The Elbow Loop is a popular trail due to it's ease of access and great views. Scramblers who attempt mountains such as Banded, Cornwall and Outlaw will be familiar with this trail since it encircles the forementioned peaks and provides access to the ascent routes. The trail consists of about 38km of fire roads along with 7km of single track. This trail is rated difficult/intermediate in terms of its aerobic/technical level.
for this day was Jason.
Although I've been living in SW Calgary for over 2 years, this was my first visit into the Bragg Creek area. The town was only 30 minutes away from my home and was a great change from my regular drives into Canmore/Banff. Not only was it much closer but it also had a really nice feel to it. Maybe it was the fact that there were no Tim Hortons or McDonalds along the main strip.
All it took was maybe a minute before we passed through town and into Kananaskis provincial park. In contrast to the Hwy 40 entry point into Kananaskis, the Bragg Creek side was very quiet and had cattle roaming freely beside and on the road. It was an interesting sight but I was glad I wasn't in a major rush.
After driving through an empty Little Elbow campground, we eventually started off from the western trailhead so that we could ride the loop in a counter clockwise direction as suggested in the guidebook.
The trail started off on a smooth and wide fireroad until a bridge crossing which brought us to the south side of the Little Elbow river.
The image to the left was taken near the start of the trail. As you can see, the surface is hardpacked and smooth.
The trail was relative flat until the first bridge. After that, it started gaining elevation at a moderate incline which was strenous but not impossible. We both knew the counter clockwise direction would present most of the elevation gain at the start of the ride but we figured that it was better than doing it at the end over a longer distance.
Here's Jason recovering from a minor wipeout he made at the gully behind him. He quickly learned that speed is your friend when crossing these rock strewn gullies.
The trail between the Romulus campsite and Tombstone Pass was undoubtedly the toughest part of the ride due to the elevation gain. The trail immediately went full tilt just meters from the campsite and never gave up until the pass ! Jason and I ended up doing some pushing during this stretch but even that was tiring due to the incline.
We eventually took a break near Tombstone Pass as we wondered when the fun would begin.
Here's a view of Mt. Cornwall to the southeast.
Shortly after our break, we passed a sidetrail which led to the Tombstone lakes but both of had no interest in hiking down to see some lakes. We could smell the pass coming up ahead and contined to push on.
The trail eventually levelled out about 100m after the sidetrail but quickly started to incline... downwards ! We both let out a shout of relief as we quickly lost about 400m of hard earned elevation over the next 10 minutes.
Going downhill was great but I quickly realized that I needed to service my hydraulic disc brakes. I had to squeeze both brake levers as hard as I could just to maintain a reasonable rate of descent.
Here's Jason screaming down the trail.
Further down the trail, a huge yellow sign indicated that we were to go left if our intention was to continue the loop. Going right would have taken us to the Tombstone campsite and Ranger station but we had no intention of losing elevation to check them out.
We both agreed that this section was the highlight of this trip. The trail resembled that of a roller coaster as it went up and down a series of hills, across some large grassy slopes and through some forested sections which resembled glade skiing.
Here's Jason starting on the singletrack.
The riding was so enjoyable that I didn't even take a single picture of this stretch of singletrack ! In fact, the only time we stopped was when we encountered 2 mountain bikers and a dog coming from the opposite direction. They were the only riders we saw the entire day.
The singletrack was mostly downhill from Tombstone Pass but lasted only an hour before giving way to fireroads. The trails up to this point were all ride-able but we did encounter 3 sections where it was better to walk down.
I encountered the first section unexpectedly as I flew down an incline and made a sharp turn. The terrain at that point went from a fireroad to a boulder field with very loose rock in between. I thought for a brief moment that I could ride it out before my bike slipped out from under me and tossed me into some bushes. I eventually escaped with just a few bruises on my knee and a bunch of leaves in my helmet. Here's Jason with a boulder strewn gully behind him.
I suppose I should have been able to master the boulders and inclines with my full suspension bike... even with its limited travel. However, if there's one thing I've learned about mountain biking, it's that it hurts like hell when you wipe out ! I've taken falls when climbing but wiping out when you're travelling at a mere 10km/h is just a whole different world of pain. I'll come back with full body armour one day...
R : Hmm... I didn't find anything called Nose Mountain on the maps.
The rest of the trail was fairly uneventful. It seemed to be on a slight incline downwards which allowed us to burn through at speeds of up to 30km/h. Before we knew it, we were back at my car where we stashed a pair of ice cold Kokanees for the first half of our reward. The second half consisted of a steak dinner at the famous Steak Pit in Bragg Creek where I treated myself to an awesome peppercorn steak.
All in all, it was a great day out in the backcountry. I'll definitely come back to repeat this trail some day...