Lake Bonny Gem and Mount McLeod by Dan R
On a four day trip starting August 17, a friend from the coast and I made it to Lake Bonny Gem, starting at the Heart Lake Trail. We summited Mount Beguin, Mount Wilkinson, and Mount McLeod as well. There were sections of Class 3 with moderate exposure (some of this is avoidable), and moderate route finding,
In 1915, Lake Bonny Gem was first reached (and named) from Carney Creek and Mount Lake, the highest in the Pioneer Group, was summited. In the 60’s, Curt Wagner traversed the Settler Group and the Pioneer Group, most of which were first ascents, and he named the peaks in the area. This was roughly the route we used, though they’d started at Kootenay Joe Ridge.
In 1974 and 1980, there was a KMC hiking camp at Bonny Gem and for the latter, there was a satellite camp at Eagle Nest Lake, where a few people hiked in between. 1981, Eagle Nest Lake was to be the hiking camp location, but this was changed to the headwaters of the western fork of Clint Creek at the last minute. After that, the Wilderness Conservancy was created, ruling out further helicopter access.
I’ve spoken to someone who bushwhacked up Crazy Creek to ‘Crazy Lakes’, then on to Eagle Nest Lake and out South Toby. Folks have also tried to hike up Carney Creek to Bonny Gem, but had to turn back just short of the lake. There are likely a few more instances of trips towards Bonny Gem that I’ve missed, so if anyone else has info about other trips, please contact me!
We camped at the Heart Lake trailhead the night before we started. I was recovering from the flu, so I slowed us down considerably. The travel beyond Heart Lake was smooth. In the next drainage, we saw a survey stake and a firepit, but that was the last signs of human foot travel we saw. Once in the Winter/Beguin/Bulmer basin, there was considerable side hilling on loose rock and we eventually found good flat ground and water at the base of Mt Beguin and made camp, after 7 hours of travel.
Day 2, we made our way up to the summit of Mt Beguin without any difficulty. We were the first party to sign the register in 3 years. Beyond Beguin, we made our way over Bacchus Ridge, without hitting the high point. We crossed the dry glacier (crevasses fairly visible) easily with our hiking poles. We dropped into the Wilkinson/Clark basin, then summited Wilkinson via the SW ridge, which was easier than it looked. We couldn’t see good water sources until the lakes below the McLanders-McLeod col, so we descended to the Wilkinson-McLeod col, and traversed to the lakes and camped there.
Day 3, we left our camp in place. We ended up doing some 3rd class scrambling to get up to the col, but in the end, the original plan to just go straight up to the col via a ramp would’ve been way better. At the col, we spotted heli-flags. Very loose rock got us into the Noel headwaters and we crossed the basin below the remaining glacier across glacier detritus and bedrock. The glacier itself is now about a quarter of the size suggested by the maps. By the time we had Lake Bonny Gem in sight, we realized we were low on time, so we dropped to the lake, went for a celebratory dip, had lunch, and then had to backtrack. Unfortunate, as the lake was truly beautiful and I would’ve loved to have explored the outlet area. We’d originally hoped to camp at the lake, but our slow progress had meant Bonny Gem had to be a daytrip.
We hiked back up to the col, then decided to bag McLeod. Class 3, some exposure near the top. Big views. Descended from the col to the camp via the aforementioned ramp, which was long, but Class 2. Throughout the day, we’d kept our eyes on possible routes for Mt Lake, of which there were several. The easiest, but not shortest would be to hike above Bonny Gem and ascend the glacier. The other four routes were at least a solid Class 4 or higher, likely.
Day 4, we made the long march back up to Mt Beguin, this time dropping and then gaining the Wilkinson/Clark basin. The glacier north of Bacchus Ridge was not going to give us purchase this time around, so we had to find another route up the ridge, which was much sketchier and involved loose rock and some exposure. We skirted the high point of Bacchus Ridge again, again signed the register on Beguin, and continued at a good pace all the way back to Heart Lake. We’d planned to camp there, but had lots of daylight left, so we went for a dip, then hiked out. Ten hours that day.
Having spoken to people about alternate routes to Bonny Gem, I believe ours is worth recommending, with a few caveats, though allowing for a full day from Bonny Gem would be advised. I’ve only heard of the Crazy Creek version of this possible traverse of the Purcells, but all the sections of a Settler/Pioneer/Eagle Nest/South Toby traverse have been done in sections. The eastern end of the trip would largely rely on the South Toby route being in good shape. Overall, this wasn’t a particularly easy trip, but getting deep into the Purcell Wilderness was fantastic and it was great fun researching the history and talking to folks who’d made it or tried to make it to Bonny Gem previously.
This version of the trip report is much condensed. See the trip report forum on the KMC website for a longer version. Please contact me with any further information or stories, or to get more details. Thanks to Gary Diers, Mike Brewster, and Terry Turner for info.
Lake Bonny Gem Revisited by Terry Turner
The first KMC hiking camp was located at Lake Bonny Gem on August 3 – 10, 1974. Twenty-two participants included: Bill Genge, Dave Whiting, Peter Wood, Jack Steed, Derek Williams, Olwyn Ringheim, Knute and Jill Langballe, Ian and Libby Martin, Elizabeth Wallack, Janice Issac, Connie Wah, Martha McKay, Leo Gausner, Stan and Nancy Baker, Lilah O’Brien and four Deane family sisters (Helen Butling, Katharine Walker, Ruth BarradellSmith and Anne Hawkes).
Lake Bonny Gem is located within the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy Provincial Park and Protected Area, approximately 16.5 kilometers northeast of Johnsons Landing on Kootenay Lake.
The lake was reportedly named in July, 1915 by three ambitious mountain climbers, Wiliam Seaman, John Monaghan and Mr. J. Wright. They observed the lake from the summit of Mount Lillain (8,800 ft), about 6 kms to the southeast. The following day, they arrived at the lake, where Mr. Wright decided to leave the others at the lake to climb a peak to the north, now called Mount Lake. When Mr. Wright did not arrive back at the lake in the late afternoon during a rain storm, his two companions left him a note at a blazed tree along with Mr. Seaman’s axe and retreated to their camp in the valley. Mr. Wright arrived back at the camp late that night but didn’t see the axe or the note. This expedition was recorded in a small pamphlet entitled: “The Ascent of Mount Lillian and the Christening of Lake Bonny Gem”. The pamplet was found by Helen Butling who told the story to the participants of the 1974 KMC hiking camp.
In the Fall 1974, Volume 17 edition of the Kootenay Karabiner, Bill Genge, Ruth Barradell-Smith, Nancy and Stan Baker documented their experiences at the lake. Olywyn Ringheim discovered the axe and it remained in the possession of the Deane family until recently, when it was donated to the Riondel and Area Historical Society.
Anne Hawkes, who celebrated her 99th birthday on March 14th, fondly recalled the highlights of the trip including the spectacular scenery, the varied coloured paint brushes, the axe discovery and the brutal hike out to Johnson’s Landing with seven others. She chuckled when she mentioned the two shallow ponds near the camp and said, “One pond was for the women and the other for the men”. She wouldn’t expand but left it my imagination.