KMC – Kokanee Mountaineering Club
In past issues of the KMC Karabiner, old articles from the Nelson Daily News were published and they provide interesting insights into mountaineering in the early 1900s. Nelson especially seems to have had an active climbing history with almost all of its trips based at Kokanee.
On August 8, 1907, a letter from JW Cockle of Kaslo discussed the practicality of erecting a mountain chalet at the Kitchener Glacier (now Kokanee Glacier) in order to promote tourism in the Kootenays. He argued that the Kaslo route (Keen Creek) is superior to the Kokanee Creek route. “This is the second lying attempt to disparage the Kaslo route to the magnificent glacier and anyone who has ever been over the ground could not fail to see that the only feasible route was via Kaslo, and the finest chalet site in the world is on the Kaslo slope.”
In response, FG Ebbutt of the Nelson 20,000 Club denies that his club has disparaged the Kaslo route and “this club would only be too happy to cooperate with you in anything that would tend to develop the possibilities of the district as a whole from the tourist point of view.” The dream of a chalet at the foot of the glacier never did materialize and it is interesting how business orientated these men are. Tourism seems much more important then than now.
From the Nelson Daily News of September 8, 1921 is an article entitled “Mountaineers Storm Heights of Kokanee Glacier District”. 39 climbers were enthusiastic about their trip “the memory of the enchanting glimpses of the enormous ice field, the magnificent rock buttresses, terraces and pinnacles, no less the genial gaiety of their fellows throughout the trip, will live long with the novices as well as the veteran climbers of the party”. They made their way from Nelson by boat and car to Molly Gibson Landing and then by foot to the camp at Molly Gibson Concentrator. All were “merry and bright” and entertained by Pipe Major William McLeary. With bad weather they didn’t start for Kokanee Lake until 1:30PM.
Back in camp, they held the annual business meeting of the KMC, the Kokanee Mountaineering Club. Discussions were held about circulating photographs to boards of trade, tourist associations and hotels. The provincial photographer was to produce a film that would be sent on tour. The guests from Minneapolis and Ann Arbour, Michigan wanted the film to use in lectures back home. New officers were elected with Capt. CW Busk as honorary president and Ross Fleming, president. There were 3 committees – Route committee, Park committee and Publicity committee.
With good weather, they were up at 6AM and 20 members started out for Mt Ganser, the highest peak in the range (Cond – 9,200′). Under deteriorating weather, 15 made it to the top, including Mrs C.H. Ganser, in whose honor the club named the peak. The pipe major played his pipes on top in the forceful driving wind. A bottle with all participants names was placed under a newly built cairn. They sang “God Save the King”. That night they formally buried in a casket, Johnny Walker, to the tune of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”. “One member of the part, no less a person than Johnny Walker of international fame, who by a process of attrition had been laid low the night previous, had, unknown to the majority, succumbed, killed with kindness”.
September 5, 1932 – Nelson Daily News. The article described a trip to Kokanee with a group of 22 led by Rev. George Kinney, who led the first, but unsuccessful attempts on Mt Robson in 1908/1909. It took 1½ hours to drive from Kaslo to Joker Millsite “in spite of the fact that the road was littered with remains of snakes which had broken their backs trying to get around the turns”. They slept out in the open on balsam boughs.
Up at six, breakfast was bacon and eggs, hot cakes and coffee. They were divided into four groups. The third group wanted to be the first to eat fried pork sausages on the glacier and started off carrying dry wood, a large tin of sausages, and a frying pan. The two nurses present took everyone’s pulse as their breathing was coming in short pants and that their “pants were getting shorter and shorter the higher they climbed”. It was getting late when they crossed Coffee Pass, some turned back to avoid darkness and “their pants had grown too short”. The sausage was cooked at the crest of the glacier between Cond and Esmeralda. “The 9000 foot elevation may interfere with the proper cooking of eggs, but it has no effect on the frying of sausages”…. Kinney became ill and finally got back to camp in the dark.
