Table Mountain: Where Mountains Greet the Prairies
If you’ve ever driven East on the Crowsnest Highway towards Alberta, you’ve driven past it. And almost certainly, you may have not given it the credit it deserves. The very eastern edge of the Canadian Cordillera meets the Prairies and puts on a spectacular geological display – mountain building. This very cordillera forms the backbone of the Americas – a continuous sequence of mountain ranges from the Alaska Range down to the very southern tip of Chile at Tierra Del Fuego. This same cordillera is also part of a volcanic arc that forms the eastern portion of the Pacific Ring of Fire.
Mountains surround us. We live, work, and play amongst them. About an hour and a half’s drive east of Fernie, you can appreciate the by-products of mountain building, which is analogous to a rug being pushed on a hardwood floor. Where you have a bunched up rug, you have a mountain. And where you have Prairies and the Canadian Shield, you have hardwood floors. Well, you get the idea.
The same powerful tectonic forces formed Table Mountain. And if exposed cliffs and spectacular vistas of mountains and prairie are your cup of tea, then hiking Table Mountain should be your next hike.
Starting at the Beaver Lake Campground, a well-defined trail leads through two kilometres of a poplar forest. Elevation is gently gained here. Past the forest cover, you enter into grassy and scree covered slopes where, if you are lucky, you may see Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep grazing. Further on, with hearts pounding, the going gets tougher as the grade increases until eventually, you feast your eyes upon views of mountains and prairie in all directions.
With an exposed northeast face, winds originating from the prairies remain undeterred by the sudden onset of a mountain and howl past hikers with ease. The exposed ridge leads to the summit at 2230 metres. One misstep here, and you could land a dizzying 685 metres below with no guarantees of surviving the fall.
To the west, Barnaby Ridge is a rug. Looking south, Castle Peak and Windsor Ridge are two other spectacular rugs. And to the northwest, the Flathead Range stands proudly between the Alberta and British Columbia border.
Table Mountain is not for the faint of heart. But if you come prepared for it, the views are absolutely rewarding.
Trailhead: From Beaver Mines, drive south on Alberta Highway 774 to the Beaver Mines Lake turnoff (before Castle River Ranger Station). Follow Beaver Mines Lake Road to the campground (5km). Once in the campground, stay on the main road and look for a hiking sign that leads you to a small parking lot. The trail starts here.