In August of 2016, we decided that we would celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary at a backcountry hut, which we would use as a basecamp to hike from for a few days. Unfortunately, our first plan fell apart at the last minute and we found ourselves scrambling to find an available hut mere days before our road trip was to start. After some searching and putting together a new plan, we decided to head to the West Kootenays and Nelson and were able to book the Woodbury Cabin in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park for two nights, as the other two huts in the park were already fully booked.The Woodbury Cabin was also considered to be quieter and more rustic than the other cabin in the area, Silver Spray, so that suited us as well. As per our original plans, we would pack in, spend two nights, and pack out the same way. That was before we had heard of the Woodbury Traverse.
The access road to the trailhead is slightly north of Ainsworth Hot Springs and while a high clearance vehicle is recommended to make it all the way to the parking lot, a 4×4 is probably not necessary most of the time. While the road was not always clearly marked, we found our way by just following the roads that appeared to be the most traveled on. Once at the trailhead, we found that chicken wire and mesh had been left for use to keep critters from ravaging your vehicle while it’s unattended. We didn’t have any particular concern about that but since there was plenty of wire available, we took advantage of it and fenced in our truck.
Shortly before we were ready to hit the trail, a group of six arrived and coincidentally, one of them was the mother of a friend of Raegan’s. After meeting the whole group, from the Kootenay Mountaineering Club as it turned out (all of whom were in their 60’s, 70’s or 80’s), they informed us that they were heading to Silver Spray for the first night and then traversing over to the Woodbury Cabin for the second night, where we would see them again. We all wished each other luck and headed on our ways up the trail.
Much of the early part of the trail is fairly unremarkable and is a mix of living and dead trees. A large fire had raged through at some point and as we got further along the trail, much of the forest was just dead grey and white trees. Aside from some brief light rain, we had an almost perfect day to hike in with temperatures in the low 20’s. Later we were to read in the logbook at the cabin about people whom the week prior had hiked up to the cabin in 30 degree plus weather.
This is a park that could use some serious attention from BC Parks as well as there were missing signs and many broken or damaged bridges along the way. Overall, though, the trail was in good condition, and maintained a steady climb as we made our way to the cabin in the alpine.
It’s about eight kilometers to the cabin, which is situated in a relatively flat area below a slide path. For that reason, the cabin is shaped in such a fashion to allow snow to slide over it as gets hit by avalanches quite regularly, which is probably why it’s closed during the winter.
As we didn’t really get an early start, we arrived at the cabin at mid-afternoon but found that we had it to ourselves for a few hours until another couple arrived. After some jaunts after dinner, we all spent much of the evening just sitting around and talking before retiring for the night.
This cabin is not tightly sealed so be prepared to spend any nights at the cabin sharing it with the resident pack rats and the mice. And inside the cabin itself, it was really quite gloomy as there are only fairly small windows and although there are propane lights, they are to be used sparingly as replacing the propane tank is quite an ordeal for the caretakers. Even so, it was nice to just throw down a pad in the upstairs loft to sleep on and to have a stove and all the pots and utensils to cook with.
With no real plans for our second day out, we just randomly hiked up and around the many peaks that were nearby. There were a few well-defined trails and more than a few vague tracks throughout the area where it’s obvious that people were scrambling and hiking so finding a route was never really a problem.
There is a long history of mining in the mountains of the West Kootenays and on several maps at the cabin, we could see clearly marked symbols showing some of the locations. As we were quite close to an old silver mine, one of our hikes took us to it for a quick look.
Surprisingly it was not blocked off so we took a quick look inside with our headlamps but didn’t venture more than a few meters in. Old mines are not safe places to wander around in, especially in remote mountain ranges.
Several of the peaks near the cabin were also quite easy to scramble which gave us some great opportunities to look over the various ranges in the area and check out the Kokanee Glacier to the south of us.
