Monday, July 30, 2018

Burstall Pass

Trip Date: July 2018

Christine and I decided to have a kid-free hiking adventure on a late Friday in July. We chose Burstall Pass in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park as our destination for the day and we weren't disappointed in the least. The trail to the pass is 7.4km one-way with an elevation gain of 470m. The first 2.7km follow an old logging road and this section of trail is open to bikes, so we opted for a multi-sport day that included both biking and hiking.

Mud Lake
The trailhead for this hike is the Burstall Pass Day-Use Area along the Smith Dorrien/Spray Trail, directly across from the Chester Lake Trailhead, which happened to be closed due to bear activity. Christine quickly commented, "so the bears don't cross the road or what?" After leaving the parking lot the trail immediately passes Mud Lake, before entering the forest. Although not visible from the trail, we also passed Hogarth Lakes, a popular snowshoeing loop.

Biking along the old logging road
Even in the trees the views are still pretty good
As previously mentioned the first section follows an old logging road for 2.7km before reaching a concrete bike rack and sign indicating bicycles are not permitted past that point. We locked our bikes to the rack and hit the trail on foot. After passing the shallow Burstall Lakes we hit Willow Flats, which is the outflow from the Robertson Glacier. This section can be a bit confusing as the trail disappears into the vegetation as you cross several shallow creeks. There are signs indicating the correct route, but they can be tricky to spot as they aren't very close together. Basic route-finding skills are necessary here, but don't let it deter you from tackling this trail.

Shortly after leaving the bikes you're rewarded with this view of Commonwealth Peak
Entering Willow Flats. Make sure you're wearing waterproof shoes as this is the only bridge available and your feet might get wet depending on the water levels.
Whistling Rock Ridge as viewed from Willow Flats
Selfie with Commonwealth Peak
Robertson Glacier
Navigating Willow Flats with Snow Peak in the background
Once across Willow Flats the trail climbs steeply to an open meadow with magnificent views of Mount Birdwood, Snow Peak, and Whistling Rock Ridge. The meadow is relatively flat and is a nice reprieve from the ascent we just completed, but just as you catch your breath the trail, once again, resumes its climb towards Burstall Pass.

Entering the first meadow with Snow Peak above us
Christine posing with a very prominent Mount Birdwood
Panoramic shot of Mount Birdwood (left), Commonwealth Peak (centre), and the other side of Whistling Rock Ridge (right)
We were surprised at the number of wildflowers still in bloom
Mount Sir Douglas (far right) and Whistling Rock Ridge, which must be named for the abundance of marmots that we heard whistling throughout our hike. Those whistles really echo off the rock walls.
As you crest that final push to the pass you'll notice a small yellow sign welcoming you to Banff National Park. You might think this is odd, but Burstall Pass actually butts up against the eastern border of the famous national park. The trail continues on into the park before reaching Leman Lake (4.9km), Palliser Pass (10.9km), and eventually the junction with Bryant Creek (18.0km). As Burstall Pass was our goal for the day we opted to stop for lunch while enjoying the spectacular view that spread out in front of us.

The final push to Burstall Pass
Welcome to Banff National Park
My girls enjoying the view and their respective lunches
Looking west into Banff National Park. I believe the mountains have the following names, from left to right Leval, Vavsour, Warre, and Currie and way in the background (far right) with a bit of snow on the summit is the Matterhorn of the Rockies, Mount Assiniboine.
A quick selfie from Burstall Pass
We didn't stick around too long as there was rain in the forecast. The wind was starting to pick up and with it came much darker clouds. After snapping a few photos we packed up and began our descent. We were really hoping to beat the weather or at least get as low as possible before the skies opened up.

Back in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park after enjoying our lunch in Banff
One last look at Mount Birdwood as the wet weather makes its way towards us
Starting our descent
Christine and Rome making their way back down
I'm happy to report that it rained just enough for us to say it rained, but we did experience some intense thunder. Much like the marmot's whistles I am assuming the booming thunder echoes off the mountains making it seem much louder and more extreme than it really is. We were safely back in the truck and pulling out of the parking lot when the rain really started to fall.

