in Nugara snowshoe guide.
I didn't plan on it. One of targets for this winter was ski-trip to Burstall Pass, which I never visited in winter. Problem is that area lies on Continental Divide & will often attract clouds when other parts are clear -- so you have to wait for ridge of high pressure. It finally came; but nursing rattled rib cage from fall on icy Canmore streets that is barely getting better after > 2 weeks, I didn't think skis would be good idea. So I just strapped snowshoes and figured I'd take it easy and soak some sun at the pass. But after all that bluebird glory opened up, I needed more. I realized I never went to south Burstall Pass, so that looked like agreeable alternative -- specially as you have majestic Sir Douglas in your face entire time! There was no trail, but I didn't sink much & in about 40 minutes I was having lunch at little rise above South Burstall pass with views to die for:
[Sir Douglas from South Burstall pass environs]
Turning gaze westward towards ridge above I recalled that Matt Clay recently ascended it & did not report any problems. Well it was right there & it was calling me -- so I went for it. It is fairly straightforward from this side -- you have 2 steep rises, separated by flat bench. First rise was windblown and had some goat trails on, but second had snow & I had to make diagonal ascent which was a bit exposed but no real issues. Final summit ridge is wide and flat -- takes about 45 minutes from South Burstall pass to summit cairn:
[Palliser Valley and Leman Lake from South Burstall Peak]
[Summit ridge looking north. Note how Snow peak appears almost level at this point]
[Summit ridge looking south towards Sir Douglas]
Now if you just skim through these reports looking at pictures, it might be worth reading next part. I did not do any research as this was not planned & did not have Nugara book on me, but I figured I could traverse the shelf directly below summit ridge, and then find my way to Burstall Pass, thus forming loop of a kind. Initially it went well -- I was able to string set of shallow gullies bypassing minor rockbands and descent fairly stable snow without problems. Here are the views as I dropped from the shelf to broad plateau directly above Burstall Pass:
[Views back to the shelf. Note my tracks in center right part of the photo]
[Snow Peak (left) and Mt. Birdwood (right) from the plateau above Burstall Pass]
Now came the hiccup. I figured I'd just be able to drop to the pass, but everything looked too steep for my liking. I even circled west looking at possibility of descent towards trail that drops to Palliser Valley but that had rock band and did not appear feasible either. Finally I found the most promising spot, but it was still steep and there was considerable cornice on the top. I hesitated & simply did not feel comfortable with it. I have ~150 summits in Alberta & BC, and main reason they all went without any accident is that I err on the safe side. If I ascended this side it might have been different but like this - no. Most people would probably just jump and slide; I also see now Vern & his crew climbed through this but I finally turned back deciding it was better to be safe than sorry. I climbed back to the shelf, but did not need to go all the way to South Pass ascent slopes -- about halfway I noticed slope that was still steep, but looked feasible & I was able to descent safely. Even for this snow conditions need to be favorable as it could slide.
This all meant about 2 hours behind schedule & I spent last 1 1/2 hour with flashlight. Reward though was amazing star lit skies while crossing flats below Commonwealth peak -- haven't seen this many since trip to Nepal some years back.
I will post more pictures but wanted to file this if someone decides on this trip coming weekend. Conditions wise, you have compact trail that needs no snowshoes till flats, just odd skier track after. You will have my tracks for South Burstall Pass and Peak over next couple of days. I will also say that skis are favorable to snowshoes, but you must have considerable skill to ski safely on steep part above Commonwealth flats (I understand some people even ditch skis and transfer into snowshoes here!) Finally here is view of Burstall Pass Peak as you enter meadows below Mt. Birdwood -- looks still very far at this point:
My total time was 9 hrs, including these 2 hours lost on the shelf. I see now Nugara quotes 8-10 hrs and this is probably generous as trip can be done in under 8 hours on 'shoes, less on skis.