Ascent of Kootenay Mountain on 2009-07-30

Climber: Edward Earl

Date:Thursday, July 30, 2009
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Hi-Clearance Vehicle
Peak:Kootenay Mountain
    Location:Canada-British Columbia
    Elevation:8058 ft / 2456 m

Ascent Trip Report

I am probably the first serious peakbagger to reach the summit of Kootentay Mtn, which is in British Columbia, Canada, just above the top of ID. It is one of three Canadian ultra-prominent peaks whose 5000' prominence cell enters the lower 48. Its location in a foreign country where maps are much harder to come by than in the USA, combined with the fact that I had no trip reports or beta from any previous person to climb it, left me quite short on information. The way I climbed it is definitely not the preferred route, and I hope that my experience will help future peakbaggers take a more efficient approach.

The maps and overhead photos I did have suggested two possible driving approaches to get near the peak. One (which I'll call the "high approach") climbs rapidly up and over a 5700' summit with some radio towers on it, then remains relatively high until dropping down to Newington Creek. The other "low approach" traverses N low along the E base of the N-S trending range for a while before climbing up along Newington Creek, where the two approaches rejoin. Last year, Duane Gilliland and Grant Myers attempted this peak but were stopped by a washout on the approach road. I didn't know which approach they tried, or if the washout was specific to one approach or the other. Armed with knowledge of two approaches, I crossed my fingers that if the washout weren't repaired but blocked only one approach, it would be possible to bypass it on the other approach.

I entered Canada at Porthill, the westernmost of two border crossings between ID and BC. The crossing is open from 7 AM to 11 PM; in the event that it is closed, it can be bypassed by crossing at Eastport, which is about 15 miles E and is open 24/7. The highway that crosses at Porthill is ID-1 on the S side and becomes BC-21 on the N side. About 8 miles N of the border, BC-21 meets BC-3 just W of Creston. I headed W on BC-3 for about 5½ miles to a bridge over the Summit River. Just beyond the bridge I turned N on a well-graded gravel road signed as "Topaz Creek Forest Service Road". Call the turnoff point mile 0.0. Small yellow signs on trees by this road appear to indicate the distance from BC-3 in kilometers, except that many are at road junctions. In fact the coincidence between kilometer markers and junctions is so high that it's probably not chance; it is likely that many kilometer markers have been moved a few tenths of a kilometer as a means of identifying junctions.

At 2.0 miles (kilometer marker 3) is a junction where a L turn is the high approach; straight ahead (indicated by a sign as Newington Rd) is the low approach. I opted for the low approach first. At 2.7 miles I encountered a sign saying that I was entering a conservation area, entry was by permit only to protect sensitive environmental features, and that no permits would be issued until further notice due to a high fire hazard. There was no gate or physical security of any kind. The area appears to be a logging area with a Canadian chapter of the Nature Conservancy having a part in managing it. Signs identified Darkwoods Forestry, 250-825-4343, and the Nature Conservancy,, 888-404-8428, and that one could call this number for information and status.

Daunted at first, I returned to the junction and decided to try the high approach. As expected, the road climbed steeply, with many switchbacks. There were many clear cuts and logging spur roads. The road eventually topped out in a clear cut near the radio tower, at a junction with several possible choices. I tried them all, but they were all logging spur roads whose condition deteriorated rapidly after a short distance. It is possible that one might connect to better roads farther ahead, but 4WD would probably be needed to get there.

I then decided to try the low approach again. I didn't know if I'd be willing to venture very far into an off-limits area in a foreign country, but I felt that at the very least the knowledge of whether or not there was any road washout blockage would be very valuable on a future ascent by me or anyone else, whether or not I turn around (or get turned around) due to access regulations. So I returned to the low approach and continued on. There were no further warnings, security or even any signs of current human presence. The place was deserted, though the main road remained in good condition. There were many junctions at which a logging spur road was identified by a sign as having a name; whenever this happened, I always continued on the unsigned main road. Mileages in the remainder of this report are direct from BC-3, disregarding any side trips I made.

