Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Bonnington Half Traverse (Grassy and Steed Huts)

To kick off the Christmas holidays, we headed to the Kootenays to explore the Bonnington Range. Due to the technical difficulties of doing the whole traverse (car drops etc.) we decided to save a bit on gas by just do an out and back to Steed Hut, stopping at the Grassy Hut on our first night and on the way back out. We drove from Fernie, arriving at the Bombi Summit on highway 3 around noon. There were lots of sledders out and about, making the ski into the hut really easy as it was basically groomed. We followed the alternate directions into the hut by following the forestry road instead of going directly under the powerlines. It was a much more efficient way to get in, I highly recommend it! After passing the East Munson spur (just after 6km on the logging road - all the km's are marked), we turned right onto the next spur, following it up into the woods towards False Grassy. The book said that it was 9 km into the hut, but our GPS said we actually traveled 10.9 km. The climb up to the ridge was surprisingly steep, but once we got up there, it was easy to find the hut thanks to all the tracks from the guys that had come in the day before us. Having a GPS is a good idea - looking in the hut log it seems like it can be pretty tricky to find.
Skinning up the forest service road at 2:30 on the shortest day of the year!
Heading up the skin track towards the hut
We had a very entertaining evening with they sledders from Cranbrook who were nice enough to share their salad and garlic bread. Their contagious enthusiasm convinced us to go for a night lap under the stars, despite being exhausted from the ski in. The next day, we woke up early with the intent of an early start to Steed Hut to give us some time to ski some laps when we got there. It ended up being a typical faff-fest and we didn't end up getting out of the hut until about 9:30. It was such a glorious day that we had to take tonnes of pictures as the Bonningtons have a bad reputation for foggy weather.
Sunrise breakfast from the Grassy Hut porch

Glorious day in the Bonningtons
Grassy Hut
View from the Grassy Hut porch
We skied up to the ridge from the hut and traversed across right towards Grassy summit. After a bit of route-finding, we took off the skins and skied down the ridge to the north towards the "Twin Peaks". The snow was amazing! Following the ridge was super easy and we didn't have to put the skins on for a long time. The next part of the tour was really mellow, we followed the ridge and crossed a snowmobile road, before starting the ascent up the twin peaks. We contoured around the first one and summited the second as the blue skies clouded over and the wind picked up. 
Skiing towards Steed Hut
Skiing towards the 2nd of the two Twin Peaks
Kyle with Grassy Mountain in the background. We started below Grassy and skied along the right hand ridge to reach the Twin Peaks
The terrain off the top of the 2nd Twin Peak was really steep! We chose to descend the east ridge a ways before dropping into a great open run that lead down to another snowmobile road. Next time I think I would want to take the west ridge, as it descends in a better direction to get to the Steed Hut. We had lunch at the road then skied west to a cut block. The directions told us to take the north ridge, which we did. It lead us up and down and we decided to start contouring around until we reached a lake. Then we realized we had been one ridge over and started heading west to the saddle above the Steed Hut. I am so happy we had the GPS! The climb up to the pass was steep and bare. We decided to boot pack which turned out to be totally awful. We were stepping down through to trees and rocks, making it really hard going. Finally we hit the top and could see the hut way below. We had to contour around the basin to approach the hut and we JUST managed to get to it without putting on the skins!

When we reached Steed Hut, the lantern wouldn't start and the coleman stove was acting up. Kyle managed to figure out the lantern by bending the seal in the pump back into place (it had folded because of the cold) but the stove decided to try and burn down the cabin. Kyle's quick thinking of picking up the whole stove with the 3 foot flame and chucking it out in the snow saved the day! We cooked all our meals on the wood stove, which worked really well and kept us toasty warm. I had lugged up a magnetic backgammon board so we played a few games that night which was awesome! Since we had a late start and were pretty tired, there were no laps to be had from Steed Hut. I think that it would be a better zone to ski with a bit more snow.
Evil stove that tried to burn down the hut
The next morning, we started back to Grassy Hut. It was very overcast and DUMPING snow! The ski down from the saddle was awesome! We found some great pillow lines and had a blast shredding the pow like a cow.
Dumping!!! So stoked

Loving the snow

The trip back to Grassy was quite nice as we knew where we were going and didn't have to check the GPS as often. We also found a really good skin track to follow, although the falling snow made it hard to make out at times. The trees looked like Who-ville trees with so much snow weighing them down. Kyle was on the look-out for Valhalla.
Searching for Valhalla
We reached the hut without a problem and got the wood stove going. I love the Grassy Hut. It is so cozy and the stove doesn't try to burn the hut down!
Interior of Grassy Hut
We had an actually early morning and were out of the hut before 8 am with the plan to be back to the car within 2 hours to start our 7 hour drive back to Calgary for Christmas Eve. The moon was still out, illuminating the trees and the glow from the rising sun was beautiful.
Approaching the ridge at sunrise

Wonderful Christmas Eve morning
We dropped down the ridge back towards the powerlines just as the sun was peeking over the mountains. It was magical.
Looking back to the hut and Grassy Mountain

