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 ...]