Ultralight Backpacking to Ribbon Lake

Can a new backpack change your life? If your mind is willing but your body resists, then the answer is YES! Absolutely. After our Berg Lake backpacking trip, we were determined to shed the extra pack weight and we went ahead and ordered ourselves new backpacks. We ordered from Gossamer Gear in the US and had the items delivered to Whitefish Bike Retreat to coincide with a recent Mountain Bike trip to the US. I got the Gorilla 40 Ultralight including the waist belt and Ken ordered the Mariposa 60L. We wanted to test them out as soon as possible upon our return and booked a night at the Ribbon Lake backcountry campground this past Friday. As it is a long weekend, we were only able to get a single night because every thing in Kananaskis backcountry was already fully booked. Turns out, its a really wet and rainy weekend so this worked out almost perfect! I have a pretty intense dislike for thunder and lightning. So much so, that you might call it a phobia. Whenever I hear thunder and see the flash of lightning, my heart races and I feel actual fear. I think folks thought I was playing this up for laughs but the terror is real. Last year, I was discussing this phobia with my Mom when she reminded me of the incident we had when I was around five. Lightning came through a window in our kitchen and hit the stove while we were in the room. I remembered the night and sleeping on a mattress on the floor of my mom’s room but I had completely erased the lightning strike from my memory! So, now I know why I am a reluctant thunder shower outdoors woman.

Since we planned to hike in AFTER work on the Friday (leave town around 3:00) we decided to skip the dehydrated meal that evening and instead bring Pizza! We rode bikes over at lunch to pick up the pizzas. My fav GF pizza is The Garden from Inglewood Pizza, and I gotta say, by the time we rolled into camp I was hungry enough to eat two pizza’s! Also- pizza is the perfect outdoor activity food if you’re only outside for under 24 hours. We packed some peanut butter sandwiches and a few dried fruit snacks as well as coffee, coconut creamer, oatmeal breakfast and a stove to boil water. Ken carried our new lighter tent and the stove. I had the clothing I was wearing plus rain gear, packable down jacket, gloves, warm hat, extra socks. Not much but enough for any emergency. I carried my down sleeping bag (next thing I want to lighten up is the sleeping bag), my new ultralight thermarest neoair, one bottle of water (plenty of water to filter on this hike), hiking poles, bear spray and my ultralight pillow. My pack weighed 17 pounds total for this overnight trip. Ken had an extra 6 pounds in his pack with the tent, stove and a few more clothing items.

We planned to hike in via Ribbon Falls since this is the closest parking area to home and because we had the option to bike in the first 5km or so. Once we arrived at the trailhead, we got on our bikes quickly since we knew sunset was coming earlier these days. Ken and I have a saying- “It’s not a hike unless you get a little lost”. Despite the fact that we have done this bike/hike to the falls several times in the past couple of years, we still managed to take a wrong turn on the bikes and go up a different trail with significant elevation gain by accident. It was one of those mistakes that you think maybe you can find a work around but actually, you need to turn around and go back to where you made the mistake. This didn’t actually cost us too much time since coming back downhill was a really quick fix. It did make me tired before we even started the hike though! haha.

So, there is a nice bike lock up and then you hike up to ribbon falls (there is another campground there which is great for families or solo hikers). After the falls, you continue up a steep climb until you reach some cliffs. Then you hold onto a chain and scramble up several sections of exposed rock. We last did this chained section in 2009 so maybe I forgot how much exposure there is on this scramble. In one section there is a bit of an overhang (I’ll call it a crux) and this particular section just happens to be the exact section that could end in serious or fatal consequences. If you fell here, you might not land on the small shelf below. You might fall a very large distance indeed. No matter where you fell, you could be injured severely or worse. Avoid hiking into Ribbon Lake this way if you are not comfortable with this description. Experienced scramblers and climbing enthusiasts love this little section. I do not. Anyhow we did it. It’s possible I did a little swinging on the chain from side to side on the worst part but it was fine. I knew that the return trip would be better because it’s easier to climb down off the chains. right?!

It’s not much further and you arrive at Ribbon Lake. It’s a gorgeous spot nestled in a valley beneath several spectacular passes. We love hiking here from Buller Pass and Guinn’s Pass. Those hikes are longer though with higher elevations and we did not have the time on this little trip. It’s a popular campsite and since it was a long weekend, it was fully booked. Fully booked when the weather report looks bad means that not everyone will show up so Ken and I got to choose from several sites even though we were the last to arrive that night. The other campers had made a fire in the group firepit area and we swapped stories while eating our dinner. It was a fantastic day with no rain until just at sunset. That rain was light and over within a 1/2 hour anyhow.

I woke up just as the first light was starting to show, and convinced Ken to get up with me to photograph the sunrise. We needed to grab some water from the water source stream as well for our breakfast. Despite being a nearly full back country camping spot, not a single camper joined us for the spectacular morning sunrise viewing. No moose this time (I’m pretty sure I heard moose walking past the tent at pre-dawn ), but the morning light and the calm air was absolutely beautiful. Ken and I had a leisurely morning of coffee, hot cereal and conversation but we packed up to go pretty early because we could see the skies looking darker and I did not want to do the chains in the rain. Our packs felt like day packs by this point since we had eaten most of our food but Ken promised to take my pack down on a separate trip so I could go down the chains without any extra weight on my back. ok. The hike to the chains was brisk but lovely and we started down the first section confident. Just before we reached THE CRUX, it started to rain. At first it rained just a bit, but with a loud crack of lightning and thunder, it quickly became heavy rain. So it was my turn to climb over the overhang and its raining hard and there is lightning and we are high up and exposed and the rock is getting slippery and of course I lost my footing in THE EXACT SAME SPOT. I held onto the chain with both arms though and quickly found some footholds. Ken risked his own life to climb up under me and help talk me down the final 15 feet of this dangerous section. It’s harder to climb when your knees are shaking and the rock underneath you is slippery. Just saying. I was really glad when we finished the final traverse and my feet were on the pathway again. By this time it was pouring rain and we were getting wet fast so we threw on our rain pants and jackets and continued on our way. There is a much different feel to hiking in the rain when you know you are going to the car as opposed to knowing you are going to set up tent. The remainder of our hike out was really fun and carefree. We laughed and retold the story of how I nearly died about a thousand times as we hiked. Before too long, the rain had stopped completely and we finished the morning with a fun (and quick) 5km downhill mtb ride in the sunshine.

We love the new packs. They are super comfortable and feel like day packs. They work great while biking as well. We love hiking and backpacking in kananaskis but It will be ten years at least before I do those chains again. I will have forgotten by then right?!