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Mulvey Basin, A History

Ron Perrier

In 1963, the Valhallas were beckoning local climbers and mountaineers, especially the members of the Kootenay Mountaineering Club. Mulvey Basin, visible from the valley floor, was the center of interest, but as stated by Kim Deane in Volume I of the Kootenay Karabiner “the jutting spires had frustrated them with dense bush on the valley floor and ridges with more ups and downs than two fist fighters in a cheap western movie”, and the only reasonable access was by helicopter. Although only six miles from the nearest road, five of those miles required a two day bush whack. The Mulvey cirque was one of the last areas of the Selkirks to be explored and climbed because of this difficult access.

Valhalla, in Norse mythology was the hall of slain warriors. They live there blissfully under the leadership of the god Odin. Valhalla is depicted as a splendid palace, roofed with shields, where the warriors feast on the flesh of boar slaughtered daily and made whole again each evening. Thus they will live until the Maganrok (doomsday) when they will march out the 640 doors of the palace to fight at the side of Odin against the giants.

Gimli I (Mt Dag), on the SE fringe of Mulvey Basin was accessed up Robertson Creek and first climbed in 1927 by John Clay, Harry Matkin and J. Rodway walking up the south slopes. Other routes up Dag including the South Ridge Couloir and Traverse have unknown first ascents. But nobody went into the basin.

The pinnacles on the east ridge coming off Mount Gladsheim had early ascents too. The Wedge (2480m), the easternmost pinnacle, was approached up Mulvey Creek, and has an unrecorded first ascent, but is a challenging 5.7 route up the southwest face. The East Hump (2510m, 5.0) and West Hump (2530m, 5.3), the next two spires heading west on the ridge were climbed from the north via Gwillim Creek in late May, 1953 by Leon Blumer and Gordon Hartley. After approaching from the old Gwillim Creek Road, it was a severe bushwhack to camp in a natural cave at 1980 meters. The two humps were traversed from west to east. Leon and Gordon were accompanied by Herman Schnidrig when they climbed the next pinnacle west, the East Molar (2640m, 4), in July, 1953. Access was by the same masochistic route.

The first real assault on the peaks of Mulvey had to wait until the Labour Day weekend of 1963 when a group of local mountaineers helicoptered into the large cirque at the head of Robertson Creek. Helen Butling, Gill Broatch, Jim Rees, Gerry Brown, Dave Deane, Jack Oswald, Mike Stewart, Bud Stovel, Parker Williams and Kim Deane would form the nucleus of the Kootenay Section of The Alpine Club of Canada, formed the next year in 1964. Camp was at 7,500 feet beside a minute lake. They didn’t bother with Dag as it had already been climbed, but went immediately for the other mountain visible from the Slocan Valley, Mt Gladsheim. Gladsheim was Odin’s hall in Asgard, where the highest gods met in council. After climbing up to the col between the East Wolf Ear and Nott, five members of the group dropped 1,200 feet into Mulvey Basin and then ascended up the west ridge gully and traversed the west ridge to the summit – rated 5.0 at the time. On the descent, they went down a steep snow slope without ice axes. Three completely lost control but nobody was hurt. Gladsheim was climbed the next day by two more. They also made first ascents of both Wolfs Ears and Gimli II (Gimli) by the east ridge. Everyone was struck by the beauty of Mulvey Basin. “The ice-flecked lake and green meadow situated among soaring grey walls of rock provided an awe-inspiring sight”. They were determined to get easy access to the basin and a trail was called for.

The first venture of the new club was a trail slashing bee up the seemingly impenetrable Mulvey Creek, the most obvious access to the basin. Thirteen members cleared the first mile and a half in 4 hours on the first day. They then found remnants of an old trail and over three more days succeeded in slashing a trail to within sight of the headwall below the basin.

