On Top of the World: Doing the Buller Passes Circuit

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.

IMG_4820.jpgThe 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).

IMG_6729.jpgMany 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.

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We followed a stream drainage path, and our trail criss-crossed it on rustic bridges from time to time, like this one.

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!IMG_6751.jpg

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Me & Bill with the mountain we’d circumnavigate in the background. It doesn’t look like much from this angle, does it!?
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It was a bit eerie walking through the fire burned sections of the valley.
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Our trail continued up the stream (it’s in the ravine in this photo)…
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… and then it emerged into a beautiful, wide-open meadow. Buller Pass is out of site, ahead where the trail curves to the left in this picture.
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Our trail through the meadow was so pretty.
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The stream we’d been following created a wide, marshy delta area on the valley floor.
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We stopped for a break here to drink some Chai & Mighty tea (love that name… it fuels us on all our mountain adventures) & chocolate, always chocolate.
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This is the scree slope you slowly trudge up to get to Buller Pass.
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Look carefully, and you’ll see Bill in the photo on the trail at the far left. It’s a panorama pic, so the perspective’s off. It was seriously steep! This photo is interesting because it shows the valley we’d travelled through and the pass that we were trying to attain.
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THIS is Buller Pass. Bill is off to the left for perspective. “Un-named Peak” is to the right. It’s a BIG place up there.
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Looking back into the valley we’d hiked up. Look carefully and you’ll see the trail we’d climbed up to the pass, lying across the landscape like a faint thread.

Our fabulous lunch spot! I LOVE being on top of the world!!!

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Taking in the views from our lunch spot up on Buller Pass. That’s Ribbon Lake below us and Guinn’s Pass, the lower right shoulder of the mountain in the centre, off to the far right.
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Looking up at “Unnamed Peak” (it’s called that, according to our map… how can a mountain that ruggedly spectacular and towering be un-named?!?
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That saddle-like piece of land joining the two mountains together is Guinn’s Pass… a hike I hope to get to later in this blog. It was a tough hike, but equally as spectacular.

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.

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Coming down from our lunch spot into the Ribbon Lake valley, we walked over huge chunks of fractured rock on the mountain’s talus slope.
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Even in what looks like a harsh, inhospitable environment, there is still beautiful plant life!
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If you look carefully here, you’ll get a sense of just how steep this trail was. We were heading down to the greenery far, far below.
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After hiking down the valley a good part of the way, we turned left and had to work our way back up, toward North Buller Pass. In this way, we avoided a sketchy rock fall hazard area that lay above as we worked our way around to the other side of the mountain.

It was a lot steeper than it looked! We took another tea break part way up.

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We were heading up to the low spot between those peaks: North Buller Pass.
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Walking across the scree slope up to North Buller Pass was a bit tricky.

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!

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And still, there were spots with wee flowers amongst those loose, scattered rock chunks. The blue forget-me-knots are one of my faves.
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There it is… just steps away lies the pass and our last high point of the day.
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The final push to the pass.
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We made it! This is North Buller Pass and its cairn.
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Looking out over the landscape we’d just come up… we had come up from that valley that lies in shadow.
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This is the pass itself. There’s still snow up there, even in the heat of August.
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Looking down from North Buller Pass into the valley we’d be descending soon.
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Our trail out took us past another spectacular, spring-fed waterfall.
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This is the beautiful stream we followed out, around the mountain, to rejoin our incoming trail.
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One last view of the fire burned section of the trail, filled with red paint brush flowers… such a beauty!
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We found this small rock beside the trail… doesn’t it look like the face of an old man or woman?

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!


Click here for more terrific hikes in Kananaskis Country (Canmore Area). And check out more hikes from Canada and our adventures around the world here.

13 Comments on “On Top of the World: Doing the Buller Passes Circuit

  1. Oh, this makes me miss summer! Right now in Polebridge it’s -20F and snow as far as the eye can see. Beautiful in it’s own way, for sure, but I’m getting cabin fever!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another beautiful hike Sheri. I am enjoying the view at the top in the comfort of my couch without having to deal with the slope both up and down. Thanks for the post. Looks like I need to read up more about Kananaskis area.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d definitely recommend it. Kananaskis country doesn’t have the same protection status that the national parks has (for example it has dams), but it also has far less crowds. It has spectacular trails. And fantastic scenery it’s on the outer edge of the mountains. There are great ridge walks. Others to look at are Horseshoe mountain circuit and the Galatea trail. And if you’re at all into mountain biking, the High Rockies Trail is spectacular (new last year).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This was almost painful to read! Makes me miss hiking again. I could almost feel the fresh air and crunchy soil underfoot. I knew there was some gorgeous hiking country in Canada, but I had no idea. I think I’ve just added another destination to my bucket list. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

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