Yamnuska Natural Area (east loop)
A winter walk in very not-winter conditions

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Distance - 11km Elevation gain - negligible
3 hours, 50min moving, plus nearly 2 hours stopped.

Exploring the north and central end of the Yamnuska Natural area, we did a lot of hunting around for routes, but got a nice loop out of it.

I have been into the Yamnuska Natural area twice before; once in summer, and once in winter, but there remains a lot to explore.
On this trip, the goal was to test out a nice easy hiking route starting from the Yamnuska parking lot, to loop the NE side of the trail network.
For the majority of the big trails, this went well, but some of the detours, and the final section of route were not as successful.
As I will be adding to my explorations of this area in the future, I have broken the day's route into 8 sections, which I will describe as labelled.

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I used a combination of resources for this trip - the description and map originally posted on the Dafferns' Kananaskis blog,
Volume 3 of the Kananaskis Country Trail Guide (4th edition), and my GPS and Ibycus maps loaded there, and CalTopo maps online.
I thus tracked the route segments on each of the resources, as each was a little different, and had advantages and disadvantages.
After this trip, I also updated my YNA gpx file with the new information - the most updated set can be viewed here.

Route Segment 1: Yamnuska trailhead to Meadow Lake
The easiest route here is what we took - we walked along the quarry access road until we met the trail start, then hiked down the trail to Meadow Lake.
There is a more interesting route via the lakes lookout and powerline, which I would recommend for the future.
Route Segment 2: Meadow Lake to the fence
Continuing on the trail past Meadow Lake, the trail that picks up again is narrower, and cuts through and under some close trees, coming to a 4-way junction.
To continue straight at the junction takes a loop route out to the fence, while turning right leads up an alternate route back to the cutline or road.
We too the left trail, which I had not ventured before, and it was a very nice short hill up and over on what seemed like a cutline, bringing us right to the fence.

The start of the Yamnuska Ridge hiking trail crosses the road.

Hiking down the quarry access road.

A note requesting that the quarry not be set on fire.

The start of the trail from the quarry road.

The broad trail approaching Meadow Lake.

Frozen Meadow Lake below Mount Yamnuska.

The lake is icy, but does have a lot of melt on top.

The trail continues much more narrow past Meadow Lake.

Patti and Belinda hiking this section.

This tree has been hear a while, and is a short limbo.

The sun beckons us up the short hill left of 4-way junction.

Patti and Belinda reach the fence in lovely sunshine.

Route Segment 3: The Golf Course
Crossing the fence through the open gate, there are two options: A clear trail leads left (east) and alongside the fence, while a small trail aims straight ahead.
The clear trail heads through open pine forest to meet another trail in a pretty open meadow.
I'll have to come back to follow this trail and see where it goes at left (probably back to the fence), but turning right means a nearly 180 degree turn, and leads on.
Taking the straight trail from the gate also simply shortcuts directly to this new trail, but the long trail is more attractive (and not a huge amount longer).
There is also some trail turning right from the gate, leading NW and uphill along the fence. I'll have to come back for this one too.
Following the new trail pretty much west leads through a series of meadows known as the "Golf Course" - nice in winter, and wonderful when green in spring.

Large pines on the route leading right and NW along the fenceline.

The large trail heading left and east along the fence.

Walking through scattered pines.

The end of the trail coming in to the meadow.

The more solid trail leads off to the Golf Course.

Hiking into the Golf Course meadow with great view.

Nearing the end of the meadow.

Mount Yamnuska rises above one grassy meadow.

Belinda and Patti hike through the meadow.

We actually left the main Golf Course trail and went a little left (further south, heading west) on a spur that got closer to some Beaver Ponds.
This is a nice alternate option, and shows on my track file.
As we curved around to go more SW, we came out to a really nice view across the frozen beaver ponds, that you don't get from the main trail farther away.

Looking south at one of the Beaver Ponds, with the sun in behind the distant mountains.

Route Segment 4: Beaver Pond Spring
We attempted to find a spring with directions from the KCTG, but though I am confident we started in the correct meadow (identified by grid reference), no luck.
We could not find the mentioned animal bone marker, and no trails, however faint led in the general direction we needed to go.
We tried several possible options, and made it to the start of the marshy area in a few places, but found nothing like a spring, or a route - just bushwhacking.
I failed to take a decent photo of this section, but we eventually gave up and kept on.

Route Segment 5: Aspen Jungle to Crescent Lake
Back on the real trail, the "Golf Course" transitions into the "Aspen Jungle", with the trees growing in, and many route options.
I navigated by the ground in this section, and we ended up taking an interesting paththat parallelled the main route, but left (east).
At one point I rejected a trail that turned too sharply downhill and east, but realized that is likely the shortcut trail to the NE end of Crescent Lake.
We did hit on the main route to Crescent Lake (though missed the proper Aspen Jungle turn), and enjoyed the good trail to the lake.

