This is possibly the only simple way to access the core area of Kokanee Glacier PP – without going via Gibson Lake. This is “Kokanee by the back door”. The Lemon Creek Trail is washed out at 9kms and both the Enterprise Creek and Keen Creek roads are impassable. That leaves Nilsik.
This route leaves the 1890s Lemon Creek Trail and ascends a steep route that ends at the top end of Glory Basin. It is really only practical as a backpacking trip allowing one to explore this part of Kokanee. Glory Basin is a paradise worth spending time. Nobody else will be there.
Difficulty: Strenuous. C3
Elevation gain: 1150m (3770′)
Key elevations: TH Lemon Ck Trail 1250m (4100′); TH Nilsik Ck TH 1372m (4330′); Sunrise / Outlook Col at top end of Glory Basin 7850′; Sapphire Lakes & Lemon Pass 7450′;)
Distance: km one-way
Time: 5 hours one-way. 2-3 day backpacking trip recommended.
Season: July to late September or October.
Map: 82F/11 Kokanee Peak, 82F/14 Slocan
Drive: Lemon Creek FSR
From Silverton: 34.6 km (21.5 miles) south
From Playmor Junction (Hwy 6 and 3A between Castlegar and Nelson): Drive 38.9 km (24.2 miles) north. Turn east onto the Lemon Creek FSR.
0.0 Start east on the Lemon Creek FSR (just south of Lemon Creek) up the valley.
4.7 km (2.9 miles) Bear right and complete a reverse S curve. Then the road rises to about 150m above the south side of Lemon Creek, and descends to much nearer the creek the rest of the way to the trail, always on the S side for 16 km. (At the end, if you cross Lemon Creek on a bridge, you have gone too far.)
16.3km Park. TH Lemon Creek Trail. Turn right to drive 1.7km. This road has become overgrown, is occasionally brushed out, scratches likely.
18km Old trailhead 1250m (4100′). Drop about 25m to the main trail.
From Nelson, it is shorter to drive Duhamel Creek.
0.0 Drive 8km on Hwy 3A from the orange bridge, turn left at Willow Point onto Six Mile Lakes Rd.
17km Cross to the east side of Duhamel Ck. Go over a long pass with lakes to
25km. Join the Lemon Creek FSR before the trail head.
Trail: Begin up an old road for about 1 km. The old original Lemon Creek Trail is at the road’s end and from here, the relaxing 6.4km of gentle trail rises up the valley passing giant cedars and hemlocks, climbs the headwall and arrives at Sapphire Lakes and the bottom of Glory Basin at Lemon Pass (9.6km). But the bridge across Lemon Creek is washed out at 9km, making for a difficult scramble and bushwhack up the headwall. Thus few use Lemon Creek to access or exit Glory Basin. Nilsik is the only practical approach to Kokanee from the west.
2.4 km (1.5 miles) and about an hour from the car, cross the log bridge over Nilsik Creek on the Lemon Creek trail 1372m (4330′). Beyond, a huge cedar (2 blazes) on the left, and a smaller cedar (1 blaze) on the right mark its unsigned beginning. A sign was installed in 2005. Detour around deadfall to the left. The old Nilsik Creek trail is more of a route than a trail. It is rough, steep, overgrown, hard-to-follow in places and seldom visited. It traverses slide alder, berry bushes, is eroded and slow. Escape the bush after about 2.5 hours at 6340′ and all trees after 8kms and at 6920 feet. Following the left side of the valley, the “trail” disappears as you approach the col between Sunset and Outlook Mountains – just aim for the pass and keep going – 9kms 2400m (7870′).
It is highly recommended to hike the route counter clockwise. As there is no path in the alpine, you need to know where it starts below or risk not finding it (Personally, in 1996, I descended Nilsik, never found the trail, ended up doing a big bushwhack, broke my ankle half way down and took 6 hours to hobble out using a monopod as a crutch).
