The most difficult problem with a guide book on the WK is that road access is constantly changing. Sources for the most recent information:
1. BC governments FSR access BC governments FSR page (note time of updates) http://www.for.gov.bc.ca/ftp/dkl/external/!publish/RoadInfo/
2. KMC Activities page: http://kootenaymountaineeringclub.ca/club-info/activities/index.html
3. KMC FaceBook page. A great place to inquire about access. Many more people visit this page than just KMC members.
Access to the Columbia Mountains is among the most difficult in the world. The access problem is so severe that a helicopter must be hired to make access a practical reality over many places in these ranges.
Roads. The logging road systems are quite complex, and the Ministry of Forests personnel may or may not know if roads are open. One may have to contact logging companies. Logging companies are most up to date about access by road and are generally cooperative. Addresses of logging companies can be obtained from the B. C. Ministry of Forests. Many logging roads are viable, but this changes with time. Some of the roads which are abandoned and left to the ravages of normal weather, storms and vegetation growth.
The family sedan is rarely satisfactory as high-clearance is often essential and 4WD is preferable. Logging trucks can be an issue in areas of active logging. Before leaving home: check fuel and fluid levels and make sure you have a jack. Always drive with headlights on, drive cautiously, yield to all industrial vehicles, cross deep water bars at an angle and don’t be scared to turn back if road conditions get really gnarly.
Road deactivation. B.C.’s mountaineers and climbers depend on the use of forestry roads to reach many destinations. Many years ago, most such roads were locked, and access was difficult. Eventually it was established that these roads, being paid for with public money, should be publicly accessible. The exceptions are where operational concerns and safety require limitations, and when the road and operations are on private land, as on much of the east side of Vancouver Island.
Maintenance of forestry roads, and their deactivation, is an ongoing concern of the mountaineering and climbing community. Recreation, such as climbing and mountaineering, has rarely had an impact on these decisions. Plans for deactivation of roads are often made before they are built, and so before there is any information on the recreation opportunities they may open up.
However, it can be quite costly to maintain forestry roads. Recent government changes to forest management policies compound this situation. The Ministry of Forests is no longer even nominally responsible for managing recreation on forest lands, or well over half of B.C. Land and Water B.C. now markets commercial recreation on forest land, including tenures and licenses. Self organized recreation, or over 95% of recreation on crown land, is neglected. There is little if any knowledge of the contribution it makes to the cultural and economy of various regions, or its potential, and so it has little effect on decisions on maintenance and deactivation of forestry roads, and other crown land management issues.
Ferries. Long waits are common in the summer. Know the ferry schedules to arrive at the right time. The Kootenay Lake Ferry between Balfour and Kootenay Bay is the longest free ferry in the world. The other ferry is on Upper Arrow Lake goes between Galena Bay and Shelter Bay.
Trails. In the West Kootenay, if you are not bushwhacking, then it’s a trail. Some trails (Kokanee Glacier PP) are superb but many are steep, rough and bushy. Maintenance by Provincial Parks has deteriorated in recent years and deadfall is a frequent obstacle. Volunteers are now more involved in trail maintenance. Some of the trails were overgrown by vegetation decades ago and are nonexistent.The only extensive regions in all the Columbia Mountains which have maintained trails are Glacier and Mount Revelstoke National Parks, Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, the southern part of Wells Gray Park and the Halvorson Group. Old mining trails can be very handy, but are often overgrown and hard to follow since the mining has ceased. The routes themselves often go where the climber wishes to go. A limited number of trails is also either open or maintained. The best way to deal with the access problem is to consult with the BC Ministry of Forests, particularly in Kamloops, Prince George or Nelson, but even the experts may lack up to date information because of the rapid changes in road and trail conditions.
Backpacking. Parties attempting to reach objectives by backpacking will often find the job difficult and lengthy, and only the toughest individuals will reach them. Animal trails (elk, moose, bear) are often useful to the backpacker, but much of the time they do not lead to the places where humans wish to go, for instance, to swamps. Be careful of meeting the trail makers when you use them.
Professional Guides. Highly competent and officially licensed guides are available. Those interested should contact the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) at www.acmg.ca Independent Guides are also available, but if not licensed they are not allowed to guide in the National Parks.
HELICOPTERS and FIXED WING TRANSPORT
In talking about the Columbia Mountains, the famous mountaineering guide Conrad Kain once said, “It’s a rough country”. If anything, this is an understatement.
