On Sunday of our February long weekend, I decided to head out to the Burstall Pass area of Kananaskis country, about 25 kilometres northwest from our last trip a couple of weekends ago. The area is still in Peter Lougheed park, but is found just off the Smith-Dorien and Spray Valley road (Hwy 103). This highway runs from Canmore to Hwy 40, southeast or northwest, depending on your direction of travel. I would visit the area with a couple of friends from work and sadly without Sheena because she had to work for the day. Nevertheless, we made it an early start and were on the trail by 10. It was about an hour and a half drive from Calgary and we were keen to start once at the trailhead.
The full trek to Burstall pass is about 12-14 kilometres one way. We decided to hike a part of that with a goal to see some good views of the valley and surrounding mountains. The start is relatively easy, a gradual climb through pine woodland and lowland lakes. The trail was well used by cross-country skiers, however we had only seen a few that morning. Within an hour and a quarter, we reached the flood plain.
The sights from the floodplain were spectacular. You could easily see mountains in all directions, including a glacier to the west of Mount Burstall. We could also see in the easterly direction of the road and the mountains that lay behind it. Following the floodplain to the end, we decided to stop for an early lunch and some snowshoe football and photos. In the middle of the plain, there were some interesting weather instruments, we took a few pics of those. Anyone who can identify any of the instruments, let us know. It was certainly an interesting find.
After lunch and determined to get ‘high’ elevation-wise, we decided to follow some of the ski tracks up the western slope out of the flood plain. The going was fairly steep, I relied on my snowshoe’s crampons for most of it. As we got higher, the terrain levelled off again, leaving a nice view of the pass and the valley leading up to it. We knew it would be well out of our means to travel that far and decided to make a side trip up a lower ridgeline of Mount Birdwood. The snow had been swept away from the face of the mountain, making travel fairly safe.
For about an hour or so, we wandered the ridgeline eastward and made our decent back to the flood plain. Leaving the ridge was challenging, especially having to decend on a steep decline amid snow depths at minimum of 4-5 feet. It was fun a few times, sliding down, righting ourselves, only to sink and slide some more. Jason, a first time snowshoer, certainly had no trouble with it as he led the way most of the trip down. As we returned to the flood plain, we followed a small creek valley, which eventually led to what seemed an avalanche chute (bent and damaged trees, clear path). We made our way quickly to the plain.
After a hot chocolate and a few chats with passers-by, we made our way back to the vehicle. It had been a beautiful day and the mountains even graced us with a little snowfall. I hope to return in the summer and make the full trip to the pass and the BC border. For now though, the halfway trip will have to do!