The Heart Mountain Horseshoe scramble is a popular trail because of its closeness to the city and its phenomenal views. Located just south of Exshaw near Lac de Arcs, the peak received its named in 1957 for its resemblance to a heart. When you look at Heart Mountain, you can see the top layer of limestone appears to be in the shape of a heart; one of the magnificent wonders of nature and erosion overtime. The trail is rather steep giving your legs a phenomenal workout. The traverse along the horseshoe is nothing more then a hike. Overall the scrambling is rated easy with one moderate step at the crux.
The Lac de Arcs Lake is named after the hamlet that is adjacent to it with a population of approximately 150. The lake attracts many fisheries and wind surfers and is largely known for the company Lafarge having a limestone quarry developed on the north end of the lake.
The hamlet of Exshaw used to be included in the Banff National Park boundaries. The park's entrance was once east of Exshaw. Over the early years of Banff National Park's existence, the boundaries had expanded but also contracted because of logging and grazing interests. The hamlet of Exshaw used to be in Banff National Park. It was named after Sir Sanford Fleming's son in law E. William Exshaw who helped his father establish the Western Canada Cement and Coal Company. William visited Exshaw during a banquet that was held in his honour by the company in 1908.
The Western Canada Cement and Coal Company first began construction in 1906 when they hired and American mechanical engineer, Robert D. Hassan to build a mill in Exshaw. He had the assistance of a mechanical and engineering graduate from the University of Toronto, Alexander Graham Christie. The original cement plant was built further west within Banff National Park but now is where the current plant owned by Lafarge is. The quarry is the hamlet's main industry.
Although Exshaw is a small hamlet, there are actors that even come from the area like Bruno Gerussi who was best known for his lead role in the CBC series The Beachcombers.
A couple, the Zellers, who established themselves in 1926 in Exshaw, played a big part in the capture of the 3 Doukhobor bandits. The Doukhobor bandits came from a Russian sect that was later defined as “Spiritual Christianity“. This group of people rejected Russian Orthodox priests, the Bible, the divinity of Jesus, all church ritual and many other things that led to the exodus of most from Russia to Canada in the 19th century. Now the 3 bandits from this group were wanted for the shooting of T.S. Wallace who was a Sergeant in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, near Banff. Mr. Zeller recognized the 3 bandits in 1935 and it led to the their arrest.
Heart Mountain Horseshoe Trip Log
Doing the horseshoe counter clockwise, the trail starts on the east side of the river. Depending on your approaching direction you might encounter a few smaller trails before you find yourself on the main wide trail.
To scramble Heart Mountain you will want to follow the trail just to the left of the yellow sign that signifies 'Heart Mountain is a scrambling route... '.
The first half of the route up to the crux is mostly a dirt and rock combination. Nearly all the rock you encounter have small trails that allow you to bypass them if you do not wish to scramble them up.
One advantage of Heart Mountain is that it is pretty difficult to get off route. There are many trails that crisscross and allow you to go around nearly any rock obstacle you may encounter.
The crux is a long rock band that cuts off the trail as you head up. Depending on your level of experience and comfort you may find this a little challenging. It does provide a fair bit of hand and foot holds. It is about two and a half meters high and marked with a large red diamond.
Once you enjoy the view from the top of the crux it is time to head further up. The route is pretty straight forward with a few hands on sections.
When you reach the top... you have reached the first summit. Not the true summit. Lots of folks are content with this and turn around here making for a quick scramble. This is a good spot to take a break or have a snack since it is a nice flat area. Don't forget to close any bags or the dozens of chipmunks and squirrels running around will soon find your stash of food.
If you are doing the horseshoe and not turning around. Then you will want to head to the south south east and you will see the trail below and get a good look at the rest of the trail ahead.
The rest of the route to the summit is very straight forward with a few sections of thre trail narrowing a little at times.
Due to this not being a very high peak, even the summit is still within the tree line allowing trees to interrupt your view. Once you have reached the summit you can either head back the way you came, or continue to do the loop. In our opinion the decent does have a couple points which could be considered harder than if you descended the way you came up.
If continuing then follow the trail leading off the summit and continue along. You do lose a bit of elevation which you have to hike back up to reach the last summit as you can see by the elevation profile at the bottom of this page.
The last summit before heading down has a much nicer summit view then the true summit of Heart Mountain. Once you enjoy it and take it in, it's time to start the descent.
The way down does have a few tricky sections. It starts off with this down sloping section of loose rock on rock. Using poles on the way down saves quite a bit of hassle trying to hold onto the crumby rock here.
The route down is straight forward. Stay on the high part as you descend. Do not attempt descening to your left or right. As you near the highway, the trees will start back up in patches.
The tree line starts much higher on the east side of the horseshoe then the west so it will feel like you are going through them for quite a while. At the start of the forest you continue to lose a lot of elevation due to the steepness of the trail.
When you start hearing the sounds of a creek you are pretty close to the end. Once you reach the creek the trail starts to split up. Feel free to take whichever one suits you and you will end up somewhere along the power line that parallels the highway.
After you cross over the lines and follow one of the trails you will pop out on the highway. You still have to walk a little over a kilometer to get back to the off highway parking area.
GPS Plotted Route
This is the GPS overlay for Heart Mountain Horseshoe. Number one in the top right is where we parked in the ditch. Number two is the crux about half way up to the true summit. Number three is the True summit of Heart Mountain, and number four is the second highest peak in the horseshoe near the end of the 'U'.
In the elevation profile you can see that once you reach the first summit the elevation gain is not over, there is still a bit of loss and gain as you make your way around the horseshoe. Once at the end (if going counter-clockwise) you also have to head slighly uphill to the parking area.
Click here to download the GPS route in GPX format. You may have to right click and select "Save Link As" if your browser does not download it automatically. Be sure to save it as a .gpx file.
What were your experiences scrambling Heart Mountain Horseshoe?
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