The Rockwall Trail Part 2: Rockwall Pass and Tumbling Creek
Days three and four. We packed up at Helmet Falls and started up the steep climb to a low shoulder below Limestone Peak. I had taken time at the first day’s lunch stop to rearrange my pack a bit and managed to partly correct the thirty degree list to starboard. Maybe down to fifteen degrees. I bought this pack in 1988 from the old Coast Mountain store on Fourth and Burrard (even before it was at Fourth and Yew). It served me well through many backpacking trips including the West Coast Trail, not to mention three weeks travelling around the U.K. in 1990. But its best days were past and it was well worn and had several tears, most notably in the expansion collar. I’d tried to mend it but with limited success, and not being able to tighten the top properly was what put everything out of balance. Oh, and while trying to adjust it at Helmet Falls one of the suspension straps tore. The easiest solution was to pull my sleeping bag (bought at Totem Outdoors in Calgary in 1986 but warm, comfortable and indestructible) out of the bottom of the pack and strap it onto the back. That brought down the height but also brought down the centre of gravity, but it got me through the trip.
Daphne and Ron demonstrate the importance of hydration
A look back at Mount Goodsir from the trail up to Limestone Shoulder
Here we got our first good look at the Rockwall proper. Limestone Shoulder is a high plateau of larch meadows which would look brilliant when they turn colour in the fall. We had our elevenses here and contemplated our future, which would involve descending into a post-glacial basin then back up a higher and steeper climb to Rockwall Pass. With excellent scenery, good company and beautiful weather.
My, how nice and white and fluffy those clouds look.
We dropped into a green meadow with a creek with clear water where we refilled our water bottles, then passed this nice little milky tarn on the way up to Rockwall Pass.
We had lunch in the larches somewhere around here.
From the pass we looked back toward Helmet Falls and Goodsir Pass, where the clouds didn’t look as nice and where the campsite was probably getting rained on already.
You can see where this is going, right?
At Rockwall Pass we ran into a couple of day hikers coming down from exploring an easy ridge to the east. It turned out that they were with the Kootenay Mountaineering Club, who were camping outside the western boundary of the park near Wolverine Pass, the only break in the Rockwall. Ten years ago, Helen and I met two of their members, Hazel and Ed, at the Nature Vancouver camp at Monica Meadows. Hazel and Ed were camping with the KMC and came down and dropped in to see us the next morning at Tumbling Creek campsite. I hoped to take a side trip over the pass and maybe drop in at the KMC camp. That idea didn’t last very long.
Approaching Wolverine Pass on the right. Notice how the clouds aren’t that nice and white and fluffy any more. (Also notice how good a bright yellow pack cover is for visibility. Some of us have other colours like black, which is especially hard to see when you’re looking for your pack cover which for some reason has been stuffed into the very bottom of your pack. Good thing I didn’t need it that particular day).
In the Rockies in midsummer, afternoon rain is a common occurrence and this trip was no exception. We had an afternoon shower on the first day, but this day we got hit.
This was the last photo before I decide to pack my camera away. I walked up the side trail to Wolverine Pass for about 100 metres and said the heck with it. We stepped up the pace and headed down the north side of Rockwall Pass as the rain poured and the thunder and lightning did what thunder and lightning do. We considered seeking what shelter there might be at the warden cabin below Wolverine Pass to wait out the storm, but everyone except me bringing up the rear missed the cutoff for it.
The rain continued on and off as we dragged ourselves into the campground at Tumbling Creek and set up camp. This is when you appreciate having a tent which lets you set up the fly and footprint first and then set up the dry tent inside the fly. Not everybody was as happy with their tent; the fly on Daphne’s MEC Tarn 2 was delaminating and beginning to leak seriously. This would be the farewell tour for her tent as well as my pack. Somehow the Tarn 2 manages to be heavy and claustrophobic at the same time. At least her jacket and boots held up and she had lots of socks.
The tables on this hike were interesting. At Helmet Falls the benches were too high to sit on. Here at Tumbling Creek they were too low. It did make it easier for the ground squirrels though. These guys were as pesky as whiskey jacks.
The next day’s hike from Tumbling Creek to the Numa Creek campground wouldn’t have been any more challenging, but then the following day from Numa to Floe Lake would have been the toughest thing most of us have done for a long time. And the Numa Creek trail to the highway was closed due to a bridge washout, eliminating any possible escape route should things get worse. So because of our equipment issues and one or two other matters of preparation, we decided to hike out from Tumbling Creek to the Paint Pots, spend a night off trail, repack and ditch about fifteen pounds (at least from my pack) then hike back in directly to Floe Lake for the final night.
The next morning was clear and dry with a great view of the local section of the Rockwall from our midget tables. We packed up and headed down the Tumbling Creek trail. We’d been warned of another risky creek crossing further along and were relieved that there was a good solid bridge exiting the campground.
The hike out was mostly uneventful but there were a couple of nice waterfalls.
We crossed one more good bridge across Tumbling Creek and then another suspension bridge across Ochre Creek before meeting the main trail back to the Paint Pots. Later in the day it was much busier there and I’m sure hardly any of the people we met there had any idea of where we’d been.
Our first choice was to try to get into Castle Mountain again, but all they had was eleven beds in the men’s dorm and none in the women’s. Maybe there was a Girl Guides trip or something. Many hostels are co-ed but they wouldn’t go for it there. We drove through the campgrounds at Castle Mountain and Johnston Canyon but they were all full up, so we made our way back to Marble Canyon, three kilometres up the highway from the Paint Pots, and found a pleasant campground with lots of space and great views from our campsites of Vermilion Peak, directly to the south, and this one across the highway which we called Buzzcut Peak (Daphne’s photo).
A major forest fire burned a large portion of Kootenay Park in 2003, including a stretch of about 30 km along the highway. It’s interesting what got burned and what didn’t. Marble Canyon across the highway from the campground burned (which opened up some terrific views) as did Vermilion Peak, but the campground was untouched.
Next: more about the fire and the exciting conclusion at Floe Lake