Burstall Pass

This was another trip during my crazy November.  The trail itself was an 8.1-mile (13-kilometre) round trip, and we spent some time on a side trail to Mud Lake that made the trip even longer, but the elevation gain was less than at Pocaterra Ridge, which made the going a bit easier.  And it was worthwhile for the amazing scenery.

(You may recall that I was hiking here on the day that my car was broken into.  That wasn’t in the Burstall Pass parking lot, though; I had met a friend elsewhere and carpooled to the mountains.)

The trailhead is right across Highway 25 (the Smith-Dorrien Trail) from Chester Lake, closer to the southern end of the highway and the junction with Highway 40.  We came south from Canmore instead, and the highway was thickly covered with packed snow and ice, with large corduroy bumps and only a limited amount of gravel to improve traction.  The road does pass the imposing Mount Nestor (of which I’ll probably be posting a painting sometime soon) and some other amazing sights, but we had to proceed very slowly and I would still recommend taking Highway 40 first, then turning onto the Smith-Dorrien Trail at the southern end.

My immediate thoughts when we started the side loop (other than the nagging feeling that we had turned off to the right too early were going the wrong way) was that this would be a beautiful place to try cross-country skiing.  It’s not trackset, but I’m used to that, since Nose Hill Park in Calgary is where I usually go cross-country skiing.  There are several marked snowshoe trails in the area between the trailhead and the Hogarth Lakes, many of which form loops.  We saw several other people snowshoeing on these other trails, so the snow may be more chewed-up than a cross-country skier would be used to.

We did eventually find the trail to the pass and the lakes.  It begins with a long, rolling, forested section with a general uphill trend—an excellent workout on snowshoes, and a fun but difficult return trip for skis.  Mount Chester is visible if you turn around at almost any point along the trail, which is clear and wide.  Eventually there’s a very large glacial erratic deposited in the middle of the trail, for which I must send you over to Hiking With Barry for a photo.  He had a pretty spectacular day for this hike, but after the erratic, we took a slightly different track.

An informal trail to the right leads downhill to the first of the Burstall Lakes, which we skirted and carried on to the third, where we stopped for lunch.  (The official trail stays higher on the hillside until the third lake, where it finally descends onto the alluvial plain.)  It was calm, but even though we chose a sunny place to sit, it was still quite cold.  But this is the point where the views get amazing.  Here’s looking back toward Mount Chester from the alluvial plain at the far end of the third lake:


Mount Birdwood, The Pig’s Tail, and Commonwealth Peak are all ranged along the northern side of the valley.


By the time we reached the far end of the alluvial plain, it was beginning to get late in the afternoon and the lighting over the Robertson Glacier to the south was quite dramatic:


We continued to the northwest up a hill steep enough that I would recommend cross-country skiers to stop at the lakes.  The trail was still clearly marked and through the dense forest to another open area.  This was not the summit of the pass itself, which is another 1.3 miles (2.1 kilometres) down the trail.  From here, however, we could see this unnamed peak attached to Mount Birdwood’s southwestern side.


This was nearly a month before the shortest day of the year, but we were both carrying headlamps and by this point, we knew we were going to be out well after dark.  The shadows were deepening and the light had turned golden by the time we were crossing the alluvial plain again.


We hurried back to the official trail, but we hadn’t gone far when my friend paused to look back for a moment, and this stopped us in our tracks.


Ahead, Mount Chester turned pink, then blue as the sunset faded.  The light lingered in the sky long enough that we hardly needed to use our headlamps.

I saw a lot of sights that day that have stayed with me.  I’m painting some of them.

The painting of Mount Cascade also continues—I posted an early version on an artists’ discussion board for critique last week and am revising it based on some of the suggestions.  I’ve also been investigating my options for trying winter plein-air painting, and have settled on gouache (possibly with vodka to prevent it from freezing), so I should have some interesting things to share soon!

Merry Christmas!



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