Prairie/NWT Chapter field trip to the Burgess Shale

Message from Susan R. Eaton, Regional Director for the Prairies/NWT

The Burgess Shale is one of the most significant fossil finds on earth. These exquisite, 500-million-year-old fossils found in Yoho and Kootenay national parks are changing our understanding of evolution itself. These internationally significant treasures are protected as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Parks Canada makes it possible for people from around the world to visit in person and explore the origins of life on earth.

True confessions: I’m a geologist and geophysicist, and the Burgess Shale Fossil Beds, in my mind, represent the Holy Grail… I’ve hiked to the Walcott Quarry and the Mount Stephen Fossil Beds on at least eight occasions in the past 20 years. And, Field, a sleepy little hamlet in the Canadian Rockies, is one of my favourite haunts…

I’ve organized two private, Parks Canada-led hikes to two separate fossil locales (i.e., sites) on Saturday, July 9: A 13-person hike to the Walcott Quarry (21 kms long; 760-metre vertical gain; 10 hours to complete), and a 13-person hike to the Mt. Stephen Trilobite Beds (roughly 6-kms long; 780-metre vertical gain; 7 hours to complete).

Burgess_Shale1I’ve paid deposits for these two private Burgess Shale hikes with Parks Canada:  The guided hikes range between $46.75 and  $70 per person, depending on your age, the number of people in the hiking group, and the specific hike (see table below).

On Sunday July 10, participants can conduct a self-directed hike around Emerald Lake, also in Yoho National Park, or they can participate in a geology car caravan from Field, BC, to Canmore, Alberta.

A good level of physical fitness is required for each of the two hikes: The Walcott Quarry (the more famous of the two locales) is a tough hike. But, so is the hike to the Mount Stephen Trilobite Beds…
Explorers Club members and guests will participate in one of the two hikes on Saturday—but not both. As such, we have room for 26 people to participate in the field trip to view these majestic fossils.

Some individuals may chose not to join the Burgess Shale hikes on Saturday—and, that’s completely fine… We’ll provide materials for a self-directed, no-elevation-gain hike around Emerald Lake that’s full of information on the geology, natural history, and flora and fauna of the area. This hike will also include line-of-sight views of the Walcott Quarry outcrop (i.e., you don’t have to hike 21 kilometres and climb 760 metres to see it!). The self-directed hiking day could conclude with a late lunch on the patio at Cilantro on the Lake. Read reviews.

Yoho-parks-canadaExplorers Club members, fellows and guests of the Prairie/NWT Region will have first choice of these coveted 26 hiking spots to the Walcott Quarry and the Mount Stephen Beds. And, I need to hear from you by April 15.

After April 15, I’ll open up the hikes to members of the BC/Yukon Chapter, and, finally, to EC members and fellows across Canada.

In order to confirm a spot(s) on these hikes, please send me an email detailing your affiliation with the Prairies/NWT Chapter, and the number of people in your group. As well, I’d like you to send me a non-refundable cheque for $20/person to secure your spot on the Burgess Shale hike—please address the cheque to Susan R. Eaton. My mailing address is below.

You will each pay the remainder of the costs (see cost structure below) for the hike when we meet the Parks Canada guides on July 9. Parks Canada will also require you to sign a hiking/participation waiver prior to commencing the hike.

Costs for the Burgess Shale hike:

(17-64 years)
(65 and over)
(8-16 years)
Walcott Quarry in Yoho $70 $59.50 $35
Mount Stephen in Yoho $55 $46.75 $27.50
Stanley Glacier in Kootenay $55 $46.75 $27.50

Clients must pay for a minimum of 8 people upfront, with the balance due on hike day. If you end up with a full group of 12 hikers you will receive a 10% discount on all.
·       There is a non-refundable booking fee of $13.50 for each day booked.
·       Parks Canada reserves the right to retain hiking fees in the case of no-shows.
·       All fees are per person and in Canadian dollars and include GST.
·       Fees subject to change at any time.

Information & Map of the Burgess Shale Fossil Beds

yohomap_enField, BC, is situated in Yoho National Park, a 2.5-hour drive west of Calgary on the Trans-Canada Highway. We’ll have a group dinner, on Friday evening, at the Kicking Horse Inn’s Truffle Pig Restaurant at 7:30pm. Dinner, on Saturday evening at 8:00pm, will be at the Kicking Horse Inn or across the street at a small café.

Participants will require accommodation on both Friday and Saturday nights in Field where there are numerous B&Bs and guest houses, as well as the Fireweed Hostel and the Kicking Horse Inn. There are also two camp grounds in/close to Field. I recently booked a room at the Fireweed Hostel.

