⚠️ Hiking and scrambling are inherently dangerous activities. Please read my Disclaimer. ⚠️
In, Being Bertha: How a Wayward Woman Became a Local Legend, Fran Genereux highlights an interesting link between Dominion Land Surveyor, M.P. Bridgland, and Bertha Ekelund, a local woman whose father was one of Waterton’s first park rangers. Genereaux notes that during the summers of 1913 and 1914, when Bridgland was stationed in Waterton, he took a romantic interest in the young woman, who, in addition to taking pride at being “the first non-native woman to reach a summit or view a remote valley, stream, or lake” may have also run a summer gambling and prostitution racket on the side. (42-44) As Bridgland would subsequently name a peak after Bertha, it is obvious that he, like many other potential suitors, was captivated by this unconventional figure who would later become a fugitive counterfeiter, apprehended by the RCMP as she tried to escape into BC using the very trails she once loved to hike. (137)
Knowing this interesting history, made me even more enthusiastic when Andrew invited me to join himself, Mark, Josh, and Matt on this Labour Day weekend trip – my first Waterton peak in four years. To make matters even more interesting, Andrew and Mark proposed a loop route for Bertha: starting at Cameron Falls and using a drainage along the Carthew – Alderson trail to reach the ridge and summit, before descending via Alan Kane’s route to Bertha Lake. The result was a fantastic ridge walk and scramble, with the only downside being the haze from forest fires which obfuscated what would have otherwise, been stellar views. No matter, the great conversation spurred on by the awesome company I was with, more than made up for the smoke, making this into one of those memorable mountain days. Moreover, since I’ve more or less sidelined Waterton over the years, I think I will try and come back more often as I always end up having a good time. 😊
Edit May 2022: Recent scholarship by Ninna Piiksii (Mike Bruised Head / Chief Bird) suggests the Blackfoot name for Bertha Peak is Akiiohtaikiistakoo, which means ‘Woman Spirit Mountain’.
Be sure to read Andrew’s trip report! [link coming]
To use this loop, park at Cameron Falls and follow the Carthew – Alderson trail for ~2.7 KM until you come to an obvious drainage on your left. Leave the trail and ascend the drainage for ~2 km (583 m elevation gain) to reach the ridge. Scramble your way along the ridge for ~2.4 km (225 m elevation gain) to the summit. Andrew and I used a series of ramps and small chimney on the east side of the mountain to emerge just before the summit, while Mark, Josh, and Matt traversed further to the west, before scrambling up to the ridge and backtracking to the summit. On descent, we used the scramble route outlined in Alan Kane’s, Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, and after ~3.6 km (648 m elevation loss), found ourselves on the shores of Bertha Lake. From here it was an easy ~6.1 km hike (473 m elevation loss) back along the Bertha Lake trail to our vehicles parked at Cameron Falls.
Our roundtrip distance was 17 km with total elevation gains of 1264 m. Our total roundtrip time was 9 hours and 58 minutes.
Gearing up at the Carthew – Alderson trailhead at Cameron Falls.
Following the trail through a regenerating forest. In August 2017, the Kenow Wildfire tore through Waterton Lakes National Park, destroying much of the forest canopy and almost the townsite.
Getting a glimpse of Vimy Peak and Middle Waterton Lake through the trees.
I tend to avoid Waterton in favour of the Castle and the Crowsnest Pass, but I should come here more often. 😊
Approximately 2.7 km from the trailhead, a large drainage intersects the trail as it rounds a bend. Here, we would leave the trail and follow the drainage all the way up to the ridge.
Enjoying some good scrambling in the lower section of the drainage.
Mark leads us around a particularly steep section.
Gazing back to the trail.
Mount Crandell set against an early morning sky.
Approaching a small cliff band inside the drainage.
As it was a little too steep to scramble, we looked for a bypass to climber’s right.
Bushwhacking our way around the cliffs.
Glad to be back inside the drainage!
Mark leads us through our early morning stretches. 😂
When the drainage became overgrown, we were forced to follow alongside.
Andrew leans into the steep terrain as we near the ridge. Behind him is the northeast peak on Buchanan Ridge.
The view back down the drainage as we arrive on the ridge.
It was disappointing to see so much smoke, though compared to other years, this summer has had some exceptionally clear days.
A pano of Bertha Lake (right) and Upper Waterton Lake from our entry point onto the ridge. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Looking towards our first section of scrambling along the ridge. This would end up being a great route!
Glancing down at Mark, Josh, and Matt as they arrive on the ridge. In the background is Mount Crandell.
Approaching the next section of scrambling.
Andrew leads the way up!
I scramble up the next section. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Glancing back to the group.
Heading up easier terrain to a high point along the ridge.
Another look back as Andrew tops the previous section.
Andrew’s view back to me. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Mark, Andrew, Josh, and Matt carefully make their way down a section of slabs.
An even better look at Bertha Lake (centre) from the ridge.
A hazy telephoto of Bertha Lake and on the left, Bertha Falls. Our return route would utilize the Bertha Lake trail.
I must have had a big bowl of Wheaties this morning, because I kept finding myself far ahead of everyone else. 😳 This is looking back along the ridge to Andrew.
