Cataract Pass - Cline Pass - Afternoon Lakes
This was 3 day, 2 night trip into Cataract - Cline Pass area of White Goat Wilderness I heard so much about and wanted to visit for a long time. Area is remote & day trips are not really feasible. I dislike pacman style of backpacking & prefer to setup "base camp" whenever possible, then go exploring with luxury of light pack without worrying of setting up / breaking camps every day. Below Cataract Pass is well known wild bivi spot that served well for this purpose. First night there were 4 or 5 other parties camping but on second night I was on my own. I had no specific plan; only must was view into "Valley of the Lakes". Bomber bluebird 3 days and only thing that was not perfect were mosquitoes (surprisingly none at Cline pass, which is generally more swampy). Day by Day breakdown:
[Exceptional scenery of lower Brazeau canyon on day 3]
[Large glacially fed lake below Cataract Pass and Source of Brazeau River]
[Life sucks! Home sweet home for 2 nights. Cataract Pass upper center and there was fairly steep unavoidable snow slope leading to it]
[Second Cline Tarn, with long ridge of Mt. Willis upper right on Day 2. No mosquitoes. Went skinny dipping on return from Afternoon Lakes col]
[Fabled "Valley of the Lakes" or "Afternoon Lakes" from the col reached by steep scramble from Cline Pass]
[Descending back from Cline Pass to bivi below Cataract Pass on Day 2. There is also trail below that formidable mountain range leading to Pinto Lake; someone came up from there in the morning]
[Wolverine! There were 5 of them playing & I had luxury of watching them for good 15-20 seconds before they noticed me & scampered away]
Sometimes areas you hear about so much end up disappointing simply because expectations become too high. Not this time; it is worth every bit & I will be coming back for sure.
Will post more details with photos for each day in next couple of days.
Amazing! Looking forward to hearing more in your next posts.
Day 1: Icefields -- Nigel Pass -- Cataract Pass -- Cataract Creek Bivi
Trailhead is few minutes up from Big Bend on right (east) side. It is quite popular being the same for Nigel Pass day hike, as well as approach for Brazeau loop and South Boundary Trail. Initial part is 1.7km road walk to Parks Canada "Camp Parker". Going in you don't feel it as excitement builds up, but coming back all tired it was bit of drag. Trail then descends and crosses Hilda Creek and Nigel Creek in short succession on good log bridges. (Nigel bridge was washed out earlier in summer, but just repaired day before my arrival. I was glad as water was high, although fallen log 50m upstream could probably be used). Nigel Pass is reached on a mix of forest/open area walk without gaining much elevation. There were several side creek crossings and muddy areas. Final rise to Nigel Pass is bit steeper but short lived.
[Nigel Pass, ~1.5 hrs (6km) from Camp Parker. If only day-hiking to Nigel Pass, don't descend to Brazeau River crossing -- turn left about here and explore vast meadow, that also has small tarn at far end]
[Brazeau River crossing, looking back. It was easy enough but gaiters + good boots waterproofing is needed to keep feet dry]
After the crossing there is sign: Brazeau Loop / South Boundary continues straight, turn right for unofficial and unmaintained trail to Cataract Pass & White Goat Wilderness. What follows is one of most awesome and quite atypical valleys I have seen in Rockies. Cataract Pass can be seen at head of valley in the distance; it takes 1.5 - 2 hours to get there. Hiking is not entirely cakewalk as there are some boulder field crossings and micro-terrain route findings. But the views -- full sensory overload!
[First "ahhh" moment, no more than 10 minutes from Nigel Pass. Took lunch break here. Initial boulder field (cairns) is just left of center in foreground]
[Panoramic views after clearing first boulder field. There was another bit I needed to detour left; water level might be low enough later on to be able to walk by the creek]
[Impressive Rock formations on east side of the valley]
[Simply delightful hiking further up the valley; Cataract Pass left of center]
In upper part valley splits; Brazeau River is in canyon on right (west) side, while trail stays on left (east). Finally you reach head of valley with Cataract Pass on left. Good scree trail can be spotted and ascent is way easier that it initially appears even with heavy overnight pack. Spectacular glacially fed lake comes into view and is reason for frequent breaks up this slope.
[Trail bypassing dividing rock on left side. It is also possible to stay in the middle by scrambling bit of rock as I discovered on return]
[Diagonal rise to Cataract Pass from head of Valley; takes ~15-20 minutes only]
[Glacial lake at head of Valley and ultimate source of Brazeau River from the Pass]
Parks Boundary sign is reached near the highpoint & this is probably day-hike turnaround point.
