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Friday, 19 February 2016

Walls of Stone Part 11 – The Rockwall

"There is absolutely nothing in the city to give us the same feeling as the great, mysterious things of nature even though they be stone and ice. It is only among them that we feel the utter helplessness and insignificance of ourselves."
- Jimmy Simpson

Numa Pass was one of the destinations that Don and I had both been looking forward to exploring the most. The day ought to have involved less hiking time and I had visions of video-wandering the high alpine meadows and exploring them at our leisure. It should have been one of the highlights of the trip. 

It poured rain all the while we had our breakfast at the Floe Lake campground. For once we decided to delay setting out and we both had an extra hot coffee and tried to relax a little bit. That totally went against the grain with Don. When I am backpacking alone, I tend to lie in if I hear the pitter patter of rain on my tent. You are in danger of having the tent torn down around you, if you try that while hiking with Don. 
Floe Lake from Numa Pass trail
The rain let up a bit around 11:00, so we took down the tarp and headed up the mountain to Numa Pass. We were hoping for a continued break in the weather. As usual, Don was ahead of me and I stopped to get some shots of Floe Lake and the Rockwall from the trail above the lake. When I got up to the meadows at the pass, the rain was blowing into my face and I couldn’t see very well. 
There was a black tombstone looking thing in the middle of the meadow. When I got closer to the “tombstone”, I could see it was Don sitting on a glacial erratic with his black pack-cover sheltering him from the north wind. When I got up to him, he stood up and we both turned directly into the wind. The wind became a tempest and the rain came down harder and turned to groppel. We got off the ridge as fast as we could and back into the trees. . I felt bad because it was Don’s 70th Birthday and I was hoping it could be spent enjoying alpine meadows – his favorite place in the world.
Don crossing greasy bridge at "soggy bottom"
It was quite a march downhill to Numa Creek campground – the worst stop on our entire journey. We were lucky enough to get a break in the weather to setup our tent, but I took to calling the place “soggy bottom”. We were both grumpy about losing so much hard won altitude and being stuck down in the trees again. We went to bed early that night, as it began to pour once again. It was a disappointing day.
Meadows below Tumbling Pass - melt-water lake in background

The next day was a bit better, though it involved a brutal climb up a long avalanche chute to Tumbling Pass. We enjoyed the environs of the pass (our second in two days) and the trip down the other side was quite interesting. We hiked past a glacier and lateral moraine and finally a melt-water lake. The descent wasn’t nearly as deep as Numa Creek and the Tumbling Creek campground was more open, with views of the surrounding ridges, summits and hanging glaciers.
Don and me at Tumbling Creek
One of the nice things about hiking the Rockwall Trail was that you would see the same people every evening and chat with them. There was a fairly large family group from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan who were all very accomplished hikers. There were some fellows from Salmon Arm, British Columbia who we shared our picnic table and tarp with. One of them volunteered to take our photo. It rained on and off the whole time we were at Tumbling Creek. I took some time-lapses of clouds coming across the Rockwall between rain storms.

The next day was our last in the high mountains. After the brutal ups and downs of the past few days, the climb toward Rockwall pass seemed quite reasonable. We enjoyed the scenic meadows below Rockwall Pass. This was the Wolverine plateau. In my estimation, it was the nicest section of the entire Rockwall Trail. If I ever return, I will probably make the ascent straight to this part of the trail from the Paint pots parking lot.
The final push to Wolverine Pass
Our immediate goal, Wolverine Pass only became visible as we drew right up to it. The pass is a narrow gateway through the 500 metre high Rockwall. We veered west and headed through the spectacular gap. There wasn’t much point in dallying. Heavy rain began to come down, soaking us both as we departed Kootenay National Park at the summit. I looked back as we began our descent to see the Saskatchewan hikers waving farewell at us from the pass. I waved back and we began the long descent, out of the Main Ranges of the Rocky Mountains and into the massive abyss of the Beaverfoot Valley. We announced our presence, “Hey!  Ohhh!”  Our voices echoed off of the surrounding limestone summits of the Vermillion Range.
Drying out
The trail down Dainard Creek was slippery and tricky. The bush surrounding the path got thicker as we lost altitude and it sometimes hid the trail entirely. We crossed several precarious, makeshift bridges along the way. The rain stopped and it began to warm up for the first time in days, but the wet vegetation along avalanche chutes soaked us to the bone. I slipped at one point; tweaking my right knee. For the first time we began to see cedars. At a clearing on a logging road, we stopped to dry everything out, including my camera and lenses. I changed my socks and pants. The sky was blue!

We trudged down the logging road and finally came to a T junction. We were confused about which way to turn. I looked at the maps once more and had an epiphany. “If we go left for a kilometer or so, we will come to a right-hand turn-off, which will take us across a bridge”. We tried it and that is exactly what happened. The bridge took us over the fledgling Kootenay River. It was hard to imagine that this swampy trickle was the headwaters of the mighty river I know so well! 
Headwaters of the Kootenay River
We stopped at a B.C. Parks campsite for supper and then began walking again. A nice fellow, who Don had talked to earlier, stopped his truck and gave us some fresh spring water for our bottles.

The low point of the Beaverfoot Range (in the center) is Harrogate Pass
This is where the wheels began to come off of our plans. We came to what I thought was the turn-off to get to Harrogate Pass. We needed to be in position for the next day’s traverse of the Beaverfoot Range. It didn’t look like much of a road and Don said he didn’t think that was what we were looking for. In retrospect, I should have insisted that we stop and camp near the intersection. Instead we kept walking up the gravel road, hoping for a turn off which only came at dusk. That turn-off dead ended in a cut-block below Castle Mountain. We were too far north and worse, my injured knee was killing me.

We camped at the edge of the cut-block. I donned my headlamp and reviewed all of my maps and Google Earth snap-shots. After an hour, I turned out my light and fell into a fitful sleep. We were off-course and lost in a maze of disused logging roads. We were running out of time, but now I had a plan.


  1. You guys had more stamina than a 100 of us. Takes guts to continue in the rain.

  2. After a while we got used to it. We had routines of the way we packed our packs, etc. The silicon impregnated pack covers were lifesavers along with Don's Hubba-Hubba tent and my siltarp.There are almost always some windows in even the worst weather to setup, tear down and dry equipment. It does take the joy out of it, some days though.

  3. The Nature is really breathtaking. It seems I can smell this fresh air through your photos. You are unbelievable great in your journey.

  4. Thanks, Chloe! It was very nice to have 3 straight weeks of fresh air every day.