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Striking it Rich in the Gold Range
The KMC 2003 Climbing Camp
by Doug Brown
This is the story of the Kootenay Mountaineering Club's 2,003 Climbing Camp that was held in the Gold Range of British Columbia.
Dates: July 26 to August 2, 2003
Location: This year's Climbing Camp was held in the southern Gold Range, from July 26 to August 2.
- Maurice, Let's Not Climb Higher Than We Need To, de St. Jorre
- David, I Should Have Brought Bug Repellent, Shadbolt
- Diane, I'm So Happy To Be Alive, Colwell
- Sandra, Let's Get Going, McGuinness
- Doug, Don't Call Me Leader, Brown
- Mt Odin (9,745 ft)
- Unnamed on SE corner of Frigg Glacier(9,120 ft)
- Mt Grady (9,548 ft, we aborted 100 ft shy of summit)
- Mt Skade (7,300 ft - not much of a peak, but its got a name)
- Saturday Peak (8,858 ft)
- Mt Fosthall (8,793)
- Day 1:
- From our parked vehicles at the head of North Fosthall Creek FSR (82 L/8 1,95894), we helicoptered into a camp on the south side of Mt Odin (82 L/9 204990, 7,130 ft).
- Day 2:
- Mounts Odin and Unnamed are climbed.
- Day 3:
- Mount Grady is attempted, Unnamed is ascended again.
- Day 4:
- We moved west to a camp under (south of) Mt. Gunnerson (82 L/9 163993, 6,545 ft). Day 5:
- We climbed Mounts Skade and Saturday.
- Day 6:
- We continued south and endured Gold Range bush and bugs until we surmounted Gates Ledge and entered the Valley of the Moon; then we turned west and descended to a camp on Peters Lake (82 L/8 130930, 5,700 ft).
- Day 7:
- We ascended Mt. Fosthall.
- Day 8:
- We walked south to return to our vehicles.
Day 1, Fly In
Our convoy of two trucks drive from Nelson to a parking area near the end of the North Fosthall Creek FSR. Highland Helicopter from Nakusp arrives early, so it is a mad scramble to erect chicken wire barricades around the trucks, and change out of our penny loafers and into our mountain boots. This year's "camp" breaks with tradition, and is a fly-in, traverse, and walk-out trip, so the standard refrigerators and satellite dishes are missing, making for light packs and easy loading of the chopper (two easy loads in a Bell 206). With last year's disaster still fresh in my mind, I check the back storage compartment 8 times on each load to ensure nothing is left behind.
Under mostly sunny skies, we are whisked to a beautiful alpine meadow on the south side of Mt. Odin at 82 L/9 204990, 7,130 ft. Soft bare-foot-friendly meadow, babbling brooks, large boulders for food hanging, and splendid views make for an idyllic setting for our first campsite. Idyllic, that is, until the clouds of mosquitoes descend upon us.
Mt. Grady to the east is on our hit list, so our objective for the rest of the day is to recce a route over the "shark's tooth ridge" to the east. Maurice and Diane head off to check out the highest and most northerly notch, the route of choice for the KMC 1990 Climbing Camp ("Notch 1"). Sandy and I don't like the sound of Kim Kratky's description of this route in the 1,990 Karabiner, so we opt to take a peek at the lowest and most southerly of three obvious notches in the north-south trending ridgeline ("Notch 3"). David, who isn't feeling great, decides to rest up in camp. Idling about trying to read his book, he discovers that the Avon "Skin So Soft", that he picked up at a recent Tupperware Party, repels mosquitoes like burley repels sharks.
Maurice and Diane return with tales of loose, dirty, down-sloping slabs on the east side of Notch 1. Sandy and I find the gully up to Notch 3 to be loose, dirty, and generally unpleasant, but no worse than stiff class 3; the other side is an easy descent on talus and meadow. We decide on Notch 3 (82 L/9 213987, 7,719 ft), but to break into things slowly, also decide to leave Grady for day 3.
