Day 1, August 6th, Burgess Pass Trail Head to Yoho Lake Campground. 13.8 km, 950 m elevation gain, 200 m elevation loss, 4 hrs 40 min (all distances and elevation are as per the guide book, Viewranger App will vary), Kiwetinok Alternative (Segment 21).
We left Canmore at around 1:45 pm. Emily needed to do some work on her summer research project and did not want to miss an entire day of work which forced the late start. My understanding was that the hike was only about 13 km and 1000 m of elevation so I was not overly concerned with starting late. On a couple of previous trips Emily and I had started later in the day with more distance to do so this was nothing new to us. Historically Emily and I hike at about 3 kph average which would make the hike a little over 4 hrs. The first challenge for the day was finding the parking lot for the trailhead. The Burgess Pass Trailhead is not a very popular starting point and it is very hard to find any information about exactly where the trailhead is. Guthooks has the trail staring from Field but I found the trailhead on the Viewranger App on a small road only a few hundred metres from Field BC.
The plan was for Emily to hike for a day and half with me. We would camp the first night at Yoho Lake Campground. Then Emily would hike as far as Little Yoho Campground with me before returning to Yoho Lake Campground where she would spend the night before heading back to the car. After leaving Little Yoho Lake Campground I was to go over Kiwetinok Pass and then back up over the shoulder of Kiwetinok Peak and into Amiskwi Valley and down to camp at treeline. I would then rejoin the GDT on Day 2 before leaving the trail to explore Amiskwi Lake.
I cannot find anything official from Parks Canada online but the following is an excerpt from an email a person posted on the GDT Facebook page stating that there is no random camping allowed in Kiwetinok Valley. I do not think it would be unreasonable for Parks Canada to post a digital map to aid people in their trip planning.
Kiwetinok Valley to the west of Kiwetinok Pass is not a designated random camping area. You have to hike down the north side of the pass, up the other shoulder and back down again to legally random camp in the Amiskwi Valley. There is not an electronic map available to show the designated random camping areas. The Lake Louise information centre is open to the public and would be able to show you where the designated random camping areas in Yoho are. We are coming out of winter hibernation and the Field Information Centre will be open to the public on May 1st. Thank you for being diligent with your trip planning (GDT?) There have been many unofficial blogs recommending this route, which leads folks to camp illegally in the park.
We had our packs on and hit the trail at 3:15 pm. I was quite excited about staring my 15 day adventure on Great Divide Trail but the thick smoke blanketing the valley had my enthusiasm dampened somewhat. After reading the information board at the trailhead we headed down the trail. In All Trails the Burgess Pass Trail is described as “lightly trafficked” and while that appeared to be true the trail was very well defined and we encountered no major obstacles.
The trail starts off paralleling the highway for a couple of hundred metres before a hard right had us heading up onto the lower slopes of Mt Burgess. Once heading uphill it was very apparent that the area receives a lot of moisture. The ground underfoot was very soft and large leafy plants covered the forest floor.
At 600 m into the hike there was a short steep climb then the trail lazily climbed through a series of long switchbacks gaining very little elevation. After 40 minutes we had our first view back over the Kicking Horse river valley towards Mt Stephen. Luckily we had the Viewranger App because of the smoke there was no way to know that there were mountains across the valley.
After 2.7 km we had only gained 130 m of elevation. The trail then took a hard left and we started heading up in earnest gaining elevation steadily on a pleasant grade made possible by innumerable switchbacks that would take us all the way to Burgess Pass.
As we gained elevation the smoke appeared to thin. We were able to make out features on the cliffs above but the smoke still provided an odd aura on the hike. We were now climbing steadily and our progress after 1 hr 35 min was 3.6 km and 510 m of elevation. Looking back the climb up to Burgess Pass is the largest single gain in elevation on either Section C or E of the GDT. The hike out of Numa Creek Campground to Tumbling is close to same elevation gain but is 150 m less than the hike to Burgess Pass.
The trail passed through an open avalanche slope then reentered the forest and where we encounter a short section with several trees down across the trail.
After clearing the limestone outcrop we passed through a series short switchbacks that brought us to the top of a major drainage. There was a clear path across the drainage and we had no trouble making it to the other side. Part of the path had no vegetation stabilizing it and the ground around the path had slid part way down the hill. We made it quite easily across the but it would be a challenging getting safely across in heavy rains.
As the trail flattened out we came to a well used overlook and Emily popped up to see the view and there wasn’t one. Less than 15 minutes after we entered the drainage we arrived at Burgess Pass. There were some handy signs at the pass but due to the smoke no view. It was 6:05 pm we had been hiking 2 hrs 50 min and had completed just over half our distance but almost all of the elevation. It was mostly flat or downhill to our campground at Yoho Lake.
We headed off quickly the trail heading moderately downhill. Even though it was just past 6 pm and we had almost 7 km to go we were feeling pretty good that this second half of the hike would be significantly quicker than the first half. Just before crossing the drainage from Mt Field, which doubles as the access to the peak which would become a familiar theme on Section E, we came across the signs announcing the Burgess Shale area which is closed to all public travel.
I would learn at dinner on Day 3 of Section E from one half of the trail duo known as Peter Gabriel (he name is Peter and her name is Gabrielle) that the area is monitored by cameras and an alarm would go off at the Field Parks Canada offices if someone was detected in the area. After hearing about the Burgess Shale for so many years, both Emily and I are fans of fossils, it was fun to finally be able to see the area. After crossing the drainage to Mt Field we side sloped under the ridge that connects Mt Field to Wapta Mt. A few short minutes along later we came across the trail leading to the Burgess Shale complete with many warnings of “Area Closed”.
The trail transitioned into a treed area away from the open slopes and the softer ground underfoot was appreciated. We dropped through some switchbacks before continuing back on open slopes around Mt Wapta. We took time to savour the view but the smoke dampened what surely would have been the impressive sites of the peaks of the Presidents complete with glaciers rising high above Emerald Lake.
We came out of the trees and hiked for a short time below the steep cliffs of the the north-western flanks of Wapta Mountain. We could see Yoho Pass through the smoke. We were getting close just 30 minutes from our campground.
Just after leaving the cliff face the trail took a quick jog uphill before heading back into the trees and down to Yoho Pass. We arrived at Yoho Pass at 7:40 pm. It close to 6 km from Burgess Pass to Yoho Pass which took us 1 hr 35 min. Yoho Pass is marked by some fences and is the intersection with the trail from Emerald Lake. I have no idea what the purpose of the fences are.
We arrived at the campground at 7:50 pm. There was already a few tent pads taken but we had our choice of couple different options. Despite being fully booked the campground never did fill up. We were having homemade dried spinach rotini for dinner so I presoaked the rotini while we set up the tent. A light rain started to fall just as we finished setting up the tent. It was during dinner that I realized that my sleeves that I had made for my poncho were not actually waterproof.
I discovered that Yoho Lake must be spring fed because it is relatively warm for an alpine lake. I put a couple of beers in the water to cool before dinner but the water was not actually all that cold resulting in only slightly cooled beer for our dinner.