After the rest left for home, group 3 hiked on the western trail to the Slocan Chief mine and Kokanee Mountaineering Club cabin. After signing the register of their climb at the cabin, they returned to camp and had a dinner of sirloin steak, French fried potatoes, fruit salad and super-saturated coffee. With the intention of getting up at 5 to climb Kokanee Peak, they woke up after 8, didn’t go and spent most of the day eating.
In 1989, Sue Port wrote about the history of the club, on the occasion of its 25th anniversary. It was published in the Karabiner.
The Club’s History
A Brief History of the Kootenay Mountaineering Club and of its Antecedent, the Kootenay Section of the Alpine Club of Canada
In the 1950s and early 60s there were many active hikers and climbers in the Kootenays. A few of them belonged to the national Alpine Club of Canada, and wondered if more might join if a Section of the ACC was formed. Rick Askew and Jack Steed gathered information, Kim Deane drew up a constitution, and in April 1964 the Kootenay Section of the Alpine Club of Canada, with 12 charter members was formed. With it began the Club journal, the KOOTENAY KARABINER, created and edited for the first years by Chris Penn and Jack Oswald. Kim Deane was the first chairman, followed in November by Helen Butling.
In the spring of 1968 Karabiner, Chris Penn outlined the accomplishments of the early years: “The Kootenay Section of the Alpine Club now has some seventy members, and a more cheerful, lively, likeable bunch would be hard to find. In the short time since the Section was founded, members have made climbs, explorations and first ascents almost all over the Kootenay Region, they have cut and cleared trails, developed an excellent weekly rock school (at which it is nothing to see thirty people climbing), put on a year round program of climbs and ski tours, held their own Centennial Climbing camp, produced their own journal, fought hard for the preservation of Kokanee Provincial Park, and completely renovated the old Slocan Chief Cabin there.”
There was indeed very active involvement in the Club at that time, with a very high attendance on many weekend trips, (18 on Mt. Loki without a recci was judged excessive), a great expenditure of energy on the Mulvey trail, and large work parties at the Slocan Chief (32 people over four weekends n 1965). There were also notable first ascents of Mts. Pambrun and Thor and of peaks and routes in the Mulvey area.
However, the overwhelming majority of those seventy lively members were merely Section Associates. An ACC by-law required that certain of the Executive positions be filled by full ACC members, and these became too few to continue rotating as Club officers. Although the Kootenay Section tried to introduce changes to its Constitution that would allow it to continue, when an executive was elected that violated the by-law, the ACC dissolved the Section in early 1969.
The executive carried on, and as Chairman Iain Martin stated in the Spring 1969 issue of the KARABINER. “Under the new name of Kootenay Mountaineering Club it is business as usual for us.”
What did the next 20 years bring? They brought many new members, with a 1988 total of 225. However, the core of those very actively involved has not increased proportionately and the problem of finding leaders and executive members seems to be constant. The weekend trip schedule has expanded since the early years, when there were trips approximately every other weekend. The Club now tries to offer a choice between an easy and strenuous trip each summer weekend, with weekly ski, hiking, or climbing trips much of the year. Fewer trips are into Kokanee Glacier Park now that logging roads and four-wheel drive vehicles have opened up so many other areas, but many of the familiar trips are still as popular.
The popular annual ski trips into the Slocan Chief Cabin at Easter and May 24th, are no more. Instead of KMCers being almost the only users of the cabin, it is now known far and wide and its winter use determined by an elaborate “lottery”. Rogers Pass has become the new Easter weekend destination. With the advent of telemark gear there are many more skiers in the backcountry, with some Club members enthusiastically using any open logging roads as access to the slopes.
Week long camps have always been an important part of KMC activities, from the first Centennial Camp at Earl Grey Pass in 1967 to the four weeks of climbing and hiking camps, attended by 80 members in 1988. The first six camps were “general” ones, with the first separate hiking camp being held at beautiful Bonnie Gem Lake in 1974. The comfort level increased considerably with purchase of a large cook tent and propane stoves before the 1973 Gold Range camp, and the acquisition of a second set of gear in 1979 greatly improved relations between competing hikers and climbers. All could now hope to enjoy that sometimes elusive, fine summer weather as camps could now operate simultaneously.
