Mt. Bourgeau is part of the Massive Range (very appropriate for this mountain) located in the Bow River Valley of Banff National Park. Banff National Park is one of four connecting national parks in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. Bourgeau was named after a botanist who was on an expedition of the area in 1860 in which he amassed a collection of 819 species of flowers and plants. Mt. Bourgeau was first ascended by McArthur and Wilson in 1890.
Mt. Bourgeau definitely serves as one of the easier referenced landmarks in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. It is a truncated mass of horizontal strata of significant shape and stands tall and unmistakable just west of the town of Banff. Its broad summit and massive cliffs catch and hold a tremendous amount of snow late into the season. The only published route I know of is the easy but long (4900’) dog leg scramble from the west. Although this route is not published in our local ski tour guide, it appears fitting for a winter ascent on backcountry skis. You pass three distinct mountain tarns along the way which make Bourgeau quite a scenic scramble and common objective. Of the many peaks I have climbed in the Canadian Rockies, Bourgeau gives up the best view of the esteemed Mt. Assiniboine.
The only published route I am aware of is the scramble up the southwest slopes. I would be tempted to ski this route, and have skied to the lake previously, but have no knowledge of anyone skiing to the summit.
The Trans-Canada Highway dissects Banff National Park east to west as you come in from Calgary. Continue past the Banff and Sunshine Ski Resort exits. Trans-Canada is a four lane interstate type of highway, but it will let you turn left across traffic into several different trailheads. The first one you come to at 2.9 km beyond the Sunshine Ski exit is the Bourgeau Lake Trailhead.
You will be required to purchase a national park pass as you enter the park. 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 Banff 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. Park headquarters are located in Banff and you will drive through the manned kiosks as you enter the park.
This is active grizzly country, therefore, you should always have bear spray on your person. We just had a grizzly fatality in Canmore, June, 2005 as well as a recent mountain lion attack.
When To Climb
As with most scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, the driest time is from June through September. I climbed Bourgeau in June and conditions were stellar. There are no published backcountry ski routes on the mountain, however, I have skied to the lake in early spring. The avalanche activity at the lake was quite extreme, but can be viewed from a safe distance.
There are several challenging ice climbs on the opposite side of the mountain that can be viewed via the Sunshine Ski Resort gondola.
There are no campsites on Bourgeau Lake Trail. The closest camping is back in the town of Banff. You can go on line at Banff 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.
The Banff National Park website has weather, wildlife reports, trail closures, etc. Outside of the parks web site, Canadian Avalanche Association is also useful, particularly for winter travel. Canadian Alpine Accident Reports is also extremely relevant. The gullys above the two before mentioned ice climbs are typically filled with snow and wind loaded. Caution is advised.