ST MARY ALPINE PROVINCIAL PARK – A Traverse
This is true wilderness – no signs, bridges or maintained trails. These things may have existed when the park was formed in 1973, but when I was last there in about 2000, none of that existed and the ability to use a map and compass (now GPS) was mandatory, just to access the park.
The honest truth about St Mary’s is that, despite Alpine being in its name, ⅔ is forested, peaks are few and mediocre and views are average. The attraction is in the doing – exploring a seldom-visited wilderness, solitude, and the challenge of actually walking across the middle of it. Why would you want to drive all this way to hike undeveloped trails to so-so mountains if the goal was not a traverse?
Once there, be prepared for rugged hiking. 100-foot contour lines do not show the series of 20 foot cliffs encountered in a traverse. Boulders the size of houses, granite slopes and huge blocks of broken rock make up much of the interior. This all makes for scrambling over, under, down and up very broken terrain. Snowstorms and white-outs complicate route finding. Be prepared to be tested.
Although there is a high risk of snow and cold weather, an ideal time for this hike might be in the middle of September. The park is covered in alpine larch that probably has all turned gold by the middle of the month. Most of the undergrowth will have died back after several frosts. Pick a good weather window and this difficult hike could become a possibility. Plan for a four or more day backpacking trip to see most of this park. It is a long drive from almost anywhere just to get to the access points. Getting to a good place to camp in the subalpine would take a full day.
Traverses of Mt St Mary’s PP.
A shuttle vehicle is required. Most start at the North Access and come out the West access for a 3 or 4-day backpack.
For a real adventure, continue down the ridge above Mortar Lake, follow the long ridge SSE, traverse Mt Manson and descend to Jurak Lake.
Location: Southern Purcell Mts.
Difficulty: Very difficult, no trails over a rugged landscape
Time: long day-hikes or 3-4+ days backpacking trips.
Access: Dewar Creek and north access: HC 2WD; West access: 4WD
Season: July to mid-September.
Map: 82F/16 Dewar Creek
Drive: From the West Kootenay (Nelson or Kaslo): take the Kootenay Lake ferry to Kootenay Bay. Zero odometer. .
0.0 Start Kootenay Bay when disembarking the ferry on the east shore. Drive Hwy 3A to Crawford Bay then south.
12.3km Pass Gray Creek Store and 150m beyond, turn left (east) onto Oliver Road. Zero odometer.
From Creston (junction of Hwy 3 and 3A) drive north on Hwy 3A – 72kms and just after crossing Gray Creek, turn right (east) onto Oliver Road. Zero odometer.
0.0 Start on Oliver Road known locally as Gray Creek Pass Road.
.3km Turn right and cross bridge over Gray Creek. Stay on main road up switchbacks.
1.3km Bear left on Gray Creek Pass Rd. Sign reads “Marysville 84km; Hwy 95A, Kimberly 88km.
7km Go right through a winter snow gate. (left goes to Sphinx Mountain TH)
17.5km Gray Creek Pass. Park here for either of the Gray Creek Pass summits. 30.3 kms Bear left; 30,7 and 35kms Cross Redding Creek; 40.5 and 44km Proceed straight. 53.7 Bridge over St Mary’s River
53.9km Junction on St Marys FSR. (right goes to Kimberly); 63.7km Cross bridge over White Creek; 75kms Go straight (Left goes up No Name Creek and crosses bridge over Dewar Creek.
79km Fork. Left accesses the west and north side of St Mary’s Alpine Park and Dewar Creek Hot Springs. (Right ascends to Mortar Lake TH). 82.5km and 84.1kms, bear left. 85.4km Bear right. Pass clearing with possible camping.
85.8km Park here if road too overgrown for vehicle
86.2km Go left. (right fork ascends). 86.6km Brown Park Boundary marker post.
86.7 Parking area TH for Dewar Creek Hot Springs and Bleak Lake in St Mary’s Alpine Provincial Park. 1372m 4500’.
Elevation gain: 625m (2050′) gain to col, 91m (300′) loss to Mortar Lake; 120m (390′) gain to Trinity Lake
Key elevations: TH 1707m (5600′); Park boundary & col 2332m (7650′), Mortar Lake 2240m (7350′), Trinity Lake 2362m (7750′)
Drive: 0.0 Head north on Dewar Creek Road from St Mary’s Lake FSR
15km Turn right uphill on unsigned road with steep switchbacks.
21.5km Road ends at landing with a trailhead registration box.
Trail: Ascend on an indistinct trail through forest about 600m (2000’) to the ridgeline and the park border at 4kms. Once in the park, there are no trails. Route find NE to Mortar Lake.
Elevation gain: 1311m (4300’) gain TH to col below Mt St Mary; 213m (700′) loss to Bleak Lake
Key elevations: Wesley Creek TH 1372m (4500’); col 2683m (8800’); Bleak Lake 2470m (8100’)
Distance: 9.3km TH to col
Drive: Drive past the west access at 15km and stay on Dewar Creek FSR
21.3km Turn right. 22.1km Turn left.
22.7km Park for Dewar Creek Hot Springs TH and Wesley Creek TH
Trail: Most traverses of St Mary’s PP begin at this trailhead, climb to the col below Mt St Mary’s and camp at Bleak Lake on the first night.
Day 1. Dewar Creek Hot Springs TH is left. The Wesley Creek trail heads right (east) – the difficult to find TH is on the side of the registration box opposite the parking area. Wade or do the difficult log crossing of Wesley Creek. Walk NE on the west side of the creek and cross a side stream at 4km. The trail disappears at an avalanche path but is where you expect it to be when you reenter the forest. If raining or dewy, be prepared to get wet here.
After walking 5kms, turn right (east) at 403-311, 5600’ where Wesley Creek comes down from the park. Cross the creek that comes down from Radiant Lake and search for a trail on the north side Wesley Creek. Head east on the trail for about 2kms until it disappears. Ascend the obvious talus slopes on the right side of the valley, then go up grass and angle left (northeast) up a spur of the main ridge. Scramble up loose scree to the col. Directly below is Bleak Lake. Scan the route past Bleak Lake carefully, try to determine the best route through the difficult terrain on tomorrows hike.
Climb Mt St Mary 2910m (9550’), only 700 feet above you to the NE and/or Nowitka Mt 2926m (9600’) to the SW along a much longer ridge. Descend to Bleak Lake and Campsite #1 on the north side of the lake.
Day 2. Explore Phyllodoce and Canning Lakes to the east, all in the alpine. Return to your campsite and continue the traverse.
Around the east corner of Bleak Lake, descend due south to the west side of Nowitka Lake. Go around the south shore and find the best descent past the lake at 458-287, go to the west of Lyallii Lake and cross Larch Meadow. Circle around to the east of the long ridge and skirt close to the bottom of it staying north of Keer Lake. Maintain your elevation to the east end of Price Lake, campsite #2. This was the location of the 1977 Kootenay Mountaineering Club Hiking camp at 451-250.
Day 3. Cross the east end of the ridge at the end of “Trinity Spire” and “Trinity Mt”. At the 7800’ level just north of Trinity Lake, drop the packs and climb the spire and mountain. Follow the SE ridge or descend by Pestle Lake and work your way back east to Trinity Lake. This is a popular place to camp or with your packs contour around the lake trending SW and then west to Mortar Lake. Campsite #3.
Day 4. Hike out the West Access Route. From the col SW of Mortar Lake, maintain elevation walking to the NW and circle west to find the top of the trail.