Some climbing camps have been in rarely visited areas and have resulted in a number of first ascents, new routes and the naming of mountain features, while hiking camps, which have provided a few new routes as well, have often inspired poetry, paintings, and masquerade madness.
The debate over huts – do they lessen or increase the wear on fragile alpine areas? is still with us. The Club has itself built only one hut, but over the years has been involved with several others. Much time and effort went into the Slocan Chief Cabin in the early years, both in saving it from collapse and in the annual maintenance and wood gathering (the fall work parties were social events as well, and there was the lure of Helen’s lemon pies!). This maintenance has been taken over by the Parks Branch in 1977.
From the start, the Club was interested in building its own Section hut and in 1969 the Mulvey hut was prefabricated in Rossland by members and other volunteers, and erected during a camp in Mulvey Meadows. What a welcome sight it was after the struggle up the Mulvey headwall. By the mid 70s there was easier access up Bannock Burn Creek and the hut received heavy use, but with the closure of the road in 1980, the hut’s use declined drastically. Once again it is accessible, but its future in the new Valhalla Park is uncertain. In the late spring of 1989, the Parks Branch had to burn down the Mulvey Hut, a victim of twenty years of weather and wear, and of a bizarre and tragic accident.
Huckleberry Hut, an old mining cabin, has been maintained since 1963, with major reconstruction at that time and again in 1986. The Ridge Cabin on the way to Old Glory was maintained in the 70s, but in July of 1989, it too burned to the ground. The cause of the fire is unknown, however lightning is suspected.
New responsibilities were undertaken in 1986 with the KMC sponsorship of a federal work grant project to build ski touring cabins in the Bonnington Range. This resulted in the Copper and Grassy Mountain Huts, with plans for a third near Siwash Mt. in the future – the Kootenay Haute Route.
With the completion of the Mulvey Creek Trail in 1968, the Club has never again been so involved in trail building. This trail fell into disuse with the opening of the Bannock Burn road access, and has now been abandoned to the grizzlies, who made memorable the trips of a couple of climbing parties. Most subsequent years saw at least one trail clearing trip on the schedule – Joker Lakes, Paupo Basin, Enterprise Creek, Drinnon Lake, but the turnout has decreased over the years.
There have also been many KMC letters written to request improved access into the mountains, with some eventual successes being the Woodbury Creek bridge (both in the 60s and the 80s), the Keen Creek bridges, and the removal of the gates on the Little Slocan Road.
When the Club began there were many enthusiasts but few climbers. An informal Wednesday evening Rock School at the Kinnaird Bluffs proved popular and has evolved over the years into the present mountaineering course of lectures, rock climbing evenings and a day and weekend course of snow and glacier travel at Ymir Mt. and Glacier Creek, access permitting. Tape waist slings have given way to standard issue harnesses and hard hats, but the same query still is heard – where do all the students go after they complete the course?
It was expected that some of these enthusiasts might get lost or hurt and, soon after the formation of the Kootenay Section, an active Mountain Rescue group started training and continued for about ten years. Although it was called out on a few occasions, enthusiasm flagged and it was disbanded in 1977.
In 1963, Club members took on the responsibility of recording data from the snow survey course near the top of Old Glory in order to continue the long record kept by the former Weather Station there. This involved monthly trips from January to May – the early and late trips being made more interesting by lack of daylight, or of snow. In 1975, this was moved to the more accessible Record Ridge, although Old Glory was also surveyed until 1983.
Since members spend, or dream of spending, so much time in the backcountry, it was natural that the Club has become involved in many conservation issues, local and provincial, over the years. The protection of Kokanee Park has been an ongoing struggle. The early protests against the downgrading of the Park to Class B to allow mineral exploration/exploitation were repeated against certain provisions of the Park Master Plan in 1987. At present, the Park core is Class A, and secure, but undoubtedly the struggle will continue in the adjacent Recreation Areas.
