7 Days In Paradise – The Kokanee Glacier Experience

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With the beautiful weather in Vancouver this spring, the road bike has seen way more action than the skis. Having 60 ski days under my belt this year I had no intention to ski for the sake of skiing, especially after so many days of fantastic powder. It would take something special to drag me back out.

But along came the Expose Yourself Contest from BackcountrySkiingCanada.com. The contest prizes were pretty epic, so with a slew of photos from stellar day trips and winter vacations, I submitted my own entry, The Pilgrimage to Powder. I couldn’t have been happier after learning I won 3rd place – the prize a week for two at the Kokanee Glacier Cabin in Kokanee Glacier Park.

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One of the crown jewels of the Alpine Club of Canada cabin system, the Kokanee Glacier Cabin can accommodate 22 persons, but is limited to 12 in the winter months. It has a self sustaining hydro power and sewage treatment system. It was constructed with the fundraising effort of a group of committed locals and the Trudeau family in memory of Michel Trudeau who lost his life in the area in an avalanche in 1998. It is dedicated to him along with others who have lost their lives in the park, many of which were outstanding community leaders and life long park enthusiasts.

Accommodations are selected and secured through a lottery system during popular months. After visiting this place, I can see why no one would want to leave. I certainly wasn’t expecting a completely stocked kitchen with coffee makers, toasters, bakeware and multiple appliances, alongside the 4500 sq. ft. of space – plenty of room to lounge around.

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New sticks waiting for some vert

Besides the cabin, I had no idea what kind of terrain we were in for. Along a fun helicopter ride in (who ever gets tired of those?), we were memorized by the amazing vistas and rolling peaks, enough to keep a skier occupied for a lifetime. The weather was lining up to be a warm, almost tropical week – it meant early starts to avoid heightened avalanche danger in the afternoons. The first night was spent planning our missions for the week, which was made easier by the aerial photos and maps in the hut accumulated by our host Kevin Giles.

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The location of many awesome ski runs.

 

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There’s a snowboarder in that photo somewhere…

 

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Great views from another summit.

 

I can’t stress how much we valued Kevin’s knowledge, experience and enthusiasm. He is truly a great ambassador to the hut and the ACC. Each night we would listen to his stories of the history, the people, and evolution of skiing and recreation in this most beautiful winter destination.

I could go into the details of each day and bore you with the route details but it wouldn’t give this area the respect it deserves. The pictures do a better job of illustrating the lure of this place. I will however elaborate on one day, probably one if not the best day of my touring career.

<h3>The backcountry half marathon – Grey’s Peak (2740m)</h3>

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Grey’s Peak, otherwise known as the mountain on Kokanee Beer cans.

This tour would take us through the high alpine expanse of the Kokanee Glacier to conquer Grey’s Peak, which looms like a dagger over the city of Nelson. We talked about this mission early in the week, but took a few days to ski other terrain, examine the area, and assess travel conditions.We knew it would be a long day but well worth the effort.

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Nearing the top of Kokanee Glacier

 

Departing the cabin at 6:15am we moved quickly to the top of the Glacier, negotiating icy conditions, in a little over two hours. The next 2.5 hrs would be spent rolling over the various humps taking in the stunning scenery. At last we reached our target. All that separated the summit and our party was 100 feet of steep boot packing. Not wasting any time I began to kick steps up the face. It had been a while since my last mountaineering mission, and it took a few deep breathes to deal with the exposure.

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Photos never do justice to reality. The final ascent was about 45 to 50 degrees for a couple hundred feet.

Before long we were standing on the summit, enjoying our lunch while watching Nelson glimmer in the distance. Not a cloud in the sky, and not a single breeze, we couldn’t believe how quiet and calm the summit was. The journey was only half done, as we still had to make our way safely back to the cabin. Dropping down the west facing slopes, we scraped our way through the woods in what turned out to be a four hour slog. After some creative route finding we found Kokanee Lake and high tailed for home. Arriving 9.5 hrs after we departed covering 21.5km and 1500m of elevation, it was a great way to initiate Brad (the solo splitboarder) on his fourth day of touring.

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Heading down but still a long way home

Now sitting back and reflecting on the trip I can see why some people return each year, some for more than 20 years. We just finished unpacking and are trying to get back to the normal routine of work again, but I’m already thinking of submitting a bid in next season’s lottery, and the amazing terrain we still left undiscovered. A big thanks to Kevin Giles our gracious host, Brad Steele of Backcountryskiingcanada.com, and the Alpine Club of Canada for making this trip possible.

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