Patti and Belinda hike a meadow into the aspens.

Nice route towards Crescent Lake.

The trail opens up as we near the lake.

Turning around, the lake appears before us.

Patty and Belinda continue along the edge of the semi-frozen lake.

Looking across Crescent Lake in the sun.

The lake is looking pretty slushy this winter.

Interesting texture on the NE end of the lake.

The hillside above the lake sports a nice mix of colours for winter.

Patti and Belinda continue on trail on the east side of the lake.

Route Segment 6: Crescent Lake to Reed Lake
The first time I took this middle trail, we were coming uphill from the road, and we did a lot of wandering and routefinding.
Coming from the top down, the trails are very clear, and really nice to follow (the alternate direction also much easier knowing what is sought).
From Crescent Lake, the trail climbs a hillside east of the lake, and ascends a little to Hilltop Pond at the top of the small ridge.
We had lunch beside Hilltop Pond sheltered from moderate wind, but any of these lakes make quite nice stopping points.
After contouring around the side of Hilltop, a short and steep descent leads to the shore of Reed Lake, probably the largest of the central lakes.

A look along the length of Crescent Lake, WSW.

Looking down at the green lake.

Belinda and Patti ascend the hill above.

A first look at Hilltop Pond, of respectable size.

Low water at Hilltop Pond.

The sun peeks out over the pond.

Patti and Belinda carefully make their way down.

The sun peeks out again from the WSW.

A first good look at large Reed Lake.

A good trail leads right (SW) along the lake.

The sun hides behind a cloud, showing the western peaks.

Reed Lake seems to hold its freeze, but with interesting pitting.

Route Segment 7: Reed Lake to the fenceline
When we reach Reed Lake, we reach a solid trail - this is the main large loop that tours the area, that I hiked in summer.
The trail to right (SW) is nice, but not our destination. We want to head NNE to go back to the Yamnuska start from this point.
We started out on the main trail, but quickly encountered a massive puddle. This is thanks to Marl Spring, and the warm weather.
Marl Spring is in the centre of the middle loop, and in the summer, its water drains back into the ground quickly.
In winter, it usually spreads out into a large flood of ice through the aspen forest. That no doubt happened this year, but didn't last.
With the extended warmth we have had this winter, not much ice remains, and the trail was buried under a huge flood of liquid water.
To avoid swimming, we instead took a smaller trail that led towards the highway, and halfway there we met the powerline.
The powerline makes a good handrail for any routefinding in this area, and in this case, it provided us an alternate route.
We turned left and took the powerline NNE until we met another trail that leads from Access 3.
Far enough north now, we could start back on the new trail, and shortly rejoin the main Middle loop.
The rest of the way through the middle section is a straightforward hike on clear trail through a long meadow.

A last look at Reed Lake.

The trail leads off from Reed Lake.

This meadow leads to the usual trail.

This trail to the right ends up being our alternate option.

The pool reflects the aspens.

The whole usual route is terribly flooded.

Beyond the powerline, the route is wide and clear.

A late look up to Mount Yamnuska.

Route Segment 8: Fenceline to the end
From the fencline, a trail leads left and follows the fence back to its gate on the upper side of the trails. This is the easy way back.
I read of alternate routes to complete a loop, however, and wanted to find a route from the fence back to the parking lot.
Unfortunately, I didn't read the description very well, and we got off on the wrong place right from the start.
We crossed the fence immediately, rather than continuing along it a little, and wound up running into thick trees in several places before we found the right spot.
Even after reaching the meadow we should have started in, I didn't have a great idea what level of trail or route we expected, and never found anything good.
In many places we wound up doing some serious bushwhacking, and we had to simply turn around, backtrack, and try again in several places.
We made it through, but I definitely didn't find a route I could plan to hike in the future.
Eventually, we made it to the Beaver Dam Lakes at the NE end, which meant that we were close, but all the ground was frozen swamp, and difficult to walk.
Rather than detouring, we spotted a nearby high ground, and when we made our way over, realized it was actually the beaver dam - grown into a solid berm.
In some parts, it was merely grass grown in and around the placed logs, and we had to step carefully, while elsewhere ground had grown in between.
I suspect this might not be great walking in summer, but it was very cool this time of year - and very practical for getting us through/across the lakes!
Beyond the lakes, we wandered a bit more (I didn't know there was a good trail just 5m off..), and eventually came out to the Yamnuska access road.
Overall, I really just found a bunch of segments that didn't work, but it was a start. Future exploration through this segment will be necessary.

One of the more open sections of route.

Typical travel in the open forest - bushwhacking was much worse.

Patti and Belinda climb up onto the Beaver Dam.

Looking ahead along the Dam and a bit of open water.

Belinda and Patti hiking along the dam.

Twisted trees in the frozen part of the pond.

Photos taken by Rachel

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