At 4.2 miles is a fork (kilometer marker 5). Left branch goes uphill; I went R. At 7.4 miles (KM 12), Midgeley logging spur road goes L. At 7.9 miles Lady Slipper logging spur road goes L. At 8.7 miles (KM 14), Oldtimer road goes R. At 9.3 miles, I turned L to continue on the main road where a side road goes straight ahead. At this point the road ends its long traverse N and begins climbing W along Newington Creek. At 10.0 miles (just after KM 16), CA-hoot-22 road goes R. At 12.3 miles (KM 20), I passed through a saddle, then North Trapper road goes R. This saddle is the one SW of the 6700+' peak between Shaw Creek and Newington Creek. The road then makes a gradual descending R traverse toward Shaw Creek. At this point, there are occasional views of Kootenay Mtn and Wood Pk through trees. The road becomes narrower and somewhat grassy. At 16.2 miles (KM 26), Shaw Rd goes R. At 16.3 miles, cross Shaw Creek on a bridge. The road then begins to climb. At 16.9 miles, the main road made a sharp L switchback, where Pioneer Rd goes straight ahead. In hindsight, I'm pretty sure Pioneer road is the way to the shortest route up Kootenay Mtn. Unfortunately, with my limited quality maps, I couldn't tell that this was the preferred way, so I took the L switchback to continue on the main road. The condition of Pioneer Rd is almost as good as the main road, which by now had worsened a bit, but it was still fine for my truck and probably OK for many passenger cars. At 18.4 miles is a sharp L switchback in a large clear rocky area. At 19.6 miles, the road ended in a clear cut.

The time was nearing 11 PM, I was deep in the Selkirk backcountry (if you can call a logging area a "backcountry"). While it was too dark to identify the outlines of the peaks around me, I knew I must be pretty close to Kootenay Mtn. I had crossed Shaw Creek a few miles ago and then climbed, and the general lay of the land was consistent with the hypothesis that I was probably on or near the S flank of Kootenay Mtn. Since I had already come this far and had to be close, I decided to sleep in my truck overnight and start climbing Kootenay the next morning.

As many people who have climbed with me are aware, I avoid using GPS as a primary means of navigation, preferring old-fashioned map skills instead; GPS is only a secondary means, if I carry it at all. Due to the limited information I had on Kootenay Mtn, however, I decided that some preparation to use GPS was warranted this time. I had recorded the lat/lon of Kootenay Mtn before the trip, so I whipped out my not-so-trusty GPS to see how close I really was. I turned it on, but it turned itself off again after just a second or two. I tried again several more times, but the outcome was a repeatable experiment. Low batteries, I thought. I decided to pirate the batteries from my headlamp (another device which many consider indispensable but which I am often known not to carry), so I extracted the headlamp from my duffel bag (in pitch dark; how indespensable can it really be if I can do that), loaded its batteries into the GPS, and this time it finally stayed on when I turned it on. I put in on top of my truck, but it still didn't seem to want to find any satellites. I gave up on it for now and turned in for the night.

Next morning, with the help of daylight, I got clear views of some peaks around me and the GPS finally got a good fix. It showed that Kootenay Mtn was about 3 miles away, mostly N but a little E. I was at a nice high elevation - almost 6700', less than 1400' net gain to the 8058' summit of Kootenay Mtn. I crossed my fingers for not too much up-and-down in between.

I hiked up the clear cut for a short distance, then traversed R though an uncut forest, trying to strike a balance between heading toward the peak (which was way to the R of the uphill direction; in fact it was almost straight down Shaw Creek) and climbing uphill to get views and bearings. I passed by a marshy pond, then traversed more forest, eventually traversing R up a talus slope to a ridge crest. From this vantage point I could see a major peak ahead of me, perhaps 2 miles away, with a krumholtz-laced talus ridge leading the way to it. The ridge made some twists and turns and there was a few hundred feet of up-and-down, but overall it wasn't too bad, mostly easy class 2. If the peak I could see was Kootenay Mtn, it would be a little too good to be true, as I thought it should be more rugged by its look on the topo map, but the distance seemed about right. As I scrambled along the ridge crest, however, another peak began to appear behind the one I had seen when I first reached the ridge. It looked a little higher, more rugged, and much farther away - too far away to be Kootenay Mtn. Views improved as I climbed the ridge and pondered the question of which peak, the near one or the far one, was Kootenay Mtn? I whipped out the not-so-good NRCAN topo map of Kootenay, and I was able to match the pattern of ridges and peaks to confirm what I saw: the near summit was Wood Pk (elevation 7900+100), hidden behind it was a 600-foot drop to a saddle, and the far peak was Kootenay Mtn, 1 mile farther away. It was going to be a long day.

The journey had to be made one step at a time, so I continued. I reached the summit of Wood where I got my first clear view of the remainder of the route, 600' down and 700' up. The scramble down to the Kootenay-Wood saddle was one of the most enjoyable I've ever done: very stable boulders, large enough not to ever budge whenever I stepped on one but not too large to just hop-hop-hop my way from one to the next. I soon reached the saddle, mostly grassy slabs with occasional pines, with a rock outcrop near its midpoint. I started to bypass the outcrop on its L (N) side, but soon was blocked by a sheer cliff; I climbed back to the crest and went around the other side. I briefly thought I'd be stymied by a sharp slot through the saddle just past the outcrop, but then I found a bouldery route around the R side of it without really having to climb into and out of it.