Knowledge and ascents in the Columbia Mountains have accelerated since development of the helicopter, and its use is often the only practical way to reach some of the groups. The helicopter, however, will not suffice to relieve the climber of all the bushwhacking problems encountered during a trip. Climbs often involve skills in finding and forcing one’s way through dense undergrowth, or avoiding it. The helicopter relieves mountaineers of arduous and lengthy approaches, and gives them more time to climb or outlast bad weather. But the helicopter is expensive.
After hiring a helicopter, the party is responsible to direct the pilot to where it wants to proceed. The pilot will be able to offer valuable advice and experience in unknown territory, but the client is ultimately responsible. Bring adequate maps for the flight, to be used by the person sitting beside the pilot. Selection of the landing place, a good campsite, requires speed and good judgment on the part of the client. A full appreciation of these mountains is had by sometimes doing things the hard way, by backpacking and bushwhacking to one’s chosen area.
Air drops by airplane on snow and glaciers can be used to extend one’s time in these cases. Always drop small and well cushioned boxes.
For a large party, a helicopter with a cargo net can transport much of the weight in one trip. But passengers and slings are never flown together.
In general, parties of 3 to 5, depending on the helicopter, can be ferried in one flight. In this case, loads should be both compact and somewhat
light, i.e., well planned. Often it is practical to fly in and bushwhack out to a road when loads are reasonably light.
Some areas, mostly National Parks and Provincial Parks, have a prohibition against landings by helicopters. Some of these areas have specific approved landing sites which require special permission to use. Areas which forbid helicopter landings without specific permission are: Cariboos and Monashees, Bowron Lake Provincial Park, Wells Gray Provincial Park (S. part of Wells Gray Group), Monashee Provincial Park (S. part of Gold Range, near Mt. Fosthall)
Slide Alder. Beware of these light green swaths of alder. This alder protects itself from winter avalanches by growing downhill, parallel to the ground, and can be nearly impenetrable.
Yellowhead Helicopters – Valemount (250-566-4401) (5 km N of Valemount, Highway 5), Clearwater (250-674-3600), Prince George (250-563-2569)
Canadian Helicopters Ltd. – Kamloops (250-554-2020), Golden (250-344-5311), Vernon (250-542-6000), Penticton (250-492-0637), Salmon Arm (250-832-9599)
Alpine Helicopters Ltd. – Golden (250-344-7444), Kelowna (250-769-4111)
Selkirk Mountain Helicopter Ltd. – Revelstoke (250-837-2455)
Glacier Helicopters – Revelstoke (250-837-9569)
Highland Helicopters Williams Lake (250-398-7142), Nakusp (250-265-3434), Castlegar (250-365-2661)
Arrow Helicopters – Revelstoke (250-837-6288)
Fixed wing air transport companies:
Alpenglow Aviation Inc. – Golden (1-250-344-7117)
Silvertip Aviation Ltd. – Revelstoke (250-837-4414)
High Alpine Air Services – Nelson (250-364-0977)
Helicopter Etiquette. Etiquette here is more a matter of safety than good manners. The external workings of this machine necessarily lack protective shields, and are potentially lethal. Never approach the rear (the rear rotor) of a helicopter, which spins so fast that it is invisible. Also, never approach from the uphill side when the helicopter is on sloping ground, on pain of being hit by the main rotor. Walk in a stooped position, relaxed, slowly. Some pilots will insist on waiting to board only when the rotors have stopped. Be careful not to walk into the long antenna in front of the craft. Remove your headphone before alighting, and do not throw objects out into the rotor wash, which may be whisked away or up
into the rotor.
Freight should be in small packages, which are easier to stack in the storage compartment. Hold down light objects (e.g., foam pads), which may be carried away. Crampons and ice axes are best in side basket or sling. Be sure to recover everything when you land, and secure the hatch door.
When you are about to be picked up, you can signal the direction of the wind to the pilot by holding a streamer of toilet paper, or standing
with arms up, back to the wind. On snow, a reference point is important for the pilot to land. A heavy pack on the landing site serves well. Remember that there is less clearance from the main rotor when the helicopter is on snow.
Helicopter companies sometimes prefer that you operate from their airports and leave your automobiles in their parking lots. On bad roads, this also assures that your vehicle will not be trapped by bad conditions, such as storms, when you return to it. The vehicles are also safer from theft or vandalism or porcupines.