On August 19, 1964, Bob Dean and Roy Penniket took 3 hours to walk to the end of the “trail” and then almost 3 more hours to wade up the creek and bushwhack through the dense bush to the base of the headwall. They then took day packs to climb into the basin with an objective of climbing Mulvey Cone (Asgard). Climbing the headwall proved more difficult than expected. The lower part was smooth sloping rock and it took 1¼ hours to reach the basin. It was a straight forward walk through the basin and climb up the easy east ridge (class 3) of Asgard. The intimidating headwall took as long to descend as climb. After almost 9 hours they were back at their packs and then had another 6 hours to their car. Mulvey Cone (2790m) is highly symmetrical presenting the same aspect from three directions. The name was eventually changed to Asgard, the citadel of the Norse gods, reached by the rainbow bridge Bifrost.

Plans were made to build a cabin in Mulvey Basin. But the trail still required a huge amount of work. Every weekend in June, 1965 saw club members and many volunteers including Bob Dean’s high school boys working on the immense job. In order to get a good day’s work done on the upper trail, a camp called Camp Kipper (after the kippers that some members insisted on bringing and cooking for breakfast), was established 2½ miles up the trail. The trail was successfully roughed out to the headwall.

In June, 1966, Byron Olson, Rick Askew and Bob Dean made the third ascent of Mt Gladsheim. They all agreed it was a tough two days trip, impossible without the trail. By the fall of 1966, the first five miles were in fair condition, but the last two had devils club, slide alder and windfalls at their worst. There was a call to pull up their socks and put a little more effort into the trail. Bob Dean and Bruce Mawer were thanked for all their great work with chain saws.

Besides a cabin in Mulvey Basin, thoughts were given to a shelter at Camp Kipper and a trail that extended from Mulvey to McKean Lakes and the Koch Creek road. Over the 1966 Labour day weekend, 9 club members took a grueling 12 hours to reach Mulvey Meadows. The trail was described as more like army maneuvers and then you had to deal with the headwall. Gladsheim was climbed for the fourth time. In 1966, Bob Dean made a first ascent of the Hemisphere, 2790m (Midgard – in Norse mythology it is the realm between the heavens and the underworld, that is, Earth). At least that is what it says in all the guides, but Bob denies making a first ascent (PC: Bob Dean). He thinks that a couple from Vancouver or the Okanagan climbed it first. He can’t remember if there was a cairn on top or not. It was hoped that the trail would be totally complete to the bottom of the headwall by September, 1967, but that summer the forests were closed because of fire danger. So it was not till the fall of 1968 when 30 club members worked on the trail over the weekend of September 14-15, that the club felt the trail complete. A campsite was established near the base of the headwall called Poncho Camp.

On September 7th, 1968, Bob Dean and Howie Ridge climbed the West Wolves Ear from the Bannock Burn Road. It took them four hard hours to get above the tree line below the West Ear. This road also was used to climb the east peak of Mt Prestley but it was a stiff 9 hour bush whack to a campsite below the peak. A meeting was held in September, 1968 to name peaks in Mulvey Basin. Bob Dean had been making a special study of Norse mythology and suggested the names of Asgard (Mulvey Cone), Midgard (Hemisphere), and Gimli (Gimli II). Helen Butling suggested the name Dag (Gimli I).

1969 saw the erection of the cabin in Mulvey Meadows. Donations were received from Richie Deane, the trustees of the Slocan Chief’s fund and other members and friends. Dave Parfitt organized and coordinated the prefabrication of the hut in Rossland and the 44th Field Squadron, Royal Canadian Engineers transported the hut to Slocan. This was the year of the first Climbing Camp for the club and it was held in Mulvey. Windfalls had been cleared and it required 4 ½ hours to reach the base of the headwall and 2 hours to climb the 1500-foot wall. In the afternoon, a helicopter brought up eleven loads of camp supplies and the pre-fab cabin. A cabin site and toilet were built. By the next evening, a rock foundation, floor, walls and roof were standing. After climbing in the mornings, they worked on the cabin in the afternoon. On one bad weather day, Bob Dean ran down the trail, returned to Nelson and then returned with elbows and a damper to improve the stovepipe. It took five men all afternoon to maneuver the lower front step into place and the top step, one evening and a bag of cement. By camp windup, the interior was far from finished but on subsequent trips, the layout was improved with shelves, bunks, table and benches. A gutter was added to the front veranda roof. The inside dimensions were 8X13’4”. All mountains surrounding the basin were climbed several times including a first ascent of the west peak of Prestley. New routes were put up the SE rib and south face of Gladsheim and the NE ridge of Gimli. The hut was used every weekend until mid September.