Day 2, Mounts Odin and Unnamed
The next day everyone heads off as a group to try the East Ridge of Odin, the highest peak in the range. Ascending to the col east of Odin (82 L/9 2,14997, 8,540 ft) proves straightforward (meadow, boulders, and snow), and takes us an hour and a half. Just below the col we discover shattered pieces of a helicopter rotor blade and various unidentified bits of broken metal - as we're in prime heli-ski terrain, we assume we've stumbled upon a crash site. Maybe walking out isn't such a bad idea after all.
At the col we rope up for our journey up the Frigg Glacier. The glacier is easy going, but we initially switchback a route across to the north (climbers right) side of the Odin Glacier to avoid some steep bare ice. On the way, we pause to rubber-neck at the fine views of Arrow Lake and the impressive Frigg Tower to the east. We then navigate back across the width of the glacier to the East Ridge of Odin a short distance below the top. From here we easily scramble up pleasant class 3 rock to reach the summit, our first of the camp, at high noon.
It is a beautiful, sunny and hot day, and we are treated to amazing views of Mt. Thor, Mt. Niflheim, and Stegosaur Ridge that joins them, as well the northern Gold Range as far as Mt. Begbie (we think). To the west is the aesthetic silhouette of Mt. Fosthall, a view that will become very familiar over the coming days.
After a prolonged summit lounge, Sandy begins earning her nickname, and gets us moving again. We retrace our steps back to the col and arrive at 2:30. As the day is yet young, we eventually all saunter off and make our way along the ridge to the summit of Unnamed, which provides very fine views of Odin and Grady.
Day 3, Mount Grady and Unnamed
Mount Grady is the western peak of the impressive double-summited massif of Burnham and Grady. The peaks are sheer on both south and (especially) north sides, sport an impressive 500-foot notch between them, and are very visible from Highway 6 north of Nakusp and on the Galena Bay ferry.
Today Sandra and I elect to have a go at Mt. Grady. We leave camp at 5:00 am and grovel our way up the gully to Notch 3. By 5:15 am it is already warm, and we are in shorts and t-shirts and I am sweating heavily. We reach the notch at 6:15 and descend mostly easy ground to the lake below (site of the 1973 and 1p990 "high camp") by 6:50 am.
From here, we start following Kim Kratky's excellent instructions printed in the 1990 Karabiner. We ascend the gully to prominent notch in the next N-S shark's tooth ridge; it looks to be treadmill scree, but turns out to be quite reasonable, and after scrambling the class 3 chimney in the middle of three gullies that exit the main gully, we reach the notch at 7:20 am.
From the notch we descend down into the next drainage and contour around the basin and then climb boulders and steep, grassy goat tracks to gain the South Ridge of Grady a short distance south (climber's right) of a prominent notch. We are finally on our route now, a hard four hours from camp.
The south ridge starts as an amble, but soon rears up. We soon reach the two gullies Kim refers to, and take the right (east), less obvious one. While Kim and Hamish scrambled this section in flip-flops, Sandy and I soon have the rope out - you're supposed to use a rope on fourth class terrain, right?
Unfortunately, with our on-and-off again use of the rope, we're rather slow, and don't reach the junction with the West Ridge until 11:00. From here things get really exciting (for such a geriatric pair as ourselves). The climbing isn't particularly difficult, but the exposure is thrilling - steep slabs for 1,000 feet on the south; the north side of the knife-edged ridge is overhanging, providing 3,000 feet of vertical entertainment. We feel cowardly as we carefully belay much of this section knowing that Kim and Hamish skittered along unroped and in bare feet.
The West Ridge is long and (for us) complicated. Alas, 2:45 finds us topping out on a high point on the ridge about 100 vertical and 500 horizontal feet shy of the summit. As the West Ridge is sharp and overhanging to the north, but often not particularly steep, we know that rappelling isn't an option, and we will need to down climb almost the whole way. Discretion (cowardice?) wins out over ambition and we turn tail bitterly disappointed that after almost 10 hours of effort we are thwarted so close to the top.
We descend the West Ridge with two 30 m raps and much down climbing, but as we short-rope most of it we are much faster than anticipated. We grind our way home over the two intervening ridges to arrive back at camp at just as the last of the daylight fades. The rest of the crew, bless their hearts, take pity on us and quickly ply us with hot food and drink.<>David and Maurice spent a relaxing day wandering the ridges above camp, summiting Unnamed again, and investigating a route along the ridge line to Grady. Diane wandered in the meadows near camp doing the stuff artists do.
