Who would believe that in the Kootenays we have one of the finest hiking routes using three mountain huts? Some would say impossible; that one has to go to Switzerland or Italy or the high Sierra Nevada. But no, here in our backyard, Kokanee Glacier Park has a truly exciting route and one that could even be expanded.
Our foursome began from Gibson Lake, approximately nine miles up the Kokanee Creek road. A leisurely hike to the Slocan Chief Cabin along the Gibson Lake to Kokanee Lake trail started the hiking portion of the traverse. A note for visitors to the West Kootenays; the trail is easy to follow and affords good viewpoints of Grays Peak, and the string of mountain lakes sometimes provide a tasty cutthroat.
After approximately four hours the historic Slocan Chief Cabin is reached. Built in 1896, the cabin provides a welcome home away from home. There is a cozy wood stove to warm your toes with on a rainy, wet clay, a comfortable sleeping loft and a glacier fed water supply nearby. There is a minimal $5.00 charge per person per night year round to help defray costs of operating the facility.
Arising early, we began our traverse to the Woodbury Hut by ascending the trail to the toe of Kokanee Glacier. From that point on we would leave the trail behind to find our route using maps and altimeter. A steep climb on hard snow up the glacier between Battleship and Pyramid brought us to the top of the Battleship. From here we climbed carefully, heading east across the glacier to the south end of the Giant’s Kneecap (9100 ft]. What a glorious view, the steep walled Valhallas to the west, the Leaning Towers to the east and Mt Cooper and the Bugaboos to the north.
We descended from the Giant’s Kneecap in an easterly direction picking the safest route through the ice field to bring us near Coffee Pass directly below Mt Cond. We reached Coffee Pass after an interesting scamble up a steep moraine, then gradually ascended in a northerly direction to a steep, hidden gully west of Kane Peak. Snow was evident in the gully but in the same condition as the snow on the icefield — soft and wet. We made a short ascent across the gully, then climbed through the scree and gently sloping slabs to a steep gully leading off the south ridge of Kane. One could gain the same ridge, perhaps 250’ further to the southeast. Once we gainecl Sawtooth Ridge we could see the headwaters of Woodbury, Silver Spray and Lendrum Creeks.
After a short climb to Kane Summit, we realized that we could not continue clown the north ridge. We had to descend to the snowfield but not till after lunch. The peak is a great location to ponder the encircling peaks and lakes, particularly the back of Kokanee Glacier. A short traverse across a snow bowl and we were on another rocky ridge leading off Kane. From there we descended to the glacier northeast of Kane to a beautiful but very stark cirque southeast of Glacier-View Peak. We were now on the east slope of the Sawtooth Range in truly spectacular scenery. Steep, almost vertical hanging ice and snow sheets clung to the peaks and huge fields of fallen slabs protruded through the quickly melting snow. There is even a small lake at the foot of this bleak cirque. Leaving the area, we ascended a natural ramp of snow and rock that led to the summit of the Wooclbury Glacier. This is the only way up to the glacier and the Glacier-View Peak. From the glacier we were able to see our destination, Woodbury Chalet. We chose not to ascend Glacier-View and so carefully descended Woodbury Glacier bearing to the left or west about halfway clown to avoid the crevasses and the break over point. A lovely, fast descent on snow to the upper basin area followed by a short ramble through isolated meadows and alpine larch soon brought us to Woodbury hut.
A welcome sight for us all after ten hours and moments before a rain showed Morning dawned cloudy and cooler but still a good day to travel to Silver-Spray Hut. Our route began following the old mining trail behind the cabin to the 7900 ft level. A narrow level traverse brought us to a col at which point we began to descend soft, steep snow into a basin east of Moonlight Peak. An easier route over might be found slightly further up the ridge but then quite a lot more loose scree would have to be crawled across! A short descent through some large boulders brought us to enjoyable grassy slopes at which point we traversed through the basin maintaining our elevation. Our route followed the 7300 ft or 7400 ft contour to the first lake southeast of Mt Kemball. This lake is a gem, set amid rocky slabs and small meadows. From the lake one can look straight across to Woodbury Glacier and the entire Woodbury Creek drainage. A slightly ascending traverse from the lake around the ridge brought us to another small lake. The terrain is very easy to travel through and in season the larches and wildflowers are very pleasant. A word of caution; there have been grizzly sightings along this traverse route and care should be taken. From the small lake, an ascent of approximately 500 ft brought us to the south ridge of Evening Star Peak. A good location for lunch and a study of the previous day’s route past Kane and Glacier-View Peak. We climbed the ridge for I00 vertical feet and then skirted around Evening Star’s southeast basin to another ridge leading off to a small summit to the east. A short time later we entered Clover Basin and wandered among the tiny tarns and meadows, finally reaching Silver-Spray Cabin under light rain showers.
The remainder of the day was spent cleaning the cabin and reading the log book. The next morning we followed the miner’s trail to the old Violet Mine site and continued on to Mt McQuarrie. The view was obscured by fog so we wandered back to the cabin, packed up and descended the trail to the Woodbury Creek parking lot and the end of a highly successful trip.
Packsack notes: Map selection: Slocan 82F/14 or Kokanee Glacier Park 1925 Best time: Early July to early August on our route but later if slightly different route taken and additional equipment [crampons] Time required: Gibson to Slocan Chief — 4 hours. Slocan Chief to Woodbury Hut — 10 hours. Woodbury Hut to Silver-Spray Hut — 4 hours Silver-Spray Hut to car park — 13/4 hours