mid June, when the road is closed to motor vehicles (except e-bikes!), is a highlight fo nearly every cyclist in southern Alberta. 

I've been touring and day riding the pass since the mid '80's. When we lived in Calgary, it was usually a three day tour south of Calgary to Longview, then west and back north over the Highwood with a final day back to Calgary on the Trans Canada (TC) highway. Back then you would be lucky to see two or three other tourers and a handful of day riders on either side of the pass. 

Since we've moved to Canmore, we've mainly been riding the north side of the pass as a day ride, but in 2019 we took the Prairie Slayer (our Bilenkey tandem) and rode east to Bragg Creek on the TC, then south to Longview, west over the pass and back west to Canmore on the TC. Three long days and not great cycling on the TC portions.

This year we strung together a new route that shortened the length by ~80 km's and completely avoided the Trans Canada. However it added ~60 km's of gravel forestry roads and necessitated 25 minute 'shuttle' from Canmore to the start/finish. So even after tramping around the same area for some 35 years you can still put together something new!

Today was the 'new stuff', at least for biking. Our nephew Andrew drove us out to the Highway 40 and 68 junction, just inside Kananaskis Country and just on the edge of the eastern slopes of the Rockies, where we met our friend Andrew Barron who was joining us for the ride. 

It was a classic beautiful 'big sky' morning with clear blue skies, cool but rapidly warming and no wind to speak of. We were pedalling off east on hwy 68 (gravel) towards the prairies at 8:30! This is super early for us!

At the 15 km mark we turned south on the Powderface Trail, a forestry road that more or less parallels the eastern front ranges of the Rockies and connects the Bow and Elbow river valleys (these are the two rivers that flow through and connect in Calgary).

The road conditions were remarkably good, much smoother that we expected and not too dusty. Even for a Sunday, traffic was very light with a truck or SUV carrying hikers and mountain bikers coming by every few minutes. There were a lot of off road adventure motor bikes (mostly KTM's and BMW's) but these, and the trucks / SUV's were all super respectful of our bikes and were moving slow.  I'll let the pic's that follow show how beautiful the ride was, but it was ~35 km's of hard, but extremely rewarding cycling.

We even saw two other 'cycle tourer's' when we reached the head of Jumping Pound Creek, and we knew them! This pretty much defines 'local' touring!

Powderface Trail connects up with hwy 66 near the headwaters of the Elbow river. It's a beautiful valley with an excellent paved road with a good full width shoulder. Unfortunately it's only about a 40 minute drive from Calgary and this was a Sunday (and the first real day of hot summer weather) so the next 30 km's of riding east to Bragg Creek was an endurance ride shared with LOTS of cars and far too many Harley's. 

What's with Harley riders and their unconscionable need to install straight pipes and constantly blast their throttle when they pass you? I spent a good portion of this 30 km's of riding designing just the right features to install in the special room in hell that I'm sure exists for these people.

Once we turned south onto hwy 762, and the traffic volume reduced by 90%, we were back into cycling bliss. About 10 km's south along this road we scoped out a really nice camp spot about 200 m off the highway in a stand of forest. 

A great dinner (K dried all our meals for this trip so it was just add water, wait a bit, and then eat) followed by a wonderful sleep in the tent. First 'tent time' since last September. So good to be out again!

SOTD - Mein Deutsches Motorrad by Corb Lund

I'm not much of a Country music fan, but Corb Lund is a (new) Alberta country legend. Born, raised and still ranching in these parts when he's not touring with his band, the Hurtin' Albertan's. His songs, and his delivery, pretty much define the folks that live and play around here, and this little ditty seems perfect for today given all the German bikes we saw on the Powderface today. I can even take the analogy a little bit further since K and I were riding 90 mph (divided by 10!) on our German  motorrad's (meat motors)!

Heart 0 Comment 0
The 'team' Kirsten, Andrew and Lyle, all clean and keen to start pedalling!
Heart 0 Comment 0
It was nice that we got to start with a short downhill. Heading east out of the mountains on hwy 68
Heart 1 Comment 0
Classic Alberta blue sky. It was an exceptional day for riding.
Heart 0 Comment 0
After 15 km's east on 68 we turned south onto the Powderface trail
Heart 0 Comment 0
Up we go! Can you guess how far it is to the hwy 66 junction!
Heart 0 Comment 0
The road was in great condition, traffic was very light and as we headed back towards the Front Ranges ( Boundary Peak still snow covered) the scenery was sublime.
Heart 0 Comment 0
yep, I agree ... beautiful! Looking south west towards Boundary Peak
Heart 1 Comment 0
Approaching the head of Jumping Pound Creek, looking north to the mountains on the north side of the Bow Valley
Heart 0 Comment 0
...and we meet the only other folks out cycle touring. "Aussie" Peter and his wife (who's name escapes us). They're from Canmore too. Peter did all the framing on our house when we renovated in 2015. Small 'local' world around here!
Heart 0 Comment 0
Now downhill (net) towards the Elbow valley
Heart 0 Comment 0
Riding south with Nihahi ridge to our right and Powderface ridge on our left (not in view)
Heart 1 Comment 0
Final decent towards the Elbow Valley and hwy 66. Forgetmenot Peak on the horizon
Heart 0 Comment 0
The next ~30 km's were east along the Elbow river towards Bragg Creek. We do a lot of mountain biking in this area (it's great), but mid-week. Given it's proximity to Calgary it gets heavily trafficked on weekends. Unfortunately this was Sunday. I managed to get this shot with very little traffic in it!
Heart 0 Comment 0
Day one done and dinner in the pot!
Heart 0 Comment 0

Today's ride: 87 km (54 miles)
Total: 87 km (54 miles)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 2
Comment on this entry Comment 0