The trail to the top of Mount Burke where Cameron Lookout lies, is predominantly a moderate grade hike. Views of Cataract Creek and neighbouring mountain peaks are worth what seems like a long trail as you're walking up. The 1929 lookout is still intact after 59 years of not being in use. Inside there is a geocache tin box inside left with many trinkets and notes of travelers who have been up before. It is neat to see how far the dates go and the messages people have left behind.
The hike itself gives you a decent workout and you'll definitely need to stretch your legs after. Through various sceneries and landscapes along the way, the trail takes you through a dry creek bed and switchbacks through the forest before making your way up top to the abandoned fire lookout. We were amazed to see how well preserved Cameron Lookout was after years of being abandoned on such a windy summit! It's hard to imagine someone living there for months on end compared to current lookouts in the Rockies now.
The Highwood area is enriched with beauty, from the rich lands that the ranchers have long been making their homes on, to the glorious mountain peaks that climbers have long explored. One particular mountain found south of Highwood Valley, is the dominant Mount Burke. Official records say that a survey crew who were mapping out the area decided to name the mountain after a forest ranger, Denis Burke, who made his home beneath the slopes of Mount Burke in 1919 on Pekisko Creek. According to his granddaughter though, it was the delicious food and great hospitality of Mrs. Burke, wife to Denis Burke, that persuaded the survey crew surveying the area to name the mountain after her!
Prior to Denis Burke settling down and becoming a rancher, Denis Burke served in the North West Mountain Police (NWMP) from 1896 to 1901. In 1929, the Alberta Forestry Service built one of the very first fire lookouts on the summit of Mount Burke. This lookout was named Cameron Lookout, named after, (you guessed it!) an early rancher (Duncan Cameron) of the Highwood area.
There is a somewhat humorous yet scary story with one of the residents of the Cameron Lookout. One resident posted at the lookout, who was afraid of lightning, happened to forget to disconnect the telephone that was connected to the forestry station and wouldn't' you know a thunderstorm came over the area. As the resident was sitting next to the bed, a lightning bolt exploded through the window and shattered the bed into small pieces. He booked it out of the lookout so fast and came down Mount Burke in only his boots and long underwear! Apparently he never came back to that lookout after that but who could blame him.
When the lookout was first being built steel cables were run from a main cable in the ground (1.5km down from the lookout) to a post on top of the lookout to protect the building and keep it safe from any lightning though. I guess you quickly learn you do not have much protection when you do not disconnect your telephone cable!
In 1953, Cameron lookout was closed when easier accessible lookouts where built on Hailstone Butte and Raspberry Ridge.
Mount Burke Trip Log
The trailhead starts right at the grassy parking area just before Cataract Creek Campground. You can see the goal, Mount Burke clearly on the horizon. A beaten in path aiming directly at Mount Burke starts you off.
As you make your way along, you will eventually drop down a few meters and follow the creek before the trail brings you back up and continues along the creek from an elevated view. It is a single track trail for the most part at this point.
After about 1.4km the trail will come to a junction. There are logs on the right hand side to suggest you should go left. Hang a left and continue along the wide track. The trail is pretty compact and wide enough a few people could walk side by side. The south side of trail is a steep hill and covered in all sorts of moss.
About 900 meters later is an important turn! There is a pipe embedded in the ground and a longer silver pipe sticking out of it with a small rock cairn beside it. Just to the left of this or on the north side of the path you have been walking on is a small single track trail that starts heading up the steep hill side. Take the trail to start gaining elevation to Mount Burke. The first 50-100 meters are probably the steepest of the entire hike.
The next two and half kilometers or so are all in the forest, you start off by traversing west for about 400 meters before switchbacks bring you up to the tree line.
Once clearing the tree line you finally get to see what all the effort was for, you get a nice panoramic vista of the neighboring mountains. Essentially the first time you get to see anything as the entire forest part of the ascent gives you only a couple quick glimpses of the area. At this point you make out the summit of Mount Burke if you look closely; it is a small point behind the false summit you see.
After reaching the first point you are in the home stretch. The path is wide enough that you can walk comfortably on but since it is usually windy at this point you do want to take care. The first quarter of it is on nice path with compacted rocks, but as you get closer to the summit there is more and more scree so it does it get a bit tedious.
When you reach the summit of Mount Burke you come face to face with the former Cameron Fire Lookout. Considering it has been around since 1929 it is in what I think, remarkable condition considering the elements it faces year after year. It is also barley vandalized which is even more remarkable; it is always sad to see an amazing piece of history spray painted head to toe with all sorts of pointless insignia. The wooden carving of signatures and messages is in abundance as usual though.
For those into Geocaching there is also a geocache inside the former fire lookout. It is inside an old ammo can. There are new solar panels and other utilities placed a few meters away from the wooden lookout that are interesting to take a peek at as well.
Return is back the way you came up.
GPS Plotted Route
The route itself is relatively straight forward. The large switchback about half way across the picture above is where you start heading up hill by the embedded pipe in the ground.
You do not lose much elevation on this hike, it is generally up, up and more up. Anything lost is no more than a few meters of going up back up.
Click here to download the GPS route in GPX format. You may have to right click and select "Save Link As" if your browser does not download it automatically. Be sure to save it as a .gpx file.
What were your experiences hiking Mount Burke?
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