[White Goat Wilderness Boundary Post at Cataract Pass]
[Boundary Register. There was entry from some fellow saying that was his 30th day on Great Divide Trail!]
Cataract Pass is not one of these narrow cols you just cross and start descent on the other side right away. Instead it is windswept saddle that gradually slopes downward on east side for at least 1 km. Views then open up down to alpine valley at head of Cataract Creek and usual bivi spot. Descent is quite steep (35-40 degree angle) and it was snow covered. Firm and compact snow, but soft enough for glissade on descent but safe enough for cutting steps going up on return
[Descending to head of Cataract Creek. Mt. Stewart upper right corner. Bivi terraces are in middle of photo. Cline Pass is left out of view]
[Crossing head of Cataract Creek after descent. If you plan on setting up bivi downstream, it is not necessary to cross -- turn right instead and hike for ~5-6min as creek eventually goes underground. Best bivi spots are right there]
[Fabulous colors as I finished setting up my "Cataract Basecamp"]
It is important to notice that this is wilderness bivouac; there are absolutely no facilities and you must be prepared. This means some sort of food cache strategy. There are no trees that you can hang your food on. There were also grizzly diggings in meadow leading to Cairn pass. "Leave no trace" must be taken seriously -- not just packing the garbage, but also burying bathroom waste. On first night there were 4 or 5 tents around, but on second none. I walked around a bit out of curiosity and except for old fire-pit could find no other sign of human presence.
Finally about the timing: If you are just day-hiking to Cataract Pass it will take 4 - 4 1/2 hrs 1 way; less if going just to head of valley. Area is seriously photogenic & you are likely to spend more time taking photo breaks than you usually do! I took 5 hrs to the Pass and just under 6 hrs with overnight pack to bivi site. Map and Elevation Profile to bivi site:
Stats 1-way GPS based: 14km + 2km road walk = ~16km, 735m ascent, 415m descent
[.... to be continued ...]
Beautiful pictures, as usual, from a beautiful place. I no longer recommend places in the Rockies to people, because I have found that what I like isn't what other people like, but Cataract Pass and the upper Brazeau watershed is a remarkable place which I still do recommend to people. I have been up there about six times and I never got to see a wolverine, yet you go once and see five of them. Go figure. Very well done.
You know, if you go somewhere repeatedly I pay attention :) Brazeau Watershed is remarkable indeed & this was just scratching the surface.
Re wolverine. I never saw one in my life, for a sec it was "wtf are these". They are quick. When they saw me they all ran away, but this one stood still and gave me good hard look (this is why I had time for a photo). They can be vicious, but I don't think they'd attack humans. I had bear spray lol
Day 2: Cline Pass - Afternoon Lakes
When you backpack, there are sacrifices to be made. You sleep on the ground, usually dirty and sticky from not washing yourself properly (or at all), you don't eat right, you don't rest properly etc etc. But this is the price for being able to wake up in amazing remote areas; when you crawl out of the tent in the morning and realize where you are, and what kind of day lies ahead, all troubles are forgotten! Sipping my coffee ( unused pouch brought back from Vietnam trek, of all places) with instant oatmeal and nature valley granola bar I kept surveying prime alpine environment in anticipation of spectacular day ahead. Light day-pack only, and no specific goal -- just keep following your nose; no chasing peaks, no "must do this or that" -- just enjoy and be happy to be alive in such a wonderful place. I did want to see Valley of the Lakes (Afternoon Lakes), but how will I get there I was not sure yet -- such is the beauty of absolutely not having to do anything or following pre-established plans.
[Morning at a bivi site; looking up alpine meadows leading to Cline Pass; Guardgoat peak center (above tent). Most of other peaks in area are unnamed; that by itself speaks of general area remoteness]
[Hiking gentle meadows in general direction of Cline Pass. "GG" -- Guardgoat Peak, "W" -- Mt. Willis, "AC" -- usual Afternoon Lakes col route, Cline Pass in between "W" and "AC", "BDT" -- best day trip from from Cataract bivi area, "U" - unnamed peak, "S" - Mt. Stewart]
What is "BDT"? I could not find any reference that someone went that way & it really surprises me. This would be superior easy route to get quite high without paying huge price; views into the "Valley of the Lakes" would be outstanding and just look at the ridgewalk to left of "BDT"!!!!
[Easy looking route to superb viewpoint of Afternoon Lakes Valley followed by splendid ridgewalk]
I toyed with the idea; but I also wanted to explore Cline Pass, so I decided to head there first and then possibly return -- it is ~20minutes away at most. But Cline Pass is fantastic & I simply refuse to rush; why go then if you are on the clock? So I sat down by second Cline Tarn which is simply delightful; no bugs whatsoever (!!!), took quick dip, had early lunch -- and fell asleep! Waking up about an hour later I turned my gaze up normal route to Afternoon Lakes valley; boulder strewn slope directly above Cline Pass, that has quite a bad rap.
