Cougar Mountain (not to be confused with Cougar Canyon
) is on the front range in Kananaskis Country
which is a maze of provincial parks encompassing over 4,000 square kilometers of foothills and mountains bordering Banff National Park to the east and south in the central Canadian Rockies. Cougar Mountain is more specifically located in Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park. Its official name is a direct result of the large cats who hunt its northern slopes. I saw fresh cougar tracks in the snow on my bike approach in mid-October.
I also saw coyote, white tailed deer, mountain sheep, weasel tracks and three golden eagles, one screaming past me on the summit ridge. The front range always offers its share of wildlife, particularly late in the fall.
The only published route on Cougar Mountain is the moderately rated scramble up its northeastern ridge. Alan Kane’s Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies is pretty easy to follow on this one. The crux is the final summit ridge involving several hundred meters of hands on scrambling.
With snow conditions, this portion becomes more of a difficult scramble. The approach involves a hardy bike ride, particularly in snow, along the Big Elbow Trail for approximately 12kms
. In snow conditions it took me two hours to complete this bike approach and only one hour return as the trail became dryer.
The view that dominates most of your ascent is Banded Peak
. As you reach the false north summit, you start to take in Tombstone Mountain
along with other mountains to the west and south in Kananaskis Country. Of course on a very clear day, you can also make out Calgary to the northeast.
The Bragg Creek and the Elbow-Sheep Valley area of Kananaskis Country can be accessed from Calgary via a number of roads. The simplest is to take the Trans-Canada exit for Bragg Creek, Highway 22. Travel south through Bragg Creek on Highway 22 until it dead ends into Highway 66. Turn right on Highway 66 and follow it until a dead end into the Little Elbow Campground. Park on the right at the sign for trailhead parking. When the gates are closed in October, you will be forced to park at the first parking area on the left near the river. There are restrooms at this location.
Watch for cattle and deer on the road as you will be driving through open range land. Highway 66 is closed from December 1 through May 14.
If the gates are open, do not park in the camping spots. Provincial park enforcement does take the time to issue tickets.
There are no permit requirements to enter, climb and/or park in Kananaskis Country. The Elbow Valley Information Center
is located on your right after you turn right on Highway 66. Any recent notices will be posted on the bulletin board at that location.
This is active grizzly country, therefore, you should always have bear spray on your person. I found the remains of an elk kill along side the Little Elbow River when ascending Mount Remus in 2005.
I do advise checking with the park website link provided above for possible wildlife trail closures.
When to Climb
As with most climbs in the Canadian Rockies, the driest time is from June through September. I did this scramble in October, post holing in knee deep snow along the ridge and dealing with four inches of fresh powder on the approach bike trail. At times the front range can get more snow than the Icefields Parkway.
There are no published backcountry ski routes on Cougar Mountain, but it might be conducive to ski up to the north summit in winter. These would no doubt be avalanche prone slopes however.
CampingThis is actually an excellent scramble for camping due to the Big Elbow camp site along the Elbow River on approach.
This is a pristine spot. There is also the Little Elbow Campground
in which you park to start your bike approach. Do not expect much of a backcountry experience however, as many city residents use this campground as a holiday type resort. There are several other backcountry sites further along the Elbow Loop Trail. You cannot camp outside of the marked specific camping areas in Kananaskis. Refer to the Kananaskis Provincial Park website
for more information regarding camping and/or lodging.
The Kananaskis Provincial Park website
is a very thorough park website, including trail conditions or closures, wildlife notices, weather conditions, avalanche conditions, camping permits, whitewater conditions, etc. It is an excellent source if you are going to spend any time here and comparable to any National Park website I have used. Outside of the parks web site, Canadian Avalanche Association
is also useful, particularly for winter travel. Canadian Alpine Accident Reports
are also extremely useful.