Walk through a gated fence into the forest and begin to climb gently up switchbacks for 60 to 90 minutes until you reach a clearing with a beautiful waterfall on the left side of the trail. Cross this stream and continue up the trail. Some 7.5 km from the trailhead the sparkling, hypnotic, clear waters of Bourgeau Lake come into view. The shimmering waters of the lake can charm hikers and hold them here for hours. This is an extraordinary place to gaze into the transparent depths and clear one’s mind.
After the spell has been broken, follow the path and wander around the right side of the lake upward for a short bit to a subalpine cirque containing two unnamed tarns. Walk farther up the trail by the side of a stream to come upon Harvey Lake in the pass of the same name. As you travel along the pass there is a knoll on the left (northeast) where mountain sheep frequent the summer growth of grass and flowers. From the pass, the trail stays the course and climbs gradually up another 400 m to the broad summit.
Notable sights from here include Mount Assiniboine south at 163º and over 30 km away; Healy Pass and Meadows just down the hill to the southwest; and Mount Ball almost due west.
J.J. McArthur and Tom Wilson were the first to ascend Bourgeau, in 1890. Dr. James Hector had named the peak after Eugène Bourgeau on August 17, 1858. Eugène Bourgeau (1813–1877) was a botanist from Brizon in the French Alps, and his love affair with wildflowers there made him a leading candidate to be the botanist with the Palliser Expedition into the Canadian Rockies. John Palliser’s trek became a “scientific” venture to enable the granting of Royal Geographic funding, and to find information about southern passes in the Rocky Mountains.
Hector and Bourgeau began separate expeditions into the valley of the Bow River on the same day, as both had been given directives from the Palliser Expedition. Hector’s mission was to find the source of the Bow River and a possible pass to the Columbia River in British Columbia. Bourgeau, on the other hand, was assigned to explore and to collect botanical specimens.
The two parties departed together from Old Bow Fort, near present-day Morley, Alberta, on August 11, 1858, and Hector and Bourgeau became instant friends. The following day the two groups were to go their separate ways, but before parting the pair spent the morning on the slopes of Grotto Mountain, but into the afternoon Bourgeau lingered in the nearby slopes and meadows in the area while Hector pressed on in search of the headwaters of the Bow. Hector noted that “Little Bourgeau” rarely ceased working. He was always busy taking notes, making drawings, studying plants and collecting samples. During this brief time they spent together, Hector was so impressed by Bourgeau’s non-stop work ethic that he named a mountain after him. “Looking up the valley to the W.S.W., we had before us a truncated mountain evidently composed of massive horizontal strata and which I named Mount Bourgeau.”
The 44-year-old Bourgeau became renowned not only for his work, but also for his cheery, upbeat personality, making him a pleasure to travel with. Palliser wrote, for example, that
… [he] has been a most active, energetic and excellent companion, always hard at his work in which his whole soul seems engrossed, and no matter what his fatigues or privations may be, his botanical specimens are always his first care…. Little Bourgeau is a brick, his collections to me (who knows nothing of Botany) very pretty and the colours as vivid after the specimens are saved as they are in life. He is most indefatigable and always at work.