A telephoto back reveals that Josh has joined Andrew on the high point.
The group’s view from the high point. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
The summit (left of centre; middle skyline bump) finally comes into view. The false summit however, looks to be a daunting obstacle.
The group reunites. With the names: Dave, Mark, Matt, Josh, and Andrew we definitely had that New Kids On the Block vibe. 😂
This was a great ridge walk!
I check out a small gendarme just prior to the false summit. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Arriving at the base of the false summit.
We couldn’t tackle it head-on, so Andrew leads us to climber’s right in search of a route.
While Andrew explores a possible route, the rest of us enjoy a much needed break.
Though Andrew’s initial route didn’t work, we only had to walk a little further to find this tempting gully
The Nugara brothers lead us up and towards the gully.
This ended up being a very good route to reach the false summit.
Gazing back as the group ascends the gully.
The terrain kept getting better and better.
Another look back along the gully.
Near the top, Andrew and I took the opportunity to leave the gully and explore a route along the ridge.
While Andrew would continue to climber’s left…
I returned to the gully and rejoined the others.
Mark crouches atop the very cool false summit.
The view back along the ridge from the false summit.
Leaving the false summit. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Once Andrew rejoined us, we headed towards the summit. Andrew and I would end up ascending on the east side of the peak (climber’s left) while the others would find a route by traversing further to climber’s right.
Gazing back at the razor-like false summit.
Andrew and Matt tackle a small high point just prior to the summit block.
An approximation of the route Andrew and I used to reach the summit.
Following a good goat trail onto Bertha’s east side. We would soon find a series of ramps that would lead us up to a chimney.
Looking up from the lower goat trail at the chimney that leads onto the summit (left). The ramps to reach it are hidden from view.
Only my helmet is visible (lower centre) as I head towards the chimney. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
My view back down the chimney.
Waving to Andrew (centre) that this route will work. As an alternate to the chimney, the ramps also led onto the upper ridge which could also be scrambled.
I emerged from the chimney very close to the summit (2454 m).
A wide angle to the southeast…
To the south…
To the west…
To the northwest,,,
To the north…
And finally to the east. It was too bad that there was so much haze.
A close-up look at Bertha Lake. In, Being Bertha, Fran Genereux observes that it was originally named, Spirit Lake; however, after hiking to the lake and finding no spirit, Bertha Ekelund commented that it was “a silly name.” Her companion at the time was a young warden who told her that he would “rename it Bertha Lake just for her. It was unofficial, but it stuck, not just for the lake, but also for the stream and the waterfalls that empty into Waterton Lake.” (44-45)
Haze obfuscates what would otherwise be a neat telephoto of Bertha Falls.
A closer look at Mount Alderson.
Gazing over to Mount Carthew.
Mount Blackiston (centre) is one peak that I need to come back for. My son, Nathan, did it a few weeks ago from Red Rock Canyon as the usual scramble route is still closed for access.
The view across to Mount Crandell.
After ascending the chimney, Andrew headed over to help spot a route for Marl, Josh, and Matt. This is Andrew’s view back to me on the summit. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Celebrating Mark’s birthday on the summit.
One more group photo courtesy of Josh.
Glancing back to the summit from a point further to the south.
The view towards me as the group descends from the summit. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Andrew leads the way down. In front of him is Mount Richards.
Approaching another viewpoint.
A very cool rock.
The lower viewpoints allowed us to see the entirety of Bertha Lake.
Mark gets ready to test the ACME wingsuit that he received for his birthday. 😂
Andrew uses a form of Tai Chi to brace himself against the wind. 😉
While Andrew and Mark chose a slightly different line of descent, Josh, Matt, and I continued along Kane’s route.
Reconnecting with Mark and Andrew as we head down to Bertha Lake.
Gazing back as I lead the way.
We ended up following a very scenic stream for part of the way. It gave everyone a chance to refill on water and soak up the sun.
A butterfly sits delicately on some arnica.
Continuing alongside the stream.
Wow! This was just a gorgeous place to be.
After a while, it became impossible to keep following the stream, so we traversed further to skier’s left while searching for a way down.
Descending via a series of ramps and ledges – or was it chutes and ladders? 😂
Almost at Bertha Lake.
Following the stream once again.
We literally popped out from the dense bush and onto the trail in front of some hikers. We’re lucky that we didn’t get peppered sprayed! 😂
Glad to be on the shores of Bertha Lake.
Looking across the lake at our descent route.
Glancing back to Bertha Peak as we leave the lake.
It would be a ~6.1 km hike from Bertha Lake to our vehicles at the Carthew – Alderson trailhead.
Colourful Vimy Peak appears through the trees.
Josh throws caution to the wind. 😂
Enjoying the pleasant hike back.
One last look back to Bertha Peak and our route along the ridge.
Upper Waterton Lake from a viewpoint along the trail. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Drawing closer to the Waterton townsite.
A closer look at the Prince of Wales hotel as our day comes to a conclusion. I am so grateful that Andrew invited me on this trip. Not only was the route fantastic, so was the company! Thanks everyone! Hopefully, I can make it back to Waterton more often, though I seem to keep getting distracted by all those fun peaks to the north… 😊