Mount Burke - North Peak Loop
I was leafing through Kananaskis Country Trail Guide Vol. 5 for ideas when I came across the North Peak of Burke. Intriguingly, this peak is just 60 m shy of Mount Burke and sports a trail to a ridge. A hike up the ridge completes the summit bid. After recruiting Dinah, Zora and Sonny for this adventure, I took a closer look at the route. Since the access road is closed for the season, we would have to walk 850 m to Cataract Creek Campground.
From the north edge of the campground, the route swings east and follows a creek a short distance before reaching the base of a forested slope. A short way up the slope, a kilometre-long trail takes advantage of a dry creek and a cutline to reach the ridge. (The map in the guidebook erroneously shows that stretch of trail about 200 m farther south than it is.)
Right from the campground we ran into difficulty. Calling the trail here “faint” turned out to be generous as we could see no trail at all. Eventually we found it alongside a stand of aspen and followed it to the base of a wooded slope where it disappeared. (The guidebook author, Gillean Daffern, told me later that the North Peak trail has faded from disuse.)
In our efforts to pick up the trail, we drifted too far right. So we started bushwhacking up the slope, angling left in hopes of intersecting the trail. When that failed, I aimed my GPS at 736742 and found the trail that runs alongside the dry creek. Zora, Dinah and I followed the trail to the ridge. Sonny, who separated from us, made his way up somewhere left of us, bushwhacking all the way.
After regrouping on the crest, we set off up the ridge. We soon left the trees behind and continued up a rocky, narrow section. Outcrops along the way can be climbed over or easily circumvented. The summit of North Peak itself, however, is broad and flat. We settled down for a 45-minute stay. Some of that time was spent debating whether or not to attempt the 1.8 km ridge connected to Mount Burke. We hadn’t planned it, didn’t read the description in the guidebook, but the traverse looked too enticing to ignore.
It appeared to be a scree hike until it reaches a cliff band just below the summit of Burke. We were too far away to discern if the cliff posed an obstacle, but it was worth trying even if we had to turn back. We started along the ridge.
The ridgewalk, however, turned out to be a cakewalk, and an enjoyable one at that. The buttress right after the summit of North Peak was surprisingly easy, despite the steep drop on the other side. Using ledges, we made our way down to the scree floor. We followed a firm trail in the scree all the way to the worrisome cliff band below Mount Burke’s summit. But here, a snow ramp dispelled our concerns, and we sauntered up the crux (according to the book, in dry conditions it’s a moderate 3-m-high scramble). A couple of minutes later we were standing next to the old lookout on top of Mount Burke. Except for Sonny who dawdled along the ridge, our summit-to-summit time was exactly an hour.
After spending 25 minutes on top, we headed down the Mount Burke trail, familiar to us as we all had been on it before. But that familiarity didn’t last. Well down the mountain, in trees now, we turned right at a flagged junction. We thought it was the new trail section built after the flood, but actually it was another new trail. Although it knocks off 750 m from the normal route, it’s a harsh alternative. The steep trail lacks switchbacks to ease knees, and stretches of deadfall left us high-stepping along some of it. But eventually it reaches Salter Creek, just 550 m from the campground access road. (I learned later it's actually cutline.)
Anyone who has hiked Mount Burke may have little interest in visiting it again, but the added attraction of another summit and a delightful traverse is enough to make anyone reconsider.
Walking down the access road to the campground. North Peak is in the centre.
After campsite #73 in B Loop, we picked up a trail going to the right of the aspen seen ahead
After passing through a cutblock we crossed a creekbed and picked up the trail on the other side
We followed the trail where it wasn't washed away
We lost the trail before reaching the edge of the forest ahead
We picked up the trail by this dry creek and had no trouble following it to the ridge
When the creek disappears, the trail continues up a cutline
Once on the ridge, we followed it to the summit of North Peak
We took a break before the ridge drops to a col. The flat, beige spot marks the summit.
Hiking up from the col
Here one can tackle the ridge directly or follow the scree on the right
The outcrop ahead can be skirted on the right
Going around the outcrop
Nearing the broad summit of North Peak
Looking back at the outcrop
On the summit
From the summit of North Peak we headed to Mount Burke
A look at the entire traverse (click for a larger image)
We climbed over the buttress below the summit of North Peak
Despite being steep on the other side, we came down easily using ledges
Looking back at North Peak and the buttress we came down
From the lowest point on the ridge the traverse gains 150 m to Mount Burke
The cliff band ahead posed no problem and was just a hike
The trail led to a snow patch in the cliff band
Looking back along the traverse (click for a larger image)
We walked up the snow. In dry conditions it's a 3-metre scramble.
Dinah comes up the snow while Sonny appears as a tiny black figure on the skyline
Cameron Lookout perches on the summit
Sitting under the lookout
The South Peak of Mount Burke
Following the trail down Mount Burke
Looking back at the summit
We'll soon be back in the trees
A male spruce grouse strutted across the path in front of us
Hiking down the long, straight alternative approach for Mount Burke
Deadfall was strewn along much of the trail, but a few logs appeared recently
cut, suggesting the entire trail will eventually be cleared
The trail finally breaks free of the forest and we see the access road ahead
As the trail neared Salter Creek, I looked back to see the ridge we had traversed between the two summits
82 J/7 Mount Head
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