After completing this trek for the first time it's easy to see why it's considered a classic hike in Kananaskis. We both thoroughly enjoyed the varied terrain and incredible scenery. Christine even mentioned that it's easily in her top three hikes of all time now. We both said it would be a great option in autumn as the larches are turning from green to their famous golden colour, so we might see you there in the fall!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Oldman Dam Provincial Recreation Area

Trip Date: July 2018

Our third camping trip of the summer took us down to the Oldman Dam Provincial Recreation Area near the Crowsnest Pass area of southern Alberta. The park is only 15 minutes from the town of Pincher Creek. We reserved three sites in the Cottonwood Campground, just one of four campgrounds located within the park. Cottonwood is tucked away in a valley below the Oldman River Reservoir, but still along the banks of the Oldman River. There are numerous Cottonwood Trees that provide shade and some relief from the constant wind that plagues this part of the province.

Welcome to Oldman Dam Provincial Recreation Area
None of us had ever camped here before, so we were looking forward to seeing a new park and a new part of the province. Sometimes it's easy to get stuck going back to familiar places, so trying new things once in awhile can be fun.

Oldman River Brewing in Lundbreck
Christine and I left Friday morning and headed south. We stopped in Lundbreck for lunch at Oldman River Brewing. This small micro-brewery was absolutely perfect. They had a kid and dog friendly patio, good food, delicious beers, and their customer service was above and beyond. They took small-town hospitality to a whole new level. In fact we liked them so much that we stopped there again on Saturday afternoon with all of our friends because we couldn't quit raving about them. So if you're ever down in southern Alberta make sure you stop in and enjoy a flight; you won't be disappointed!

A flight of five beers
Their patio accommodates the entire family!
We pulled into the campground mid-afternoon and set-up our campsite. We were the first ones to arrive, but the rest of the crew slowly trickled in as the day wore on. Waiting on everyone else gave us some time to explore the campground and take Rome for a walk.

Cottonwood Campground
Our home for the weekend
There aren't too many campgrounds where you look up and see wind turbines sticking up above the hills
The banks of the Oldman River
Looking northeast from the campground
A gorgeous prairie sunset
Saturday was a day for adventure. Ryan and I scrambled up the hillside next to the campground just to see what the view was like. Needless to say we weren't disappointed. 

Panoramic view from the top of the hill overlooking Cottonwood Campground
When we returned to the campground we were treated to a rare wildlife encounter. A Long-Tailed Weasel had been chasing a ground squirrel and when its prey eluded him, he climbed a nearby tree and perched on a low-hanging branch. This weasel sat on the branch for a long time without moving much and seemingly without a care in the world. We snapped several photos of the elusive critter before leaving him to his own devices.

Long-Tailed Weasel
Just lounging in a tree
Shortly after seeing the weasel this Mule Deer trotted through the campground
After our brief hike and wildlife viewing we headed out to Lundbreck Falls Provincial Recreation Area as none of us had ever seen the waterfalls in person. It was less than a 25 minute drive from our campground to the Lundbreck Falls Campground, which is where we parked. Hindsight being 20/20 we should have drove past the campground and parked at Lundbreck Falls Day Use Area as there was more parking available, but we thoroughly enjoyed the short walk anyway.

The clean and clear Crowsnest River
Lundbreck Falls is located on the Crowsnest River near the hamlet of Lundbreck. The falls tumble approximately 12 metres over the edge of a cliff and are quite popular due to their picturesque nature and ease of access. As mentioned we parked in the Lundbreck Falls Campground, which meant a leisurely stroll along a trail next to the Crowsnest River to reach the falls.

Our first view of the falls
Lundbreck Falls
View from above the falls
Looking at the falls from water level
The wildflowers were still blooming while we were there
After our wonderful experience at the falls we stopped at Oldman River Brewing for a quick pint where Cooper continued to add more dirt to his already messy self! 

This is how kids are supposed to look while camping! And no those are not bruises...that's dirt!
Our last stop before dinner was at Boulder Run Day-Use Area for a quick cool-down. It was a hot and dusty day, so we were feeling pretty grimy. The best way to remedy those problems is a brisk dip in the Oldman River. Boulder Run provided the perfect location for this as there's a slow-moving section of river, which is ideal for swimming, plus there's change rooms onsite.

Boulder Run Day Use Area
A refreshing dip in the Oldman River
Wildflowers blooming along the shoreline
The whole recreation area is named for the Oldman Dam that was completed in 1991. The reservoir that was created when the dam was built is a popular spot for water-based recreation and the prevalent breeze make this a wind-sport hotspot.

Oldman River Dam
Spillway Viewpoint
Panoramic shot of the Oldman Reservoir on an unusually calm morning
We had a fantastic weekend filled with new adventures and lots of laughs. We were all pleasantly surprised with the recreational opportunities available in this park and also close-by. I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking to branch-out from their usual camping spots and try something new. I think it's safe to say that we'll be back at some point. Until then...