In September of 2014 we hiked to the Walcott Quarry location of the Burgess Shale in Yoho National Park. There is no access to this site without a tour guide, which you must book through either Parks Canada or the Geoscience Foundation. We ended up going with Parks Canada, due to their scheduling and availability better suiting our vacation plans.

We camped overnight at Kicking Horse Campground and woke in the (very) cold and dark to be ready for our 7:00am meeting at the Takkakaw Falls parking lot. Our guide, Lydia, greeted us and told us some information to prepare us for the day. It is a 12km hike both ways, 10 hours in duration and it is almost all uphill on the way to the site, so the tour is not for everyone. The groups are also limited to 12 people; ours had a diverse age range from about 18 to 60 years old.

Once we were all ready to go, we headed past the Whiskey Jack Hostel and up the Iceline Trail, covering many switchbacks along the way. Lydia stopped occasionally to tell us more information and to let everyone peel off clothing layers and have a short rest before continuing on. Her talks throughout the day touched on a broad range of topics including the history of the discovery, fossils, geologic time, how to identify fir vs. spruce trees, bear encounters, and what it’s like to work for the Parks. She was an excellent guide, and even though she said she had done the tour 50 or 60 times she was still very gung ho; you couldn’t help but share in her enthusiasm.

Trail to Burgess Shale

Trail to Burgess Shale

We had a snack stop/bathroom break at Yoho Lake Campground (the only outhouse available, except at the parking lot), and later on, a lunch stop in the trees. After lunch, we emerged from the trees to a (cloudy) view of Emerald Lake, and a bit of snow started falling.

Our guide began to worry that we would not be able to go the last steep portion up to the quarry due to the danger of slipping and falling if there was too much ice and snow on the trail ahead. Luckily there are many fossils to see on the trail below the quarry, which was the backup plan if we couldn’t get all the way up. But it turned out to be navigable, if a bit muddy, and we made it to our destination.

Walcott Quarry

Walcott Quarry

At the quarry we were provided with helmets and info sheets showing what the invertebrates looked like, with names and information. Once you brushed the snow off of the rocks, it was easy to find fossils everywhere. Lydia also brought out numerous display fossils from a cabinet, showcasing the best finds. We spent about an hour at the site, and the sun even shone on us (sometimes) while we were there.

Trilobite Fossil

Trilobite Fossil

Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake

Heading back down, we passed by a herd of 33 mountain goats (our guide counted them).

The hike down was uneventful but still pleasant, as we all chatted with each other about favourite hikes, the best gear, and the glories of dehydrated beef stroganoff. We came back to the parking lot at 5:30pm, and with a souvenir postcard of our favourite fossils, we were on our way to the next adventure – which for us was heading back up the same trail (we must really like going uphill) and then backpacking the Iceline Trail.

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Raegan

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