Preferably, participants should arrive in Field by Friday evening, latest, as the action starts Saturday morning. For participants staying in Lake Louise or Golden, please plan to be in Field by 8:00am. Lake Louise is a 30-mintue drive to Field, and Golden is a 45-minute drive to Field.

Where to Stay in Field, BC (Please book your accommodation as soon as possible, as Field is a sleepy-yet-popular hamlet in the Canadian Rockies.)

Sunday, July 10

Nat Rutter, also a geologist, and I are discussing  two options for activities on the Sunday:

Cilantro_on_the_Lake1) A hike… In my estimation, most Burgess Shale hikers will be quite stiff after Saturday’s hikes. But, if you’d like to hike on the Sunday, we recommend doing the self-directed, no-elevation-gain flat hike around Emerald Lake (described above) with a late lunch at Cilantro on the Lake.

2) The preferred activity: A geology car caravan trip from Field, BC, ending in Canmore, Alberta. Nat and two of his colleagues have published a great geology road book called “Climate Change and Landscape In the Canadian Rocky Mountains,” which we can use as the field guide book for the geology car caravan. We conclude the weekend in Canmore with an optional tour of the local geology museum—where you can see economic minerals like coal and limestone rocks containing corals that are reminiscent of today’s coral reefs—followed by dinner on a sunny patio ringed by mountains…

I look forward to hearing from you.

All the best, Susan
Susan R. Eaton, P. Geol., P. Geoph., M.Sc.,DIC,  B.Sc. Hon., B.J. (Journalism) Hon., MI’11
Email  (prairiesnwtatexplorersclubdotca)  

Additional Information:

First discovered in 1909 by Charles Doolittle Walcott, recent interpretation of these exquisitely preserved 505 million year old fossils has influenced the scientific view of the evolution of life on Earth. Visit this UNESCO World Heritage site and learn about our three themes:  History of Life, Mountain Building and Glaciation & Climate change in the Canadian Rockies. The publication of Stephen Jay Gould’s Wonderful Life in 1989 raised public awareness about the exquisitely preserved fossils of the Burgess Shale.  Jean-Bernard Caron’s February 2014 announcement about the discovery of the Marble Canyon site in Kootenay NP has further increased interest in visiting the Walcott Quarry. Please also consider visiting the Mt Stephen Fossil Beds, where Burgess Shale-type biota were first recognized in 1886.

If you are new to the Burgess Shale and wish to see abundant and obvious Cambrian fossils, this is the hike to do.  The site is strewn with rock slabs containing appendages of the Cambrian predator Anomalocaris canadensis; trilobites Ogygopsis klotzi, Olenoides serratus and Elrathina cordillerae as well as brachiopods and sponges. The Mount Stephen Fossil Beds were discovered in 1886, after railway workers reported finding what they called “stone bugs” in the talus on the slopes of Mount Stephen. Learn about the environment in which these creatures lived and perished and why many of the species that are found here do not occur at the Walcott Quarry site.  This is a great hike for kids who will enjoy studying the rocks to find relatively large, easily recognizable fossils.

Please note: Although the trail to the Mt Stephen fossil beds isn’t long, it is nevertheless classified as a STRENUOUS hike because the route is quite steep. The elevation gain is almost the same as for the Walcott Quarry hike, but the workout is intense as the climb is over a much shorter distance.

The Field town-site is situated at 1,280 meters (4,200 feet) above sea level.  Hikers will be climbing more than 760 meters (2,500 feet) to visit either of the destinations:  Walcott Quarry and Mt. Stephen Fossil Beds.  At this elevation there is considerably less oxygen than at sea level, and the fatigue of climbing and descending will be be noticeable if you are used to training at lower elevations. Although our guides pause for breaks along the way, you will not enjoy the trip unless you are fit and acclimatized to the altitude. The trails are well-maintained by Parks Canada. Nevertheless, they are steep and may become slippery in wet weather. Portions of the trail may be snow-covered until mid-July. Hikers may find the descent is hard on the knees or that uneven surfaces are a test of ankle stability.  In the event of injury, there is no easy way out and one must be prepared to hike out with minimal assistance.  You should not undertake these hikes if you have any respiratory, circulatory or joint problems.
unsure, check with your physician. Please!
Protection and Security of Fossils
No collecting of fossils is permitted and no disturbance or damage to any natural object is allowed.  The hikes are not research expeditions and consequently no one may break rocks at any time or location on the guided hike.  These fossil sites are located restricted areas within The Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site and are protected by the National Parks Act.  Entry is permitted only to groups led by guides who are licensed to enter these protected sites.  The fossil sites are monitored by motion detectors and cameras.

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