Mount Burke – Highwood / Cataract Creek – Hiking Alberta

 

Abandoned Cameron Fire Lookout at the summit of Mount Burke is a noble objective.

 

 

Rolling cloud creates an awesome blanket over the mountains, as the drive west from Longview, Alberta proceeds into the Highwood/Cataract Creek region of Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.

 

Mount Burke – Cameron Lookout - Highwood / Cataract Creek, Alberta, Canada Mount Burke – Cameron Lookout - Highwood / Cataract Creek, Alberta, Canada

 

The first view of Mount Burke is shocking.  Yesterday, the prominent mountain was dry but driving south across the bridge over Cataract Creek shows the mountain, looming large ahead, covered in snow.

Perhaps this day's planned mission to achieve the 8,330 ft. (2,540 m) summit will be compromised.

 

Mount Burke – Cameron Lookout - Highwood / Cataract Creek, Alberta, Canada

 

Nothing ventured: nothing gained.  The concealed trailhead is located just off Forestry Trunk Road # 940 and is adjacent to the Provincial Cataract Creek Campground near the confluence of Salter Creek and Cataract Creek.

 

Mount Burke – Cameron Lookout - Highwood / Cataract Creek, Alberta, Canada

 

The start elevation is 5,445 ft (1,660 m) with an elevation gain of 2,885 ft (880 m) to the summit on 8 kilometers (5 miles) of trail one way.  Much of the initial flat trail, east along Salter Creek, was wiped out in the spring floods of 1995. 

There is no obvious evidence of a starting point from the parking area just outside the entrance to the campground.  There is a trail through the grass just beyond the parking area.

An off-trail along the rocky shores of Salter Creek eventually picks up the main trail following about a kilometer of hiking under clearing skies.

 

Mount Burke – Cameron Lookout - Highwood / Cataract Creek, Alberta, Canada Mount Burke – Cameron Lookout - Highwood / Cataract Creek, Alberta, Canada

 

At 2.5 KM (1⅝ miles), the junction to begin climbing the south-west, forested slope is rustic but obvious.

A pipe with an inserted pole and a bit of red surveyor tape marks the spot and after a short section of steep, muddy and very slippery trail the rustic access links into a series of outstanding, well-engineered, long-sweeping switchbacks through forest. 

Elevation is gained aggressively.

 

Mount Burke – Cameron Lookout - Highwood / Cataract Creek, Alberta, Canada Mount Burke – Cameron Lookout - Highwood / Cataract Creek, Alberta, Canada

 

Breaking the tree-line around 7,500 vertical feet, good trail morphs to predominantly cairn-guided talus and scree.  The sun is shining; the air is calm.  On the other side of a false summit there is a short, attention-getting ridge walk. 

In the 1930s, pack horses were used exclusively for transportation of supplies and personnel.  This narrow ridge was a very uncomfortable experience for horses that, unlike mules, cannot see the simultaneous placement of all four hooves.

That is why mules are used in the Grand Canyon.  There are patches of snow at the top but melt and evaporation is rapid in the warm sun.

 

Mount Burke – Cameron Lookout - Highwood / Cataract Creek, Alberta, Canada Mount Burke – Cameron Lookout - Highwood / Cataract Creek, Alberta, Canada

 

The distant objective comes clearly into view.  The Cameron Fire Lookout was first established in 1929.  The terrain was far too challenging to construct a road and supply helicopters were not incorporated until the early 1980s. 

In 1954, the Cameron Lookout was abandoned.  All the equipment was transferred to the nearby Raspberry Ridge Fire Lookout.

 

Mount Burke – Cameron Lookout - Highwood / Cataract Creek, Alberta, Canada Mount Burke – Cameron Lookout - Highwood / Cataract Creek, Alberta, Canada Mount Burke – Cameron Lookout - Highwood / Cataract Creek, Alberta, Canada Mount Burke – Cameron Lookout - Highwood / Cataract Creek, Alberta, Canada Mount Burke – Cameron Lookout - Highwood / Cataract Creek, Alberta, Canada

 

The Cameron Lookout has stood derelict for several decades.  How could any exposed wooden structure survive this long through winter snow, ferocious wind and lightning strikes? 

It does not seem possible and it is very exciting to arrive at this historical monument which attests to incredibly sound construction.  The legs are less enthusiastic but the inner child ignores them as the entire site is vigorously explored. 

The temperature is 5 degrees C on top, with a brisk breeze creating sub-zero chill, as lunch is enjoyed inside the old 3.7 m X 3.7 m (12 ft by 12 ft) wooden shelter.

The door is gone.  Wood rats have consumed portions of the floor and interior walls. Some of the anchor cables remain, albeit stretched.  One day it will be gone.

 

Mount Burke – Cameron Lookout - Highwood / Cataract Creek, Alberta, Canada Mount Burke – Cameron Lookout - Highwood / Cataract Creek, Alberta, Canada Mount Burke – Cameron Lookout - Highwood / Cataract Creek, Alberta, Canada Mount Burke – Cameron Lookout - Highwood / Cataract Creek, Alberta, Canada

 

This is an amazing place.  Sweeping vistas are spectacular and overwhelmingly beautiful.  Still pictures cannot do them justice.  It is important to stand at the top.

 

Mount Burke – Cameron Lookout - Highwood / Cataract Creek, Alberta, Canada Mount Burke – Cameron Lookout - Highwood / Cataract Creek, Alberta, Canada Mount Burke – Cameron Lookout - Highwood / Cataract Creek, Alberta, Canada

 

The hike descent is pleasant on a warm day.  Trail from, and to, the parking area is discovered.  The car still stands alone.  Like yesterday, the entire mountain has been exclusively dedicated to this solo hike on this special day.

For Fire Lookouts, a recommended  guide-book is titled  ‘Fire Lookouts in the Canadian Rockies’, authored by Mike Potter and published by GemTrek Publishing.  The guide is excellent and contains a treasury of historical information which brings the sites to life. 

Forest fires are serious business here in Alberta.  Much of the massive forest area is difficult-to-access wilderness.  When smoke or fire is spotted from a fire lookout, the location is triangulated, and a first-attack, helicopter-transported fire fighting team is immediately dispatched to extinguish the blaze.

Major airborne and land resources are prepared to roll into action as required.  The main causes of forest fires are lightning or human irresponsibility.

When hiking in the Cataract Creek area and there is an opportunity to visit a fire lookout location, but there is only time for one, choose the Cameron Lookout at the summit of Mount Burke.

This hike is spectacular over a wide variety of terrain and a substantially superior experience.

The adventure is also a more aggressive hike.  There are no signs to help, so ask for directions, and if physical condition is not the best, start early and keep an easy pace.  Remember hiking poles.  It would be wise to have an experienced hiker along to assist with route finding.

The return to the Village of Longview ends with the second and final overnight for this three-day hiking mission into the Highwood, Cataract Creek area in South Kananaskis Country.

A few additional photographs follow.  Click to enlarge.

 

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