COLUMBIA MOUNTAINS – MOUNTAINS IN THE INTERIOR OF BRITISH COLUMBIA
Includes the Cariboo, Monashee, Selkirk and Purcell Mountains. For many years this extensive alpine uplift was referred to as the Interior Ranges of British Columbia.
The Columbia Mountains are separated from the Canadian Rockies to the east by the deep Rocky Mountain Trench (in which run the Canoe, Columbia and Kootenay Rivers) and from the Coast Mountains to the west by the broad Chilcotin Plateau region.
The Columbias are strikingly beautiful mountains. Some groups in the Columbias are famous, such as the Adamants, Sir Donald and the Bugaboos. Beautiful lake districts exist throughout the range.
These mountains have four distinguishing characteristics.
1. Though hikers will find much to offer, the Columbias are preeminently climbing mountains with their best offerings only accessible by the alpinist. Alpine mountaineering in North America had its birth on the peaks surrounding Rogers Pass. The granite spires of the Bugaboos are world famous. The Battle Range, Adamants, Gothics, Starbirds, Vowells, Remillards and Valhallas all offer excellent rock climbing. The Columbias provide a wide variety of routes on rock, snow, ice, and glacier suitable for alpinists of every taste and level of expertise.
2. Although access routes have improved greatly and helicopters allow great access to the alpine, those accustomed to the Alps, Tetons, and Sierra Nevada will find many of the approaches quite arduous. These difficulties are, in part, a function of the climate. As a temperate rain forest, moist Pacific air drenches the Columbias with abundant precipitation producing great coniferous climax forests. Unfortunately, the legendary “bush” of the Columbias, dense and luxuriant vegetation replete with slide alder and devil’s club, is a product of the same generous rainfall. Only in the well-maintained trails of the Rogers pass area and on the drier, eastern slopes of the Purcells, where conditions more nearly approximate those of the Canadian Rockies, is bushwacking not all too deplorably common. More logging and mining roads and more trails are constantly being opened, yet older ones, which lack regular maintenance, grow over with nearly equal rapidity. Logging roads can be deactivated, washed out or simply abandoned.
3. High Snowfall and Glaciers. Before the end of June, snow and avalanche debris cover alpine trains. July 15 through September 1 usually provide periods of good climbing weather. September and October can be delightful, but early snows will almost certainly cover higher elevations.
The same abundant precipitation forms the large winter snowpack that supports many fine glaciers. There are more than 400 glaciers in Glacier National Park (BC not Montana) alone, a small bit of the Columbias. The line of permanent snow is to be found at an altitude of 2700 to 3000 meters, depending on the exposure. The glacier tongues descend to a lowest limit of about 1800 meters, but have all shown serious retreat since the turn of the century. A comparison of present conditions with the famous photographs of Howard Palmer taken from 1908-1912, graphically illustrate this recession.
4. Few People. Much of the charm of the Columbias lies in their being relatively uncrowded – does this reflect the poor weather, mosquitos, and difficult access? It is fine country for exploratory mountaineering off the beaten track.
The Purcells are a mountain range that forms the east side of the Columbia Mountains. They are much older than the Rockies, at least 1,500 million years old and began uplifting when the only life on earth was simple single-cell plants and animals. Some granite intrusions and other metamorphic rocks protrude into these mountains; the Bugaboos are the classic example). Most of the Purcells consist of heavily eroded and fractured sedimentary rock. The sediment layers are not as thickly bedded as those of the Rockies.
The Purcell Mountains were named after Goodwin Purcell, the expedition sponsor for the Palliser Expedition from 1857 to 1860. The Palliser Expedition crossed the Rockies and traversed into the Purcell Mountains when few trails and roads penetrated into the rugged, isolated region of the east Kootenay.
The Purcells can be divided into two regions, the northern and southern areas. Both have distinct mountain features, notable for hikers.
Northern Purcells have several summits over 3000m (10,000 ft.), with steep-sided valleys. Climbing most northern Purcell peaks requires technical skills, The hiking trails follow scenic valleys to alpine ridges, turquoise lakes, flower-covered meadows ad near many active glaciers.
Southern Purcells are not as high, nor as rugged. Hiking and climbing to the summits is more accessible and many day hikes lead to impressive mountaintops over 2400m (8000 ft.). Subalpine lakes, diverse forest habitats and open basins are the main features, with a few tiny glaciers crouching in the shaded mountain valleys.
