Summit Elevation (m): 2454
Elevation Gain (m): 1150
Trip Time (hr): 6.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 13.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain or break something
Difficulty Notes: No major difficulties. Moderate scrambling on the Kane route.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
I’ve been waiting a few years to finish up the Kane peaks in Waterton National Park. I love Waterton, but it’s a long drive and often it’s so windy that it’s hard to enjoy the high places as much. Since it had been around 2 years since my last visit to this wonderful little park, and since the weather forecast was looking absolutely fantastic for a November day, Wietse and I decided it was time for us to give Waterton a chance. Was that ever a great decision! It turns out we were pretty lucky with the peak that we chose as well. All the side roads in Waterton were blocked off, we couldn’t get down the Akamina Parkway or to Red Rock Canyon. Since we chose Bertha Peak, we were in luck because that scramble starts right in the town site.
It seemed fairly windy (big surprise) but not too bad. The weather was incredibly warm and most of the surrounding peaks had very little, if any, snow. We left the axes and crampons in the car and headed up the excellent trail to Bertha Lake. The hike to the lake is roughly 5.5 km and the last 2.5 is a fairly steep grunt on a really well-built and maintained trail. There is a great little back country camp ground at Bertha Lake, with a brand new biffy! In my research for Bertha Peak, I was always surprised by how loose / tricky the section around the waterfall seemed to be – especially with any snow or ice on the route. In a short discussion I had with a park ranger a few years ago, he mentioned that if you simply follow the Bertha Lake trail a bit more around the base of Berth Peak you can easily ascend more Southerly slopes instead of all that messing around by the water falls. Since Wietse and I were both in the mood to just tramp around and enjoy the weather rather than cling to loose rocks and get off route, we agreed to try the wardens suggestion to make this ascent truly ‘easy’.
After passing the bear pole near the campground we walked about another 5 minutes. At this point the slope above us looked pretty open with some low cliff bands breaking the slope on climber’s left. We decided to abandon the trail at this point and headed up the grassy slope. This proved to be a very good route and even had some fun scrambly bits through the cliff bands as we trended our way climber’s left. Eventually we topped out across from the peak and realized that we had to lose about 20-30 meters of elevation before crossing a sublime alpine valley and trudging up the final scree slope to the summit of Bertha Peak.
Too bad the larches were all naked because that hanging valley is a magical place. I didn’t expect to find it up there and with the warm sun shining down on us we almost didn’t want to bother with the summit. Yeah right. A 2 hour nap would’ve worked just fine but since we were there anyway we decided we’d better go bag the summit. We could always relax on the way down. I was also very keen on attempting Bertha Ridge – the ridge that contoured around the hanging valley from the summit of Bertha Peak. It looked much more interesting than the screen slog and looked to provide some actual scrambling. Wietse wasn’t quite as enthused about the traverse but he was game to try it.
The scree slog wasn’t a big deal and soon we were standing on the summit. The wind was strong, but not brutal and we spent a few minutes taking pictures and enjoying the wonderful colors of Waterton. It was nice to see some ‘old friends’ again and the Alderson / Buchanan, Carthew loop looked especially long from this vantage point. Wietse got a good kick out of Sonny having to go all the way back for Buchanan Ridge on it’s own.
We were getting a bit chilled on the summit so we decided to head back down. Wietse still wasn’t so sure that the circuit would go but I was convinced that we would have no problems. One section looked a bit difficult but how hard could it be? 😉 As so often happens in the Rockies, when we got closer to the crux it was only moderate scrambling with some careful route finding.
Strangely enough, there was absolutely no wind on the summit of the ridge and we sat down for lunch and a snooze on a perfect November day! What a glorious few moments. All too soon the sun disappeared behind a cloud and the chill started settling in again – it was time to keep heading down.
We traversed over the second high point on the ridge and then proceeded down towards our ascent route. We had an idea to scree ski down a large avy gully to skier’s right of our ascent line and headed in that direction. There was a bit of route-finding on the way down Bertha Ridge, simply because of the loose terrain and some small cliff bands, but nothing too serious.
The added circuit was definitely worth it in my mind and made the hike much more pleasant. If you’re going to bother going up this small peak anyway, and if you have the time, I would highly recommend it. It probably only adds about 1 hour to the hike and you get some unique views of Mount Alderson and the three lakes nestled at its base.
We did some very light bushwhacking down a drainage before getting back on the Bertha Lake circuit trail and had no issues hiking back to the campground and then out to the car. Over all this was a far more pleasant outing than I was expecting – the fact that we were in t-shirts in November on a mountain probably had something to do with our positive experience.