Day 4, Move Camp to Under Mount Gunnerson:
Having eaten as much of our heavy loads as possible, it's time to move on. We traverse west on meadow and through light trees to "Silvertip" Lake (82 L/9 1,87982, 6,800 ft) where we meet a geology graduate student from Queens University and her assistant who are camped here doing fieldwork.
We follow the outlet stream for a short distance, and then turn north (right) and follow a meadow ramp about 200 m. Here we follow a narrow ramp back south through the first cliff band. We descend through some light bush and then take a series of ramps, ledges, and game trails left across the top of another cliff band. We exit off this cliff face onto a talus slope about half way down the cliff. Once on the talus, we easily descend to the forest below. From here we make a descending traverse to the northwest through thick bush and avalanche-damaged forest to a lake at 82 L/9 175985 (5,650 ft). David starts threatening the management of Avon.
It is another cloudless and very hot day, so we take shelter in the shade of some trees at the lakeshore for our lunch. After taking sustenance, we continue up the drainage a short distance and then turn left and bushwhack up steep ground, eventually making camp on the shore of a beautiful small lake at 82 L/9 1,63993 (6,545 ft). The lake is remarkably warm, and most of us jump in for a refreshing swim. It would be a splendid camp but for the bugs: the mosquitoes are unbelievable. David starts threatening the workers at Avon.
Day 5, Saturday Peak:
Today, David, Sandra, and I head off at the civilized hour of 7:00 am for an assault of Mt Gunnerson. Maurice and Diane elect to have a leisurely breakfast and then wander the ridges around Mt Skade and maybe follow us on Gunnerson.
Gunnerson is an attractive shark-fin shaped peak, but its lower slopes look suspiciously loose. The three of wade through a dense cloud of mosquitoes all the way to the Gunnerson-Skade col. From here it is obvious that the lower slopes of Gunnerson are horrible - , crumbly, and loose slag. It is a quick and unanimous decision to change our objective to the mighty, but more distant, Saturday Peak.
Later in the day Maurice and Diane poke around a bit looking for a route around the slag, but find none.
David, Sandra, and I continue over Mt Skade, which is followed by a few more ups and downs before reaching the toe of the Saturday Glacier. Out comes the rope, and we tromp up the gentle west side to below the bergshrund. From here it gets interesting: I lead off crossing the gapping 'schrund on a solid bridge, and ascend snow to 50+ degrees (big, big runout) to reach a rib of rock descending from the NW Ridge. After Dave and Sandy join me, Sandy leads off on fourth class rock to reach the NW Ridge proper. From here is a very pleasant class 3 scramble on solid rock to the summit(2).
As it is yet another hot, cloudless day, we lollygag around the summit rubber-necking at the view for a while before Sandy gets us moving on our descent. On the way down the ridge, we elect to descend a wide, loose ramp dropping from right to left (east to west) that delivers us to the top of the glacier about 100 m NW of our ascent route. A full 30 m rappel takes us just to the lower lip of the bergshrund. We then scamper down the glacier this time skirting around the terminus of NW Ridge of Saturday. Rather repeat the up and down over Skade and associated ridgelines, we descend the drainage of the north fork of Ledge Creek; it is mostly filled with avalanche debris and makes for quick travel. A loathed end-of-day grunt back up to camp is dispatched in plenty of time for a dip in lake.
Day 6, Move Camp to Peters Lake:
The attractive form of the north side of Mt Fosthall has been calling to us all week, so we decide to move camp a day earlier than planned so we can make of ascent of Fosthall before we exit out to the vehicles on Saturday. On our way to camp at Peters Lake, we will tackle Gates Ledge, a significant obstacle in the form of a ridgeline protected by cliffs, rotten rock, and Gold Range bush. We have been checking it out along the way, and it doesn't look too bad, but Dave Smith has warned that finding the route through the cliffs is tricky and involves some nasty bush.
