Editor’s note: This article is a follow-up to work done by the Columbia Mountains Chapter of the Alpine Club of Canada in March 2022.
After months of preparation, three camps were set up for five days along the BC side of the Athabasca Trail over the Labor Day weekend. members of the Columbia Mountains (ACC) Chapter of the Alpine Club of Canada had to reopen a very important trail.
Their mission was to complete the restoration of the Athabasca Pass Heritage Trail that had begun the previous summer. To get to their destination, sixteen ACC members drove north from Revelstoke on Highway 23, following the shore of the lake, past Mica Dam, then east to Kinbasket Lake, all doing part of the Columbia River.
The Sprague Bay Recreation Site has a path that leads to a plaque indicating the location of the boat camp.
A new sign was put up for this ten-minute walk before members continued to where a barge carried them across the lake.
From there they took a logging road next to Wood Arm to the Wood River Bridge where a helicopter took them and their gear the remaining five miles to Jeffrey Creek Campground.
The Jeffrey Creek team stayed there while the Ridge team and the Pacific team were dropped off at points along the trail to the pass.
The members who participated this weekend came from Calgary, Rossland, Nelson, Kelowna, Vallican and Revelstoke.
The campsite where Jeffrey Creek meets Wood River is a flat, grassy area and is believed to be the very spot where David Thompson and his crew camped on January 11, 1811.
They went on and wintered at a point between the Wood and Canoe rivers on Kinbasket Lake and called this boat camp.
David Thompson achieved his goal of finding a passage through the Rocky Mountains with the help of Thomas, an Iroquois guide, who led the men, horses, and dogs through deep snow.
This opened a gateway to the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean for fur traders and established an important route for the North West Company.
The old-growth forest on the west side of the Rockies enjoys a warmer climate and lower elevation than that on the Alberta side. In this mixed forest, the white bark of the birches contrasts sharply with the dark conifers.
But it was the cedars that provided David Thompson with the building materials for the boats they built that winter at Boat Encampment.
David Thompson, who worked for the North West Company, was an Anglo-Canadian cartographer, surveyor and fur trader. Following the valley of the Whirlpool River, he discovered the Athabasca Pass through the Rocky Mountains, guided by an Iroquois named Thomas.
The boats would have been light but durable, to handle the rapids of the Columbia River.
In all the careful planning done by the Expedition Leader, safety was considered first. Only very experienced volunteers were selected for the type of work that needed to be done.
When the blowdowns were cleared, the deadwood chainsaw started at the highest point and the logs were rolled up to where no one was likely to be hit. Safety glasses were worn by everyone and hard hats and sturdy work gloves protected the head and hands.
Life vests were available if standing in the fast flowing streams was required. A total of 16 km of the trail has been cleared and 14 km has been cleared.
According to a former RSTBC Regional Recreation Officer, the trail had never been swept to the pass. The original trail was overgrown and covered in fallen trees for most of its length, it had to be found and marked before the chainsaw started down the Pacific Creek valley.
This required running over 50km round trip, through thick brush. Only then was the dead wood removed. It was not an easy task for Team Ridge up the steep La Grande Côte or for Team Pacific up Athabasca Pass and was only possible because of the members’ knowledge of this kind of work. .
It was also necessary to build a bridge over Pacific Creek near this camp using a tree that had fallen on it. Back at Jeffrey Creek camp, a food shed was set up between the trees, benches were built, and new signs were installed for the convenience of future hikers.
A huge, already existing log located across Jeffrey Creek was used as the base for the ninety-six foot bridge.
First, the branches were removed, and while two members sat on the log, they used a chainsaw to create a flat surface to walk on.
The decking, posts and supports were then attached to it to give the deck stability and a railing to hold on to.
After all the work was done, the members walked to the top where a tarn called the Committee’s Punch Bowl sits at the Great Divide and flows in two directions: west to the Pacific Ocean and northeast to the arctic.
Clear skies held for the first part of the weekend, but later when rain clouds set in, spirits weren’t dampened at all and a sense of pride in the restoration of a heritage trail prevailed until the time of departure.
This challenging and remote hike has bright yellow markers to guide the way and is ready to be enjoyed by seasoned adventurers.
The entire endeavor was made possible by the generous support of the Columbia Basin Trust, Downie Timer, Columbia Mountains Chapter of the ACC, Full Speed Rentals and Great Canadian Tours.
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