[Strange Creature at Second Cline Tarn, wondering if it would be possible to build some sort of log cabin here & not come back to "civilization"]
[Boulder slope leading to "Afternoon Col"; considerably worse than it appears here. It is not the grade, it is the unstable shifting boulders that make going fairly tedious. Red line is my route up; lower down I tried to utilize snow as much as possible, and then higher up -- armed with JHector tip (thanks again)! I stayed climber right. This route had unmistakable signs of human traffic; boot prints in dried mud. Hardest part was near the top but I generally had less problems than anticipated. I'd rate this easy/moderate scramble, if you stay on easiest path]
After about 45-50minutes I topped up by couple of cairns ~50m vertical above obvious low point, almost under that pointy peak upper right. And views down Valley of the Lakes opened up; panorama I wanted to see for many years. It is quite unreal, over a dozen of lakes of different colors scattered down glacial moonscape! I dropped to the saddle, found sheltered spot and soaked it all up, then continued for about half an hour on ridge towards Mt. Willis. This ridge is not as easy as you might think from below; not easy going scree, but boulders that shift and slow you down as you must stay focused; ankle twist or worse is real possibility. Eventually I decided to call it a day; I estimated at least 2 hrs more to Mt. Willis in such terrain & I really saw no purpose in torturing myself. I sat again, and 20 mins (and at least 100 of photos) later I started back.
[Topping up on Afternoon Col; Cline Pass below. Guardgoat Mtn. above]
[Panoramic view from Afternoon Col. Cline Pass / Guardgoat center left, Cline canyon (eventually extending to Brazeau River for outstanding loop !) center, Mt. Willis upper right]
[Pano into Valley of the Lakes. No picture really does justice to this out-of-this-world place, bedrock scoured by glacial retreat, dotted with multi-colored alpine tarns that even appears it might belong to another planet alltogether]
[Telephoto to largest, glacially fed Afternoon Tarn; what a place!]
[Very steep drop into Valley of the Lakes from the saddle; this picture does not reveal it all. People apparently descend this way, but I believe it is more difficult that Cline Pass side. I could also not tell if there were cliffs lower down]
[Bouldery Mt. Willis ridge from my turnaround point. "W" - Mt. Willis, "AR" - possible alternate route into Afternoon Lakes Valley. Descent on this side is definitely possible, I am not sure about terrain is on Brazeau side. Afternoon Peak (out of picture, right -- looks more like a long ridge) would likely be a scramble from there]
I took time descending, not wanting to slip or roll ankle. It was easier than expected, and lower down I boot skied a bit before dropping all the way back to alpine area above second Cline Tarn. Encountering bit of trail, I followed it out of curiosity but it vanished at start of "Cline Canyon"; possibly it reappears lower down. Turned back and went for another, now mid-afternoon dip, before starting slow descent back to campsite -- encountering pack of wolverines along the way! (see photos at top of thread). Decided to eat dinner on little rise above the campsite, as it offered great views down Cataract Creek towards Pinto Lake area; awesome backpacking route by itself
[Snowdrift at start of Cline Canyon ~100m below second tarn outlet]
[Faint trail by Second Cline Tarn going back to Cataract area]
[Interesting rock formations descending meadows towards Cataract bivi. Cirrus peak above]
[Lower Cataract Creek valley from rise above bivi site, that also had cairn. Good trail runs along skier right side of Cataract Creek below Cirrus peak]
Back to bivi with nobody around; made quick tea, and went to bed with that unique feeling you get only after you have spent day exploring such amazing alpine environments we are lucky to have living in Canada.
[... to be continued ...]
Absolutely sensational, thanks so much for posting this!
Just about to head out for a mountain bike ride on a superb sunny sunday morning..
Made the mistake of scrolling through your amazing TR+pics. My bike ride will be starting later than i thought!
outstanding, such a stunning area and great pics
I would recommend to you Nigel Pass dayhike. It can be done in leisure pace 5-6hrs return.
You can explore alpine at the pass for few hours (there is tarn at far end, out of view) or head a bit into Brazeau canyon towards Cataract Pass. Rock Hop across Brazeau River and you will see this sign:
Follow this trail; almost immediately it opens up, most of photos I posted so far from Brazeau Canyon were taken within first 1-2km. You don't have to go all the way to Cataract Pass (although it is feasible as day hike); turn back when you feel you had enough. It is quite different from typical Rockies are very rewarding
Another wonderful account! Somehow I feel that I've been given much more information than is contained in the narrative and photographs. Nigel Pass (at least) is added to my list of areas to explore off the Icefields Parkway. And you had more sequential bluebird days in what a friend calls "visual silence." Love the wolverines sending 5 relatives to check up on the newcomer.
