Burgess Shale Hike
In 1909 Charles Doolittle Walcott discovered one of the most important fossil locations in the world, the Burgess Shale, on the southwest side of a ridge between Mt. Field and Wapta Mountain, in Yoho National Park. The Burgess Shale provides an amazing window into what the world looked like half-a-billion years ago.
The Burgess Shale fossils have been called the world’s most significant fossil discovery, mainly because of their great age, their diversity and the incredible detail of their preservation. What makes them different from other fossil sites is that a series of geological factors resulted in these soft-bodied animals (mostly arthropods) having not only the hard parts of their bodies – bones, shells, teeth – but also the muscles, gills, digestive systems and other soft body parts preserved allowing scientists an unprecedented opportunity to observe not only these details but also the way the creatures lived and interacted.
The Burgess Shale fossils merit special interest because of their age - from the Cambrian period, 505 million years ago, shortly after an astonishing burst of biodiversity occurred in the ancient oceans. Also their exquisite preservation including amazingly fine details of the structure of the animals are seen in the fossils, which tell paleontologists much more about what the ancient animals looked like, and how they lived.
Please note: The Stephen hike is classified as a DIFFICULT hike despite it being the shortest hike.
Elevation gain: 780 m (2,560 ft).
Distance: 6 km (3.6 mi) round trip.
Difficulty: Difficult — short but steep (8 hours).
Departure time: 8:30 am mdt.
Return time: 5:00 pm mdt (approximately).
Are You Ready?
The Field town-site is at an elevation of 1,280 meters (4,200 feet), and you will be climbing over 760 meters (2,500 feet) to visit either the Walcott Quarry or the Mt. Stephen Fossil Beds. At these elevations there is considerably less oxygen than at sea level, and the fatigue of climbing and descending will be exaggerated if you are used to training at lower elevations. Although our guides stop for lecture breaks along the way, you will not enjoy the trip unless you are fit and acclimatized to the altitude.
You should not undertake these hikes if you have any respiratory, circulatory or joint problems. If unsure, check with your physician. Please!
You will be out on the hikes for six to ten hours. A lot of weather can pass through Yoho National Park in that time. Any weather forecast you check is generalized for the Park, and cannot be relied upon for the hike area. It can be hot and sunny in Field while at the same time it is windy and snowing at your destination. There is no natural protection from the weather at the fossil sites.
You must bring a day pack with extra clothing. Suggested are: windproof/waterproof jacket with hood; long pants; gloves; extra socks; a sweater; moleskin (to treat blisters); a hat; and sunglasses. Even an umbrella can be useful on wet days with no wind.