Bertha Peak Attempt

July 30, 2017. A solo attempt at an easy-to-moderate scramble in Waterton Lakes National Park.

UPDATE: The report of my successful ascent ca be found here.

I’ve been wanting to scramble this peak for a while. Bertha Lake is a perennial favourite, and ever since I found out there was a scrambling route up to Berta Peak I’ve been wanting to try it. I wanted to get a hike in today, despite the forecast high of 32 degrees in Waterton. As it turned out, the heat was the deciding factor in how the day went.

Bertha Peak is one of the scrambles described in Kane’s Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies. Two routes to the top are described. One is to the right of the waterfall above the campsite, the other is to the left. What isn’t described, by Kane or by others, is exactly how to get to those routes. There is mention made that the routes start above the campground. But it’s never made very clear as to how one gets there. There’s no detail in Kane’s book. Bob Spirko’s blog entry doesn’t mention how he got to the base of the mountain, either. I didn’t find much on other blogs, either. The reason why nobody describes exactly how to get to the start of these routes is that it isn’t really easy to describe (at least as far as I found). Trails are faint or non-existent and some bushwhacking is involved

I ended up taking the route to the left of the waterfall, which ascends diagonally up and left underneath a rocky outcrop. Getting to that track involved getting up to Bertha Lake, then following the trail around the lake counter-clockwise. I had heard that there was some orange flagging marking an off-shoot from the trail that would lead to the beginning of the climb, but I couldn’t find it. After poking around for a while, going around the lake well beyond my area of interest, and exploring for a route behind the out-house at the campground, I finally followed a faint trail that departed from the main trail as I followed it counterclockwise a short distance beyond the food-hanger for the campground. The start of the trail was fairly clear, but in short order it became indistinct. Thereafter, bushwhacking was required to find my way to the creek below the waterfall. Once across the creek, more bushwhacking was required. I can’t describe the route, because it was just a charge through the underbrush. While in the vegetation, I encountered a nice couple that were also searching for a way to the start of the climb (I’m guessing they were German). Collectively we figured out how to get there.

I let the couple get up ahead, then followed once they were well ahead. I eventually lost sight of them. The initial climb is very steep, up a crumbly, dirt track, going up and to the left under a rocky face. Once past the rocky face, the route goes upward and to the right for a short distance. There are hints of a trail here and there, but it’s hardly distinct. I eventually work my way higher, toward a shoulder that was part of the southeast ridge. Once up there, I started up the ridge. The route was more obvious at that point, though there was still some route-finding to do. Eventually, I encountered some cairns that helped guide me up to a high-point. From there, the summit was visible away to the northeast. The next step would involved making my way across a field of red scree.

Right around here is where I became aware I had a problem. As mentioned, it was a very hot day, 32 degrees and no clouds in the sky. Sometimes the weather up on a ridge is quite different than the weather in the townsite or valley, though. I had to put on layers and almost put on a toque last week on the way up Mount Lineham, despite the heat in the valley below. I figured I’d get out to the trail and see how it went with the heat. I was carrying lots of water and sipping it regularly. I was dressed appropriately and had a nice wide-brimmed hat. Turns out, all of that wasn’t sufficient. It was just too hot for me.

The first thing I noticed was that my abdomen hurt and I was faintly nauseous. My mouth was dry, but I’d been breathing heavily so that wasn’t too surprising — but I also noticed that I’d stopped sweating. Given the rather obvious symptoms of dehydration and possibly early heat exhaustion, I stopped moving and got some water out. I looked around for a sheltered spot, but there was no shade at all. I slowly drank some water, paused and drank some more. I looked up at the route ahead, then at my remaining water. I had finished most of the vertical, and had a thought that I could probably make it to the peak.

Then I came to my senses. I had to get down and get into some shade as soon as I could. The water I had remaining would likely just be enough to get me down from where I was, given my current condition. I had to keep my overarching goal in mind: to not be a dead guy on a mountain.

I managed to make it back to the lake. Route-finding on the way down was a little tricky. I used my GPS quite a lot to make sure I wasn’t wandering too far from the path I took on the way up. Strangely enough, as I descended the ridge, I came across the German couple. I’d assumed that they were far ahead of me. Turns out, they’d gotten a little off course shortly after the initial climb past the rock-face and I’d climbed past them. They were still going strong, though, so I shared what knowledge I had about the route ahead and continued downward.

I’ll have to take another shot at this some time, when it’s cooler.

A map of my wanderings. The total distance was 15.5 km, total ascent was 1081 meters.
The view up to the top of Bertha Peak from the trail below Lower Bertha Falls. Click for full-sized image.
A look at the landmark waterfall from the lake shore. One route is on the right, the other on the left. The “peak” above the waterfall is roughly how far I got. The summit is at the top right. Click for full-sized image (it’ll be easier to make out the waterfall).
This gives a sense of what you have to bushwhack through to get to the start of the ascent, which proceeds up and to the left along the bottom of the rock face.
This is an example of one of the scrambling sections. Nothing scary, but very loose, debris-strewn and crumbly.
The view from the shoulder where the route reaches the ridge. The prominence on the left is the high point I eventually reached. The summit is on the right, still quite distant. Note the total lack of shade. Click for a full-sized image.
As you ascend, you get better and better views of the far end of the lake with Mount Richards above. Click for full-sized image.
The big cairn on the high-point. This was as far as I got.
The view looking south from the high-point. Mount Richards and Bertha Lake are in the foreground. Beyond you can see Upper and Middle Waterton Lake and Vimy Peak. In the far distance, the top of Mount Cleveland is visible. Click for full-sized image.
Mount Richards on the left, Mount Alderson on the right. Click for full-sized image.
As seen from below Lower Bertha falls: Vimy Peak, baking in the summer sun. No clouds in the sky. Click for full-sized image.

3 thoughts on “Bertha Peak Attempt

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