20160612: The full Bourgeau in summer snow

Bourgeau Lake is a popular hike, understandably so.

  • It’s close to the town of Banff.
  • The trail’s wide and packed and non-technical.
  • There’s impressive waterfalls, views across the valley of the dramatic Sawback Range, colourful alpine flowers, and the reward of the blue-green gem of a lake set into the glacially-carved amphitheatre.

It’s so popular but it’s a good hike so I’ll post about it.

The trailhead is well marked and there’s a well established trail that follows the stream to the Lake, around to Harvey Pass, and up to the summit.

It’s one of those hikes I normally save for a weekday after work when the trail is quiet and sunset paints the headwall and Mts Cory and Cockscomb in bright orange and dusky pink (and I have run into a grizzly at dusk here…). But I’d only ever done it in the spring or winter or fall, when snow conditions and time limitations have hindered me from going farther than the lake (15km).

Hence my enthusiasm to try Bourgeau summit (23km) with J and G on a fine June day.

As we hiked along, I made the mistake of thinking out loud that going directly up from the waterfall looked like a potentially fun approach to the summit from the East. J and G immediately latched onto this idea, and within minutes they’d already given it an identity, “the shortcut”, and were gesturing with (alarming) excitement.

I wasn’t in an exploratory mood, so going up that way got nixed. I was pleased to have been so easily successful at dissuasion. Anyway I wasn’t sure it would be faster. It would certainly be more adventurous, possibly for the wrong reasons.

We continued on the established trail, still talking about “the shortcut” more as a philosophical thing than something tangible to pursue. Talk about “the shortcut” would flare up intermittently, and reignited on our descent. I believe the excitement was more about the prospect of being off the 3-ft wide trail (“highway”, G called it) more than any savings in time/ distance.

Bourgeau Falls
Bourgeau Falls, where I saw the grizzly last fall. There was a black bear sighting last week, and there was scat on the trail.

From Bourgeau Lake we could see the summit… Sort of. It looked awfully grey and foggy up there, with heavy gingerbread house icing cornices. Ah, no point fretting about it until we can get a better look. Around we went to Harvey Pass, into the basin, and took the liberty of naming the little half-frozen water bodies Harvey Lake and Harvey Junior and Harvey Senior, such was our creativity.

Bourgeau meadow
Reaching the subalpine meadow. Spring flowers were starting to bloom.
Bourgeau Lake
Bourgeau Lake. Harvey pass towards the right side of the photo.
Harvey Pass
 Bourgeau summit just visible under the clouds.
Harvey Pass
“Harvey Junior Lake” and “Harvey Senior Lake”, looking back at the basin.
Bourgeau Ridge
Where clouds meet the earth
Bourgeau ridge
Cornice action. See tiny little G next to it for scale. Summit at 10 o’clock, hidden in fog.

We did make it to the summit, although there is nothing special to say about it as we couldn’t see much through the fog. 45kph winds drove us against the lee side of the weather station and that’s where we stayed, munching G’s trail mix (raisins suddenly, surprisingly, became a delicious food!). We did not even bother to walk the 20m to the summit cairn.

Strangely we were rendered immobile at the thought of walking 20m to the cairn, yet J voiced his idea that we do a small out and back on the south ridge. “It’s 200m, it’s lower in elevation, what’s the point,” I joked (i.e. stated decisively with a smile). J joked back, “That’s what you say about everything as an excuse to not do it!” I was thereby once again successful at dissuasion, though of course I magnanimously offered to wait for the guys if they wanted to go ahead.

On the way down the weather cleared and much of the new snow had melted, leaving us to contend with some mud. G stated incredulously, with glee, “it’s +20C in Calgary and here we are in snow!”

All in a summer’s day in the Canadian Rockies.


Bourgeau ridge
On the ridge, views of the continental divide. Windy as heck.

Some of these photos are J’s and some are G’s.


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