Purcell Mountains in the USA. Primarily a Canadian range, the Purcells extend south across the border into Idaho and Montana. The range is located northeast of Bonners Ferry and is bounded by US-95 and US-1 on the west and the Kootenai River and US-2 to the south. The highest point in the Idaho section of the Purcells is an unnamed peak that reaches 6,779 feet.
The range was completely inundated by Pleistocene glaciers, which scraped away much of the range’s Precambrian rock. The Moyie River Canyon splits the Idaho section of the Purcell Mountains; it is the most spectacular geologic feature in the range.
The Purcells are managed by the Panhandle National Forest, which primarily manages the range for timber harvesting. As a result, the range has an extensive road system and a very small and broken trail system. Only short day hikes are available for hikers. The few mountain lakes are reached by roads. Climbing opportunities are limited to non-technical Class 1 and Class 2 accents.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN TRENCH
This is a huge “U-shaped” glacier-hewn valley that winds north/south through the entire length of eastern BC. In the East Kootenay, this lowland valley channels both major rivers of the area, the Columbia and Kootenay rivers. At he town of Canal Flats, both major rivers pass each other within 1 km and flow in opposite directions. Early in the century and again n the 1980s, engineers invented scheme to build a short canal to divert the Kootenay River to flow north into the Columbia River (to take advantage of all the hyrdroelectric dams on the Columbia). After exhaustive study and heated protests, the plans were shelved.
The widest section of the Rocky Mountain Trench is between Kimberley and Fort Steele, where it spreads 27km. The narrowest part is the Windermere/Columbia Valley section, where it spreads under 14km wide.
Columbia River. It flows north from glacier-fed Columbia Lake to Windermere Lake. This river collects water from all the northern Purcell tributaries and continues north past Bolden. The extensive glaciation of the Purcell Mountains contributes volumes of glacial silt to the river, accounting for its scenic turquoise colour. In th Rocky Mountain Trench, the Columbia River flows in a naturally sprawling wide wetland through the Columbia Valley Wetlands. North of Golden at Donald, just after the Big Bend of the Columbia (where the river turns from running NW to going south towards the city of Revelstoke), is Mica Dam, the first of the hydroelectric dams on the Columbia. It backs up as the Kinbasket Reservoir.
Kootenay River. It begins its long journey from the mountains east of Canal Flats. As it flows south into the lowlands, it collects all the water from the Height-of-the-Rockies, Purcells, Rockies and the Elk Valley. The Kootenay River widens and slows in the Rocky Mountain Trench, but stays as a tight meandering channel. Near the town of Wardner, the Libby Dam controls the river in the Koocanusa Reservoir (combination of Kootenay-Canada-USA) as it meanders south into Montana, United States. It turns north again into Canada near Creston and flows into the Creston Valley Management Area. Then the river continues north into Kootenay Lake of the West Kootenay. Kootenay Lake is 110kms long and empties via the West Arm past Nelson, BC to flow into the Columbia River at Casltlegar. The Duncan River empties into the north end of Kootenay Lake. It forms the west boundary of the Purcells separating them from the Selkirk Mountains.
At the end of the last ice age, a huge glacial meltwater lake combined the Kootenay and Columbia rivers, depositing thick sediments along its vast banks. These soil rich but rocky banks provide much of the land for winter wildlife range and human settlement. In several places along he “Trench”, spires of alluvium hoodoos stand as picturesque vertical remnants of erosion by water the best examples of East Kootenay hoodoos is just north of the Dutch Creek bridge, south of Fairmont. These towers of partially cemented sand and gravel stand 120m (400’) high beside the highway.
On the east side of the Rocky Mountain Trench, the Rockies are the youngest of the interior mountains. The Rockies were formed during a time when dinosaurs waked on earth, about 100 million years ago. Laid in shallow seas of coral, the mountains are comprised mainly of white massive limestone layers. They contain many fossil beds and deeply–cut creeks. Sedimentary and metamorphic rocks also form the Rockies.
On the western side of the Rockies, several high peaks rise from 2400 to 3000m (8000-10,000 ft.). Hikers may reach many of these prominent summits as a day trip. They require no special climbing knowledge or equipment, just stamina and occasional rock scrambling skills.