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!!)

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jenny!

    Love this trip report! I'm a blogger for Last Frontier Heliskiing (, and I'm working on a post on different ski traverses in BC/Alberta. Could I use some of your pictures? I'll credit you of courser and can link them to this blog if you like? Thanks a bunch! Liam Harrap