In 1970, the Conservation Committee of the club prepared a brief to have the Mulvey, Evans and Beatrice Lakes watersheds set aside as a Class A Provincial Park. An assessment of the trail up Mulvey Creek in the fall of 1971, showed that work was still needed. The lower part to Camp Kipper was in good shape but still required a fair amount of side hilling. Above here, the rock slides were difficult to travel over, and clearing of bush and devils club was still required. The headwall was just as long, hot, tiring, steep and unpleasant.

The 1972 annual climbing camp was held in Mulvey Basin for the second time. 32 people attended the camp, 9 walked in and 23 took the helicopter. All the mountains were climbed except Gladsheim, Gimli and the west Wolves Ear. New benches, bunks, table and outhouse were installed. Everyone walked out. Six climbers from Seattle flew in to climb for 2 weeks in the area. Several new routes were put up including the SW ridge of Asgard and a 3 day climb up the vertical north face of Dag. Mulvey was becoming an internationally famous climbing area. New routes went up the south face of Asgard and the south ridge of Gimli.

The trail up Mulvey Creek in 1975 was still a hard go. Carrying heavy packs, the Underhills took 10 hours to get to the headwall. On the way out, they were chased up a tree by a grizzly. The logging road up Bannock Burn built in the mid 70’s was extended in 1977 to the log landing above the present Gimli parking lot. This spelt the end of the trail. Easy access to Mulvey was putting increased strain on the fragile environment. Bannock Burn was now the main access to Gimli, Wolves Ears and Dag. Some descended to the cabin via the East Wolves Ear/Nott col but most went via the Midgard/Nisleheim (Jones) col. After an initial bush whack to below the Wolfs Ears, it was an easy 2 hours to the base of Gimli. New routes were put up on the south ridge of Gimli.

An inventory of the food in the cabin in June, 1979 by Peter Koedt: 1c. rolled oats, 3c oatmeal, 2c. mixed hot cereal, 1c. granola, powdered milk for 2 qts., ½c. white sugar, 2tbsp. brown sugar, 30 tea bags, 1# loose tea, 1/2c. chow mein noodles, ¼ c. corn meal, 3c. instant mashed potatoes, 6oz baking powder, curry powder, salt, 1tsp Tabasco, ½ box rye crisp, 3# hard candy, 2 ichiban, ½ c dry veggies, ½ package dried carrots, 1½ packages spaghetti, 4c, rice, 2c short grain rice, 3c. white rice, ¾ c popcorn, ½ c whole wheat flour, cinnamon, red chili powder, black pepper and ½ c. vinegar. Peter was surprised by the lack of technical climbing done by the club in the basin.

In 1979, Slocan Forest Products planned on putting Bannock Burn logging road to bed allowing access only to four-wheel drives vehicles. The road was in their tree farm license making them responsible for maintenance and fire protection. As far as they were concerned, the fewer people in there, the better. In the summer of 1981, the Little Slocan Road was blocked by metal gates just north of the Hoder Creek turn off and just north of Bannock Burn, making it impossible to drive up Bannock Burn and access Mulvey. Klaus Streichert, the owner of the private property stated that the road was not financed publicly (this was incorrect as most of the road was funded by the government) so there was no onus on his part to open it to the public. Slocan Forest Products and Forestry had an arrangement with the owners to access the road but no such arrangement could be made for the KMC. The gates blocking the road were very unpopular with everyone and were the object of damage from trucks pushing them or using sledge hammers on them.

The Mulvey Creek trail still took a strong hiker 12 hours to reach the basin but since Bannock Burn was built, it was rarely used, became neglected and was heavily overgrown and obstructed by blowdown and avalanche debris.

In July, 1982, the eleven year old Mulvey hut had repairs done to the roof and shutters by the John Wurflinger family. They and another group were the only ones in Mulvey in 1982 and all had helicoptered in. Porcupine damage was repaired and the outhouse was moved. A club trip was planned for the Labor Day weekend in 1982. After much persuasion by Ken Holmes, Mr. Streichert consented to open the north gate at 7PM on Friday night and then again on Sunday night to get out. He was careful to point out that use of the road was entirely at the club’s risk and “it is for this time only and please don’t call me again”. Fourteen people attended and four-wheel drives were required to negotiate the road. The basin was accessed via the Midgard/Jones col.

