Searching for alpine gold

The Gold Range was first traversed on skis 40 years ago and has emerged as a classic amongst serious tourers in Revelstoke.

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Patrick Donker and Bill Sperling hike to the col between Mount Kelly and Mount Niflheim on day two of their traverse of the Gold Range in May 2018. Behind them is the 1,600-metre descent of Mount Odin they skied the previous day. Photo by Yann Bourdon

This story first appeared in print in the April/May issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.

The Gold Range tantalizes skiers from the top of Revelstoke Mountain Resort. Looking south across the Columbia River, it presents a string of snowfields that bridge the distance from the gap-toothed double-summit of Burnham and Grady to Mount Begbie’s voluptuous twin peaks. Its valleys of dense, jungle-like brush make penetrating its heart a project for only the most stubborn in summer. In winter, a string of glaciers and rocky ridges link narrow valleys blanketed in deep snow from end to end, luring skiers to traverse along its spine for decades.

The Gold Range. Photo: Alex Cooper

It has now become a local classic, a traverse that when done from south to north practically deposits you at the Big Eddy Pub for celebratory drinks.

The first group to attempt the Gold Range traverse was Tim Auger, Dave Smith, Don Vockeroth and Bob Sawyer 40 years ago in 1979. They were all guides, highly-skilled mountaineers, passionate about the mountains and three would be named Honorary Members of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides due to their lengthy accomplishments as guides.

They were part of a generation of ski mountaineers that sought out big adventures and big traverses throughout Alberta and British Columbia. In 1979, the Gold Range was one of the chains of peaks that had yet to be explored to any great extent in winter and it appealed to their sense of adventure.

“We had interest in exploring new terrain,” said Vokeroth. “At the time ski traversing was a thing to do and finding new areas to explore was open.”

It was before the days when heli-skiing was just being established in Revelstoke, before backcountry ski lodges and Google Earth, when few logging roads entered the area, and even a summer excursion would require a huge effort. Vockeroth climbed in the region the summer prior, but in general they had very little idea of what to expect as they planned their route using a mix of topo maps and aerial photos, explained Smith.

The quartet began at Blanket Creek and bushwhacked through steep terrain and heavy rain up the Mulvehill Ridge before settling down for a wet night. The weather would be their adversary for almost the whole trip, hampering progress and causing the avalanche danger to spike. They toured south, over the Blanket Glacier and ascending the north ridge of Cranberry Mountain during one of the only breaks in the weather they experienced.

“On our left, the north glacier flowed and tumbled into its long canyon in wild contrast to our ethereal road,” wrote Smith of the climb. “Those few hours ascending the ridge were among the finest I have ever enjoyed ski touring.”

A stormy descent brought them to what they dubbed Avalanche Lake, where they looked up at the exposed terrain between them and the Gates glacier and opted to pull the pin after five days of mostly stormy weather.

“It was a sinister place, and it didn’t take us too long to agree that with the existing conditions, we stood a good chance to trigger a slide,” recalled Smith.

The group skied out via Pingston Lake, reaching a logging road that they followed to their vehicle. Vockeroth would attempt the traverse two years later, but would again be turned back by foul weather.

According to Chic Scott and Mark Klassen’s book, Alpine Ski Tours in the Columbia Mountains, Remy Bernier and James Madden completed the full 60-kilometre traverse in 2006, traveling from Mount Odin to Mount Macpherson, establishing the traditional north-to-south route most follow to this day. Since then, it’s been skied pretty much annually by numerous groups.

On the Gold Range traverse. Photo: Yann Bourdon

“It’s a stunning traverse if the weather is cooperating,” said Yann Bourdon, who travelled the route with Patrick Donker and Bill Sperling over six mostly sunny days last May. “It should definitely be on the ski traverse bucket list of any keen ski tourer, especially if you live in Revelstoke.”

Three more traverses that end in Revelstoke

Sitting on the Columbia River, between two of the great ranges of the Columbia Mountains, Revelstoke makes a great place to finish a ski traverse. Vast, glaciated mountains spread out in all four directions and all hold potential for multi-day traverses. We’ve already highlighted the Gold Range, but here’s three more that end in town. Full credit is given to Chic Scott and Mark Klassen’s guidebook, Alpine Ski Tours in the Columbia Mountains, which provides detailed descriptions of all of these routes.

Bostock Creek to Revelstoke

This 80-kilometre traverse will take you from the western edge of Glacier National Park, through high alpine terrain around the Durrand Glacier, into Mount Revelstoke National Park. It was first skied in 1999 by locals Eric Dafoe, John Kelly, and J.P. Kors, and Lake Louise’s Percy Woods. They described it as a “hidden, unknown gem,” that required good route finding skills.

Golden to Revelstoke

AKA, Revy East to Golden West, this 130-kilometre traverse was accomplished by Dafoe, Kelly and Kors in 1998. Start from the top of Kicking Horse resort (if it’s still open) and make your way up and down a series of big valleys, crossing the Purcells and Selkirks until you reach the slopes of Mount Mackenzie and the familiar runs of Revelstoke Mountain Resort.

Monashee Traverse

This is the granddaddy of all traverses that end in town. The Monashee Traverse travels through 210 kilometres of big mountains from Moonbeam Creek north of Blue River to Revelstoke. It was pioneered by Greg Hill, Aaron Chance and Ian Bissonette (Dave Sproule and Jeff Volp joined for the first week), who completed it in 21 days, summiting 21 peaks along the way. They started with an ascent of Mount Lempriere and finished with a ski from a summit of Turtle Mountain down to Westside Road.

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