Almost universally a winter ski traverse, there is no reason why it could not be backpacked. While route finding across the Bonnington is not all that difficult, a lot of the route is actually in the trees and thus definitive landmarks are somewhat scarce. The following description uses mostly winter trip information.
In the winter especially, the route is prone to cloud, heavy fog, blizzards and thus no visibility. Engaging in white-out navigation requires good map, compass and altimeter skills +/- GPS (always use both). Familiarity with the route helps but seasoned veterans still have to search for the cabins and frequently get “off-route”.
Avalanche risk can be very high. Knowledge of avalanche techniques are crucial to winter traverses. Sunny weather and rising temperatures urge caution with increased avalanche risk.
PRE TRIP PLANNING excellent organization and route knowledge,
Pick dates. Call KMC website to see if dates available. Pay Fees.
Call Atco Lumber to check on condition of the Bombi. If plowed, save 6.5-7 kms of extra skiing.
Arrange shuttle: drop off vehicle at Porto Rico Road off Highway 6 south of Nelson on way to Bombi (if from Nelson). As an early exit may be necessary (three separate ways down from Steed or Copper Huts)d, arrange contact in Nelson for a potentially different pick up date.
When arriving at cabins, it is not unusual to have to dig out the out houses and wood piles. Often have to replenish wood, clean up beer cans and garbage from the ATVers and sledders.
Day 1: Grassy Cabin and Grassy Mountain. Meet at the hitching post in Nelson and drive south on Highway 6 to the Porto Rico Road to leave a vehicle or two. Continue on to the Bombi Summit, hopefully plowed to kilometre 6.5-7 at1600 metres due west of the pass between Grassy and South Grassy Mountains. 2 hours to cabin from here if road plowed.
Start on the summer ATV track through the woods to pick up the old road that switchbacks up to the pass, but more often take a more direct line up to the ridge. Despite being to the cabin several times, it is often easy to miss it as it is relatively well hidden in the trees. Ski down to the cabin for lunch and get rid of packs. Grassy Hut is just big enough for 5 people. Need to melt snow for water.
Afternoon Reconnaissance Ski. In the afternoon, most groups check out snow conditions and the next day’s route. Ski up South Grassy and/or up to the top of Grassy and down the east and south-facing slopes into Grassy Creek. From the west shoulder of Grassy Mountain, views are to Red/Granite mountains in Rossland and down to Hugh Keenleyside Dam in Castlegar.
From the top of Grassy check out the route you’ll take tomorrow, over Twin Peaks and the south ridge of Siwash Mountain to the Steed Cabin.
Alternative. If the Bombi – Munson FSR is not plowed, an option is to skip Grassy hut, ski directly to the Steed Hut, make the high traverse over Dominion Mt and spend an extra night at the Huckleberry Hut.
Day 2: Grassy Cabin to Steed Hut. Follow the north ridge of Grassy Mountain down to the pass at the head of Granite Creek. From the ridge above the Grassy cabin, head east counting “bumps” until you come to bump number five, from which a gentle north ridge descends. In foggy weather, it can be difficult finding the right north ridge to ski down. Cross a main logging road in the pass south of “Twin Peaks” (SM’s name for the two peaks north of Grassy Mountain). Ascend the south side of Twin Peaks to the ridge between the two, and continue on up to the most northerly of the Twin Peaks and stop for a snack. Descend the generally north ridge that descends from the summit, steep at first, until you find a spot to drop off to the east, and go right out to the main Munson Road that is on the Glade-Granite Creek divide. Follow the road around until due west of the col on Siwash Mountain that leads to the Steed Cabin and, with another compass bearing set, head up the 360m climb to the 2000m col on the south ridge of Mount Siwash. Then it is a short descending traverse to the cabin. Often it is necessary to dig out the outhouse.
The Steed Hut is always difficult to get into in the summer as there is no trail so all routes require bushwhacking. Via Munson Road, the route is direct and takes about 1.25 hours, but involves bushwhacking through head high rhododendron as you cross over the ridge into the basin where the Steed cabin is situated.