During my traverse of the ridges before and after Wood, I noticed, below the basins both S and E of Wood, a logging road grid that probably approached much closer to Kootenay Mtn than I had parked my truck. As I had approached the area in the dark the previous evening, I had no way of knowing which road would lead the closest to Kootenay Mtn. I considered trying to return to my truck by way of these roads, but I had no way of knowing how much road walking would be required to return to my truck that way. It could have been many miles, and I eventually decided against it.

The final 700' climb up the sparsely forested ridge to the summit of Kootenay required occasional route-finding around class 3 bulges and outcrops but was otherwise straightforward. I reached the summit at about 10:10 AM, ~4½ hours from my truck. There was a 4½ foot cairn on the summit but no register.

Upon reaching the Kootenay-Wood saddle on the way down, I declined to climb over the summit of Wood. Instead, I traversed L from the saddle, crossing boulders and talus, then grassy slabs and small scattered pines with a creek running though a small meadow (I filled up here), and finally a gentle talus ridge heading up to the SE ridge of Wood. The basin S of Wood was filled by a large meadow that greatly facilitated my travel to the SW ridge of Wood, so I dropped down about 200' on talus to the meadow, which went almost to the saddle SW of Wood. From there I retraced my ridge scramble to the forests not too far from my truck. I planned to intercept the clear cut above the truck, then follow it down to the truck. However the clear cut I expected became overdue, and I began to veer downward anyway, and the terrain became increasingly unfamiliar. I whipped out my GPS to see what was happening, but couldn't get a fix. After continuing downward a few more minutes, I saw a road below a brushy clear cut below me; in all probability I had overshot the truck and then veered down to the road belwo the truck. Meanwhile, my GPS finally got a fix (I had purposely left it on in my pack), but that was no longer of any use since it only told me what I already knew anyway: I had gone half a mile past the truck and was now 250' below it. A 15-minute road hike brought me back to my truck.

The drive back to BC-3 was uneventful. I encountered no human activity of any kind the entire time I was off of the paved highway. The place was totally deserted, and I had the entire wilderness to myself. The absence of any other humans may have been due to the unavailability of permits, for which I may have taken a chance on getting in trouble by going in there anyway, but I doubt it.

Final Thoughts

The way I climbed Kootenay Mtn is definitely much more arduous than necessary. The preferred way is almost certainly to use my approach as far as the Pioneer Rd turnoff, then take Pioneer Rd up to the basin S of Kootenai and E of Wood. Since I didn't go that way, I can't give explicit directions and I don't know the road conditions, but it appears from satellite photos that the road is driveable to about 6200', which would reduce the elevation gain to less than 2000' and the hike would take no more than 5 hours. My climb was about twice that, in terms of both time and elevation gain.

That said, Kootenay Mtn is a great experience. It's a quality climb to a quality peak whether it's done the way I did or the way I now believe to be preferred. I highly recommend it to any peakbagger who's looking for a new ultra but running short of domestic targets. I predict it will only be a matter of time before many in our peakbagging group go get this one.

I didn't get a permit for legal access to Kootenay, but that was only because I had no leads on how or whom to ask (though I now know I probably could not have gotten one had I known how to try). Although the place is deserted and the risk of getting caught there without a permit are practically nil, I do suggest that future Kootenay climbers consider a permit, now that we have contact information for the appropriate authorities:

Darkwoods Forestry, 250-825-4343
Nature Conservancy Canada, 888-404-8428
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3858 ft / 1175 m
    Total Elevation Loss:3858 ft / 1175 m
    Round-Trip Distance:10 mi / 16.1 km
    Route Conditions:
Open Country, Bushwhack, Scramble
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:2758 ft / 840 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 1358 ft / 414 m; Extra: 1400 ft / 426m
    Loss on way in:1400 ft / 426 m
    Distance:5 mi / 8.1 km
    Route:Wood Pk
    Start Trailhead:6700 ft / 2042 m
    Time:4 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:2458 ft / 749 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 1358 ft / 414 m; Extra: 1100 ft / 335m
    Gain on way out:1100 ft / 335 m
    Distance:5 mi / 8.1 km
    Route:Wood Pk
    End Trailhead:6700 ft / 2042 m
    Time:4 Hours 

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