Summit Elevation (m): 2542
Trip Date: Sunday, May 12, 2019
Elevation Gain (m): 950
Round Trip Time (hr): 5.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 13.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain or break something
Difficulty Notes: Some bushwhacking and routefinding to the summit of North Burke. With snow the traverse to the main summit becomes more challenging.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
Map: Google Maps
As Phil and I drove home from our successful scramble up Mount Berland in Kootenay National Park on Saturday, May 11, my thoughts turned to the following day. Despite being fairly sore from downhill skiing twice in the previous week and now a steep grind on Berland, I was hoping to take advantage of the continuing beautiful Spring weather window we were enjoying. This motivation was exacerbated by the dismal upcoming May long weekend forecast which was calling for 4 days of clouds, cold and rain or even snow. Phil was busy Sunday so I knew I’d be solo and was looking forward to rambling up something at my own pace, lost in my own thoughts. I was also strongly considering sleeping in and relaxing at home.
After a late night bonfire with family on Saturday, I had no grand illusions about an early start (or perhaps any start) on Sunday morning and didn’t even bother setting my alarm. Of course this ensured I was still up at 07:00 and by 07:30 I was pulling out of our cul-de-sac and heading south towards Longview. My destination was a familiar one located near the Cataract Creek Campground – Mount Burke. In 2007 I’d scrambled Burke with Wietse in some brutal winds. Since then I’d heard of an interesting loop that could be done, combining it with a summit to the north. Just as on Mount Berland the day previous, I didn’t read the details of this trip report too carefully and assumed there was a beaten trail up this north summit.
The morning drive along hwy 541 from Longview and then down hwy 940 to the campground was lovely. I was surprised to be the only vehicle at the closed gate leading to the campground, but this was exactly what I wanted anyway – peace and quiet all to myself! I rambled up the gravel road leading to an empty and very quiet Cataract Creek Campground and proceeded around the loop to site 73 where my route towards North Burke officially began. Here’s where I finally actually read Bob’s report for the first time and realized that the GPS track I was following did NOT follow any sort of trail! Oops. Oh well. I was here now and the warm Spring sunshine was delightful, as were the songbirds letting their calls drift over the intoxicating scent of the awakening forest.
I followed a faint trail (and Bob’s GPS track) up the dry creek bed as he described and eventually over an obvious attempt at preventing folks like me from continuing onward. I’m hoping I didn’t miss an alternate obvious trail at this point, but I foraged onward, turning left up matchstick forest following a smaller drainage until it made more sense to simple bash up to the west ridge above. Once on this ridge I proceeded without an obvious trail in bush that reminded me of the day before. The forest was pretty open as the slope steepened to the SW ridge that I was targeting but this also meant I was starting to hit snow. I noticed some boot prints here and followed them to the lovely, open SW ridge leading up towards North Burke.
The views from the SW ridge were inspiring – as was the lack of snow! Mount Burke looked fairly large and snowy across the alpine bowl. There was enough snow just under the summit block that I wondered if I should have brought ax and crampons to deal with it. First things first, I still had a few hundred vertical meters to the north summit and I was bloody HOT! I was literally dripping sweat the whole ascent through the matchstick forest and now that I was on the open SW ridge, the cool breeze was heavenly.
The SW ridge was easier than it appeared and even knife-edged sections weren’t as narrow or exposed as they first looked. Eventually I traversed around the false summit cliffs on their south side before plodding up snow and scree to the summit. Summit views were stellar, especially west to the High Rock Range up Cataract Creek towards Farquhar, Holcroft, Scrimger and Etherington mountains. Soon I turned my attention to the main summit of Burke to the south.
As Bob says in his trip report, the traverse from north to south is much easier than it first appears. Every obstacle on the descent from the north summit is no more than easy scrambling if you’re on the easiest line. In one case I thought I had to lose significant elevation to the west to get over a cliff, only to realize that there was a walk-down a few meters to my left (east)! Eventually I started ascending towards the main summit and the snow traverse that had been making me slightly nervous. The traverse was a bit exposed and a slide here would really suck, but as usual it was pretty tame once I got my nose into things. Good thing the temps were warm, as this north facing aspect could get pretty frozen up, requiring crampons / ax to ascend. After the snow traverse it was an easy plod up scree to the summit shack.
A quick lunch break alone with the shack and I was ready to descend the main trail down Burke’s west ridge. As I descended I ran into three other folks coming up – the first people I’d seen all day. The trail was a mix of snow, mud, running water and even some annoying ice in spots until well into the trees. When I intersected with the “direct route” it was impossible to ignore the straight line through the forest so down I went! This route was awesome. The smell of the forest was intoxicating and I really enjoyed ambling down the dry path. Here I ran into two more folks coming up – they weren’t really interested in bagging the peak. Soon I was descending to Salter Creek and rejoining the other route. Two stick arrows pointed the way up the “direct route”, so I’m not sure what condition the other one is in?
I enjoyed a nice solo outing in the front ranges. It was a simple one compared to the convoluted and never-ending ridge of Berland the day before and it was very relaxing to turn off my mind and just plod up thin forest and open ridges. As I drove home I once again meditated on how lucky we are to enjoy such freedom and natural beauty in our backyard.