Above: Marcus and Johnno standing in the distance on the helipad on top of Turtle Mountain.
Today we took a break from the mountain bike trails in Fernie and opted to hike Turtle Mountain, a peak located near the town of Frank in Alberta which is famed for being the unfortunate recipient of the largest landslide in North American history (Frank Slide). More on that later…
To get to the trail head, we drove east along highway 2 for about 50 minutes and turned right at the first exit into the town of Blairmore. You follow this road (20th ave) into town and eventually have to turn to cross over the train tracks (we chose to do so at 133 st) and then as soon as you cross make a left onto 19th ave then right at 135 st which you follow up a hill and then veer left onto 15th ave. Follow 15th ave up until it corners with 135 st (it is confusing as 135 st pops up a few places in town) and you will see a large yellow house with a Canadian flag out front. Opposite this house is a gravel road which you follow for about 50 m and then you can park your car to the side before it comes to a steep hill.
After leaving your vehicle, walk straight down the hill until it bottoms out and then start walking up for about 20-30m keep an eye out to the right until you see a small yellow painted stone. This is the way that marks the start and after 10-20m you’ll see a nice row of painted stones. After this the trail is easy to follow, apart from a few deviations here and there which eventually lead to the same path. Essentially you hike the ridge all the way to the top so it’s easy to keep your bearings 🙂
Now back to Frank Slide and some brief history. Anyone who has driven through Crowsnest Pass would have seen the field of immense limestone boulders that the highway cuts through (For those who haven’t, picture multiple football fields of rock, some the size of a truck). This was a result of a huge landslide that happened in 1903 and was likely the product of coal mining that was going on. The cataclysmic event lasted 100 seconds and buried almost the whole town of Frank, killing 76 people in the process.
According to this website (http://www3.sympatico.ca/goweezer/canada/frank.htm) the wedge of the mountain that fell away measured 640m high, 915m wide and 152m thick and amounted to over 100 million tonnes of limestone. All of this spewed out over the valley, crushing homes, business and the railway covering a total area 2.5 km wide and 1.5 km long (seen in the pics above). The amount of force generated would’ve been immense and apparently was heard hundreds of km’s away, being mistaken for cannon fire.
Anyways, facts aside, the hike itself was really fun and more involved than your standard slog back and forth up switch-back trails. Steep early on and in the sections before the peak, the trail takes you over some nice limestone features which allow you to hop, jump and scramble in various directions. Bare in mind there are some sketchy crevasses and brittle rock so you need to be careful, especially with some of the areas of shale which conceal smaller crevasses. Gloves can be handy as well as the rock can be sharp.
Upon reaching the first peak you can look across to the second (and I think true peak?) which has a wooden helipad at the top and an array of scientific equipment which I believe is used to measure seismic activity amongst other things. It’s worth the extra hike up to as the pad makes a great sitting spot to take in the view.
All up we took about a 4.5 hr for the 7.52km round trip with a stop for lunch and chill out for some photos. Not bad for 1298 m of vertical! We kept a pretty decent pace but slowed down a lot on the descent as poor Marcus had a bung knee and was hobbling down like a white top pensioner, so it could be done under 4 hrs. Overall though a great trail and highly recommended half day hike!