On Thursday, I headed out to lower Kananaskis Country and specifically Cataract Creek area in Highwood to ascend Mount Burke and check out Cameron Lookout at its summit. Built in 1929, Cameron Lookout is one of the oldest lookouts in Alberta and when functional, was also the highest in Canada at 2540 metres (Potter, 1998). With all that, I was excited to visit such a historical destination and and also summit a mountain at the same time!
After leaving Airdrie a bit later to avoid the Deerfoot rush hour traffic, it was just about 11am when I started out at the trail-head with the sun beating down and my snowshoes in hand. Expecting a longer hike with the heavy snowfall accumulation from the past month, I hurried off along the road and creek bed, hoping to get a jump on the time spend driving to the area. As I set out, I was glad that the creek bed hike to the mountain was straight-forward and clear of snow. Judging by warm conditions and lack of snow, I left my snowshoes at the base of the inclined Mt. Burke trail — to pickup on my return.
On the ascent, I was impressed with the nice switchbacks of the wooded trail to the tree-line. Thanks to Vern and nature’s melt/freeze cycle, the snow trail was broken, manageable and crusty, despite its depth. I was able to quickly head up the trail, making good time and shedding layers along the way. I couldn’t get over how warm it was — and that it was a calm day with no wind, which is unheard of in the Highwood/Livingstone area. Usually, its a full gale, but today it was pleasant and quiet (!).
Once out of the trees, the views began with a steady climb to the ridge. The ridge walk was scenic, especially when the lookout started to come into view. The more I saw the lookout and the terrain surrounding it, the more I was impressed at its construction. It really is a bastion in the middle of rugged wilderness, but I can see the difficulty in maintaining anyone staying there on a permanent basis. As I reached the top, I took a few photos of the lookout itself — and noticed that the summit register was actually the walls of the lookout (for some anyway). After downing some lunch, I headed down the way I came for a quick descent. The ridge return was fun, lots of snow to make things a bit easier. Once I reached the trees, I found a few cut-offs to head down, slicing a few of the switchbacks. However, one of them I took would have been a great shortcut — as it lead to a shallow valley just north of the main creek bed. After I got to the creek bed, I realized my snowshoes were a 15 minute walk northeast back to the original ascent route. If you are looking to cut a few minutes off your descent, take the straight survey cut line once its visible from the trail. It will lead you straight down. Once in the gully, turn south and bushwhack for 400m or so. You can’t miss Salter Creek. Even with the backtrack, it was a 5 hour day at around 18k of hiking.