The Buller Passes hike is a Kananaskis area, back country trail with superb views, a bit of route finding and it makes for a very fun day. If you’re brave, there’s a perfect waterfall and swimming hole that a mountain stream plunges into (the size of a hot tub, the bowl is carved out of the rock by the passage of time… but being filled with mountain spring water, it is so very, very NOT hot!).
The Buller (2485m, 8150′) and North Buller Passes route is a circuit that takes you initially up an established route to Buller Pass, a high shoulder that overlooks Ribbon Lake, and Guinn’s Pass (2,420m, 7,940′), and then on to North Buller Pass, circumnavigating Buller Mountain. We did this trail in August, and had the trail, with the exception of one hiking couple that we saw on our way out, to ourselves.
The trail starts out heading toward the mountain in the middle of this photo, with Mount Engadine on the right, through a forest fire section that is starkly beautiful. Essentially, the route makes you do one lap around Buller Mountain, mounting its two shoulders, the two high passes, and has a trail in & out (making the route look like a balloon on a string).
Many of the tree trunks were blackened and bare of greenery, but the regeneration on the forest floor was absolutely beautiful, with bright green grasses and flowers like the tall, pink fireweed all around. (FYI: Fireweed is called fireweed because it’s one of the first plants to spring up after a forest fire.) The blackened forest had such a somber beauty.
You might look at these photos and think to yourself, “oh, how tragic.” But what many people do not understand is that forest fires, and the growth and regeneration that occur afterward, are an essential part of the mountain ecosystem. They are important for its survival, and critical for the health of its forests, and for the wildlife that calls it home.
About half way up to Buller Pass we came to this beautiful waterfall and pool. On our way down at the end of the day, we caught two young kids swimming in it (actually, they were just getting dressed!!). They said the pool was up to chest height in depth. It was such a beautiful spot!
Our fabulous lunch spot! I LOVE being on top of the world!!!
The next stage of our adventure became more difficult as the trail disappeared for a bit. On our map, it was listed as a “suggested route.” And though there was a trail that headed down the other side of the pass and went toward Ribbon Lake (and the back country campground and warden cabin there), there was no trail that went around Buller mountain and up to North Buller Pass. So there was some map reading and route finding involved as we headed down into the valley and across the side of Buller Mountain and then across its talus slope to get up to North Buller Pass (2475m)… nothing too difficult, as it was pretty clear, visually, where we were heading to, but it was a challenge, nevertheless.
It was a lot steeper than it looked! We took another tea break part way up.
The rock was loose and moved beneath our feet. There was no trail. We had to plant our feet quite carefully. And it was a lot steeper than this pic makes it look!
All in all it was a fantastic full day trek, a decent distance (18km) and elevation gain (870m), and it tested our developing map reading skills. This is the kind of remote trail where you can truly get away from it all. I loved it!
Trekking up a mountain’s shoulder, hiking through a flowering alpine meadow, snowshoeing through a dense pine forest, or taking in the 360 degree views from a ridge top vantage point make me feel alive. The experiences in these places give me a profound sense of space and place.
Travel does a similar thing, pushing me out of my comfort zone, exposing me to new experiences, new people and new ways of thinking; it also gives me that sense of space and place in this world.
I believe that life is lived in the contrasts: when you experience simplicity and complexity and life's ups and downs, whether they be physically in this world or mentally in your own personal inner landscape, you know that you are truly living.
The bigger they are, the more there is to explore!