Day 1 Burstall Parking Lot to Leman Lake Campground, 12.5 km, 549 m Elevation Gain, 582 m Elevation Loss, 4 hrs 45 min.
As has been pretty typical for us the start of the day was not what one would call an alpine start as we left home about 10 am. It is nearly a one hour drive from home to the trailhead on the Smith-Dorrien road which quickly time to the day. Fun fact is that the trailhead is actually located at the top of a pass. Water either flows north via Smuts Creek or south via Smith-Dorrien Creek. The water from Smuts Creek will flow through the hydro electric generators near Canmore and enter the Bow River. The water flowing south will empty into the Kananaskis River and join the Bow River soon just as the rivers enter the prairies. The weather was a little unsettled so we put our pack covers and rain jackets on to start. We hit the trail about 11:15 am.
We were all ready for the rains that never came with our jackets and pack covers on. As we set off down the trail I was surprised at how busy the trail was initially. The first 4 km is quite easy on a wide trail with only 80 m of elevation gain. There are a series of small lakes that people can visit off to the north (right). After a small drop into densely wooded section we passed a limestone cliff and the trail popped us out onto the Richardson Glacier outflow. The outflow is a braided flats with numerous channels cutting through a gravel bed. There was no trail across but there were some tall poles with flagging on them to guide you across. At one point the dogs got a little over eager and dropped into one of the channels and it was a little bit of work to get them out. It was a fun little adventure getting across and we managed to keep our feet dry.
We reached the other side of the outflow 90 minutes after leaving the parking covering a distance of 4.5 km. The trail now started to head uphill but it was never very steep. The trail went up in a series of steps. The initial rise out from the outflow was through quite a dense forest. Once we cleared the top of the rise the trail stayed in the valley but it was quite open providing spectacular views.
We stopped for lunch at 1:30 pm. We set up a little camp just off the trail on a little hill. Everyone got a snack including Links and Volcano. We still had a ways to go so we kept our lunch break short.
After lunch we set off again down the lush green valley. The trail remained mostly flat for another kilometre before we arrived at the base of the next step. We would ascend 120 m over the next 0.8 km. As we broke through the trees we came to a stunning viewpoint. Looking back down the valley we could see all the way back to Gusty Peak and Mt Galatea. A father and son were below us sitting on a small cliff looking off down the valley.
Where we had stopped to there was a very aggressive squirrel. Not sure what it was trying to prove but it got the attention of both the dogs and still came relatively close.
The trail rose steeply once again but only for a few minutes before it leveled off heading south across the cliff rising at a nice comfortable rate. The hike to pass is a worthy day trip in itself. As we came up the final approach to the pass we were surrounded by towering cliffs. We arrived at our high point at 2:40 pm about an hour after we left our lunch spot and 25 minutes after our encounter with the squirrel.
After a nice approach we arrived at Burstall Pass at 2:40 pm. It had a taken us a comfortable 3 hrs 15 min to hike the 7.5 km to the pass including stopping for lunch and pausing along the trail to take in the views.
We headed straight over the pass without stopping. There is a short hike to a viewpoint that is probably quite stunning but as it was already closing in on 3 pm we wanted to keep going to arrive at the campground at a reasonable time before dinner. We crossed a couple of snowfields near the top of the pass but we quickly left the snow behind and enjoyed a nice walk walk down a well graded trail. It is quite obvious that fewer people hike down the the west side of Burstall Pass. The trail is much thinner and not well defined in a few isolated spots.
We did pass one couple heading up to the pass. They were young and fit looking but definitely looked like they were on an extended day hike as they had no pack between them. For us this was an instance of trusting too much in technology and not enough in Parks Canada that resulted in some unnecessary stress. The track of our hike we were producing on the Viewranger App did not match the trail that was drawn on the map. Our stress levels started to rise as we concerned if we were on the correct trail and how were we going to find our campground. It really was not a concern as Parks Canada trails are excellent and junctions there are always trail signs. We really should of had some trust that following the trail would connect with the north-south trail that runs the length of the Spray Valley and that there would be a sign telling us were to go. We were carrying a copy of the guide book by Gillean Daffren and the Gem Trek Map so getting lost was a low probability. In the end the only map that had a correct drawing of the trail was the guide book.
After a few minutes of stress we popped out to a junction with the main trail. The trail to the campground was about 200 m south. As we started along the side trail to the campsite we spotted two people with backpacking lawn chairs sitting in the middle of a stream soaking in the sun. A short walk over a nice bridge lead us up a small slope to the campground. The first campsite was occupied by a couple and their dog. They were spending a couple of nights at the campground and were just lounging in their tent for the day. We found a shaded campsite and threw down out packs. After getting Links and Volcano some water and putting our evening beverages into the stream to chill we set about setting up the tent. It was 4:30 pm.
We headed over to the eating area at 5:45 pm. In the morning before we left the house Laura had prepared a chicken and rice meal so we were got to eat real food for dinner. While eating dinner Links entertained us by “nesting”. Nesting is what we call it when Links would dig himself a little hollow in the ground and turn around and lie down as if to go to sleep. When he does this he is completely oblivious to anyone around him. He has even tried to nest at home and dig at his mat. When he is building his nest it is not like regular dog digging which would be described as digging by alternating pulling back with the front legs. When Links builds his nest he would pull both front legs back together at the same time a very distinctive action. We believe nesting comes from the year that he lived in the wild.
We had a lovely time at dinner talking to another couple who had arrived after we had. This was an impromptu trip for them. They normally like to go kayaking but decided that they just wanted to get and sleep in a tent so they reserved the campsite and headed out. After dinner we cleaned up and decided to check out Leman Lake.
It took about 15 minutes to negotiate a twisting forested trail to get to Leman Lake. The visit to the lake was a bit of a disappointment as there is no direct access to the water. We had a nice view of Mt Leman but it was not overly captivating and we turned around and headed back to camp fairly quickly. After arriving back at camp we went back out to the bridge we had crossed earlier. The views by the bridge were very nice. I would come back to the bridge and have lunch with Micah in 2020 on our Great Divide Trail hike but on this day the mosquitos made hanging out by the creek challenging.
We headed back to the tent and headed to bed about 8:00 pm. This would be Volcano’s first night sleeping in a backcountry tent. We had taken Volcano car camping a couple of times but we have a large 6 person tent that you can stand up in for car camping. Our three person tent for backpacking was going to be more cramped. Links settled down to sleep very quickly but it took a few minutes to get Volcano settled into a spot where she could comfortably spend the night.
We read for a while. We often have a book that we are reading together and I photocopy a series of pages to read off of the tablet when we go camping. We read for a while. We settled down to go to sleep around 9:30 pm unfortunately Volcano was not quite ready to settle down yet.