Torpor is just one of the newest snowshoe/winter biking trails in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. The 6.3 km loop is easy with a few long hills and three very short steep ones out of Boulton Bridge parking lot. Most people start from Boulton Bridge, but you can also pick up the loop at Elk Pass trailhead and Lower Lake day-use area where absolute beginners can walk through the campground to the stand-alone picnic table. Despite the warning of “Limited directional signage” on the K Country website, we had no trouble following the trail, trenched deep in the snow as it was, and thought the red snowshoe signs totally adequate. In addition, the west leg following the summer bike trail has High Rockies Winter Trail signs in blue.
Going clockwise, we started from Boulton Bridge parking lot at the picnic table to the right of the biffy. Straightway, two steep little climbs got us onto a treed ridge which led to the second section of trail—the flat plod along a dead straight power line right-of-way. It was here we got some great views of Mount Fox and The Turret before descending to Elk Pass parking lot.
Back in forest on a very pleasant narrow trail, we deked around the right side of the parking lot, crossed its access road to a junction with Elk Pass snowshoe trail and turned right down a hill to the left of Kanananskis Lakes road. After crossing the road at the bottom of the hill near Upper Lake Drive, we joined the High Rockies Trail on Lakeside bike path and turned right.
Starting at the “keep right” sign we climbed a long hill and at the “slow” sign on top descended its far side to the one and only viewpoint for the lake. Here was a stragetically-placed picnic table made of the same freezingly cold metal as the transit station seats in Calgary, and like the transients that the seats are meant to deter, we too didn’t linger long. A swig of hot tea and a finger of shortbread and we were on our way again.
From here the going was flat to Lower Lake campground which though closed in winter, has friendly wooden picnic tables if you care to break a trail to one. We followed C loop, crossed the campground access road where some snowshoers had bailed out, crossed B loop a couple of times and after crossing the bridge over a creek came to a junction. Straight ahead was the day use parking lot with connecting trail onto the lake. A cold wind was blowing off the lake, so without visiting we turned right and made the long climb up the bike path to Kananaskis Lakes Road.
We crossed the road with the bike trail, noted Frozen Toad, another new trail, joining in from the left, then passed alongside the Boulton Trading Post to the ski trail Whiskey Jack. If like us you’ve passed a crucial red marker, the great temptation is to shortcut down the ski trail to Boulton Creek parking lot. What you’re supposed to do is turn left just before reaching the ski trail and at the next T-junction turn right (Frozen Toad to left), cross Whiskey Jack and after passing the historic cabin head down the bank on interpretive trail to the bridge over Boulton Creek.
Why the strange name? According to Duane, “torpor” is a more accurate term than hibernation to describe a bear’s state in winter when “a bear’s body temperature only reduces by 4-7 degrees, respiration barely declines and the heart rate remains in the neighborhood of 12 beats/minute … It’s this state that permits a bear to wake from its winter state” and potentially scare the heck out of skiers. But why name a trail Torpor? James came up with the explanation “… the paved bike trail that was once part of the groomed ski trails but was abandoned in the early 1990s [and] a section of power line that was once used by grooming staff as a winter haul road to move our groomer between Boulton area trails and the Elk Pass area trails… have been in a state of hibernation from winter use since. ” But have both been resurrected to provide “recreationists another outlet to ‘survive’ and embrace the long frozen winter.”