Plateau Mountain (Cataract Creek Region)

7.5 km approx.

500 m elevation gain

img_0694Imagine climbing a mountain and ending up on… a barren prairie.  As flat as the endlessness of Saskatchewan.  Bizarre polygons of permafrost popcorn.  Periglacial formations of frost boils, stripes, nets and stone circles.  The summit of Plateau mountain makes one feel the aliens are close at hand, spelling crop circles of rocks on the vast flat top tundra of the Plateau.

 

With cars at each end, our one way route included an access at Dry Creek on the north sidescreen-shot-2016-10-10-at-11-28-11-am of the highway at a road to a gate.  We walked about 1 km to a gas well before picking a route eastward to the summit just north of a flood ravaged drainage.  Once on the plateau we walked eastward across polygons to the road and turned north, heading past the gas well before connecting with the main road that descended westward in great switchbacks through meadows and into the forest to reach the main access road.

The old cowboys call it Flat Top mountain, the official name is Plateau Mountain which has been an ecological reserve since 1991.  Believed to be a nunatak the plateau was not covered with glaciers during the last ice age.  Not only that but it harboured plant life during the ice age period that remains to this day.  Sedges and bizarre plants with transparent leaves are among the relics found only here.  The reserve hold over 500 species of plants and the rare White Bark Pine is found below the summit on the upper slopes of the subalpine (famous for their pine nuts, stored by squirrels and eaten by Grizzlies).

For an ecological reserve it is strange to see a road and gas wells upon the wind blasted summit. These were build before the designation as the reserve and will continue to operate until the gas reserves are exhausted.  We didn’t hear any noise coming form the wells and assume they’re capped but still active.

img_0717All this aside, the sublime tranquility, serenity and desolation that one feels upon the plateau makes this a sacred place in Kananaskis.  One feels as though they have stumbled into an ancient sanctuary of silence, wind and equanimity among ancient lichens of fluorescent green and black growing on the rocks among the peaks.

We never made it to the ice caves, one is gated, two are difficult to find and access.  Filled with icy crystals that make time mind wander the wonders of imagination.  The January cave contain the bones from 32 animal species dating back 35,000 years from the time between the last two glaciations.  Truly a tectonic time capsule.

To embark on this journey is to voyage into the inner recesses of K Country.  Bring a 4 wheel drive or at least one with good clearance.  See the klm track on the google earth image below for a visual of our route.

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Plateau on the horizon as we drive west from the HWY 22 turn off towards Indian Graves
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The access road up Dry Creekto the Gas Well
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Gas Well. Just past here we headed up to the right on the north side of the drainage
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The flood ravaged drainage. Our route headed up to the left across scree and trees to the plateau.
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Traversing north below a rock band close to the base of the ascent. At the far end there is an easy way to get up.
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Ascending the sulfer scree filled with fossils
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Shells fossilized in the limestone
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Looking west on our ascent.
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A Sedum Rock Garden
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Crossing the hummocks into a flat area below the scrabble to the summit
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Old trash litters the scramble ascent
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Above the scree the plateau begins to open
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A smooth incline leads into the clouds upon the summit
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Panorama of our first glimse of the plateau

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Lichen encrusted rocks begin to emerge
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Lichen encrusted rocks

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Tundra
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We reach the road leading northward to a gas well
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NW view across the plateau

 

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We walk eastward after the gas plant and encounter the precipice
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The view east from the eastern precipice just NE of the gas well
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The view North form the eastern edge of the platea
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Looking SE

 

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Periglacial Permafrost Polygons
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A fresh frost boil. These rocks do not have lichen encrusting them showing that this formation is relatively new.
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Heading north along the summit road

 

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NW View

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A cow carcass littered at a switchback
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Plateaus western edge hold beautiful meadows
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Crossing the heather
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Grizzly Diggings in the heather
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The western edge of the Plateau. Looking east
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Mount Burke form the road
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Plateau’s Western edge. Looking east.

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The road east descending the hump HWY 5
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A close up of our ascent route from Dry Creek to the Plateau
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Plateau Mountain Route

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