20 July 2014
This was only the second time that Serge joined me on one of my mountain adventures (and it’s hopefully not the last!). On a short visit from Edmonton, he wanted to spend the weekend relaxing but also fancied a hike of some sort. So we decided – after much debate and much pivo the night before – to go for a relatively “short” outing in Kananaskis. Just like on our first hike a year earlier, Serge got more than he bargained for…
After driving out of Calgary relatively late on Sunday morning, we embarked on our trip around 10 am at the Burstall Pass parking lot. The initial section along Burstall Pass trail was really easygoing and delightful. There were plenty of hikers out on this beautiful July weekend. Serge had just bought himself a brand-new pair of boots (exactly the same as mine), poles and pants, and I could tell he quite enjoyed himself testing out his new gear.
We followed Kane’s description and started crossing the wide stream valley to reach the southern ascent slopes of Commonwealth Peak. Although we had brought old sneakers for fording the water, we kept our boots on for as long as we could… hoping to make it across this boggy, wet marshland with dry feet. And we almost succeeded! Water levels in the myriad of little streams that run along this flat plain were pretty low, allowing us to hop over most of them, except the last one: that one was a tad too wide. But laziness was bigger than our practical mind this day, so it was no wonder we ended up splashing through ankle-deep water on our last jump. To make matters worse, Serge’s attempt at throwing his backpack across the last creek miserably failed: it landed on the very edge of the embankment and then slowly rolled back into the water.
Once past the boggy valley, we were faced with the next hurdle: finding a decent trail up the lower approach slopes. We stuck to the left side of the treed avalanche gully, but soon ended up in a mess of dense bushes and trees. I tried my best to convince Serge that there had to be a good path somewhere and we were close it finding it – to no avail. My reputation was gone. It was miserable bushwhacking and neither of us had any fun here! Eventually, we found our way out of the annoying jumble of shrubs and pine trees as the terrain cleared higher up. A trudge on much scree followed all the way to the high col sitting between Pigstail Peak and Commonwealth Peak.
The views down the other side of the col were absolutely gorgeous and Serge decided to take an extended break here while I went for a quick scramble to the summit. There was a lot of loose rubble at first, followed by a short section of good hands-on scrambling to the summit. The views were amazing for such a “minor” peak in the area! I particularly enjoyed the views of the dramatic east face of Mount Birdwood from here.
On our descent we had learnt our lesson and avoided the thick bush on the lower slopes, sticking more to skier’s right where the forest was older and less dense. There was even some flagging here and there. The streambed crossing was also smoother than in the morning: we headed a little further west and thereby circumvented most of the boggy areas, keeping our boots all dry this time.
Back on the Burstall Pass trail we were surrounded by crowds of people again. There is certainly something special about venturing “off the beaten path”, even if it takes a few sacrifices to get there. Today was the perfect example of that and despite the streams (and bushes) we had to jump, it was all well worth the effort in the end!
DISCLAIMER: Use at your own risk for general guidance only! Do not follow this GPX track blindly but use your own judgement in assessing terrain and choosing the safest route.