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Grande Cache is about an hour and a half away from any other town, up in the front ranges of the Rockies. Unlike the National Parks, it an area that has been exploited by industry, and the slopes of the mountains are marred by clear-cuts and open-pit mines.
The trails are victim to a similar exploitative mind-set - Grande Cache is the only town I know of where you can drive your quad to the liquor store, load up a case of beer, drive down the highway to the trailhead, then up a mountain on a hiking trail!
Another note; Grande Cache thinks of itself as the 'Grizzly Capital of Canada', so trail discipline is an absolute 'must' especially later in the season. Tight groups, lots of noise, and a few cans of bear spray spread out along the line.
I had a group of ten for the weekend, and I'd picked a 'moderate' hike of about 6 hours up Mt. Louie. This is my annual 'hotel hiking' trip, so we drove up from Edmonton (5 hours) on Friday evening, and met in the hotel restaurant at 7:00AM on Saturday morning. The Mt Louie trailhead is just a few kilometres from the town, and we connected with a couple of extra people who'd driven up to meet us there.
The trail starts with an easy 1.1 km walk along a canal that connects two lakes, then crosses a 'bridge' and veers off into the woods.
Frost on the grass already - winter is on its way. A short ramble through the bush, then a bit of exercise.
Mt Louie isn't too hard according to the trail guides, just 4.4 km (2.5 mi.) to the summit from the trail junction at the bottom, but the elevation gain is about 750 metres (2,500 ft.) in that short distance. The trail also snakes up a rocky ridge with a number of very steep sections crossing sedimentary conglomerate rock that would be very slippery when wet.
'Polé, polé'. Slow and steady wins the race. Because of the mix of abilities, I felt it necessary to stay in front to set a pace and I made sure the speed was slow enough that everybody could keep up. Slippery scree in spots, a few clifftop crossings, but only a few nice views en route.
Still more to go, but at least the summit was attainable.
A ground squirrel on a rock, and a few whiskey jacks and ravens flying by to check us out.
One interesting note: As we know, going down a steep section is usually harder than going up. When this group did the ascent, they were concentrating on where to put their feet, and it seems they weren't really aware of exactly how steep the rocks they were climbing actually were. When we were coming down, they got a real good look at every slippery rock face from above, and the difference was so noticeable from what they remembered that some actually started to think we were off the trail!
...and back to the trail head.
The nice thing about 'hotel' hiking, is that at the end of the day, you get to return to a hot shower, a gourmet dinner (great food at the Grande Cache Hotel!) and a cold drink or two, and a soft bed. Can't afford to do it very often, but it makes a nice change.