From The Welsh Lakes to the Olive Hut: A Three-Day Circuit in the Purcell Mountain Range of British Columbia

Related Post – Assez Difficile: Climbing The Granite Spires of the Bugaboos.

Campsite in the Purcells- close to the edge!

After twenty years of examination and discussion, the provincial government of British Columbia finally approved this week (late November 2012) the $1-billion Jumbo Glacier Alpine Resort, a development which proponents say will create almost a thousand permanent jobs and  a major new  tourist destination in the Purcell Mountain Range in the East Kootenays.  Not everyone is happy with the government’s decision and opposition continues to the proposed development, which is still in need of major funding to make it all possible. Click here for the CBC news coverage which caught my eye- and brought back memories of a three-day traverse of the Catamount Glacier just  a few kilometers north of the Jumbo Glacier area,  which I did in July of 2002.  Just to set the scene, here is a map to place the major points in context:

Purcells map showing the Bugaboos to the north, our hiking destination in the middle , and the Jumbo Resort area to the south.  Click here  if you want a “live” Google map you can play with

My hiking partner Margaret and I met up with our guide Dan Clark at the Lake Louise YHA for breakfast at Bill Peyto’s Cafe and then the ride to the little bit of the Purcells that we’d be exploring.  (The Purcell Range runs on the western side of the Columbia Trench for about 500 kilometers from Golden, B.C. down into northern Idaho. It includes one of North America’s premier climbing areas, the Bugaboos.) We were both new to the world of mountaineering, having met the summer before on a Rockies traverse organized by the Alpine Club of Canada. On the way Dan told us about the proposed Jumbo development, already a ten-year-old “hot button” issue in 2002. He also laid out the rough plan of our three-day ramble- the map below will give you an idea of what it involved-

Welsh Creek Trail:Olive Hut:Forster Creek Road

Our route – the off trail part is very approximate! Up the Welsh Creek Trail to the Lakes; up scree and onto the glacier; over to the Olive Hut; back to the Forster Creek Road and down to the car at the start of the Welsh Creek Trail. See here for the B.C. Govi’t Sites and Trails site. Enter “Welsh Creek Trail” and get more info and a map close-up.

To get to the trailhead we drove to Radium Hot Springs along Highway 93 (the Kootenay Highway) and then drove up the Horsethief Creek logging road for about 12 kilometres until we came to the Forster Creek logging road.  Eventually we came to a sign indicating 36 km. and turned left onto a side road that took us to a small parking lot. Dan then pulled out a roll of chicken wire and we spent some time  foritfying the car against possible attack from porcupines keen on chewing rubber hoses underneath.  Who knew!

the porcupine-proof car…at least we hope so!  It would be a long walk back to Radium.

We spent the first afternoon walking about five kilometers up to the lowest of the three Welsh Lakes along a maintained trail. By the time we got to the lake we were about 500 meters higher than our starting point.

Lower Welsh Lake  near camp site

Lower Welsh lake Campsite- tucked away  in the bush

along the shores of LowerWelsh lake on Day Two

Our objective for the second day was North Star Peak but along the way we were treated to spectacular alpine scenery and got a chance to practise some very basic mountaineer-ing skills on a beautiful sunny day.

Looking back at Middle Welsh Lake

taking a break at Upper Welsh lake

moving on up above the Welsh Lakes

onward and upward we go

plateau above the Welsh lakes

Day Two lunch shelter

incredible views all around!

Day Two afternoon on the snow

Day 2 camp  with North Star Peak on the right

looking north towards the Bugaboos

We sat on the top of North Star Peak  while Dan gave us a “name that peak”tour of the neighbourhood. He was most effusive about the Bugaboos, a sub-range of the Purcells to the north of where we were sitting. It sounded like rock climbers heaven- beautiful, almost-vertical slashes of quality granite jutting up into the sky. Three summers later I would walk up to the Kain Hut with some fellow climbers.I would finally get to experience the Bugaboos for myself- and discover a truly magical little corner of my own country that few outside the climbing community know about. (Click here for my post on the Bugaboos; the pix should give you yet another reason for putting the Purcells on your “to-do”  list!)

on top of North Star with the Bugs behind me- three summers later I’d climb Bugaboo Spire!

view from summit of North Star Peak

my rope mates- Dan (the guide) and Margaret

Day Two Campsite- a more complete view

Our campsite on the second day out was one of the more memorable ones I have ever found myself at.  As you can see in the photo above, we were perched on a small not-quite-flat area on the edge of the glacier above a pool.  You can see Dan fetching some water! If nothing else, we were nicely sheltered from the wind that evening!

heading to the Olive Hut

Day Three was another great day in the mountains. By mid-afternoon we found ourselves walking up to the Olive Hut, an unexpected surprise. Dan had pre-booked the hut for our last night, a good thing given that there is only room in it for four or five people.  I learned from Dan that the hut was built with funds provided by the Olive family. It was meant as a memorial to two family members who died in separate helicopter crashes , one of them in the  Bugaboos nearby and the other in the Arctic. (Click here for more useful Olive Hut info more geared to summer mountaineering as opposed to wintertime fun.)

home sweet home- for a night at least- the Olive Hut @ 2850 m/ 8500 ft

the Olive Hut on a rocky outcrop above the Catamount Glacier

tea time in the Olive Hut- definitely a change from the previous night’s accommodation!