We head west from camp and climb a open ramp up a ridge line and start contouring around the basin below Icebound Lake hoping to stay above the bush as long as possible. Relatively easy travel, with the exception of one unpleasant traverse across a greasy slope, brings us to the top of a ridge line running parallel to, and just east of, Gates Ledge (around 82 L/9 163982). This ridge initially provides pleasant travel in open forest, but after a while, thickening bush pushes us into the boulders and thin trees of the drainage to the west. Traversing through increasing bush from here, we eventually spot a narrow boulder field that we think is the one Dave talked about and the one we had spied from our vantage points to the east. We traverse another steep slope of greasy vegetation and ascend the (climber's) right hand side of the boulders. When the boulders run out, we continue up steep and nasty bush (hand-over-hand alders and huckleberry), eventually ascending a faint animal trail up very steep dirt and soft vegetation to top out on Gates Ledge at 82 L/8 172965 (small cairn on top).
From here conditions improve dramatically. We continue on through open forest in the hot sun to a lunch spot in the shade by a stream. After lunch we continue through amazing fields of wildflowers on our way to the unusually named Valley of the Moon (I figure it should be named Valley of the Flowers) and the very beautiful Fawn Lake. I'm itching to plunge my sweaty, smelly person into the lake, but after a short break, Sandy again gets the herd moving, and we begin our descent to Peters Lake. An easy walk through light to moderate bush brings us to an official Monashee Provincial Park campground on the south shore of Peters Lake. The campground is deserted, and I for one, will enjoy not hanging the food tonight. Everyone but Sandy enjoys a swim in the remarkably warm water. Mercifully (and remarkably), this campsite is nearly bug free, and we enjoy sitting around unmolested for the first time in nearly a week.
Day 7, Mount Fosthall:
Today the five us head off together to tackle the south ridge of Mt Fosthall. After enjoying fine views of the attractive north side of this peak from many vantage points over the past 6 days, the climb itself is a bit disappointing.
A sturdy BC Parks bridge gets us across the creek flowing out of South Caribou Pass, and then an intermittent trail takes us easily to South Caribou Pass, where we lounge in the sun conducting an animated environmental cost/benefit analysis of the heli-ski/heli-hike industry.
From the pass, we contour around, mostly on pleasant meadow and easy talus to the South Ridge of Fosthall. Here the ascent route deteriorates into a Rockies-style rubble heap. But not to be deterred, we grovel our way up the unstable but easy angled ridge to the summit. Having dispensed with the slag, we are treated to splendid views (cloudless skies again) of all of our previous ascents and much of the terrain we have traversed in the past week, so despite my whining, it was a very appropriate ascent for our last climb of the trip.
An easy descent the same way gets us home in plenty of time for the now obligatory pre-dinner swim.
Day 8, Head Home:
Sadly our trip is nearly at its end. But the moaning and snivelling about damaged feet has risen to a crescendo, and everyone is pretty much ready to head home. We head off following a Park's trail, which soon becomes intermittent, to Margie Lake. Our route takes us through delightful meadow. Unfortunately, it also takes us past some swampy areas, and the incredible clouds of mosquitoes push me personally to near the breaking point - they seem to fight each other to be the first to bite me through my freshly applied insect repellent.
There is rumoured to be a blazed trail from Margie Lake to the North Fosthall Creek FSR, but we couldn't find it. We followed a flagged route from Margie Lake that climbed high above the lake and then ... ended. We steeled ourselves for one final bushwhack to the FSR, but contrary to our fears, it proved to be quite good travel and we were soon at the road end. Once on the road, it was a quick jaunt downhill to the vehicles.
We had 8 cloudless and very hot days - in Canada, and in the mountains. Extraordinary. We travelled through seldom visited and very spectacular country. We climbed a few peaks, and fed more than a few mosquitoes. We teased David mercilessly about whatever we could. Our daily swims in the warm lakes were an unexpected bonus. Overall, it was a grand trip, and one to remember.
- Back Dave Smith, a Nelson-based ACMG guide, led an ACC group on very similar trip in July 2002; he very generously shared with me his "Guides Report" which was a very helpful planning tool and gave us some much appreciated directions at a couple junctures along the way.
- BackDave Smith rated the final section of the NW Ridge as class 4, but we all felt that a rope was unnecessary.