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The Other Seven Summits

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An odyssey in the Monashee Mountains of British Columbia

This article originally appeared in our July 2006 issue.

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Leader of the Pack: Kailey McLachlan sets the pace for Aladar Reusz, Vic Buehler (obscured) and Elinor Fish on the switchbacks of Granite Mountain.

Photo by Woods Wheatcroft

“Mmm, huckleberries!” Grinning, I gobble down another fistful of the plump, dark-purple berries. With stained fingers I reach for another cluster of juicy goodness before I stop to consider my delicate digestive system and force myself to back away from the berry bush, hoping to find more at the trail’s end, still 19 miles away.

I came to British Columbia’s southern interior to run the new Seven Summits Trail in the West Kootenay’s Monashee Mountains. Opened in September 2004, the trail strings together several lofty ridgelines between Nancy Greene Summit (named after the famous 1968 Olympic downhill skiing gold medalist) and Cascade Summit near the alpine town of Rossland (pop: 3600). Cruising along at a comfortable elevation of 6500 feet, the point-to-point trail passes within a mile or two of seven challenging but mostly run-able peaks accessible by short but steep and rough side trails. The Seven Summits Trail links old horse paths, game trails and traditional routes used by Native Americans from Washington State who visited the area to harvest huckleberries.

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McLachlan loads up on fresh huckleberries at the trailhead.

Photo by Woods Wheatcroft

After spreading the word around Rossland that I was looking for running partners, Aladar Reusz, a stay-at-home father of four, stepped up, bringing along his buddy Vic Buehler. The invitation traveled like lightning through the tight-knit running community and soon two more runners showed up: Aaron Cosbey, a virtual commuter in an environmental think-tank group based in Manitoba, and Kailey McLachlan, the youngest of the group at 25 and a property-development project manager. Apparently there’s no such thing as regular office hours in Rossland—my cohorts were all able to blow off their mid-week commitments.

“Just give me 30 minutes to find a babysitter!” declared Aladar.

“I’ll tell my boss I need to be out of the office this afternoon,” announced Kailey.

“I can come anytime since I work from home,” added Aaron.

Rossland’s laid-back mountain culture is all about playing hard outside year-round, making big powder dumps and epic trail runs reasonable excuses to close up shop. Rosslanders’ passion for the outdoors is proven in the Kootenay-Columbia Trail Society’s

Washington State who visited the area to harvest huckleberries.

After spreading the word around Rossland that I was looking for running partners, Aladar Reusz, a stay-at-home father of four, stepped up, bringing along his buddy Vic Buehler. The invitation traveled like lightning through the tight-knit running community and soon two more runners showed up: Aaron Cosbey, a virtual commuter in an environmental think-tank group based in Manitoba, and Kailey McLachlan, the youngest of the group at 25 and a property-development project manager. Apparently there’s no such thing as regular office hours in Rossland—my cohorts were all able to blow off their mid-week commitments.

“Just give me 30 minutes to find a babysitter!” declared Aladar.

“I’ll tell my boss I need to be out of the office this afternoon,” announced Kailey.

“I can come anytime since I work from home,” added Aaron.

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Rock On: Elinor Fish dances through a rough section of the Seven Summits Trail.

Photo by Woods Wheatcroft

Rossland’s laid-back mountain culture is all about playing hard outside year-round, making big powder dumps and epic trail runs reasonable excuses to close up shop. Rosslanders’ passion for the outdoors is proven in the Kootenay-Columbia Trail Society’s (KCTS) widespread community support and success in securing access to and maintaining 87 miles of local winding singletrack.

Rossland was founded in 1897 when prospectors laid claim to the lucrative Le Roi gold mine. Today, Rossland’s well-signed trails criss-cross past old mine sites, building remnants and abandoned, rusty mining equipment. The Seven Summits, KCTS’s premier offering, can be linked to Rossland’s trail system by continuing from its southern terminus at Cascade Summit down a swift drop along the historic Dewdney Trail and then climbing up Doukhobor Draw for an extra 13 miles back to town.

Our pre-arranged ride dropped us at the Seven Summits’ north end at Nancy Greene Provincial Park. Starting at 5200 feet, we worked our way up a rough road for just over two miles through lush montane forests, where majestic western red cedar and hemlock trees sprout from a lush undergrowth of ferns, wildflowers and moss. Eventually the road narrowed to evenly graded singletrack leading toward Old Glory, the most prominent point in the Monashees’ Rossland Range at 7795 feet.

Though the Seven Summits trail itself is only 19 miles long with a net elevation loss when done north to south, we had the option of throwing in side trips to each summit along the way to convert this cruisy half-day trail run into a full-day extravaganza, which would add another 3100 feet of climbing over 10 miles. The mostly tree-covered peaks are dotted with rock outcroppings. We chose not to bag all seven peaks, but couldn’t resist the allure of Old Glory’s majestic ridge high above us.

A three-mile out-and-back foray off the main trail took us up to a derelict 1950s meteorological station atop Old Glory’s summit. We watched for a small band of mountain goats known to frequent the mountain’s grassy meadows, home to some of the region’s most diverse wildflower communities, listened to pikas’ sharp shrieks and the songs of migratory birds nesting in the scrubby spruce and fir trees below us.

After tagging the summit we descended by doubling back down to the main trail and heading south along Unnecessary Ridge. Along the way we soaked up views east to the interlaced crests of the Selkirk and Purcell Mountains, a mecca for powder-loving heli- and cat-skiers, beyond that to Kokanee and Glacier National Parks’ jagged, snow-dusted Rockies and south into the hills of Washington and Idaho. The continuously rolling ridge was easy to follow thanks to plentiful signage and a well-tracked trail.

Aladar and Vic were matching one another’s tempo comfortably, talking about their kids and the upcoming ski season. Several hours into the excursion, Kailey had managed to run and talk simultaneously as well.

I asked if anyone has run up all seven summits in a single day and the consensus was not yet. “That would be pretty cool,” Aaron announced. “Until I quit my job I’m not going to make it, but the first person to do it will bag a lasting honor, especially if he or she is a local!”

A dozen miles from our starting point, we approached the clear-cut ski runs of Granite Mountain, one of two peaks at Red Resort, the local ski hill renowned for its powder dumps and for producing an inordinate number of Canada’s best alpine ski racers.

From Granite we climbed switchbacking trail through spruce and fir trees until reaching the open vistas of Record Ridge. We looked back at the horizon to see dark clouds rolling in, enveloping the ridgeline we had run along earlier. The worsening weather kept us moving, and we skirted just under Rock Knob before descending open slopes of waist-high grass toward the old Cascade highway, the trail’s southern terminus.

The day’s only disappointment was not finding huckleberries at the trail’s end; the bushes had been picked over by hungry people and bears. So we drove 13 miles back to Rossland to enjoy fresh goodies and steaming espresso at a local bakery.
Elinor Fish grew up running and riding her horse along Rossland’s trails and is presently a competitive trail runner, writer and marketing consultant living in Canmore, Alberta