Afternoon ski: Climb Siwash – Return back up to the south ridge of Siwash and followed over one subsidiary bump to arrive on top of Siwash. Return the way you came.
Day 3 Steed Cabin to Copper Cabin. Descend north slopes from Steed into the headwaters of Rush Creek, traverse avalanche slopes across the headwaters of Rush Creek and up to the top of a prominent ridge running west from Siwash Mountain. This normal route to the Copper Cabin travels in a horseshoe around the head of Erie Creek, often through a wasteland of sled and snowcat tracks and cut-blocks.
An alternate is to follow the east ridge of Siwash, counting bumps again, until the final bump (number five again) or about 1.5 km until it curves to the north, stay on the ridge crest eventually descending to Erie Creek. where the ridge turns north. Set a new bearing and descend the first part of the ridge.
Down in Erie Creek, follow the creek north to a fork, then set a bearing for the Copper Cabin and begin the 400 metre climb. This is a gentle climb through easy terrain. Follow this compass bearing for over 2 kilometres to hopefully come near the hut – a small tarn is a useful landmark here. Use an altimeter to find the right elevation for the cabin or use your GPS. It too is easy to miss.
Afternoon ski. Go to top of Copper Mountain, enjoy the striking views, may have a difficult descent on crusty sun-baked snow.
This is the time to make a decision about the route for the fourth day. Assess snow conditions (too much, icy) and weather reports to determine if it will be possible to continue to Empire Peak or either of the three escape routes. It is not unusual to not be able to finish on Barrett Creek Road because of the crux on the Empire Peak ridge.
Exit routes from Copper Hut
1. Rover/Snowwater FSR if most commonly used as there is no avalanche hazard on that route, but instead, more often, ice. With poor visibility, heavy new snow, a poor weather forecast, you may have to ski from the hut to the top of Copper Mountain to get cell-phone reception and call someone to change the shuttle location.
Return to the cabin, retraced your route back down to the head of Erie Creek and then climb gently following the creek. Take another compass bearing to the broad saddle south of Mount Connor to access the cutblock and logging road. Finally put away the compass and altimeter, ski down the logging road as far as possible depending on snow conditions. Cell service may be available to communicate with your transportation.
2. Copper Mountain FSR (49 Creek). This requires a traverse across the steep SE face of Copper Mountain to gain the pass between Red and Copper Mountains. Try to lay down a track if icy. Conditions may be white-out. Try to hold your elevation to end up on the road. It is possible to lose it again when it takes a turn towards Hall Creek. But with GPS and a map, you should be able to go downhill on Copper Mountain FSR. Depending on the season, expect rain, no snow on the road can be expected, removing skis for the creeks.
3. Giveout Creek
Day 4 Copper Cabin to Barrett Lake. The final day of the traverse is undoubtedly the most spectacular, as the route travels entirely over the high ridges and peaks of the Bonnington Range from Copper Mountain to Empire Peak.
Start up the ridge above the Copper Cabin, follow in a generally southerly direction to the top of Territory Peak. The final slope to the top of Territory Peak is steep, but possible on skis. Colony Peak is an easy ski from Territory as the ridge between the two is much broader. The final ridge section from Colony to Empire is the crux of the trip, as the ridge narrows just before the summit of Empire and a short exposed section should be negotiated on foot. About 3-3.5hours to the top of Empire. The steep south-easterly slopes of Empire Peak to Barrett Lake have a heavy avalanche danger.
The Huckleberry Hut is a steep 30 minutes south of the Barrett Creek Road. It is often missed on the four-day Bonnington Traverse. Huckleberry is one of the easiest cabins to visit in the summer because it is off a drivable road.
The ski down from Barrett Lake on the Barrett Creek Road to Porto Rico Road is usually fast.
The final task: retrieving your other truck from the Bombi Summit. This can be exciting as anything can happen in four days – complete snow-ins, complete melting. Chains are highly recommended.