In 1983, the club wanted forestry to either buy the private land or bypass it but the Ministry of Forests was inclined to do nothing citing lack of money. Valhalla Provincial Park was established in 1983 as a class A park, but it was ironic that the best area in the new park was inaccessible. The club became involved in an extensive letter writing campaign to all branches of the government – Forest, Highways, Tourism and the local MLAs. Two members were able to bypass the gate on motorbikes and reported the road was in excellent shape. The trail up Mulvey was finally totally abandoned because of grizzly issues so the only way into Mulvey was by helicopter. With establishment of Valhalla PP, Parks became the owners of the cabin in Mulvey. Parks plans were to replace the cabin with a small, prefabricated log structure closer to the largest lake.

Fifteen club members flew into Mulvey from June 28-July 1, 1986. Asgard and Gladsheim were climbed. Two hiked out via Bannock Burn and one via Drinnon Lakes. The rest flew out. The impasse over the road remained. The trail to Gwillim Lakes was constructed in the summer of 1986 giving one more access route into Mulvey Basin via the alpine route from Drinnon Lake. The trail from Slocan City to Evans Creek along the lake was also built. Also in the Valhallas but outside the park, a trail was also put into McKean Lakes. A cabin was built at McKean in the summer of 1988.

After negotiations between the Ministry of Forests and Klaus Streichert, the gates blocking Little Slocan Road were removed on December 14, 1987. Several officials were present for the ceremony. In May, Bannock Burn was high clearance two wheel drive access. Negotiations with Parks about replacing the Mulvey cabin were commenced in early 1988. In the spring of 1989, Parks burned down the hut, a victim of 20 years of weather and wear, and of a bizarre and tragic accident. Hearsay has it that a young, mentally ill man had committed suicide in the cabin.

The present route into Mulvey Basin, the Gimli/Nisleheim (Jones) col, was “discovered” in the summer of 1989. A rock ramp down a short cliff leads to the snow and a small remnant glacier, and a snow and rock traverse leads to the snow slopes below the Jones/Midgard col. Ice axes are a necessity and crampons are needed especially in the late summer when there is no snow cover on the ice of the glacier.

Practically, there were three routes into Mulvey Basin in 1990. Parking was at the clear-cut above and east of the present Gimli trail parking lot. A flagged route led north into the meadows SE of Gimli. 1. Wolves Ears/Nott col (small rock cliffs make for some difficulties). From the basin, this col is also used to access the Wolves Ears, Nott, Bat Wing, Little Dag and Dag. 2. Midgard/Nisleheim (Jones) col. This was the traditional route in after the Bannock Burn road was put in. Parking was lower where the road switch backs to the east. The descent into the upper basin is gentle. 3. Gimli/Nisleheim col. Even before the Gimli trail was put in, and certainly since then, this is practically the only route now used to access the meadows. There was a need expressed for a short trail to access the shoulder below Gimli. The section between the shoulder and the col also posed problems. Going too high or low encounters difficult slabs.

In 1994, the trail leading up to the south ridge of Gimli was built. An average of 15-20 hikers accessed Gimli Ridge daily through July and August as a result of it. A new parking lot was constructed at the trail head. Parks encouraged access to the meadows via the Gimli/Nisleheim (Norse for fog home) col. Because of several rescues here on the steep ice late in the season, they suggested crampons and ice axes were required equipment.

A mountaineer’s, high-level route from Drinnon Lake into Mulvey was cairned by Parks in 1984, when Bannock Burn access was not possible. It was a full one-day backpack. From Drinnon Lake, ascend to the pass on the north ridge of Drinnon Peak, contour and descend toward Valhalla Lake. Go over the pass west of Mount Prestley’s three summits and continue south of Mt Prestley, at tree line, to the basin between Midgard and Prestley. Cross the pass south of Midgard to the Mulvey meadows. Some ill equipped hikers lacked the mountaineering experience to handle the three-pass route. As a result the cairns were removed in 1995. Bannock Burn and the good trail made it obsolete as a necessary route but it sounds like fun.

