Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Winter Hike of Burstall Pass

It had been a while since I was out in the nature. There were so many different reasons for that. First of all being out of work completely destroys your mood for anything fun mainly because you know you're spending money without having any income and then you might ask yourself: Am I doing something wrong? Shouldn't I be home searching for job?! Then there was no partner and although I have done the majority of my hike alone, that is a kind of motivation. The car had a problem and I just got it fixed a few days ago. That should be added and then winter is not a good time for hiking unless you're well-equipped and well trained and experienced.
Commonwealth Peak in the morning when the sun is not completely up. The picture is not good but shows how deep the snow is in the flat area. Look at the hiking sign.
Nevertheless for the first hike of 2016 I decided to do a hike and first I had Skogan Pass in mind and then checked my available material and found something that I had printed long time ago. It apparently is part of a book and this chapter or section 19 of it introduces Burstall Pass. It's a good guide but of course not for winter hike but I used it anyways. So I set the alarm at 05:30 AM and headed to Kananaskis. Following the GPS, it suggested to take Highway 40 and then turn to Smith-Dorrien Trail while I had thought to go from Canmore but maybe that was closer. Highway 40 was dry and completely safe but when I turned to Smith-Dorrien, particularly when I saw a warning sign about the condition I panicked  little bit mainly because if something happens at 06:30 AM and you can't get help, you're most likely die quickly and with pain! I drove on the trail which had been plowed and sanded. It was not very bad but scary. I finally pulled into the parking lot. Before stepping out I realized that the thermometer was showing -14º C while in the city when I left it was some 4 ºC. I had not taken lots of warm cloths and there was so much snow that I panicked again especially because there was no one else in the parking lot. For a moment and after seeing the pile of snow which was up to the windows of the car but plowed away, I decided to go home! I thought: It's cold, there's so much snow and I will be in trouble where there's nobody around and there's no cell phone coverage! But I got myself together after a few minutes, put my hiking shoes and jacket on and took the map and information out. By the time I was ready to hit the trail, it was almost 08:18 while my original plan was to start between 07:30 and 07:45!
Burstall Pass and area map. I guess I got myself to the point that is marked with a green X.
Luckily this time I found the right trail and carried on. There was lots of snow and at spots I was sinking. It reminded me of the hike I had in Baldy Pass a few years ago but I kept going. I finally reached the first point that I was 100% sure I had taken the right trail: The flats. Surprisingly signs were seen in distance but this part was so deep under snow that the signs barely had their head out! I crossed the flats and looked at my left (south) and confirmed another sign from the printed information: Robertson Glacier. After the flats the trail goes into the forest again and that's easier in the way that there is no wind but here is where you really need a snow shoe and pole and I had neither! I kept going regardless of the fact that I had not brought any of the mentioned tools and it was not very bad. It actually was a good exercise. After going up a little again you reach a flat area which in the book it is named meadows. Here you have to deal with both and soft snow and then again the trail goes up. I followed a pair of snow shoe tracks all the way and at spots it became dangerous but eventually reached somewhere that there was no track and the snow was so deep that I sank up to my waste. There I guess I made a mistake. I checked the time and it showed that I had been walking for a little over 3 hours. I didn't spend any time to find the trail and headed back from there. I guess I had gone as far as perhaps 90% of the way but got scared again!
On the way back I saw two guys coming up with ski and poles. I guess they reached the final point. I took a few pictures as the sun was up and no clouds was seen and I guess it was around 12:44 or something when I get into the vehicle.
Burstall Pass hike in the winter should not be a problem for the ones with good gear and it's highly recommended. Just pick a day which is not very cold. The chilly temperature of morning was changed to some nice and sunny on my way back. So I was not disturbed by low temperature. I perhaps takes this hike in summer to see the final spot and the beauty of the surrounding mountains and vegetation in that season. An alternative would be continuing to Leman Lake but I realize there are mountains around which could be scrambled or hiked too. There are so many hikes and scrambles available that I personally do not want to do one more than once but someone you think you have to do what you were not able to finish and that is mostly with scrambles. On the way back and from distance I guess it was Wolf going in to the trees. It certainly looked bigger than a Fox from distance but could be either. I approached and slowed down but it disappeared in the woods. That was the only animal I saw. 
(Photo, top: Mountains at the other side of Smith-Dorrien Trail across the parking lot)

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