The KMC was the first organization to work for the creation of a park in the Valhallas, with its brief to the Provincial Government in 1970. It continued to lobby for this over the years, to support the Valhalla Wilderness Society and to be involved in the Valhalla Park Master Plan process in 1987. Fifteen years ago, when the Fry Creek drainage was threatened by logging, the KMC prepared a brief on Fry Creek and the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy, which is now in the midst of a Master Plan process. Once again, the KMC is involved with other groups in trying to preserve these areas.
Numerous other letters have been written to voice members protests against the short term gain philosophy of some government bodies and businesses, and submissions on both Kokanee and the Purcells were sent to the Wilderness Advisory Committee during its hearing in 1985/1986.
There is also involvement in other provincial conservation and land use issues through KMCs membership since 1975 in the Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC. Although we at times feel far removed from this coast – dominated body, it is becoming an important and respected voice in the province and stronger ties are looked for.
Of course we KMCers get together not only in the mountains, but at semi-annual dinners (how else to get a quorum for an AGM?), for evenings of slides and various other excuses for a party. Club members have shared their travels and exploits in many mountainous parts of the world – Nepal, Peru, the Haute Route, the Coast Range and other exotic places – and guests such as Hans Gmoser, Doug Scott, Gaston Rebuffat (such a flurry of bilingual correspondence in 1966), Pat Morrow, Jon Jones, John Roskelley and many others in the community.
Through the years the KOOTENAY KARABINER has recorded most of these activities. The semi-annual journal became annual in 1970, and a monthly Newsletter was added. The Club is also very fortunate to possess a complete set of the CANADIAN ALPINE JOURNAL. Most of the volumes were the gift of Dr. Anne Norrington in 1964, with others contributed by Helen Butling. These with a few dozen mountaineering books and related items, make up the KMC library.
What is missing from this account is the most important item, the names of the many, many, individuals who have worked hard over the years to make everything happen. They have led trips, organized camps, kept the finances in order, ruled over unruly meetings, edited the Karabiner and Newsletter, written briefs and letters, built huts, cleared trails, shown slides, tied students up in knots at the bluffs and thrown them down crevasses in the Truce Glacier, some for a season or two, and others for more years than they care to remember.
We hope that the members will continue to do so for the next 25 years.
KMC History – 1989-2015
by Ron Perrier
By 1989, Valhalla Provincial Park, Fry Creek Canyon Recreation Area, and the Purcell Wilderness were all done deals and the club had an active part in that process. A big Anniversary Party was held, with entertainment from the “Kootenay Puppet Theatre Group”.
Helen Butling, one of the founding members in the club, a president for several years, and a driving force in all club affairs, died in 1989. Her “cookbook” served as the basis for many of the recipes that continue today in Hiking Camp. She also organized the volunteers who worked yearly on the Slocan Chief Cabin. Fighting hard on conservation issues, she was awarded the ACC prestigious service award for outstanding contributions to Canadian Mountaineering.
Another founding member of the club, Jack Steed and his son, Jamie, died in an avalanche in Kokanee in 1990. Two mountains south of Mt. Pambrun in the Purcells were named the “Steeds” on the recommendation of the club and a cabin in the Bonnington Range is the Steed cabin. The constitution of the club was amended to allow only residents of the Kootenays to become new members of the club. The climbing and hiking camps had become too successful. I believe that Kal Singh is the only member still in the club (in 2014) who has never lived in the West Kootenay. Hiking camp had been extended to three weeks in 1985. Firewood was flown in for the first time and we used a fire pan in 1990. Seven members skied from Rogers Pass to the Bugaboos.