In 1999, the beautiful large rock bridge over the creek on the Gimli trail was washed out by an avalanche over the winter. Many log jams blocked the creek.

Mt Dag has been on the club trip schedule for many years. 100 m before the Gimli parking lot, turn onto a high clearance road for 3kms. It turns into a cut block and is often washed out. Find the old Gimli trail that goes to the alpine below the Wolfs Ears. Cross the headwaters of Robertson Creek and follow a cairned route up the west side of Dag to the ridge. The last step on the ridge involves climbing up a 15 foot chimney often with loose rock. Some hikers might require a belay. From the top of the chimney, it is an hour up the ridge to the summit. Views are down into the basin, the Slocan Valley, Kokanee and the Devils Range.

The classic route on Mt Gladsheim is the west ridge. Previously rated 5.0, because of rock fall, it was rerated 5.5 by Doug Brown and subsequent groups. The west gully is a very handy ramp that leads 1500’ up to a point high on the west ridge. A pleasant class 3 and 4 scramble goes along the undulating west ridge for about 30 minutes. The black lichen gets slimy when wet. Then put on rock shoes and rope up starting from a large ledge on the south side a little down from the ridgeline. Start up a vertical crack too wide for a fist jam, but just right for a forearm. After the first tricky bit, run out 35m of rope over 4th class terrain and set up a belay on the ridge line. Wind your way up steep bulges on the ridge crest. When it gets difficult, make a descending and very airy, but not technically difficult, traverse on the south side. Eventually make a short climb back up to the base of a steep wall. After some easy scrambling up a chimney/cave/tunnel to a large ledge on the ridge crest From here find the entrance to the tunnel which is fun and interesting especially without a pack. Doug Brown used a photo to find the entrance. The tunnel pops out on the north side of the ridge. Ascend straight up easy ledges to the ridge crest. After some tricky 3rd class terrain, climb a tricky big lichen covered step (5.5 when dry) to gain the ridge above all the 5th class climbing. Then it is 40 minutes of pleasant 3rd and 4th class, sometimes exposed, scrambling to the summit. The first rappel was down the big step. Rap 2 puts you into the tunnel that is down climbed. Rap three was from the ridge crest and followed with the fourth and last rappel. Then work your way back along the west ridge to the gully. It was 10 hours back to camp. The route had at least two pitches of 5.5.
Route finding skills outweigh technical climbing skills. The climbing is much more difficult than the 5.0 or 5.1 rating commonly given. It had been conjectured that rock had fallen increasing the difficulty of the route. But there is no evidence of rock fall from the tricky bits. Another explanation was that the glacier on the north side was use to bypass the hard climbing, but that it had receded over the years. Climbing grades have also changed over the years.

The Bannock Burn road continues on for 8 kms past the turn to the Gimli parking lot. In 2012, the road was in excellent condition with no water bars. Rather than turn to Gimli, stay straight ahead and slightly down hill switch backing twice going downhill. The next intersections are marked with rock cairns. The road ends in a very good turn-around. A route was flagged through the bush and timber to the base of the large avalanche path leading up to the Mt Dag basin. A great time to go is in June when the bush is snow-covered.

As of 2013, Mulvey Basin remains the premier climbing area in the West Kootenay. After many problems, the meadow now has the best accessibility ever. Mulvey Creek Trail is long forgotten, the cabin is gone, and Bannock Burn is open all the time. Bannock Burn is usually well maintained, and the trail provides fast access to the Nisleheim/Gimli col above the meadows. Crampons are a good idea to deal with the small glacier remnant at the base of the ramp that leads down off the col. The meadows have a myriad of places to camp. A toilet and central camping idea might be a good idea. Easy routes exist up all the mountains except Gladsheim and both Wolfs Ears. Most technical routes have been done. Bert Port wrote a climbing guide from the original cabin log but that needs to be updated. The classic climbs are the west ridge of Gladsheim, the south ridge of Gimli, and the SW ridge of Asgard. Even the north face of Dag has been climbed three more times. Prestley, just outside the basin attracts interest every year. Climbers come from all over to climb here, but activity is still relatively low, like most of the rest of the West Kootenay.

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