Sunday, 6 September 2015

Aug 11: Not Mt. Burke

The top priority for my trip to south Kananaskis was Plateau Mountain. The second was getting to the old Cameron Fire Lookout on the top of Mt. Burke, which loomed large, towering 850 above our campsite.
WAY up there
When we last heard the forecast, we had nothing but sunshine and warm temps for our week. The trailhead is in the campground we we in. We were ready. We were stoked.

At 6 AM, we were woken by the gentle sound of raindrops on the tent. Rain? It got harder and harder, and by 7:30 AM, it was pouring. I got up for a moment to check things out. Not only was it cold and raining, it was overcast and the top of Mt. Burke was missing in clouds.


So we went back to our sleeping bags. We were roused from our extended sleep by beaming sun at 10:00 AM. We got up to a cloudless sky and perfect temps with practically no wind.


Had we arisen at 7:30, Burke would have been an easy get. But arising at 10 AM, there was too much distance and to much vert to get back at any reasonable hour. Frustrating.

We got up and studied our maps and guidebooks. We needed something short, straightforward and fun. We landed on climbing a small mountain near the Etherington campground called Three Cairns, so named for the three cairns on its top built by visitors. If you're interested, it's hike #55, Vol 5, 4th Edition of Gillean Daffern's fabulous Kananaskis Country Trails Guide.

We were so late, we had lunch in the Etherington campground before starting out. We thought our campground was empty. Of the 60 sites in that campground, exactly 1 was occupied. And we thought about making reservations.
Heading north towards Etherington 
The trail start 
The planned destination
This is a different area of K-Country than I'm used to. It's not really a hiking destination; there are no official or maintained hiking trails. All the trails around here are old logging roads, and they are maintained as winter snowmobile trails. Long, straight, flat and wide, with large old bridges crossing creeks. The primary summer users are horse parties, and in fact, Etherington has an equestrian campground that comes complete with corral space for horses. A few of those sites were occupied, and there were a dozen horses tied up as we wandered by.

I was not surprised that Etherington campground had a cougar warning recently. We walked by a bunch of very large pussy cat tracks.
The fact that this is an old road is obvious, and in hindsight, we should have brought our bikes, for the riding would have been easier than Plateau.

Road eaten by river flood damage 
Bypass trail on right around it
Our destination looms
So Gillean says she has been up the hill a number of times. I would have thought that just tackling the slope in the photo above would have been reasonable, but she said there was an easier way. She said to climb the next ridge over, then cross. Well, we tried and failed. The capture from Google Earth below shows our route.
Target is the top of the first ridge, not the second
Gill said we would climb in grass and meadows almost the whole way up. Well, not so much. "Thinning in the dense forest", yes, meadows, not so much. We got to the point where we were supposed to start the climb up, and found an obvious path. Thinking we were on the right track, we followed it. And it led to...
Number 2 orienteering marker. Hmmnnn. We veered back left a little, passed through the only thing that could constitute a meadow...
Not even 100 m up. Trail "start" in the small clearing left centre 
Looking to the west 
Near the top of the meadow, a 40° slope
Supposedly looking for bits of trail and sort of clearings, we trudged up through thin-ish forest on the top of a rock rib uphill for an hour, gaining 300 m. It was steep and not easy going with practically no views, and it was getting hotter as the day progressed. After an hour, a sort-of trail appeared. It led to...
Number 3
...another orienteering marker. Bah. Just past there, any semblance of a trail disappeared, the thinning died, the forest got dense, and the climbing harder. This was the view from the last clearing, 300 m above the valley where we started up.
Southwest over the cutblocks 
More southwest 
Due west 
More westerly
Gill's instruction's were to climb to 40 m below the ridge's summit, then take a line under the summit to a UTM coordinate on the col between the two ridges. Yeah, right. My altimeter, maps and GPS all confirmed we got within 30 m of the forested summit, and the forest we were supposed to cut through was brutal. A 50° slope that we had to cross on a sidehill, full of chest high matchstick deadfall, and we needed to go through 300 m of it. We poked and prodded for about 15 min and found no viable route.

Hot, frustrated, weary, and generally unhappy, we decided to bail. While it took an hour to climb, it took just 30 min to descend. Running at the bottom was cold and lovely Etherington Creek.
A pretty little creek 
Cool and green and shady
By this time, it was up around 32°. The cold water was joyous. And...

I need to mention that the water in the campgrounds down here is not for drinking. Now, that having been said, I have a treatment system, but when I say "unfit for drinking", the water was a lovely rust-brown colour. I can treat out any bacteria, but the rust, not so much. We were therefore generally running out of drinking water at the campsite. We had decided to hit the store (yes, there is one nearby, 15 km to the north of us) and buy water. But...

Here I was at a cold, clear stream, and I had my water treatment system with me. Happiness. So we dumped the warm water we had, and I treated up almost 5 litres of icy cold creek water.
My device in action
FYI, I use a SteriPen to treat my water. We used it in Africa, too.

Could we have made Mt. Burke today? Maybe not. It was darn hot, not much wind, and we probably would have fried on the exposed area above treeline. But it would have been nice to have actually made a summit.

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