Distance: 19 km
Elevation gain: 875 m View map Download GPS track
Burstall Pass Peak is the peak immediately to the south of Burstall Pass. It is described in Andrew Nugara's Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies
, but I'd never even considered heading that way in winter due to what I thought was high avalanche risk. With a remarkably low avalanche risk so far this winter, however, I ended up giving it a second look and realized that an ascent from its south end would entail very little risk even in sketchier conditions. I've since had plans or been invited to ascend it three times, but each time things didn't work out. Today, with the knowledge Matt Hobbs
and friends had broken a trail to the summit and confirmation that the ascent was straightforward and largely risk-free, Sandra and I headed out to give it a go ourselves.
Our day started with an exceedingly frigid (-30 C) and monotonous trek along the solidly packed Burstall Pass trail. Thankfully the temperature warmed to about -10 C by the time we reached the sunny pass, but the stunning scenery had us miss the point at which Matt had departed the main trail. It wasn't until I was staring down at his track about 100 m below that I realized the silliness of my mistake. Rather than retrace our steps all the way back to his track we decided to just forge our own a bit higher up and presumably connect back up with his at the southern end of the peak where the ascent would be safest.
This plan worked well enough, but it wasn't until we were just 100 m below the summit that our track finally intersected the broken one. We were exhausted by this point, but with the trail now broken we soon found ourselves standing on the summit in a cold breeze. The views were simply stunning! The Palliser River valley to the south and a valley across the border in BC were filled with low cloud, Mount Sir Douglas loomed to the southeast, and a sea of recognizable snow-covered peaks filled the panorama to the north. This winter has been fantastic for snowshoeing and this one easily ranks in the top five we've ever done.
Only two areas on this entire ascent caused just slight concern for me. The first was crossing the runout zone of a large slide path in the meadows below Burstall Pass, but with the current snowpack the drive along the highway was probably more dangerous. The second was a short steep section on the final ascent of the peak where the slope briefly exceeded 30 degrees. Today it was mostly windblown and the snowpatch that was present was solid, but it could get risky in more questionable conditions. Use your own judgement.