Two men from Kimberley, British Columbia, plan to traverse the entire Purcell mountain range on foot. They expect to cover the 280 kilometres and 25,000 metres worth of elevation gain in less than a month.
It seems to be the year for epic BC traverses. First Martina Halik and her mom completed a six-month ski traverse of the entire coastal mountain range and now two guys from Kimberley, Steve Tersmette and Shawn Emmett, are setting out to traverse the Purcell Mountain range…on foot! While the route has been done on skis by Dan Clark in 1998, it’s never been successfully accomplished in the summertime (although it was attempted in 2004).
The duo will be wandering through one of the most populated grizzly bear corridors in the world, battling a labyrinth of alder and all while the province suffers from its worst wildfire season ever. Are these guys crazy? We called Steve to find out.
Hey Steve, this is going to be quite the adventure, eh? Tell us a bit about your background before we get into the specifics of the trip.
Sure. Yeah. I’m currently living in Kimberley and have been for the past 12 years. I grew up in Calgary and Dad had us into backpacking at an early age. Lots of play time in the outdoors. Since moving here I’ve taken up climbing and am always looking to get into more and more adventure. You don’t have to go too far here to find it, which is great.
And now you’re about to set out on the biggest adventure of all. What’s your wife think of this?
(Laughs). Yeah, I’m married with two little kids. My wife’s basically said, “You owe me.”
Who’s the guy you’re going with.
Shawn Emmett is from Alberta originally as well but has been living in Kimberley for six years. He’s been my rope mate for the past four and we’ve done a couple of first ascents together. He’s such a solid dude – one of those guys who would take a bullet for you.
How are you able to take the time off?
Luckily we both get paid vacation time. I work for the Regional District and Shawn’s a nurse at the Cranbrook hospital.
How long has this trip been in the works?
I’ve been planning this since almost ten years ago. I sprung it on Shawn about two and a half years ago.
What’s the plan?
We’re going to start from the Dewar Creek Trailhead and then hike through the Purcell Nature Conservancy. It’s straight up wild back there. Not a lot of that left these days. No trails. No facilities. We’re hoping to tag some remote peaks along the way like Mount Clutterbuck and Mount Toby. The second leg of the trip will be from the Toby Creek/Jumbo Creek area and north to the Bugaboos. The plan is to stay as high as possible in the alpine and, God willing, not in the trees. But I think around Howser Creek and Toby Creek we’ll have no choice but to drop down. The last leg will be from the Bugaboos to Rogers Pass. We’ll roughly follow the ski traverse route and hopefully hit some climbing objectives along the way.
What are you doing for food?
There will be three food caches along the way. My wife’s taking one into Toby Creek and one into the McMurdo Creek area. Another buddy is dropping one off in the Bugs.
Do you have a lot of experience with this sort of thing?
Shawn and I have had a few brushes with it. We got into the south end of the Conservancy last year and we’ve sawn through our fair share of alder. But nothing this crazy before. But long days are the fun thing about it as long as we’re doing it safely. We have a lot of training with ropes and systems and rescue and because we climb at a similar grade, we know each other’s limits and know when to push and pull. In the end it’s just about having a bit of an adventure.
This area is a popular grizzly bear corridor. Have you given thought to animal encounters?
It’s always on your mind when you go out but I haven’t had one yet. But yeah, especially in the Conservancy, when we’re going through the valley and slide paths, if you’re not thinking about it you’re probably being a bit ignorant. There was an attack earlier this year in the Dewar Creek area when a couple of hunters got between a sow and cubs and we’re going into feeding season so we might encounter bears that are protective about their berry stash or a kill or something. We’re taking bear spray and debated about bangers but now you’re talking about weight and each saved gram is precious. Overall, though, our days above treeline far outnumber our days below so in theory we should be reducing our chance of encounters by not being in their terrain.
So why do something like this?
I’m super keen because the Purcells are in our own backyard and they’re mountains we see everyday as we drive to and from work. The other part is the Purcells are still a little bit wild; not just the Conservancy but whole area. With the exception of the Bugs, the last guidebook for the region was published 40 years ago so it’s still got a remote feel to it. It’s your chance to experience the wilderness the way it was 100 years ago. We’re looking for that disconnect from the masses.
But when you return you’re beholden to a few speaking engagements with sponsors, eh?
Yeah. We received $1000 in expedition support from VIMFF (Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival) and just shy of that from Mountain Equipment Co-op. Those amounts paid for about half the trip and we used our personal funds for the rest. So we’re doing a presentation at VIMFF in February and are committed to doing a short film for them as well. We have to provide MEC with photos within 10 days of returning and within a month they want a written trip summary. They also want a review done of the gear we got from them and, if I remember correctly, we have to visit a few MEC stores to do a presentation. But the coolest part about all the funding we’ve received is that we didn’t have to be pros or sponsored. We’re just two very very ordinary dudes that are committed to doing something.