Shaking off the Crust
I have a lengthy history with the quiet corner of BC that holds the Bonnington Range and greater Selkirks. Back in 2018, I did one of my first real ski tours to Grassy Hut. In 2020, I returned to complete the full Bonnington Traverse. This year, Jon arranged a return to the marvelous little huts. He recruited me and Elle once again along with his friends Allie and Casey.
Since I wrote a detailed story about this traverse once before, I will not be going into as much detail again. Each cabin has a logbook where its tenants can write their names and a few words, much like a summit register. Each evening, I took the time to write some of my thoughts and reflections for the group. Here, I will share each entry, along with photos of the journey.
Day 1: Grassy Hut
The trip started off rough. Jon had car problems and didn’t roll into Spokane until 1 am last night. At the border, one of us got randomly selected for an additional COVID test upon entry. With poor cell service and not much guidance, we spent over an hour in Salmo on the phone, trying to schedule a virtual appointment, confused by the website. Finally, we got word from a Canadian government worker that we could proceed with our trip and just leave an email explaining our situation. We drove the Jeep a mile up the road from Bombi Summit before dropping off the group gear. Jon and I returned back to the pass to skin from there. A nice family of sledders offered us their sled to catch up to the others. So I got on behind Jon and promptly got dumped. My first sled ride lasted about five seconds.
The new Grassy Hut is luxurious! We spent the afternoon up on False Grassy, shredding the crusts (yes, there were multiple) and watching the sun slowly lower and shadows elongate across the Columbia. The mountains here have a sense of infinity – just a tessellation of valleys, forests, and snowy peaks as far as the eye can see, until the curvature of the Earth limits our perception. Endless – much like our imagination.
The sunset was glorious alpenglow. I expected to be disappointed by the bad skiing, but instead we all just felt so grateful to be back in the Great White North. The Bonnington was one of the last things we did in 2020 before the pandemic. Now we return, with the world perched on the edge of war. We are grateful for wide open spaces, friends, and the freedom to explore and pursue what we love.
Day 2: Steed Hut
We began the day with a beautiful sunrise at Grassy Hut.
Last time, we got rained on during this section. This time around was much more pleasant with wide reaching views, although the skiing was still challenging and there were plenty of face plants.
We remotely triggered a wind slab on our second descent. We were all in a safe spot, but it was still spooky. Free lesson! It is always a balance between overanalyzing our actions and moving on. This sort of feedback is very useful in an otherwise feedback-poor learning environment.
We remembered this day being so long and challenging, with deep wet snow and globbing skins. It felt so much easier this time. Maybe conditions were that much better. Or maybe we have really become much better ski tourers.
After reaching Steed, Jon and I took a few exploratory laps. The snow was variable, but the vibes were great. I have felt so out of sync this season, busied by life tasks and confused by weird weather. Today, setting beautiful skin tracks through the trackless snow, exploring whatever line caught the eye, it finally felt like I was getting my groove back.
Day 3: Copper Hut
It was a blustery day, with clouds racing atop the peaks, so it was nice to spend most of the day below tree line. Morale was high as we covered mostly easy ground to Copper, although the snow got a bit gloppy down low. I nearly managed to set a giant traverse skin track all the way from the bottom to Copper without a single kick turn, much to the dismay of the team members’ left legs.
Cozy little Copper Hut, with its miniature door, is our favorite hut. But we convinced ourselves to get out for another evening booter session, return of the Baker Booter Boys! We went bigger than last time and Jon was able to clear a 5 ft tall tree with ease.
Booters are the perfect antidote to poor skiing conditions. Everyone got in on the action – smiles all around. A beautiful evening with mesmerizing light and clouds over Siwash.
We’re hoping for a continuation of the nice weather for the traverse tomorrow. As long as conditions are decent, we will leave as happy Americans. In a way, the bad snow has been a helpful reminder to focus on the things that really matter – relaxing, reflecting, and spending quality time with friends.
Day 4: Huckleberry Hut
We awoke to that classic, beautiful, bipolar Rockies weather: continuous fluctuations between heavy snow and soft sun where the flakes seem to be suspended in the light. Winds were light in the alpine, making the traverse quite pleasant.
Last time, we had crystal clear, chilly blue skies for the traverse day. This time, the vibe was completely different. We felt isolated, like a peaceful calm had descended upon us. We felt a world apart. The bootpack section was a bit spicier than last time, but not unreasonable. Otherwise, it might have all felt a little too easy.
Huckleberry Hut is even smaller than Copper. Each hut has been progressively smaller, but we have been getting closer as a group.
It is our last night on the trip, and it feels like it has rushed by. Soon it will be time to leave this wonderful little corner of BC and return to jobs, friends, pets, news, and the world. Our stay here is brief, but the soul may linger. We leave our tracks in the snow, only to be erased by sun, wind, and snow. Sometimes you don’t want to return to that other life, but life moves on. When you come so close to that perfect feeling, capture it in a word, a photo, a memory. Put that feeling in a bottle. So that next time you are toiling away, nose on the grindstone, you remember why you keep going. You can forget dates, faces, or places, but never forget WHY.
We awoke the next morning to blue skies and a fresh 5-10 cm of light snow. I convinced the group to go for one last run before heading out. So we skinned up the slopes behind the cabin and with each meter of elevation gained, the views just got better, the snow deeper, and the terrain more inspiring.
At the top of the ridge, we took one last breath to soak it in and then dropped in. For a few blissful turns, that omnipresent crust finally disappeared into smooth, silky turns. It was just for a moment, but that was all we really needed.
- Our cars did not get broken into this time! We left a note on the dashboard saying “There is nothing of value in here, thanks!” so maybe that worked or maybe we just got lucky.
- The random Canadian covid testing is a real pain. It was a huge curveball and I know other people who have attempted for hours to take the test but been unable to schedule on online appointment. It is definitely designed for more populous areas with better cell service. There are so many better ways they could do it (like a rapid test at the border). One of our party members got contacted after we got back into the states, saying they need to go back into Canada to quarantine and take the test or they face a $5k fine. That is, after we already left Canada. Hopefully this does not pan out, but it is very frustrating to deal with.
- Doing the traverse again confirmed my belief that this traverse is manageable in most avalanche conditions and weather. There are only a few slopes crossed that are steep enough to slide, and most have some trees or are a ridge. Backcountry experience is obviously required still, but it is a good mid winter traverse because of the relatively mellow terrain.