MT MANSON 2748m 9016′
Map: 82F/16 Dewar Creek, St. Mary’s Alpine Park
Not having ever been to St. Mary’s Alpine Park, I was intrigued to see if the comments of my few friends to have visited it were accurate. Most said, “Don’t bother.”
So, on Thursday, July 8th, Janice Isaac, Sacha Kalabis, and I set out for a day trip to the park from Nelson. This seemed like something of a mad endeavour as we waited for the 6:30 Kootenay Lake ferry, calculated the distances, and watched the increasing cloud cover. Once on the East Shore, we drove the Gray Creek Pass road to the St. Mary FSR junction (54 km. from Gray Creek) and turned left. My original goal was to stay overnight and climb Mt. St. Mary (9505’) in the northern part of the park, but shaky weather persuaded us to settle for the more accessible and lower Mt. Manson on the southern border of the park. Following the directions in Janice Strong’s excellent Mountain Footsteps, we turned right at a major junction at the km. 49 sign (left is signed West Fork St. Mary River Road) and drove to the 8 km. sign on what is the Dewar Creek road. Here, we turned right onto an unsigned, rough road, changed to 4WD LR 1st gear, and ground our way up nearly 2500’ in 5.3 km. to a fork where the roads become impassable (GR 470-165). This drive is not for the faint of heart as much of it is steep and is overgrown with alder for several hundred meters. However, the roadbed is solid.
Ready to travel on foot at 10:50, we chose Mt. Manson to the north over the lower, closer Mt. Patrick to the south, donned rain gear, and set off in a light drizzle. As per book instructions, we followed the lower road a few hundred meters to its end and a trail registration box. Then we continued on a rough trail to the south flowing creek at 469-165. The trail then ascends through light timber on the east bank and crosses to the left bank below a meadow of alpine larch. Beyond this point (the trail having disappeared), we ascended a short headwall to reach the alpine SE of our objective. By now, the weather had whited-out to give visibility of 50 m., and it was snowing heavily. Fortunately, there was no enthusiasm for turning back. Earlier glimpses had indicated our objective would go as a walk-up all on snow, so we kept to the SE face below the east ridge and topped out easily in 2 hrs. 25 min.
On the flattish summit, we found two moderate-sized cairns with no records, and Sacha got a GPS reading of 2753 m. During our 30 min. stay, the weather broke long enough for us to view an alpine landscape to the north littered with lakes, some frozen. We identified the large Bird Lake to the north and got clear views of Mt. Patrick (8930’) 3 km. to the SE.
Soon the weather closed in, and we re-traced our steps (8-10 cm. of freshies over a firm base) on snow to pick up the trail and return to the truck by 3:20 pm (1 ½ hr. descent; 4 ½ hour day). As it started to rain again, there was no enthusiasm for car camping, so we set out to catch the 7:00 ferry, leaving at 3:30. As usual, the access road was much easier on descent but it still took 30 min. to reach the St. Mary road. We then made good time on the haul roads, arrived at Kootenay Bay at 6:05 to easily board the 6:10, and got home just after 7:00.
In sum, this was just about the best possible outcome on such a gnarly day. This end of the park is worth maybe a couple of short days as you could also hike to Jurak Lake and go up Mt. Patrick. Attractive landscape, especially with some snow cover. And no bush whacking.