Preamble - what and where the heck is Walcott Peak?!
What I didn't know until coming home and doing some research after scrambling Kane's "Mount Burgess", is that Kane could have made things much simpler for readers and himself. The 'easy north peak' of Mount Burgess actually does have another name. It is officially called 'Walcott Peak'. Why Kane didn't simply call his scramble after the actual name of the north summit is beyond me but it sure makes things easier. Walcott wasn't officially named until 1996 so Kane may have missed this in his updated edition of the scrambles book.
This makes the Burgess trip a two peak day, which is rather to my liking! ;-) The easy 'north peak of Burgess' is Walcott and the difficult south peak is officially Burgess. They should also have separate registers so that people aren't tempted to move the Mount Burgess register to the easier Walcott Peak - which has happened a few times in the past! It also removes the temptation for novice scramblers to attempt the difficult traverse to Mount Burgess because they think they haven't done a peak until they attempt it.
After arriving home from my brother's wedding on August 26 2010 I was feeling a bit bummed about the weather forecast for the Rockies that coming weekend (27-29). With only two (or was it three...) Kane peaks left I was determined to finish before 2011 rather than have two last peaks hanging around for another year! Unfortunately for me though, the week previous had dumped fresh snow all over the Rockies and I was sure that Yoho probably got hit with the most. The forecast was also very grim with rain, thunderstorms and snow in varying percentages for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
I ended up cancelling the trip planned for Friday due to a bad forecast. On Friday afternoon I emailed Bill (the only remaining person interested in attempting anything on Saturday) and we concluded that a front range peak was probably the wisest choice given the forecast for Saturday. At least we would get out and get some exercise.
But I didn't want a front range peak... ;-) Just before leaving the house at 0530 on Saturday morning I checked the weather forecast one last time. Surprise! Kananaskis had a 70% chance of rain in the afternoon and Yoho had a 20% chance of thunderstorms. I decided that I'd rather go half way up Walcott / Burgess and at least give it a shot than slog up a front range peak and still possibly get soaked. I just hoped that Bill would be open to the last minute change of plans. He was. As we greeted each other in the cool morning air under a remarkable clear sky he took one look at me and said,
You want to switch to Mount Burgess don't you?
I offered to drive as a peace offering for changing objectives and soon we were barreling towards Yoho. We were getting a wee bit nervous as we drove past Lake Louise and noticed a lot of fresh snow on the higher peaks. You see, the issue with Mount Burgess is that it actually has two summits in the "Kane list" and route description. Officially, in the scrambles book, the mountain is listed as "easy". In the description however, you quickly realize that this "easy" rating is only for the north sub-peak known officially as Walcott Peak, not the summit of Mount Burgess. Burgess is listed as the "south peak option" in Kane's route description. So the only way to tag Mount Burgess is to go to the difficult summit. With fresh snow the difficult traverse to the south peak could be a problem. (See the preamble for details on the south / north peak name confusion...)
We honestly didn't even expect to make the summit of Walcott so being nervous about the conditions for Burgess was getting way ahead of ourselves.
After negotiating the unmarked road to the Burgess Pass trail head (about 1 km east of Field, BC) we started out on a good trail through the quiet forest. OK - it's not quiet! The Trans-Canada highway is right beside you for the first 2-3km of ridiculous switch backing on this trail. About 500 meters into the hike we realized that there are perfectly good trails coming in from the Yoho visitor information center so if you can't find the trail head or want to save 1km on your feet just park there and cross the highway. Better look for traffic first though.
Why are the switchbacks ridiculous? Because after gaining 8 feet of height the trail goes 200 feet horizontal for each switchback!! It's a wheelchair accessible trail except it's not quite wide enough. One of the poorest designed trails I've been on in a national park - but I won't complain too much. Still much better than bushwhacking. After about 1 hour 15 minutes of chatting and casual hiking we came to the open slopes beneath Mount Burgess and Burgess Pass. There was no obvious trail here, but there was a cairn and we headed up for the "tree island" and an obvious scree gully.
[Bill negotiates an interesting trail feature.]
[Finally out of the trees and heading up to the ascent gully - note the cairn at my feet here?]
The scree gully has been labeled by quite a few experienced scramblers as more difficult than expected given it's rating of 'easy' by Kane. I agree. While certainly NOT difficult, it is much looser and steeper than a lot of other 'easy' routes such as Piran, Fairview or Ha Lin. I would not take my kids or dog up this peak. There is a lot of very loose rock in the gully and a few tight areas that require some hands-on maneuvering. I would rate this gully as easy-moderate which would probably default to 'moderate' rather than 'easy'.
[Looking up the loose gully.]
[Looking down the open scree slope under the gully - Bill is hiding by a big flake of rock. Mount Stephen is too big to hide in the bg. ;)]
[Looking down as the gully narrows. You don't want a large party in front of you in here.]
[Looking back from near the top of the gully - Field in the lower bg.]
[Looking down the gully at Bill and the town of Field.]
[Breaking through the top of the gully, looking across the TCH at Cathedral, Stephen, Duchesnay and Dennis (L to R). ++]
[A train winds its way along the Kicking Horse River towards Field. ++]
We topped out to some cairns with flagging before realizing that we had to lose a bit of elevation before heading up a broad scree slope to Walcott Peak. A short trudge later and we were on top.
[Looking over at the ridge and gully that will take us to Burgess a bit later. The gully starts near the two snow patches at the base of the cliffs.]
[The gorgeous Emerald Lake with my last Kane peak rising above - Mount Carnarvon.]
[The summit of Walcott with Burgess in the bg at left.]
[Cathedral Mountain is a beautiful peak.]
[Mount Field directly to the east of Walcott with the world famous Burgess Shale / Walcott Quarry somewhere in the slope in the foreground, Ogden in the bg at left.]
[Wapta Mountain is a difficult scramble in the area.]
[Bill trudges up to the summit with the impressive summits of Cathedral (L) and Stephen (C) in the bg.]
[A lovely summit view of (L to R), Carnarvon, Emerald, Marpole, President, Vice President, Michael and Wapta Mountain. ++]
[Impressive view of the rarely ascended south face of the Presidents.]
[Hard to believe you can see Takkakkaw Falls from here!]
[Mount Hurd in front of the lofty Mount Vaux in the Ottertail Range.]
On our way up to Walcott we both scoped out the possible steep access gully to the summit ridge of Burgess and both of us were pleasantly surprised at the complete lack of snow on this ridge. As we sucked in the amazing views from Walcott we realized that the doom 'n gloom weather forecast was not going to hit us for quite a while. After a quick summit break we decided not to linger too long before heading for Mount Burgess.