March 4, 2020
I first heard about the Bonnington Traverse about 5 or 6 years ago. A group of women did the traverse, and wrote about their adventures in the Alpine Club of Canada Gazette. I absolutely LOVE a good hut to hut ski tour, so this trip was high on my To Do list.
I have only skied the Kootenays a few times, and mostly around Kokanee Glacier based out of the ACC hut. The mountains and terrain are quite different from the soaring Rockies and glacier travel that I’m used to. Still, it is best not to underestimate the traverse as the Bonnington has a lot of challenges to overcome, including cornice infested ridges, constant elevation gain and loss, and route finding galore. Add in a snow storm and worsening avalanche conditions, and the Bonnington becomes quite the trek!
To prepare, I did a day at Kootenay Pass with ACMG Guide Jennifer Olson. We went up Cornice Ridge and had a great day focused on trip leadership. I always like to figure out where my skills are lacking, and then take courses or one-on-one time with a guide to sharpen things up.
The Bonnington Traverse is about 45 km, usually done over four days to take in all three huts – Grassy, Steed and Copper. This trip report is just for Day One: Bombi trail head to Grassy Hut. Each day will have it’s own trip report.
We were a group of four – myself Alisen, my husband Mike, his longtime friend Callum, and Brian who we met on a Crevasse Rescue Course a few years before. The four of us completed the Bow to Yoho Traverse on the Wapta Icefield a few years prior, and we work well together.
Full alpine touring gear, with dps touring skis, G3 skins, dynafit bindings, and Scarpa Gaia boots. Full avalanche kit.
Backpacks ranged from 35 litre to 70 litre, depending on your comfort level and how much wine you want to carry.
Booking the Huts
The Bonnington Traverse huts are owned and maintained by volunteers at the Kootenay Mountaineering Club. All huts must be booked in advance, and are $15 per person per night. Huts sleep 4 to 6 people, but we found four people was cozy enough and could not imagine an extra two people stumbling around Grassy or Copper Huts.
The huts are heated by wood stove. The wood was running low at Grassy Hut, mainly because it is so accessible and gets way more use than the other huts. Wood supply is not guaranteed at any of the huts.
It is important to know that these are not Alpine Club of Canada huts. You must bring your own sleeping pad (thermarest) and propane fuel for cooking on Coleman two burner stoves. We brought four canisters of propane for four people for five days. We used two full canisters, and a portion of a third. At first we were quite limited in our use of propane, but when we realized one canister lasted for two days, we began to splurge. Who wants to carry out a full can of propane?
We also carried in a canister of white gas and a MSR whisperlite stove, in case the propane stoves were not working. We used the white gas for the lantern at the Copper Hut as the propane lantern was broken.
Where to Stay in Castlegar
The Bonnington is accessed from Castlegar, which I didn’t know very well. We stayed at The Chameleon, a downtown hotel with a lot of charm. The owners are Germans who love to ski just as much as we do. We promised not to arrive too early as the owners were skiing at Red Mountain all day.
I would also recommend Michelle’s amazing AirBnB. Unfortunately, it was booked the night we needed, but Michele has lots of people doing the Bonnington who stay at her place. It has several rooms for your entire group.
Where to Park your Vehicle
We were told not to leave any vehicles at the trail heads due to break ins. This meant we needed a place to park for the week.
The owners of The Chameleon Hotel were kind enough to allow us to park both our cars there for five days. Do not assume this to be the case, and be sure to ask in advance when booking your room if this is okay.
Another option is the Castlegar Airport. Again, phone ahead and confirm space and permission.
Shuttle To and From Trail Heads
The Kootenay Mountaineering Club has a list of shuttle service providers on their website. Michelle from the AirBnB agreed to be our shuttle driver, and she was great. Michelle has a roof ski box, and room for four. Our backpacks fit in the back. Leave all your stuff in your own vehicles.
We used InReach to contact Michelle on our way out. We updated her on our estimated arrival time, and sent her our exit location.
The Bonnington Traverse starts at the Bombi Summit Trail Head. Luckily, the road was plowed and frozen, so we could drive up a ways. This took off a good 3 km of slogging up a boring slope below the power lines. Be prepared to start right at the highway though, as this road is not normally open.
From the trail head, follow the power lines towards Grassy Mountain. From where we started, it made sense to stay on the main road, following various snowmobile tracks. It had not snowed for at least a week, so the snow was old, sun modified and a bit icy in places on the lower slopes.
After following the road for about 3.5 km (could be closer to 6 km if you start at the highway), we turned up into the trees to start some proper elevation gain. While there were some ski trails heading up, we also found lots of opportunities to set our own trail. This portion turned out to be rather fun, as we skied up to a series of benches, which were likely old logging roads.
Once in the trees, the snow was in great shape – soft and not sun modified or wind loaded. We kept this in mind for doing laps the next day.
At the col, we skied down the other side, keeping an eye out for Grassy Hut.
I read numerous times that finding the huts was a difficult task, even with GPS and exact coordinates. Luckily, there was no new snow so following the the tracks to Grassy Hut was straight-forward. Just imagine trying to glimpse this in a white out with no tracks though.
As the most accessible hut, Grassy takes a beating. The wood was running low (about 40 logs left), so we were conservative with our usage as I knew the huts were booked all March. The kitchen was disgusting. The dishes were not washed, and the counter was filthy. I boiled water and washed enough pots, bowls and utensils for all four of us. Getting a stomach bug from unclean food prep on Day One is not a good idea.
Always leave the hut in better condition than when you found it. Mike cut and stacked wood, and made up extra kindling for the group coming in after us.
Alisen and Callum dug out the outhouse so the door would open fully, and cut steps into the steep slope leading up to the outhouse. Before we left, all dishes were washed with soap and bleach.
Ski Touring around Grassy Hut
We decided to stay an extra day at Grassy because of the great skiing to be had. Even with the lack of new snow and higher than optimal avalanche conditions, we still found plenty of terrain to explore.
The north facing slopes were wind loaded, plus we were concerned about two buried layers that were pretty touchy. We dug a snow pit to check out the layers, and found they collapsed pretty easily. So that was all the info we needed to ski conservatively the next few days.
We also found excellent snow and slopes below Grassy Hut. Conditions will change, but that’s a few ideas to get you going.
To continue the Bonnington Traverse, click HERE as we trek from the Grassy Hut to the Steed Hut.
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Totals – Tracked on Strava
Date: March 4, 2020
Group: Four (Alisen, Mike, Callum and Brian)
Distance: 6.27 km (3 km or so longer if start from highway)
Elevation: 595 m (1,964′)
Time: 3 hours (includes snack stops)