Scrambling Snow Peak brings you rising over scenic Burstall Pass. Snow Peak can be an easy or difficult scramble depending on the time of year, but since it straddles the continental divide there are spectacular views of massive peaks in BC.
Take the Smith-Dorrien Trail (Highway 742) 42.0km from the Canmore Nordic Centre. Turn right and park in the parking area beside Mud Lake on your right-hand side.
|When to do|
July - September
Pull Out areas along Highway 742
Yes - On Leash
Out and back
Snow Peak, when snow free, is an easy scramble to the north of Burstall Pass. It is named for a large snow patch that tends to hang around near the summit. When this snow is present, the final ascent can be dangerous as a slide would send you over some cliffs. Competence with an ice axe can mitigate this risk. Thankfully there was a wide and dry path through the snow patch when we went, making this trip little more than a hike.
The hike and route are straightforward. Beginning at the popular Burstall Pass trailhead on the Smith-Dorrien highway, hike to Burstall Pass on the wide, obvious trail. It’s about 7.5km and 470m elevation gain (one way) to the pass. The only obstacle en-route is the outwash plain of Robertson Glacier at about the 4.0km. Several streams need to be crossed here, but with waterproof boots and a little jumping, it’s not difficult. If it is, just de-boot and wade – it’s only 6 inches deep, although it’s deeper and faster in the afternoon. Just before re-entering the forest, a small pond is encountered where pre-flood there was none; head left a short distance to find a crossing. As you cross this outwash plain, also look ahead to Snow Peak (directly in front of you), if for no other reason than to confirm that it is not nearly as steep as it will appear from Burstall Pass.
After departing the outwash plain and ascending through trees, walking the length of a meadow (be aware of bears), and ascending through trees again, you will arrive in Burstall Pass. At the sign in the pass indicating the Banff National Park boundary, survey the route up Snow Peak. It basically starts at the sign and follows the eastern ridge north to the summit. It has become popular enough that in many sections there is an obvious trail, but some common-sense route finding is likely still necessary in spots. From this vantage, however, the route looks impossible to the hiker, appearing to involve several cliff bands and impossibly steep scree. Do not let this intimidate you and remember the earlier view from the outwash plain! There is little to no exposure and only two sections very near the top where you’ll need to briefly use your hands (and that part is very easy as well).
From Burstall Pass it took us an hour and a half to reach the summit and the spectacular views in all directions!
Bring a topo map to help identify all the peaks in the area.
Try to bike the first half to save more time to relax and appreciate the view from the pass.
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