In 1991, the club’s major concern was the resort at Jumbo Pass and it continues today although it looks like it is a 23 year battle that we have lost. In 1992, Laurie Charlton took over responsibility for Hiking Camp, and as a one man committee, made a huge contribution in organizing it. John Walton was our representative to the provincial CORE process and spent many hours and weeks on that project that did not end until 1994. The Siwash Hut construction was started in 1993 and finished in 1996. The new Silverspray Cabin was built by the Friends of West Kootenay Parks Society under the leadership of John Carter, in 1994. 46 helicopter loads were brought up in one day and the cabin was not finished until November. The unfortunate death of 6 skiers in an avalanche in 1999 at Silverspray, has resulted in it being closed for the winter. The cairned route from Drinnon to Mulvey was removed for safety reasons! The trail to Wee Sandy Lake was improved.
1995 saw the creation of 6 new provincial parks and additions to several, many in the West Kootenay. Lockhart Creek, West Arm (protecting the Nelson watershed), Gladstone (N end of Christina Lake), Granby, and Goat Range were all created. Syringa, and Kokanee both saw extensions and the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy was created with large additions at Fry and Carney Creeks. The club continued to play an active role in conservation issues.
The Kinnaird Bluffs, the club’s main climbing area was sold in 1995 for real estate development but access has been maintained and the Bluffs remain an active climbing area. John Carter, the author of the original hiking guide for the area, “Hiking the West Kootenay” (1993), a park ranger at Kokanee, and 30 year member of the KMC, was killed in an avalanche on Smugglers Ridge on February 26th, 1996. Bob Dean, after years organizing summer trips, and leading many trips, resigned in 1996. This was also the 100th anniversary of the Slocan Chief Cabin. Hamish Martin died while climbing on the Mt MacBeth Icefields in June, 1997. He was 25.
The club paid for the manufacture of summit registers and they started to be placed wherever we go starting in 1998. They are now on over 100 summits throughout the Kootenays. Bicycle trips were added to the summer schedule on Fridays in the good hands of Carol Potasnyk. Digital reports were just becoming common – greatly appreciated by the Newsletter and Karabiner editors. Hamish Mutch finished climbing all 17 peaks over 11,000′ in the Interior Ranges with his climb of Farnham in August, 1998. The conservation committee was active in the Jumbo Resort and Retallack Alpine Adventure (their expansion to the north side of Hwy 31A was denied) applications. The Bonnington Huts received improvements under club direction. Work parties continued to have problems getting volunteers.
The go ahead for a KMC website was given after much discussion in 2000. This was the last year for the Mountaineering School as run by a large group of climbers in the club. After some classroom nights, there was rock climbing at the Kinnaird Bluffs, a day of ice axe use and belaying on Mt Ymir, and then a weekend on the Horseshoe Glacier at Glacier Creek. Sandra McGuiness then ran the mountain school very capably until 2012.
Earl Jorgenson died in February, 2001, He was an active 25 year member of the club and the designer and builder of the kitchen “counter”, the little yellow stools, the ironing board that we do dishes on and holds the coffee, tea and wine, and the seat for the biffy, all for Hiking Camp. Bob Dean was given a lifetime membership to the club – a well-deserved honor. Mt John Carter was named for the highest point on the ridge of Outook Mountain. The last Karabiner covered three years from 1998-2000 but was not available until 2003. It was decided, for cost reasons, manpower issues, and lack of interest, to discontinue it permanently in 2003 after 40 volumes. The KMC Newsletter was to take on both functions. The conservation committee was involved in the Red Mountain and Baldface applications.
In 2002, the club was involved in the site selection of the Kokanee Glacier Alpine Hut location and its design. $800,000 was raised by the Trudeau legacy. The NE corner of Kaslo Lake was selected and construction was begun in 2002. The Slocan Chief Cabin became an interpretive center. The existing Ranger cabin, Ranger Workshop and the Kalmia Campground were closed. The Ministry of Forests had their budget reduced by $188 million, and the main casualty was to be road maintenance. We see the negative effects of that in 2012 as 3 roads into Kokanee were not usable – Enterprise Creek, Keen Creek, and Woodbury. The constitution was amended in many areas to allow limited memberships to non West Kootenay residents. The ACC took over operation of the Kokanee Glacier, Woodbury and Silverspray Huts.