Glory Basin is big – at least 3 kilometres long and up to 2kms wide at the bottom. From the Sunshine/Outlook col, it is a short scramble up Sunshine (670′) or Outlook (620′). Glory Basin is trailless, rocky, and riddled with tarns, streams and pocket meadows – and an easy ramble 400 feet down to Sapphire Lakes. After just climbing almost 4000 feet, camping in the upper basin is highly recommended and welcomed by most. Scramble up John Carter.
Once at the Sunshine/Outlook col (7850′), you have several options. If doing a day hike, descend Glory Basin, climb any of the nearby Sunshine, Outlook, John Carter or Giegerich (+/- Nanson) summits if desired, see the lovely Sapphire Lakes (Sapphire Lakes sit in Lemon Pass at 2271m, 7450 feet), and hike out Lemon Creek (via a difficult descent bypassing the washed out bridge crossing Lemon Creek .6km from Sapphire Lakes); OR descend to the core area of Kokanee Glacier PP and hike out to Gibson Lake; OR descend around the northeast of Outlook Mt and bushwhack directly down to Gibson Lake. But that is a long day by anyone’s standards.
If doing a backpack (the only fair way to see this seldom visited wonder), the campground at Sapphire Lakes is closed. Upper Glory Basin is a lovely place to camp and has reminders of old gold, silver and lead mining activity – a ramshackle cabin and mines. These claims, known as the Silver Crest Group, were worked sporadically until the early 1920s. The cabin was last home to a Mr McCleod, his family and 8 miners who worked the open cuts high on the ridge to the east in the summer of 1921.
The next morning, climb any of the mountains, explore Glory basin and go for a swim in the cold alpine Sapphire Lakes. Descend to Kaslo Lake and the core area of Kokanee. It is easy to spend another few days more there. Hike out to Gibson Lake and your shuttle car.
Nilsik Creek Route from above. From the Sunshine / Outlook col this route can be difficult to find and follow. From the top, the trail begins high and to the right. It stays several hundred feet above the creek (and most of the brush). The trail was brushed out almost to the treeline in 2005. The grid reference for the high point that was cleared it 1935m NAD83: N49°40.222′ W117°13.476′.
The start of the Nilsik Creek Trail below s 2.4 km (1.5 miles) from the car.
What to do?
1. Glory Basin. From the col at the head of the basin, it can take a half day just to explore Glory Basin. 3kms long and about 2kms wide at the bottom. Sapphire Lakes – 11.3km, 2250m (7380′). The campground is closed.
2. Most of the day will be required to climb all the summits on the south end – all a short climb less than an hour from the basin: Sunshine Mt (2601m 8533′), Outlook Mt (2591m 8479′) and Mount John Carter (2602m 8540′) one km NNE of Outlook on the east edge of the basin.
3. Mt Giegerich (2438m 8000′) is 1km NW of Sapphire Lakes. Beyond is a long ridge extending to the northwest towards Enterprise Pass: Mt Giegerich, Nansen Mt (2469m 8100′), Mt Robert Smith (2470m 8104′) and Boomerang Mt (8210;). Boomerang is normally climbed from Enterprise Creek and Heather Lake. Climb Mt Robert Smith and Nansen from Timber Creek (inaccessible as Enterprise Creek FST is out at 5km). Now the only reasonable access to any of these summits is from Glory Basin and Kokanee Pass.
4. From Sapphire Lakes (Lemon Pass) Kaslo Lake and the core area of Kokanee Glacier PP is 3.2 km more – all downhill.
5. Lemon Creek Trail. 9.6kms down from Sapphire Lakes. Bridge washed out .6km from the lakes. Difficult crossing of Lemon Creek, that will be easier late in the season and early in the day (with less run-off). Best to cross the creek at the lakes where it is easy, scramble down the north side of Lemon Creek and access the trail after the wash out. Or stay on the south side and bushwhack down the cliff. It is steep but not particularly dangerous. You can access the trail again when it crosses back to the south side below the headwall.