Overall we had an enjoyable second day roaming around and it felt like we had the mountains to ourselves for most of the day since our cabin companions from overnight had left fairly early. By mid-afternoon, the group we had met the day before doing the traverse starting rolling in, bringing their stories of the trek across the mountains from the Silver Spray to the Woodbury Cabin. It was remarkable how many bruises, cuts, scrapes, and other small injuries they had but as tired as they were, they were all in good spirits and encouraged us to do the traverse as well. Needless to say, they were all in bed pretty early that night.
We were up early on our third day as we had planned to just book it back down the trail and head on our way to Kaslo for a shower and a nice meal to celebrate our anniversary. That was the original plan but after talking with the other group, they convinced us that we should do the traverse and exit via the Silver Spray Trail. Since it takes about eight hours to do the traverse and three more hours from the other cabin to the parking lot, we knew we had a long day ahead.
It should be noted that there is no trail to follow if doing the traverse. You will need to know how to find a route on your own around the mountains and over the passes between the cabins. There were several hand drawn maps in the cabin so we took some photos of them to act to supplements to our GPS device maps to assist in the navigation. On paper, it’s only about 3.5 kilometers in a straight line but once on the traverse, it was a lot longer than that.
Of course the traverse started by going right up a slide path above the cabin as it was the only safe place to get across the first range of mountains. Needless to say, it was nothing but boulders and scree for a good part of the traverse. There are many opportunities to slip and fall and with some of the slopes being seriously steep, a slip would probably have resulted in a long roll down down the mountain.
The weather held for us and we saw no one else for hours until we passed a group going west at an unnamed lake that was about a third of the way along the traverse. At this point, we stopped for awhile to take break and rest a bit. This little lake would be an excellent place to spend a night if one were to do the traverse over two days instead of one as there were many great places to setup a tent along its shore.
We continued on our way as the day wound on until we made a bit of a mistake. The map we were using showing a high route and a low route. As we had just come down from a pass, we were reluctant to lose more elevation at this point and decided to stick to the high route. It was encouraging as there were fresh footprints to be found along the way but after awhile, we found ourselves high up on a ridge looking down a very steep slope that we had to descend. Suddenly that low route that avoided the ridge seemed like it may have been a good idea. That said, we pressed on where we’re sure a slip and a fall would have meant death or serious injury at the least. We’d recommend that anyone using the maps from the cabins take the low route as it was likely a lot less dangerous.
It took us a couple of hours to wind back down into the valley and work our way back up the other side. It was exhausting and bloody hard on the ankles walking over the large boulder fields and walking on the few patches of grass and softer ground was always a welcome relief.
By this time, it was getting late in the afternoon as pushed through the last couple of kilometers to Silver Spray and we ended up arriving well after 6pm. We’ll have to say one thing about this route; it’s relentless right up to the cabins.
It was with relief when we finally reached the Silver Spray Cabin, where there were quite a lot of people and tents. However, we had to continue on and so with a break and some well needed food, we hoisted our packs and started on our way down to the parking lot.
This is the kind of trail that is a real knee grinder as we dropped over 1000 meters over the next four kilometers as we descended back into the valley. It wasn’t long after we left the cabin that it got dark so we did much of this leg by headlamp, which is kind of a fun experience all on its own. Luckily, there was a real trail at this point so we were able to make pretty good time but we still found ourselves arriving back at our truck around 10pm. It had been long, hard day. By 11pm, we were in touch with our hosts in Kaslo but unfortunately, our nice anniversary dinner wasn’t going to happen that night being as late as it was. We pretty well showered and crashed.
We really enjoyed this trip into this remote area of Kokanee Park. While we would have had a great time even if we hadn’t done the traverse, it was interesting to do this challenging and scenic mountain traverse that we hadn’t heard of prior to the trip. We would recommend it to anyone looking for a rougher backcountry experience who has the skills and endurance to get off of the beaten path.
GPS track and map
Max elevation: 2579 m
Min elevation: 1286 m