Bertha Peak (South Ridge)

June 26, 2021. A straightforward Waterton scramble with great summit views.

  • Region: Waterton Lakes National Park. Traditional territory of the Blackfoot, Tsuu T’ina, and Ktunaxa First Nations
  • Distance: 15.5 km round-trip
  • Total Ascent: 1200 m
  • Elevation of Objective: 2450 m
  • Total Time: 7h 15m
  • Safety and Disclaimer

I tried scrambling to the summit of Bertha Peak 4 years ago but had to turn back before reaching the top. You can read about my adventures in heat exhaustion here. I had the chance to return and reach the summit this summer, this time hiking with a group from Calgary that were kind enough to invite me along. Kane describes two routes to the top in the 3rd edition of Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies. In 2017 I tried his easy route, which I found a little miserable due to unavoidable bushwhacking and an initial ascent away from the lake on steeply angled slopes that were more dirt and rubble than rocky scrambling territory. On subsequent visits to Bertha Lake, I noticed that where the trail around the lake passed across the bottom of the south ridge there was clear terrain heading upwards which looked like a far better way to ascend. Many other people have obviously had the same idea because that spot is sometimes marked with a small cairn by the lakeshore trail. Our group decided to use this route to ascend.

Access is via the very popular Bertha Lake trail. Arriving at the townsite proceed straight through the 3-way stop. Continue following this road, Evergreen Avenue, as it reaches a Y intersection with Cameron Falls Drive. Go right and drive past Cameron Falls then continue along the road looking for the sign pointing to the Bertha trailhead. Click here for the Google Map. Waterton’s major overhaul over the past few years has resulted in a parking area that’s nicely paved. It fills up early in the day during high season but there’s ample additional parking nearby on Evergreen Avenue. If you like using Google street view to scout ahead, note that the images for Waterton are 9 years old and quite notably out of date.

We followed the Bertha Lake trail up to the lake. The bridge crossing the creek below the lower falls, which once marked the beginning of the steep ascent, was damaged by avalanches and has now been removed. Hikers are instead directed to what used to be the horse trail to a crossing above the falls. This was once a ford, but now there’s a sturdy beam bridge traversing the water. Arriving at Bertha Lake, we followed the lakeshore trail counterclockwise past the camping area. We kept following it to where it ascends somewhat and crosses some rocky terrain. A short distance past there is a spot where there are obvious open slopes ascending to the right. I once saw a cairn marking this spot but it was gone this year. It’s not hard to identify, though. We turned right here and ascended.

The route wasn’t hard to discern, and just involved staying on the ridge and occasionally finding a path through some deadfall. What was particularly nice was that there were several places where there was an option to do some hands-on scrambling up decent rock. There was no exposure and those in the group who didn’t feel like scrambling could bypass these areas easily enough, typically to the left. The terrain eventually levels. Bertha’s summit is visible off to the right at this point and straight ahead is a small larch forest. We passed through the forest, which still had ample snow covering the ground beneath the trees, and emerged in a small glade. From there it was a hike on open slopes to the northeast to reach the summit.

The highlight of the summit views is the ability to see Upper Bertha Falls plunging down from Bertha Lake far below you. The upper falls are heard more than seen during the ascent along the Bertha Lake trail due to intervening trees. Having the chance to finally see this entire waterfall was worth the climb in itself. We enjoyed a nice long stay at the top. Though it was sunny, temperatures were very comfortable. It was also one of those rare days in Waterton with minimal wind. The usual buzzing flies were at the summit, but interestingly there were also hundreds of ladybugs. I don’t remember encountering any of these bugs on a summit before, so their presence was a bit of a puzzle.

For our descent we followed the same route. We did deviate a bit from the ridge to try to keep to gentler terrain. As we got nearer to the level of the lake we went a little further away from the ridge and this ended up requiring us to do some bushwhacking to get back to the lakeshore trial. In retrospect it would have been easier to stick to the ridge all the way down.

Click on the pictures the gallery below to access full-resolution images.

Route overview looking west.
A closer look at the ascent from the lake. You can see how we deviated on the lower part of the descent. It would likely have been easier just to stick to the ridge.
The objective, as seen from the trail below the level of the lower falls.
The equestrian trail is now also the main hiking trail to the lake. This is the marked turn from the old trail just before the lower falls. The old trail carries on to the lower falls, but you have to come back this way if you want to carry on to the lake.
The beam bridge over the creek, above the level of the lower falls.
The ascent ridge, as seen in profile from the lookout just before the lake. We followed the lakeshore trail to the bottom of the ridge then just followed it up to the high point. The twin waterfalls at the upper right are streaming down from the snow melting in the little larch forest. The summit is out of frame to the right.
After reaching the lake we followed the trail counterclockwise past the camping area. Eventually it reaches this rocky area. We carried on a short distance beyond to the start of the ascent.
The start of the ascent up the ridge. It’s trafficked heavily enough that you can make out a bit of a trail.
An example of some of the terrain along the ridge. Going straight up the rock made for some fun scrambling. Those who don’t want to scramble could just hike up the left side.
Some more fun scrambling terrain.
Looking back at the striking rocky face of Mount Richards’ eastern outlier on the other side of the lake.
The southwest end of Bertha Lake. The summit of Mount Richards is on the left. The impressive cliffs are the connecting ridge between Mount Richards and Mount Alderson.
The same view but from a little higher up the ridge. Mount Cleveland can now be seen beyond the intervening ridge on the left.
After some steep climbing the grade levels off and the route passes through this little forest. The summit is to the right of this frame.
Looking over towards the summit from a clearing in the little forest. The route doesn’t go directly at the summit, but carries on through the forest to the left of this frame eventually reaching a little glade and an easy ascent that avoids all the red scree.
In the glade looking towards the summit.
On the final ascent slope. Pleasant terrain with wildflowers and shrubs among the rocks. No treadmilling on scree.
Looking back from partway up the final ascent. Mount Alderson’s summit is at centre.
Mount Carthew and Buchanan Ridge eventually come into view.
The first glimpse up and over the summit ridge toward the Waterton Lakes and Vimy Peak.
The summit cairn on Bertha Peak.
Panorama looking east to south. The most striking thing is the view back down to Bertha Lake and Upper Bertha Falls streaming down out of the hanging valley. The Bertha Lake tail can be seen coming up the valley then switchbacking up through the forest. Vimy Peak and Mount Boswell are on the other side of Upper Waterton Lake to the left of centre. Mount Cleveland is in the background on the right. You can actually make out Crypt Lake’s valley if you know where to look in between Vimy and Boswell.
Panorama looking west to north. Mount Carthew and Buchanan Ridge are on the other side of the valley. Mount Blakiston is in the background at centre. Mount Lineham is to its left. Part of Mount Crandell is at the far right of the frame.
Another look towards Mount Blakiston.
Looking southwest at Mount Richards and Mount Alderson. Peaks in Montana’s Glacier National Park are in the background.
Looking along the ridge connecting to Mount Alderson. The intervening terrain doesn’t look amenable to scrambling, but on another day I may explore it a bit.
I managed to glimpse the Carthew Lakes beyond the intervening ridge.
A full southern panorama from east to west.
Another look at Bertha Lake and Upper Bertha Falls.
Heading back down.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s