If you follow the Mountain Conditions Reports (aka MCR) put out by the ACMG (Association of Canadian Mountain Guides) you'll have seen a report from the 20 February, 2011 by Barry Blanchard, arguably Canada's leading alpinist, where he describes guiding "Finishing Hammer Gully", a grade 3 ice climb off the Icefields Parkway, and admits that "we headed up the wrong gully to start, 2 hours of good cardio." Proving that even the great can get turned around.
Warp speed to 28 February, 2011 in the small town of Nelson, BC where, some time in the early evening hours, two snowshoers were reported overdue from the West Arm Provincial Park. The West Arm Provincial Park, somewhat erroneously known as the Whitewater backcountry, is a big chunk of land lying to the east of Nelson and running south from the West Arm of Kootenay Lake to the Whitewater Ski Hill Road. For the most part, the Park is completely trackless. An old road runs up Five Mile Creek from Nelson and gives access to Mount Ferguson - which I doubt many people have heard of let alone climbed - although I have the dubious pleasure of having skied up it twice. Other than this minor road, and a disused mining track that leads to an old mine site to the northeast of Hummingbird Pass, there are no trails, and, after a big winter storm, scant evidence of people.
There is a lot of wilderness to be found in the West Arm PP. In fact, there are great opportunities for single and multi-day ski traverses. I've skied out to Nelson three times from the Whitewater ski hill road, using two different routes and traversing almost the entire north south extent of the park along the way. A west to east traverse with an exit to Proctor makes an excellent three day traverse. I doubt, however, that most other skiers and snowshoers venture much further afield than 5 Mile Creek.
One of the peculiarities of the West Arm PP is the sameness of the terrain if you don't get up onto the big ridgelines that lay in the heart of the park. Big timber, lots of small drainages, some running into bigger drainages, gentle slopes and minor spur ridges, all well below timber line have confused countless travelers through the park.
But, back to the missing snowshoers - a young couple from Quebec - who were eventually located by Nelson Search and Rescue (with mutual aid from other local SAR teams) mid-afternoon on Monday. As usual, the pundits were out, with the customary vitriolic invective about ill-prepared hikers, the need to make people pay for rescues, and, well you get the picture.
As you ponder all this, ask yourself, - if Barry Blanchard can get turned around on his home turf, how easy is it for a young couple with far less experience to get turned around in an unfamiliar area in the middle of a winter storm? And, once you've done that, recall what you learnt in Bible school from the book of John, Chapter 8, verse 7 "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."
Ski Touring in the Bonnington Range: Easy Weather to Get Lost In