A winter assault on the Cascades

The crew snowshoeing up the creek.

Making their way up Monkman Creek. Brandon Braam photo.

Brandon Braam

Having hiked the 21-kilometer trail into the Monkman Cascades twice already, joining in on a winter expedition certainly piqued my interest. The Monkman Cascades are located in Monkman Provincial Park, south of Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia. Monkman Creek tumbles over ten waterfalls in this rugged part of the Rocky Mountains.

Craig Waters, an avid rock and ice climber based in Tumbler Ridge, approached me regarding his idea to climb the Cascades in the winter; this is something that had never been done before. I agreed to join him on the trip, though hesitantly. While I do like camping, winter camping is something I have never experienced (it really wasn’t that bad).

Then the planning started. Craig was joined by Jesse Coonce, Ryan Mahaffy, Peter Hofmann, Steve Burke, and me, the filmmaker. Peter and Steve attempted the trip once before, but were cut off by open water on Monkman Creek. While there is a trail to the Cascades, it is hilly. We decided to snowshoe in on the creek, and pull our gear in pulks, or toboggans.

Day one

My alarm went off at 4:00 am. My eye-lids were heavy, but I had a mission; get ready and out the door by 5:00 am. I still had some packing to do. Thomas Clarke transported us to the start of our journey, two kilometers upstream from the iconic Kinuseo Falls. Taller than Niagara Falls, Kinuseo Falls is a stunning waterfall. The six of us set out on our trek. Craig was sporting skis, while the rest of us snow-shoed while all towing our pulks. It was still dark when we set off on the Murray River. Wolves were howling in the distance. We chased a beautiful sunrise ahead of us.

The first seven kilometers were relatively easy. The Murray River was wide, and frozen for the most part.  Once we met up with Monkman Creek, our trip became complicated. For the most part, Monkman Creek was frozen, although there were many narrow sections where open water forced us to navigate through the trees. Around kilometer 12, Monkman Creek widened, and provided an easy snowshoe on the ice. The sky was clear and the sun was shining. If only we had known what lay ahead.

At kilometer 14, the creek narrowed into an impassable canyon. We were forced into the trees once again. This time was different. The route we used was rough, hilly, and overall very difficult to manoeuvre our pulks through. We were all tired from our long day. Wrestling with the pulks didn’t help. We found a spot to set up camp for the night.

Day two

My first night winter camping was interesting. While my sleeping bag kept me nice and warm, the inside of my tent was humid and cold. After many minutes of enjoying the warmth of my sleeping bag and thinking about getting dressed and ready for my day, I finally did. I kept a warm change of clothes in my sleeping bag overnight so that getting dressed wasn’t a cold, unpleasant shock. I gathered some wood for a fire and started on coffee and breakfast.

Since Monkman Creek was open in so many places, we made the decision not to pack up camp, but to make a day trip up four kilometers upstream to Lower Moore Falls, what we thought was the first waterfall we would find. I packed up some camera gear, the others packed climbing gear, and we started out to Lower Moore Falls. Approximately 3.5 kilometers into our trip, we came across a waterfall that was not Lower Moore. It turned out to be Cascade #8, which doesn’t have a name. Cascade #8 was frozen, so the guys donned their climbing gear and climbed to the top. I found a route through the trees to the top. I took out the drone and captured my first aerial video footage from our trip. Once at the top, the guys realized what they had climbed. A hollow frozen waterfall they fittingly named “The Straw”.

We had a bite to eat, then continued on upstream to Lower Moore Falls.

Lower Moore was not completely frozen, which was disappointing to our group. There was, however, a large, wide frozen seep across from Lower Moore that looked climbable. The guys scouted out the seep, and I scouted ahead with the drone to see what the other waterfalls upstream looked like. They were not frozen. We decided to head back to camp, and then climb the seep the next day.

Day three

A beautiful sunrise greeted us as we started out to Lower Moore Falls again. When we arrived at Lower Moore, it started to snow. Not good flying weather for the drone. Craig set me up on a ledge one third of the way up the seep to film them ice climbing the seep. This was the first known ice-climbing ascent of this seep. Craig went first. Heavy snow helped create impressive video footage. Once the other guys had a chance to climb the seep, Craig shared the name for the seep, “The Tonsure”.

The snow continued as we snow-shoed back to camp. Since the other waterfalls were open and not frozen, we decided to hike out the next day, ending the trip earlier than we had planned. Once back at camp, Craig, Jesse, Ryan, Peter, and Steve packed up non-essential items and carried them through the rough section of our trail that gave us so much trouble on the way in. This made for an easier start to the next day. That night, we feasted on food brought for a longer trip, Oreos, and dehydrated ice cream sandwiches. We stared at the stars, and watched as the International Space Station passed overhead. The stars were magnificent.

Day four 

The return home. I woke up first, got the fire going, and then woke the rest of the guys up to “Inside the Fire” by Disturbed. We had breakfast, coffee, packed up camp and started our journey home. Throughout the trip, we had temperatures above freezing during the day. We noticed changes in the ice from day to day. Our journey out on Monkman Creek was tricky. Sections of ice that we walked across on the trip in were either gone or too unstable to walk on. But, we made it back. Gerald Noksana picked us up and brought us back to Tumbler Ridge.

All in all, we spent three nights in the Cascades, and snowshoed over 60 kilometers. This expedition into the Monkman Cascades was my first winter camping trip; a trip I will not soon forget. Huge thanks to Craig, Jesse, Ryan, Peter, Steve, Thomas, Gerald, and Altitude Sports!

Check out the video at www.youtube.com/AboveTumblerRidge