I hope to get some of my US hiking friends into Canada (they are very respectful hikers but have no experience hiking outside US). Proselytizing with some of your reports.
Day 3: Cataract Pass - Nigel Pass - Icefields
Last day was first day in reverse. I still wasn't sure which way I'd head back -- I was more than little intrigued with loop return via Cline Pass down to Brazeau & left decision for the morning. Overnight I did not sleep well -- weather changed and it warmed up; it was hot even out of sleeping bag. In addition wind howled whole night; constant flapping of tent fly wouldn't let me rest. I got up at first light, made coffee and broke up camp (in constant company of mosquito swarm - do they ever rest?). I thought about it & decided to head back the same way. Main reason: Uncertainty of Brazeau ford specially in light of overnight warm-up and likely swollen river level. Morning was very clear with good light; already familiar with sun position on Cataract Pass trail I knew I'd get sun behind my back all the way down, which would result in some very nice photos. So back the same way it was. I was a bit weary of steep and unavoidable snow leading to Cataract Pass, but that actually worked in my advantage. Very easy to cut steps and before I knew it I was on the top. After crossing Alberta boundary back into JNP and that insane looking Lake at head of Brazeau Watershed came into view it was only 7:30am. I had time & took extended break at the pass, then slowly descended and diverged off trail to visit the lake which is simply awesome -- would be good bivi spot too! Then made my way back down very young Brazeau river with SLR around my neck enjoying every bit, eventually packing up camera gear just before Nigel Pass. Crossing was still easy, but water was at least twice as much as it was only 2 days ago -- result of warm temps; I was glad for decision to abandon the loop. After turning on Nigel Pass trail trail got busy -- Brazeau loop backpackers, Nigel Pass day-hikers etc etc. It was hot but I still enjoyed return hike back to trailhead. Pics that tell the story of last day:
[Nearing Cataract Pass after much easier and faster ascent from bivi spot than expected]
[Views really open up at other side of the pass & I took 30min break here with 2nd breakfast; very warm and in T-shirt despite the elevation]
[Very young Brazeau river just below the lake, its ultimate source]
[Descending canyon separating upper and central part of the valley. Brazeau River is on the other side. It is also possible to stay on upper terrace then scramble rock roughly just past this snowdrift]
[Simply delightful hiking in soft mid-morning light. Alpine doesn't get much better than this]
[That savage looking rock on east side; it is visible for most part as you hike Nigel Pass trail, but this is different perspective]
[Approaching the boulder field, only potentially problematic part of Cataract Pass trail. There are 2 parts to it: First you have to go around this giant boulder on the right (some people simply wade here). Then you follow bit of cairns up and over large slide center right; there are many variations]
[Descending Nigel Pass with view of Parker Ridge / Mt. Sashatchewan at west side of Icefields Parkway]
Was back at car ~2:30 pm at full heat of the day; it was probably +30. When you go on backpack, even on day-hike, it is really good to leave some snack/treat in the car. I had bag of cherries and really pigged out driving back, followed by enormous ice-cream at Sask. River crossing.
Terrific backpack into amazing area & I am quite sure I will be back to continue exploring, in particular alternate viewpoint of Afternoon Lakes valley and loop return via Cline River. Summertime Rockies at their best!
You must be the finest photographer that I know, who could post such superb fantastic photos of such a beautiful land. Colours, crispness, perspective, composure, and........you got it all.
Really enjoy all your photo sets; this one especially.
Any issues or concerns with wildlife you have going solo ?; Great idea to bring a small day pack for excursions from your base camp; sometimes wonder if other people coming in might mess around with your belongings when you are doing your outward jaunts ?
No more than usual. I've seen more bears from car/around Canmore (or in places like Seymour front-country) than on backcountry trips. I carry bear spray, make noise and use common sense, 25 yrs now and still alive.
Humans are indeed far bigger concern to me than animals. But this is such remote backcountry it is very unlikely ppl that actually get there would be the kind that would start looking for things to steal while you are away.
Good points though
Just catching up, I really enjoyed this report. Sounds like a perfect 2 night camp. Photo 5-brazeaumiddelta is exceptional! So cool to see the wolverines. I'd like to say I've added it to the list but yikes, 900km drive from Vancouver! Gotta get that retirement thing in works...
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