Distance: 10 km
Elevation gain: 1220 m View map Download GPS track
I first learned of White Man Mountain from a report on Andrew Nugara’s website
, and after a bit of additional research, I was happy to find that this spectacular peak would be possible for Sandra and I. The only issue was access: The most logical approach started at the end of the Albert River Forest Service Road (FSR) in BC and to get there would involve a 3-hour highway drive followed by 70 km on dirt roads. To lessen the inconvenience we camped at McLeod Meadows
in Kootenay National Park, just a short distance from the where the dirt road begins.
We awoke at 5:30 am in a futile effort to beat the heat of the day, and after a short drive south on Highway 93S we turned onto the dusty Settler’s Road. Roughly 12 km from the highway we turned left at the first major intersection, crossed the Kootenay River a kilometer later, then turned right at the Nipika Resort onto the Palliser FSR. Roughly 26 km later we turned left onto the Albert River FSR and followed it for around 30 km to its end. The turnoff from the Palliser FSR was easy to miss (we did), so consult our GPS track
to avoid backtracking.
From our parking spot we began hiking along an old logging road that is really just an extension of the official FSR, slowly gaining elevation as the road deteriorated. When the road began to descend we turned left onto a faint trail that morphed into an overgrown skid road, followed this a short distance until it too began to descend, then turned left into the forest at a piece of old flagging. We soon came across a newly flagged and cleared trail with old blazes on the trees and followed it as it ascended the steep and brushy slope. A short distance up, however, the blazed trail and newly flagged trail parted ways. I chose to follow the flags and we soon found ourselves bashing through thickets of bushes and scrambling over deadfall. When we came to two parallel routes through the forest, one with thick bushes and one with little shrubs and flowers, and noticed the flagged route plowed through the impenetrable bushes, I finally realized the trail maker was a bit of a moron and set off on my own up the bush-free route. Ignoring the flags dramatically improved travel and things continued to improve as we transitioned to the open forest of the subalpine.
As we approached treeline I spied a cairn and made a beeline for it. An excellent trail began at the cairn and headed towards where I planned to start our ascent, so we followed it as it contoured around the southeast ridge of the peak. After ascending through beautiful larch forest we found ourselves on the breathtaking rocky alpine plateau between White Man Mountain and Mount Soderholm.
We began our ascent of White Man Mountain here, hiking up steep and mostly stable talus to the crest of the southeast ridge. Travel along the ridge was easy, albeit slow, as we hopped from boulder to boulder and repeatedly stopped to take in the spectacular view. The final few hundred meters to the east peak had one section of mild exposure and several short and easy downclimbs, but none were any more difficult than a very easy scramble.
The east peak had an enormous 8-foot cairn and a register containing the names of around a half dozen parties per year that ascend the peak from a basecamp at Talus Lodge
with a guide named Chris, but only one other party reported an ascent from the valley bottom as we did. The view was incredible, of course, with around a dozen alpine lakes and tarns of various shades of blue scattered around the alpine and jagged and glaciated peaks surrounding us in all directions. For a time we even forgot about the swarms of mosquitos that tormented us nearly all the way to the ridge!
Continuing to the true summit, perhaps 50 m higher and 400 m away, would have involved difficult scrambling or roped climbing and so was clearly not an option, but we sure didn’t feel like we were missing out on the view; the true summit blocked only a few percent of the panorama and 97% of a million dollar view is still pretty darn rich!
After a lengthy stay in perfect weather we headed back down, sticking to the ridge the entire way to treeline. This involved nothing more than hopping from boulder to boulder and would also be the preferred ascent route, provided you have no intention of exploring the plateau. The cairn we’d come across in the morning lies at the start of this ridge and presumably exists to direct those coming from Talus Lodge where to begin (and end) their ascent.
The remainder of the descent went by quickly, due both to the ease of bushwhacking when gravity is on your side as well as the necessity of moving quickly to evade swarming mosquitos. We did encounter a few old trails on the way down, but none went where we wanted and it was simply easier to forge our own route. A quick walk back along the logging road then concluded the first adventure of our Kootenay camping trip!