Friday, May 18, 2012

Good Times in the Badshots: Ferguson to Armstrong Lake

After hiking the popular Silvercup Ridge trail in the Badshot Range in the summer of 2011, our interest was piqued by an area of similar character just to the northwest. This gentle alpine ridge system starts at Ferguson, runs northwest to Beaton, and is anchored by Great Northern Mountain at the southeast end and Mount Thompson at the northwest end. As, the Badshots are known for poor rock and good skiing, a spring traverse of this ridge system seemed preferable to a summer trip.

After waiting for what seemed - and was - weeks for a short period of stable weather and stable snow, we finally set off on this trip on a Thursday evening, driving north of Nakusp and over Galena Pass (still snow in the trees) to Armstrong Lake, a few kilometres south of Beaton.

About 200 metres from the Hwy 31 junction with the Beaton Road, we found Thompson Creek FSR heading north into the forest. We were only able to drive perhaps 70 metres up this road before reaching a long, deep snow drift, so we parked one vehicle here, and continued south down Hwy 31 to the Ferguson Road which runs up the north bank of the Lardeau River to the community of Ferguson.

It was dark and cold by the time we arrived in Ferguson, a small community of, mostly, unfinished cabins, that was entirely deserted. Cindy put her tent up at the end of the road, while Doug and I crashed in the back of our truck. The next morning, the valley was dark and cold until, surprisingly early, the sun came streaming down the valley and immediately warmed everything up. Both Doug and I wandered in different directions looking for an old mining road (Fissure Creek) that climbs from Ferguson to a ridge-line east of Great Northern Mountain and ends near 1900 metres. Walking back down the Ferguson Road towards Trout Lake, I found the road marked by nothing other than the standard "Warning: Road Deactivated" sign. The road was indistinguishable from the surrounding terrain. 

 Doug skiing up the road out of Ferguson

Ferguson to Mountain Goat Creek

We finally got underway about 8.50 am, and began skiing up Fissure Creek FSR. After perhaps 1.5 km, we came to a T intersection, where we took the right hand fork and continued steadily gaining elevation. Travel conditions were incredibly fast and easy on well frozen snow and within an hour or so we had climbed enough to have great views up the main Ferguson Creek drainage as well as out to nearby mountains which relieved the usual tedium of road skiing.

We soon found ourselves crossing Broadview Creek and then heading almost due west up Fissure Creek. At around 1750 metres, the terrain was easy and open enough that we had no further need of the road so we skinned south up a shallow draw reaching the ridge-line we would follow for the next two days just shy of 1900 metres. The next 100 metres featured a short steep climb and we put ski crampons on to ski up to about 2000 metres where the angle kicked back.

Perched on the ridge here, overlooking the Lardeau Range to the south, we stopped for lunch. After lunch, we continued on to about 2100 metres easily following the ridge. At this point, we were about half a kilometre from a minor peak to the east of Great Northern Mountain. We decided to circumvent this peak on the south side which required losing perhaps 30 metres of elevation and then skinning up an easy draw that brought us to the base of Great Northern Mountain. Some slightly steeper terrain that was still solidly frozen was easier to climb with ski crampons, and soon enough, we crossed a gentle plateau leading to the 7,508 foot summit of Great Northern Mountain.

An easy descent on corn snow down the southwest ridge of Great Northern Mountain led to a 2060 metre high point just above the head of Mountain Goat Creek. This location promised both early morning and late evening sun and we decided to set up camp even though it was only about 3.30 pm.

I built a kitchen in the sun, we spread out wet boots and skins to dry and cooked up numerous cups of tea and soup to rehydrate. The sun lasted well into the evening and reached the tents before 7 am the next morning.

Doug and Cindy on Great Northern Mountain

Mountain Goat Creek to Mount Thompson

Our second day out was spent rambling over ridge-lines in spring sunshine with tremendous views all around. Snow conditions remained excellent, just soft enough for easy skinning, and travel was fast and easy. We bypassed, on the west side, one bump on the ridge before Mount Thompson, but skinned up the last bump on the ridge that is directly south of Mount Thompson. A short easy ski down to a small tarn below Mount Thompson followed by a descending traverse, took us quickly across to the south ridge of Mount Thompson.

We left a bunch of extra gear stashed in garbage bags here and then skinned up the south slopes of Mount Thompson, ski crampons were handy but not essential. Once up an initial modestly steep slope, it was easy cruising to the summit. What looks like a narrow ridge on the map, is, in fact, a broad gentle snow plateau.

From the summit, we had extraordinary views all the way to Wheeler Peak near Rogers Pass, up the Incommapleux River valley, over to the Gold Range, and out to the Moby Dick area. Although there were many familiar peaks on the horizon, there were also many that we have not (yet) climbed.

The south face descent, when we finally pulled ourselves away from the vista, was on some of the best corn snow I've ever experienced in the Kootenays, and, I was almost tempted to do it again, had it not been such a hot grunt up in the sun. After repacking our backpacks, we cruised on corn snow down to a 2112 metre prominence on the ridge of Mount Thompson and made camp among some burnt timber. 

Cindy skinning up Mount Thompson

Mount Thompson to Armstrong Lake

Previous to this trip, we'd found a big cutblock and new road on Google Earth that runs up a north facing ridge on the south side of Thompson Creek to about 1660 metres. The next morning, after taking a compass bearing off the map to this location, we followed this bearing down, across a series of overlapping gullies and soon found ourselves over looking the cutblock which, although still 400 metres down, appeared deceptively close.

About an hour after leaving camp, we cruised out into the cutblock, skied some corn snow down to the road, and vibrated our way down frozen sun-cups on the road until we reached 1200 metres where the road turned south, faced into the sun and was bare of snow. Below us, Beaton on the NW arm of Arrow Lake, was looking green, fertile and pleasant in the sun, although I can only think winter must be long and dark.

Skis went on packs and we walked down the road to about 900 metres where the big fat snow drift that had stopped us three days before allowed us to ski the final 100 metres to the truck.

Linking together some shrinking snow patches

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