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Today we’re hiking Turtle Mountain in Crowsnest Pass. Turtle Mountain is an awesome and challenging hike right near the town of Frank. In 1903 there was a massive rockslide of roughly 110 million tonnes that buried the mining town of Frank and killed just under 100 people. The hike up Turtle Mountain follows the ridgeline and provides stunning views of the town, the aftermath of the disaster, and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
Time Required: 4-5 Hours
Location: 215km south of Calgary
Distance: 7.4km round trip
Highest Elevation: 2194m
Elevation Gain: 936m
Difficulty: 8/10 – Route finding, rapid elevation gain, and scrambling.
Season: June to mid-October
Additional Requirements: N/A
From Calgary: Head South on AB-2 until you reach the town of Nanton, then take a right onto Hwy 533 for 8km, turn left to stay on Hwy 533 and follow it until you reach AB-22 where you will turn right and head south. Follow AB-22 for 71km then turn right onto AB-3 W. In 20km take the first left turn into the town of Blairmore, then another left on 133st. Left turn onto 16th Ave, then right on 134st, then left again onto 15th Ave. The road will bend to the left and you want to take a right hand turn down a dirt/rocky road to the back of the houses. Drive a few hundred meters and you should see some cars parked on the righthand side. This is the trailhead.
WHAT TO BRING
- Comfortable Footwear: Hiking shoes. Make sure your shoes are broken in prior to tackling this hike to prevent unexpected blisters. You could get away with running shoes but having extra grip on the rock surfaces will definitely come in handy!
- Water: This hike is long with lots of elevation gain to reach the summit. Be sure to bring enough water for 5 hours of physical exertion.
- Snacks: Bring some of your favorite snacks to enjoy along the hike as well as a light lunch for when you arrive at the top. Some of our favorite snacks are trail mix, bananas, beef jerky and licorice.
- Weather appropriate clothing: You will be exposed to the elements throughout this hike. Check the weather forecast and plan accordingly.
- Sunscreen: If it is sunny and you’re like Mattson, who easily burns, bring sunscreen!
- Insect Repellent: Insect repellent can greatly improve your hiking experience.
- Bear Spray: You are in bear country. Always hike with bear spray that is easily accessible.
- Hiking Poles: The descent is quite steep. Hiking poles can make the way down easier.
- Camera: There are numerous photo opportunities you won’t want to miss.
- This Guide: Print a copy of this guide to reference throughout the hike
Wildlife: You will be hiking in bear country. It is always advisable to check in at the local Visitor Information Center to learn of any trail closures due to wildlife. Carry bear spray in an easily accessible location. Travel in groups of multiple hikers and make lots of noise to avoid an unexpected encounter.
Frank Slide Interpretive Center: We recommend stopping at the Frank Slide Interpretive Center before hiking up Turtle Mountain. The center provides a lot of information and interesting stories about the rock slide that took place over a hundred years ago. You get the chance to see the slide from a different angle and you can even walk through the rubble on designated trails. It is located 1.5km off Hwy 3 and is well marked with signs on the highway. (Route marker #1 on the map below).
Leave No Trace: It is important that we enjoy the outdoors responsibly and sustainably. Some key principles to consider when hiking to “Leave No Trace” are:
- Plan ahead and prepare: Proper planning allows adventurers to hike safely while minimizing damage to the land.
- Travel on durable surfaces: Stick to the trail when possible. If there is no trail, or you must travel off trail, stay on durable surfaces to reduce your impact.
- Dispose of waste properly: Pack it in, pack it out.
- Leave what you find: Leave rocks, plants, archaeological artifacts and other objects of interest as you find them.
- Respect wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance. Never feed wild animals.
- Be considerate of other visitors: Be courteous to others to allow everyone to enjoy their outdoor experience.
To learn more about “Leave No Trace” visit http://www.leavenotrace.ca
Summary: This hike gets pretty sweaty, really quickly. The elevation gain starts at the trailhead and continues the entire hike. The trail follows the ridgeline to the north summit, then continues on to the south summit which is the true summit. Along the hike there are many opportunities to view the rockslide and get a sense of how massive and destructive this disaster was.
From the parking lot (Route marker #2 on the map), follow the gravel road/trail for a minute or two then continue on the trail as it veers to the right into the thicker forest. The elevation gain at the start is quite intense and it will continue for most of the hike. The trail through the trees is well trafficked and easy to follow.
About 1.5km into the hike there is a beautiful lookout with views of the town of Frank and the rock slide below. At about 2.6km you will reach the north summit (Route marker #3 on the map). If you didn’t do much research beforehand (like us) you will approach this summit thinking you have reached the top. Unfortunately, the true summit is the south summit (Route marker #4 on the map). To reach the south summit the trail weaves down to the right and you will lose some of that elevation you just gained. The hike from the north summit to the south summit is the most challenging section of the trail. The terrain changes to brittle shale rock and it’s a little too easy to slip and slide, so be careful.
The trail to the south summit is more difficult to follow, keep your eyes out for colored trail markers on rocks, and use your best judgement to choose an appropriate route. The south summit should be attempted by those with some scrambling abilities as there is lots of loose rock. After a final push of elevation gain you will have made it to the south summit. From there, you will see a wooden helipad (Route marker #5 on the map) a bit further along the ridge. It is a great spot to sit down, take a break and have a snack.
After enjoying the view make your way back down the same way you came up. There are a few trails which can make the return trip a bit confusing but as long as you’re following the ridge and going down you should make it back to your car. Hope you have FUN!
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Have fun out there!