Red Mountain Resort (on the left) and the Seven Summits!
The ski back to the car was not bad at all. It was 6 km down the logging road and was generally downhill with about 3 km of flat skating which was tiring but quick. It only took us 1.5 hours to reach the car, giving us plenty of time to get home for dinner. When we reached the car however, the lock on the door had been broken, the thule key had been broken off in the lock and the glove box lock had been smashed. We hadn't really left much valuable stuff in the car as we had heard that break-ins had been know to occur in the parking lot, but we still had a bunch of stuff stolen. Along with that, we couldn't get the car started! We flagged down a passing car and tried to jump it, but that didn't work either. Since we had no cell service up there, we accepted a ride to Fruitvale to call BCAA and the RCMP. We found out that this was the 20th break in up there this ski season!! A really nice local gave us a ride back up to the car to meet the tow truck. We decided to give it one more shot at jumping the car and discovered the battery had been disconnected. We reconnected it and got the car running just in time for the tow truck to arrive. I was so relieved, as I was worried that we were going to be stuck in Castlegar or taking an overnight bus to be home for Christmas. The entire ordeal had only taken about 2 hours and we were back in Calgary just before 7! It was an unfortunate way to end a great trip but I will definitely be back to do the full traverse. The Bonningtons have so much great terrain, it would be awesome to go back and explore. Merry Christmas everyone!
The tow truck that we didn't end up needing (thank goodness!!)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Egypt Lake Shelter via Healy Pass Nov 30/Dec 1

I have been following Alex Wigley's blog ( for the last few months and a recent post really resonated with me. It was 10 tips on how to have the best season ever. One of the tips was to do one hut trip each month. With this in mind, we realized that November was about to end very soon! It was looking like the one hut a month challenge was going to be over before it had even started due to poor snow conditions and a lack of ski buddies that wanted to go ski hardpack all weekend. Resigning ourselves to a day touring trip, Kyle noticed that there was a Parks Canada shelter very close to our destination. Somehow, the stars aligned and we grabbed some of the last spots in the hut for the night of November 30th. I guess the challenge is back on!

We had a relatively leisurely start of around 9am from the Sunshine parking area for a ski out to Healy Pass with the CSMC. We had a big group of 10 plus a dog, but it also had not snowed in a while so we weren't too worried about getting fresh tracks. The trip was more of a nice walk in the woods with skis on.
Leaving the sunshine area en route to Healy Pass with the CSMC
The track out to Healy Pass had been well set and it was easy going the whole way, much of the time it was wide enough to ski side-by-side! We stopped at the campground to do some beacon practice before heading up to the pass. At the top, we scoped out how to get down to the Egypt Lake Shelter. The others seemed quite concerned that we would get lost, apparently it can be quite hard to find. Luckily we had a GPS with the hut on it and some route info to guide us down. Before we split off from the group, we went for a bit of a ski and actually found some decent snow. The coverage was still pretty bare and you had to watch for rocks and shrubs, but it is filling in nicely!
A bit of good snow in the larches
The rest of the group skinned back up to the pass for another lap before heading home, while Kyle and I broke off and started traversing North to get to the hut. We followed the GPS, choosing to stay high through the trees as we descended instead of taking the summer trail (which we contoured just below the whole way down). It got pretty thick in some spots! Somehow we popped out at a perfect ice bridge over Pharaoh Creek.
Filling the water bag as the evening approaches
It was less than 100m to the shelter from the stream, which we easily found thanks to some old tracks. We found out that our GPS had been guiding us to the Warden's Cabin, so it was kind of good that we were slightly off bearing. The whole ski in was about 12-13km along pretty mellow terrain (625m gain, 300m loss).
The Sphinx
Approaching Egypt Lake Shelter with one of the Pharaoh Peaks towering above
We arrived at the shelter and were the only ones there! After lighting the wood stove and getting started on dinner, a group of 8 arrived and suddenly it got alot noisier in the shelter. It is a pretty minimal structure, with 6 sleeping platforms (that could easily sleep 3-4 each if you were ok with getting cozy) and 2 long picnic tables by the wood burning stove. Other than a broom, axe and woodpile, there wasn't much to it. Someone had left an LED lantern that took 4 AA batteries and did a really good job of lighting the whole place up!

It was an early night for everyone after the long ski in. We went to bed with expectations of a snow storm, but awoke to only a dusting on the ground. Kyle and I got an early start and went exploring behind the hut in the direction of Pharaoh Peak. On Wendy's recommendation, we skied up the "meadow" which turned out to be more like a boulder field with some snow on it. The ski down was treacherous. There wasn't even enough snow on the ground for Kyle to feel comfortable on his rock skis. We slowly and carefully navigated the upper wind-blown slope before descending the boulder field holding our breath as we floated above the rocks.

Treading lightly with sharks below

Kyle "going for it" through the boulders

Right about now I am wondering what the heck we are doing here
Luckily the lower slope was much nice and we were able to piece together a few good turns before we got to the trees!

Took this picture a second too soon, but great snow down low!

Dead trees and pillows!

Kyle getting his turns in

Great success!
Despite the low coverage, we still had a great time. We were back at the cabin by about 10:15, made some lunch and then started the ski back up to Healy Pass. We caught the big group at the pass who had left just after we returned to the hut after our morning ski. The ski out from the pass was much faster than I anticipated. The lack of snow in the past few days had allowed the track to become very quick and we only had to take our skis off to climb one hill up to the Sunshine cat road. I don't think that it would be much fun on a snowboard though, there was a decent amount of side stepping up small rises, much better for skis!

One month of winter and one hut down. Lets see what December brings! 

Edit: This was my first time really trying out my new pack (Deuter Guide 40+ SL) which I was a bit nervous about because I was worried it wouldn't be big enough (downsized from a 60L which was often stuffed to the point of things dangling off the sides). Much to my distress at leaving so much behind and Kyle's shock, wonder and pride, I managed to fit everything I needed for the overnight into the bag with room to spare. Even with all the ultra-light gear Kyle has, I think my pack was lighter (he blames the water). This bodes well for the season to come. Maybe the days of being the girl with the monstrous pack are coming to an end.