OverviewMount Burgess is a well known stand alone peak that looms over one of the pride jewels of Yoho National Park, Emerald Lake. If you are seated at the outdoor patio of the Emerald Lake Lodge, Burgess dominates the southeastern sky line. Mount Burgess was first ascended in 1892 by surveyors McArthur and Tuzo and officially named after a Canadian Bureaucrat in 1897. During the 50’s and 60’s Mount Burgess was featured on the back of the Canadian ten dollar bill.
Mount Burgess has two summits. The north summit, which is much more attainable, has its own official name of Walcott Peak, named after the geologist who discovered the Burgess Shale Fossils. Charles D. Walcott, (then Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution), discovered the first Burgess Shale fossils on Fossil Ridge in 1909. Burgess Shale fossils appear as lithographic pictures on fine-grained shale. Even the soft parts (gills, legs, and guts) of some animals are preserved, which is very rare, since usually only hard parts of animals (their shells, bones, or teeth) are preserved as fossils. In 1984, UNESCO declared Yoho, Banff, Kootenay and Jasper National Parks, along with Mt. Robson, Hamber and Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Parks, as the Rocky Mountain World Heritage Parks. Thus, the Burgess Shale is a protected area of international importance, within a World Heritage Site.
The only published route on Mount Burgess is the scramble mentioned in “Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies”. The north summit is considered an easy outing, but can be combined with the true summit, the south peak, which is considered a difficult scramble with some interesting exposure (photos above). The views are immense, as all the summits in Yoho are, including the President, Vice President and the Emerald Glacier to the north, Mount Vaux and the Hanbury Glacier to the south and Mount Carnarvon to the west.
Getting ThereThe Trans-Canada Highway runs from Calgary through Banff and Yoho National Parks on its way to Vancouver. Pass through Lake Louise heading westbound and continue on the Trans-Canada on its way to Field, BC. After Yoho Valley Road and before you get to Field, there is a trailhead parking area on your right. This is the Burgess Pass Trailhead.
Field is a town of approximately 300 people located in the Kicking Horse River valley of southeastern British Columbia in the confines of Yoho National Park. Field was established during the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway as a locomotive depot for pusher engines required to help trains over the nearby Field Hill and Big Hill. Field is 27 km west of Lake Louise along the Trans-Canada Highway, the only access to Field. The visitor centre for Yoho National Park is located in Field.
Red TapeYou will be required to purchase a national park pass as you enter Banff National Park coming from the east on the Trans-Canada. This pass is good for all four national parks. If you plan many visits to Canadian National Parks within one year, you should purchase an annual pass. There are no permit requirements to climb in Yoho National Park, but all camping is regulated. There is also a backcountry permit required if you plan on spending a night in the backcountry versus the town campsites. This can be obtained via the parks website which is included in the camping section below. Yoho National Park headquarters are located in Field, BC and you will drive through the manned national park kiosks as you enter Banff National Park on the Trans-Canada.
This is active grizzly country, therefore, you should always have bear spray on your person. I advise checking with Parks Canada for any area and/or trail closures.
I highly recommend eating at Truffle Pigs in Field. It is quite the experience in dining and you will not be disappointed. We always make the effort to dine there when we are in the area. They also sell produce and groceries if you are camping.
When To ClimbAs with most scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, the driest time is from June through September. I climbed Mount Burgess in July. A serious avalanche accident occurred on the scramble route in April of 2000. It is my guess that skiing to the north summit is possible, but with considerable avalanche risk along the route. I don’t know of anyone who has done it and it is not listed as a ski summit in Chic Scott’s Alpine Ski Tours. Skiing to the south summit would not be plausible whatsoever.
CampingThe closest camp site would be quite a distance at Yoho Pass, Yoho Campsite #3. It is on Yoho Lake and I have hiked by this campsite. It is actually pretty nice, but not really that relative to climbing Mount Burgess specifically. You can go on line at Yoho National Park to pick a camp site and obtain your camping permit. You will also be required to obtain your backcountry permit which is separate, but can be obtained simultaneously if you plan on camping at a backcountry site like Yoho Pass. You cannot camp outside of the marked specific camping areas.
Emerald Lake Lodge offers premium lodging at the other end of Burgess Pass Trail. Field has one inn and several B&B’s.