Berg Lake Trail
Updated: Nov 15, 2020
Technical Difficulty: Moderate/Advanced
Endurance Difficulty: Moderate/Advanced
Distance: 41.6km (To Berg Lake and back)
Type: Out & Back
Time: Multi-Day Ideal; roughly 8 hours to Berg Lake and back if completing one-day trek
Elevation Gain: 1,161m
An extremely popular trail, the campsites through this pass are often booked out months in advance. The trail is epic, with stunning glaciers and incredible views along the way. A fair warning before reading on, I completed this trail in an unorthodox manner, however will suggest some itineraries that would be preferable if campsites are available and based upon my own experience.
Firstly, I was only able to secure one campsite for my trip (Whitehorn), and completed the rest of the trail including hiking back out in one day. This is not recommended for most hikers as the journey is rather strenuous to complete in one day and took me close to 10 hours as a round trip, with roughly 39-41km of terrain covered (my Strava GPS lost signal). In the one day I also managed to see Adolphus Lake in Jasper National Park by crossing the border into Alberta via Robson Pass, hiked a few kilometres along Snowbird Pass until I had a great view of the Robson Glacier (some scrambling necessary), and finally also made the journey to see Toboggan Falls before hiking out. To complete all of this in one day, some trail running was necessary. However, once again, I do not recommend this option unless you feel confident in your fitness. Most people will spend multi-days on the trail to see all of these sections in more depth (especially worthwhile to see Snowbird Pass and the glacier in all its glory) as half-day or full day trips.
Due to this I would suggest the following itineraries based on my own experience:
ONE Day - Certainly possible but brutal. Pack lightly and ensure you have enough food and water. Water sources are available throughout the journey but ensure you have purification tablets as it is recommended to treat the water here before consuming. Roughly a 14-16 hour day depending on pace and skill/fitness level. Can be shorter if just visiting Berg Lake, however if you wish to see as much as I did in one day, you'll have to move quick and be ready for a tough journey.
ONE Night - Just like I explained, stay at either Whitehorn or make the push to Emperor Falls campground for the first day. Second day leave your heavy packs at either campground (hopefully under shelter and in a secure/safe area, however ensure you leave food and scented items in bear boxes provided), and take a day pack. Then get ready to haul ass and push yourself to see as much as you possibly can before daylight runs out. This will be different for each individual and their fitness level. Not only can it be physically demanding but mentally draining. Expect roughly a 9-11 hour day, depending on how much you decide to see. Snowbird Pass is paramount, Adolphus Lake and Toboggan Falls can be skipped if needing to cut out locations from trek.
TWO Nights - I would personally attempt to push for Emperor Falls the first day (even though the toughest section is from Whitehorn to Emperor campground). If unavailable Whitehorn will also work well. Get the tough stuff out of the way early and then you can cruise to Berg Lake or Rearguard the following day for your second night, taking in the views as you do. You'll have most of the day left provided you're up early enough to see Snowbird Pass too, which I highly recommend hiking as much as you can. The Robson Glacier is worth checking out. You'll then have to hike out the next day, roughly 4-5 hours.
THREE Nights - This is the most ideal trip, although you can certainly have more nights on the trail depending on fitness and your pace (consult Google Maps for rough hiking times between campgrounds, etc. to make an informed decision). First night either Whitehorn or Emperor Falls campground, second night Berg Lake or Rearguard (or any others nearby that you think are suitable - research!), and finally on the third night you can cruise on back down to Whitehorn or Emperor (or even stay near Berg Lake!) to rest before hiking out - this is a much less draining itinerary and will provide you with ample time to complete day trips and have a complete experience.
As with all itineraries, it is preferable to do your own research. I used Google Maps to help me gauge rough estimates on travelling time between campgrounds and sites, but also reading up on the trail will prove beneficial. I hiked it in mid-July and the weather was horrid. The second day rained constantly, and most of the trail was muddy. Views were unfortunately blocked by cloud for most of my second day trek, alas the journey was still incredible, especially when I had a minute or two of clear sky to see the Berg Lake and Robson Glaciers before the next wave of cloud rolled in. You can't control the weather, but you can control what you pack. Be prepared for wet and cold conditions whilst trying to pack lightly.
Pack lightly; look for a lightweight tent and consider lightweight sleeping mats that will take up minimal room. Efficient packing is key, especially if you have never completed a multi-day trek before. If there is a group of you, try and distribute the weight evenly between yourselves; this may mean carrying some of your friend's gear - work as a team, not as individuals! I cannot recommend enough purchasing a trail/camping/backpacking stove. Look for something small when packed away, depending on how much room you have available in your pack. As for packs, something between 60-80L is ideal (once again, depends on group size and what you intend to take with you). Also bring a day pack (20-30L) for your journeys when you have the ability to leave your heavy pack behind.
It is certainly worth investing in a decent sleeping bag if you intend to make adventuring a common occurrence, not to mention if the climate is cold. My Kathmandu Odyssey sleeping bag has been one of my better investments and ranges in comfort from 5 to -15 degrees Celsius. It's lightweight and although a little bulkier than other available bags (spend more money and you'll get an even more compact bag!), it is never an issue to trek with.
In regards to clothing it is ideal to check the weather and pack only what you need. As with all packing, use common sense and don't be afraid to say no to one item or another, your body will thank you! If going with a crew, make a list and ensure between yourselves that you're not doubling up on unnecessary items.
Hiking Poles: Depending on your itinerary you may not need them, but as you'll likely be carrying heavy packs, I would certainly recommend them. They helped me to conserve energy throughout my second day journey and were crucial when I returned to Whitehorn the second day to hike the last 3.5 hours out with my big pack (that sucked).