In 2005, we rejoined the Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC, in order to obtain cheaper liability insurance. This effectively doubled our membership dues. Norman Thyer, a member of the club for 40 years, and a proponent of the esoteric, died in 2006. Steven Horvath, another long time, 35 year member of the club and one of the “climbers” died after falling down a crevasse in July, 2008. The Nature Conservancy of Canada bought Darkwoods, a large tract of private land south of Nelson. Snowshoe trips were added to the winter trip list, initiated by Don Harasym. Some members are real forces in their area: Ross Bates and the Sheppards in Castlegar, Bill Sones in Nakusp and Marlene Johnston in the Kaslo area. In 2012, 2 valuable members, Sandra McGuiness and Doug Brown moved out of the area. They advanced technical issues in mountaineering, ran the mountain school, served in many executive positions, and organized and led many trips both in the summer and winter.
As of 2013, our 50th Anniversary Year, the club has several continuing issues. Our conservation committee continues to deal with the Jumbo Resort (a battle that we seem to be losing with huge implications for our access to Glacier Creek) and the Glacier-Howser power proposal. It has been an effective voice in keeping the West Kootenay as wild as possible. Ted Ibrahim and Kim Kratky have shouldered the majority of that responsibility. The Karabiner is gone. The Kinnaird Bluffs along with many other climbing areas around Nelson and Castlegar provide great sport climbing. Reduced funding in the Ministry of Forests and Parks has decimated road access to some of our most popular hiking areas. The Friday bicycle trips don’t seem to be as frequent. Climbing Camp hasn’t been held for several years. Organizing work parties especially for trail work gets more difficult with each year.
The Bonnington Huts have been maintained to a high standard. Hiking Camp continues to be hugely popular and in my opinion is the best week of the year. Run totally by volunteers with rarely a glitch, the cost remains relatively low (although principally because of helicopter cost the price is twice what it was 20 years ago). Hiking camp retains a surplus in the bank and has recently bought new tents. The Web site has been a resounding success and it was redesigned in 2014. Most members receive the Newsletter electronically on the web site. Kim Kratky has always been the major contributor to both the Karabiner and Newsletter. Having climbed virtually every mountain in the West Kootenay and beyond, he has been generous with his superb articles. Unfortunately, Kim died in 2013 after a battle with brain cancer. A well attended memorial was held. He will be missed. The constitution has had two major updates keeping it current. AGMs continue to be held after a dinner. Social aspects of the club are well run producing a real sense of community. We continue to run an active winter skiing, snowshoeing, and summer hiking schedule.
The club itself has had a legion of volunteers committing huge amounts of time to making the club run very effectively. That is our real strength. I apologize if I have left out anyone as many members contribute to the club. Our membership numbers remain strong although we could always use more young members.
The 50th anniversary of the KMC was in 2014 and several activities were held. The KMC hosted the AGM of the Federation of Mountain Clubs in June in Castlegar. The 50th anniversary was celebrated at the Old Castlegar Theatre with Dave Quinn, the guest speaker. He talked about ski touring and Kootenay environmental issues. For the anniversary, a Summit Challenge was held with badges awarded to members succeeding in climbing ten, twenty-five, or fifty mountains (8 members climbed 50).
Mary Woodward, a long time member known for her energy and prowess at hiking and downhill skiing in her older age, died. The club is aging gracefully. We have a club we should all be justly proud of.
The membership steadily increased from 336 in 2013, to 352 in 2014 and to its highest level ever, 375 in 2015. The Jumbo project that the club has so vigorously fought against for over 2 decades, seems to have finally died, a great relief to everyone. The club contributed $10,700 to the building of a hut in the Rossland Range. The club made a record revenue of $11,000 from rental of its Bonnington Range cabins, very popular with winter tourers from all over the province. 70% must be used for maintenance but 30% can be directed towards other club activities.
Another long-time member, Graham Kenyon died. He attended the first Hiking Camp and contributed many philosophical meanderings to the newsletter and Hiking Camp reports.