I actually found the primitive campground for the first time after getting some rough directions from a local. The area was mosquito infested but generous applications of Muskol did wonders and any kind of breeze was most welcome to keep the demons at bay. The trail up to Elysium Pass ends there, but vast meadowlands dotted with trees made for easy hiking towards the first objective, Monarch Pass. It actually has another semi-official name but it doesn’t come to mind at the moment.
Camp was made next to a cluster of densely packed but stunted conifers in high meadows with superb views down a tributary to the Snaring River Valley to the NE. Then, something moved down in an adjacent gully, and it looked like a bear to the unaided eye. My field glasses said otherwise, thankfully, it was a huge porcupine, waddling around next to a creek. After downing my usual travel mug of strong coffee and granola with powdered milk it was off to the next point of reference, East Derr Pass, and this was much harder to access as it lay at the far end of a snow and boulder filled basin, with several mostly snow covered lakes thrown in.
This place faced the NE, so little wonder it had all this snow in summer, snow which I sank into up to my hips when one foot plunged into some sort of hole. The way became more dangerous as rolling hills of boulders covered in snow had to be crossed. There were unseen hollow areas closest to the big rocks so I tried to avoid getting too near them, but even so it was very time consuming. East Derr Pass presented awesome views in the headwaters of Derr Creek, with spectacular peaks all around, and Derr Pass, at the head of that valley, was my next goal. It was a much lower pass, but mostly still beatiful green meadows, and not a soul to be seen. It could have been the year 1700 for all I knew. Timelessness was at home here. I didn’t care what time it was and it didn’t matter for there was no timetable or real plan to follow. It was just now. Columbia ground squirrels alerted the whole valley of my presence with their shrill whistle alarms and even though it was a solo trip, I was far from being alone out here.
To the north of Derr Pass then began the despairing descent of a tributary to the Snaring River, far, far below. Deadfall filled forests alternated with chest high shrubfests in which my feet remained invisible to me for hours on end, probing for a supposed ground being the general rule. The slopes then began to steepen, the shrub nightmare continuing along the edge of deadfall choked woods. Sounds inviting doesn’t it? A real walk in the park huh? I’d lost the creek way back up and beyond, but found it again further down and guzzled its refreshing contents. Some more skirmishes with plant matter and the valley bottom was finally reached and it was…..a boggy mess.
The animals had also done a pretty lousy job of making game trails, but what had I expected, having camped in over 200 different places in these mountains. Should have known better really. My initial plan of attack was to make for the Snaring headwaters to the west but an encounter with a huge frothy tributary coming in from the north set my mind otherwise. So, well, it was the other way then, to the east we go. The river’s edge hiking actually improved as progress was made downstream, the occasional bald eagle startled by my invasion and seeking to roost elsewhere.
Very steep riverbank slopes sometimes forced an inland detour, involving dense concentrations of sapling trees, with barely enough space between for me to pass. Nobody heard my cursing, of this I’m sure. At no time was I willing to bash all the way down to the Snaring Campground, especially with my knowledge of the canyons and gorges further down. No, it would have to be another tributary back up to Monarch Pass. Gulp! What hidden horrors lay and wait? After consulting the map, the best choice seemed to be a major creek to the east of Mt. Knight, deep in the Snaring hinterland. I was constantly clapping to alert the wildlife, but they were probably going yeah, yeah, we heard you coming from Derr Pass idiot! Idiocy was a truly appropriate term to describe the inane struggle of endless bushwhacking up this forsaken valley.
All the usual cast of obstacles were there, with cameos by tussocks & bogs, knee deep mossy cushions, and the final half walk-half crawl through tangle after tangle to unceremoniously enter the meadows below Monarch Pass. I felt that at the very least, perhaps a brass band should have been there waiting. The grizzly encounter atop Monarch Pass was the last thing expected at this point. We just met at the summit, it waived its nose in the air and stood on its hind quarters for a moment before charging off down the meadows from where it had come. Thank goodness. It vanished into the distance in no time till a little brown dot was all that remained. From then on I could see lots of little brown dots, none of which turned out to be a bear. One more relaxing camp was made high in the meadows below Mt. Oliver, and the next day, in the pouring rain, the endless meadows once again descended to the Elysium Pass campground.
Story and Photos submitted by: John Boehm
- Edge Control (Ski & Outdoor Store)