PEAKS NORTH of CAMPBELL CREEK
Map: 82F/15 Kaslo
Unnamed 2720 m 8924′ at 176-374 (8kms west of Kootenay Lake and 12kms east of the Leaning Towers)
Unnamed 2838 m 9311′ at 211-352
Unnamed 2842 m 9324′ (Mt Neave) at 215-348
Unnamed 2720 m 8924′ at 189-369
Continuing our early season exploratory mountaineering in the southwestern Purcells, we this year chose to climb on the north side of Campbell Creek, a drainage flowing west into Kootenay Lake in BC’s West Kootenay, just south of the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy, and roughly across from the village of Kaslo. Our party was made up of Paul Allen and Steve Horvath from Rossland, Bert Port from Castlegar, and Kim Kratky of Nelson. The week before our trip, I made a recce to explore roads and trails up Campbell Creek, the access route for the first ascents in the Leaning Towers Group in 1933. Our original plan of a June 10-13 fly in-walk out camp was scuppered by bad weather.
A week later, the weather improved to sunny and warm, and so at 7:00 am on Thursday, June 17th, we flew from the Campbell Creek bridge on the Loki FSR north of the community of Riondel. Once in the alpine, we chose a campsite on snow at 2288 m. (7506′) at GR 169-367 on a height of land above an unnammed creek flowing south into Campbell.
By 9:00, we were ready for an outing and decided upon the unnamed peak to the north serving as a backdrop to camp (176-374). After ascending easy snow to a notch in the southwest ridge (171-370), we tackled the ridge head-on, enjoying good scrambling on granite. Higher up, the angle steeped, yielding fourth class climbing, and eventually we put the rope on to negotiate a short, rotten gully (5.3) to regain the ridge. We immediately exited left into an easy snow couloir that in 150′ led to the final snow slopes.
On top by 11:45, we built a cairn, put in a summit record tube, and GPSed our peak at 2720 m. (8924′). I had been thinking about these peaks, clearly visible from Kaslo, for at least 25 years. As there is precious little information about this east-west ridge which, on the map looked to hold some eight peaks, I was not surprised to find our first one unclimbed. McCoubrey writes in CAJ 23 that his party climbed something they called Baldy Pk. (8000′) on the north side of Campbell Creek on their Leaning Towers approach, but it is difficult to determine its location. Equally puzzling is the entry in the Climber’s Guide to the Interior Ranges (1971 edition, page 277) that describes a peak named Neave (9250′) but doesn’t actually say that it had been climbed. The subsequent, and current, Climber’s Guide (1977) omits mention of these peaks entirely.
After about 50 min. lounging in warm, sunny weather, we headed down the easy rock and snow of the long southeast ridge (class 3) to snowfields at its base. Then we plunged through increasingly mushy snow to make the 1000′ descent to the lake at 173-365 and on a short distance to our camp. Call it a six-hour day.
One of our concerns about these early season camps has been snow conditions. The previous week had seen maybe 30 cm. of freshies fall at higher elevations, slowing the consolidation process usually well underway by this time in our region. At our camp, cold, clear nights made for very hard snow in the morning deteriorating to mush after lunch.
Friday dawned fine and sunny, a good day to try what we thought would be Mt. Neave. As we were to walk out and wanted to save weight, we were without crampons. Still, a 7:15 am start found the snow soft enough to be safe on the steeps. Guessing that Neave would be the peak at 215-348 located 1.2 km. southwest of the lake at the headwaters of Gillis Creek, we made good time in a long, up-and-down approach on snow. We passed through an easy col at 181-365, headed southeast through a snowy basin, and easily turned a barrier ridge at treeline (192-355). We then made a rising traverse of about 1.7 km. toward a rock and snow pyramid we guessed was our goal. In about 3.5 hours we reached what we thought was the summit at 211-352 (2838 m.), only to see a higher point some 400 m. southeast along a rock and snow ridge. More disconcerting was the sight of fresh zipper tracks diagonalling from the east and then straight up the north snow face to the summit of this point. As we stopped for a drink and snack, there was considerable muttering about some dastardly critter, maybe even someone we knew (names best not mentioned), beating us to a first ascent by a day. And yet, I reflected, no one gives a damn about these peaks. Who would come here? We continued along the ridge toward our goal, scrambling carefully on good granite interspersed with corniced snow on the steep north faces, and reached the top in a further 30 min. (4 hr. 20 min. up from camp) by 11:50 am.
Paul, who was first up, laughingly solved the mystery ascent by pointing out the tracks of a young grizzly that had neatly avoided cornices on the north face to summit and then head down southern slopes and into Campbell Creek drainage. Finding no sign of a cairn, we built one, put in a record, and GPSed the peak at 2842 m.
This is certainly the major massif on the ridge as most of what I had guessed by map work were peaks turned out to be mere bumps. Unnamed 2802 m. to the southeast (225-344) was distinctly less imposing. Only unnamed 2837 m. (190-368 and some 3 km. to the NW) seemed a pretender to the name of Neave, but it was too far west. As A. A. McCoubrey is no longer around to provide guidance (he does have a big peak named after him in the Jumbo Group), we decided our summit would have to be Neave.
After 40 min. of pleasant torpor employed in eating and examining the starkly-etched blocks of the Leaning Towers only 7-8 km. to the east, we re-traced our steps to the northwest sub-peak and braced ourselves for the enervating swim, lurch, and stagger back to camp, some 8 km away. At first, one only plunged to the knee on every fourth step, but soon the snow gained consistency and we managed to establish a rhythm of going in to calf-top on every step. Still, we were able to pull into camp by 4:30 for a tidy 9 1/4 hour outing. This time, we only took the rope and hardware for a walk, as this was an easy class 3 climb.
Saturday, the party felt a bit drained. Unnamed 2837 m. looked steep, rotten, and well-protected. It would go via the snow of the north ridge, but west-side couloirs giving access looked unsafe. Paul’s back was giving him problems, and Steve’s surgically rebuilt leg needed a rest. Bert went off to explore unnamed 8050′, but stopped at the center of three peaks (highest on the west) because of poor snow. I had an easy day, too, soloing u/n 2720 via the SE ridge in 1 hr. 45 min.
Sunday morning the weather looked to be deteriorating as we prepared to walk out to the truck we had left at the end of the Campbell Creek road at 153-331. I had walked old trails and roads up to 4600′ on the north side of the creek and was quite confident we would have an easy descent to reach these. Still, ya never know. Starting at 8:00, we followed the creek draining the lake at 173-365, descending first on the west bank and then moving to the east side. After 2 1/2 hours of very modest bush whacking, we picked up the disused road at 173-333, tramped road and trail for an hour, made an easy crossing of Campbell on a smashed bridge, and reached our truck at the end of the driveable road. The Pilsner Urquells under the truck were still cold, no porky had tested the defensive wire cordon around my truck, and we even made the 2:50 sailing of the Kootenay Lake ferry from Kootenay Bay.
In all, it was a very pleasant mini-camp in a remote, but nearby, area. Finally, after a quarter century, I will be able to stand in line at Mountain Burger in Kaslo, look across Kootenay Lake and up Campbell Creek, and say, “We climbed those.”