Friday, August 12, 2016

Ha Ling

Trip Date: August 2016

Ha Ling Peak is one of the most popular day-hikes in the Bow Valley. It's proximity to Canmore coupled with outstanding views for its length (approximately 6km return) also make this trail one of the busiest, especially on a hot summer's day. The peak is a prominent landmark above the town of Canmore and is attached to the much larger Mount Lawrence Grassi. The entire mountain sits within the Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park. The hiking trail is accessible from the Goat Creek Day-Use Area, which is located about 9km from Canmore's downtown core along the Smith Dorrien/Spray Lakes Road. Please keep in mind that many folks consider this trail to be "easy", but there are areas of exposure above treeline and the elevation gain is nearing 1,000m. Be prepared for inclement mountain weather and the chance to encounter wildlife while on the trail. 

A section of Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park that includes the Ha Ling Trail. Map from Alberta Parks.
This rock cairn and plaque mark the trailhead
This was not our first time hiking Ha Ling Peak, but it's one we tend to avoid on weekends because of the crowds. Christine and I headed out to Canmore on a Tuesday morning and were both surprised to find the parking lot almost empty. The first 2km are all in the trees as the trail follows a series of switchbacks and gains elevation quickly. The trail was quiet with the exception of a few trail runners on their way to the summit. At treeline Christine spotted a small herd of Rocky Mountain Sheep. They didn't seem to mind our presence, but once they saw the dogs they were on high alert.

Rocky Mountain Sheep relaxing at treeline
This lamb moved closer to its mother after spotting the dogs!
Once above treeline the trail starts to disappear amongst the scree. You're able to pick and choose the easiest way from this point as your final destination is always within sight! The summit is almost deceiving in that it appears much farther away than it truly is. I'm always surprised at how quickly one can reach the summit from Miner's Col, the saddle-like feature between Ha Ling's summit and Miner's Peak.

Christine standing just below Miner's Col with the summit in the background
We spent some time on the summit relaxing, snapping photos, and having a bite to eat. We couldn't stay long though as Christine still had to work that afternoon back in Calgary. After a short time we packed up our things, leased the pups, and headed back down the way we came. The sheep were still in the same spot as we passed below them, always keeping a watchful eye on the dogs. It shouldn't have come as a surprise, but the trail was quite busy on the way back down. We passed dozens of groups of people all headed for the summit. We were both quite happy that we got an early start to our day!

On the summit!
Looking down on Canmore
The Bow Valley looking east
Christine and her summit dogs!
Kola (the smaller one) was a trooper on this hike!
The mountain's name even has a colourful history. Originally known to locals as the Beehive due to it's distinct shape, it's also held a couple of other monikers since those early days. According to legend in 1896 a cook for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) by the name of Ha Ling was bet 50 dollars that he couldn't climb to the summit, plant a flag, and return in under 10 hours. He took the bet and was off by 7:00am the next day, but to everyone's surprise he was back in time for lunch! Nobody believed he could have completed that journey so quickly and as a result he had to lead a party of doubters to the summit where he erected a much larger flag that could be seen from town. From that point on the townspeople referred to the mountain as Chinaman's Peak in his honour. The name stuck until the late 1990's when the name was changed to Ha Ling Peak as the term "Chinaman" was seen as derogatory.

Christine making her way down from the summit. That's Miner's Peak in the background
The sheep were still around on our descent
Watching us closely, but not overly concerned
Ha Ling standing tall above White Man's Pond
Ha Ling is one of those classic hikes that you need to try at least once. When you see the expanse of the Rocky Mountains laid out all around you I guarantee you won't be disappointed!

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