We woke up the next morning to a five-centimeter dusting of snow which turned everything into a winter wonderland. We were happy to have spent the night in the cozy hut as we surveyed the scene through the large picture window overlooking Catamount Glacier.

new snow on Day Four as we walk out to the car

mid-July snow as we head to Forster Creek

snow-covered crevasse…an objective hazard!

sudden transition to the green Forster Creek valley below

Forster Creek valley- and the way back down to the car

As we approached the car the big question was- Did the chicken wire do the trick?  And  I had a supplementary question of my own- if not, how was I going to meet up with the group going up to the ACC’s Laurence Grassi Hut from Golden later on that day?  In the end, the porcupines were not a problem and by five that afternoon Dan and Margaret were back in Lake Louise to begin a Rockies adventure.

They had dropped me off in Golden where I met up with my crew and off we went to the helicopter staging area from where we would be flown to the Clemenceau Icefield. From one great little adventure- the Catamount Glacier/Starbird Ridge to something even more epic-  I was definitely hooked on being in the mountains!

I notice that the Alpine Club of Canada will be basing its 2013 General Mountaineering Camp in the very area we rambled through some ten years ago!  Check out the ACC link here (unfortunately dead in June of 2014)  if you want to see  detailed description of the one-week adventure.

Among other things the write-up has this to say- “This is an often-overlooked part of the Purcells – an area with fantastic climbing that is seldom visited. The quality and selection of routes close to camp will make this a rewarding and memorable GMC.”  I couldn’t agree more!

Update: June 2014 – the ACC link is dead! They really should keep these annual GMC write-ups in an on-line archive. It is not as if they would take up much space.

N. Bowler has posted pix and commentary on the two weeks he spent there that summer of 2013 – one as a participant in the North Face Leadership Camp and the second as a guest at the GMC.  Lots of great pix!  Check it out here.

Just to bring this all back to the present news item- i.e. the Jumbo Alpine Resort decision-  that prompted me to dig up the slides of this trip and scan them, take a look at the following links for more on the issue:

  1. the Jumbo Alpine Resort’s website

  2. a column by Jeff Gailus at the David Suzuki Foundation website

  3. a very detailed pdf  map of the Jumbo Alpine Resort

  4. the home page of Jumbowild I’m not sure what to make of the decision to allow the project to go ahead.

It would be interesting to know how some of the nearby developments (e.g. Kicking Horse Resort at the north end of the Purcells near Golden)  have fared economically and environmentally since opening in the the past decade.  I’m guessing that the 6,000 rooms projected when the resort is complete is a wishful number- even at 80% occupancy it would require the resort to attract about 1.5 million nights’ worth of visitors.

Having seen the documentary Chasing Ice recently I also wonder how much of the glacier coverage that the resort is banking on for all-year-round skiing is going to be left in twenty years.

If nothing else, recalling  our little ramble in the Purcells and hearing the news of the Jumbo Resort development plans has me considering a possible week-long hike/climbing trip next summer on the glaciers the Jumbo Alpine Resort will be based on. Still to be found out is if the area is private property and out of bounds for hikers and climbers.  Let me know about the hiking/climbing  possibilities  if you’ve been there recently.

2 thoughts on “From The Welsh Lakes to the Olive Hut: A Three-Day Circuit in the Purcell Mountain Range of British Columbia

  1. Hello Ramblin’ Boy,
    Great trip report and impressive pictures!
    I am going to do something similar in the area and have couple of questions.
    May I contact you or your guide over email?
    Many thanks for your interesting site.
    Best regards,
    Elijah

    • Elijah, you’ve picked a great area of the Purcells to focus on. Hard to believe it was ten years ago…I was just getting into mountaineering at that time and that short ramble introduced me to an area that I, as an eastern Canadian, had no idea even existed! As for the guide, the last I heard Dan was teaching high school. But there lots of great guides out there. Check out this web site – http://www.acmg.ca/ – for information on how to find a guide. Another organization which you should definitely check out is the Alpine Club of Canada – http://www.alpineclubofcanada.ca

      Check out their Mountain Adventures and you will notice a one-week trip to the very area that my post describes. (It is under the label General Mountaineering Camp.) The Welsh Lakes is where the ACC is holding its general mountaineering camp this year from July 6th to August 17th with six week-long camps. One of the benefits of going with ACC is that you will get first-class instruction on the basics of mountaineering from the best guides in Canada. You will also never have eaten better or more food while in the middle of nowhere! I’m not sure if you need that basic training but it was the ACC and their different “Mountain Adventures” that made it all happen for me.

      If you have any more questions, just send them to true_north@me.com and I will answer asap!

Your comments and questions are always appreciated, as are any suggestions on how to make this post more useful to future travellers. Just drop me a line or two!

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