2017 Purcell Traverse: 280 Kilometers On Foot In 24 Days

When VIMFF joined forces with Mountain Equipment Co-op to launch an Adventure Grant, the goal was to find local teams with exploratory and human powered objectives in adventurous arenas that were unique and ambitious in nature. It was clear that Shawn Emmett’s and Steve Tersmette’s goals were the epitome of adventurous: travel nearly 280 km on foot by roughly combining the Southern Purcell Traverse and the Bugaboos to Rogers Pass traverse, two of the grand ‘ski’ traverses in Western Canada. Get an exciting glimpse into their journey below written by Shawn and Steve, and catch them on stage at the MEC Adventure Night during the 2018 February Festival.

On August 25, 2017 we embarked on a journey that would see us travel from Dewar Creek near Kimberley, BC to the Trans Canada highway Northeast of Rogers Pass, nearly 280km away. In preparation for our trip, we were fortunate to secure Expedition Support from Mountain Equipment Coop. We were also awarded the 2017 MEC Adventure Grant from the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival.

The support we received would allow us to make some gear upgrades which would prove to be critical in the success of our trip. Success, however, was hard fought and as we set out from Dewar Creek on August 25, 2017, we embarked on a trip that would be plagued by uncertainty over the next 24 days. The unprecedented fire season in BC was the first potential hurdle as rumors of a backcountry closure started to circulate around our region in the two weeks leading up to our trip.

Right out of the gate on day one, Steve fumbled a hiking pole on a glacier and watched with an open jaw as it slid into a crevasse. On day two, Shawn’s pole fell victim to the loose rock and talus that would become a mainstay throughout the Purcell Mountains. On day four, Shawn’s feet had become held together mostly by hockey tape as boots, socks and feet simply could not be dried and he started to blister and peel. By day 7, the effects of trench foot were apparent and even though we were a full day behind, we decided to take a rest day. We were fearful that if Shawn couldn’t get his feet and gear dry, he might not be able to continue much longer.
The hits kept coming, even on our rest day. Beaver Fever grabbed a hold of Steve and even though incredibly ill, we elected to proceed north from our first food drop. Then, the big blow and what initially seemed like the factor that was going to end our trip. On day 9 we received word via InReach that the backcountry was closed and we were instructed to find an exit. As the announcement was made on a weekend, we were unsure of how soon and under what conditions we would have to leave. Through Steve’s wife, we were able to establish contact with the Ministry of Forests and the BC Wildfire Service and, under strict conditions, were allowed to proceed North to the Bugaboos. After a few routine days of communicating and relaying travel and camp coordinates, we were permitted to and eventually completed our trip legally and safely.

For all the things that didn’t go exactly as planned, the trip was an amazing experience for both of us. We saw and experienced some amazing and remote territory in South East British Columbia that sees very little human traffic. For example, on the summit of Mount Klahowya, we were the first ones to sign the summit register since 1996. The terrain also put our skills to the test as we crossed nineteen glaciers, rigged over a half dozen rappels, and spent four soul-crushing days crashing through the infamous BC alder. This traverse through everything at us and it took all of our skills to safely complete the journey.

We found ourselves climbing and downclimbing rock and ice, rappelling from ridges, crossing creeks, travelling on glacial ice and seasonal snow. We encountered steep and loose terrain frequently throughout the trip and every step required care. At the end of the day, it wasn’t only our mountain, climbing and rescue skills that led us to our eventual completion. It was our teamwork, the single most important factor in our success.

The expedition was, for the most part, entirely self-funded, however, we made some fantastic investments with the funds granted to us by Mountain Equipment Co-op and the MEC Adventure Grant from the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival. This included the 2 man, 4 season MEC TGV2 tent. This bombproof and lightweight tent would prove itself through rain, snow and wind. In addition to setting up quick, it was also quite spacious to stash some gear we needed to keep under cover. We also made significant improvements to our sleeping set up by investing in Western Mountaineering sleeping bags. Incredibly light weight, highly compressible and warm for the rated temperature, we were blown away by these units.

A couple minor purchases using the remainder of the funds included 40m of 8mm cord which gave us a compact and lightweight rope for glacier travel and rappels. This allowed us to leave behind the big climbing ropes. We also purchased extra bear spray, socks and some lightweight base layers. All in all, we were very well equipped and thanks to the additional support from Mountain Equipment Co-op and the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival we were able to vastly improve our gear situation, eliminate precious pounds and space from our backpacks: all important factors in the success of our expedition.

We’d like to thank Emmanuel Prinet and Sonia Bianchi from Mountain Equipment Co-op and Tom Wright from the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival for their communication, enthusiasm and support for our journey.