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Marshy Meanderings in the Ice River Valley

Off Trail Hike
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Downed Trees and Overgrown Section on Trail, Marshy in The Valley Past The Cabin
Wednesday, July 27, 2016

With summer joblessness drawing to a close it was time to get some scouting done to make for more temporally efficient  August trips.  One of the areas that I hadn't been to before is the southern reaches of Yoho National Park in the Ice River Valley.  The Ice River Valley is home to a medley of cool peaks and guarded by the watchful eyes of The Goodsirs, 3 11000ers of dastardly reputation.  Additionally, legend tells of sodalite deposits, pretty blue rocks found no where else in the Rockies!  One of the worst parts of climbing The Goodsirs is said to be the approach, so getting a feel for it on a low stress solo trip seemed like a good plan to save hassles later.

The Ice River Valley is accessed off the Beaverfoot Forest Service Road, gained off the highway between Golden and Field.  The Beaverfoot FSR itself is in pristine shape with very wide (and boulder-free) travel to the junction with the Ice Main Road (just over 19km on the FSR) which leads to the head of the Ice River Valley.  The Ice Road is certainly less travelled than the main FSR but pretty much any car should be able to navigate it.  I had some challenges trying to find which of the 'obvious clearings' was the proper one to park in after arriving around midnight but ended up in the right place and car-camped for the night.  The next morning I set off along the approach road ('trail' is a poor term for something this wide) which is in solid shape and lets you quickly move onwards towards the swampy valley above.  After following the road until it broadens and flattens the Ice River Trail itself is gained by a flagged spur heading down into a bushy clearing with an old wooden sign seperating the Ice River and Kootenay Trails.

Even from the parking area the Goodsirs look impressive.


The approach 'trail' is quite roadlike in places.


Looking up the Ice River Valley.


On the Ice River Trail now, the open sections are the worst for trail quality.


Once on the Ice River Trail progress goes in spurts with mostly good bush-free trail interspursed with patches of downed trees or bushy-bypasses.  It is kind of funny that one of the bushiest sections is right on the park boundary (with a sign reminding you not to be biking through neck deep foliage once you cross the border!).  The trail mostly follows the eastern shore of the river occasionally going further up and sticks in dense enough forest to shield off a bit of the fierce summer sun.  I was quite surprised to come across a recent footprint (and only one) in one muddy section that showed that someone had come down this trail recently (either that or bears in the Ice River Valley have become quite skilled at disguising their passage).  After about an hour and a half from starting on the Ice River Trail I reached the old warden cabin.  The cabin is not in the greatest of shapes, with the porch literally in pieces and one of the roof supports looking less than supportive but on a rainy day it could still offer a bit of shelter.  From the cabin there is about 5 minutes of trail walking (with lots of downed trees) before hitting the start of the marsh.


Won't take much to erode away the trail around here.


No biking?  You don't say...


Really neat there is still a snowbank at the bottom of this avi path.


Quite a ncie trail in many places.


A single footprint was the only other sign of people I saw.


Some sort of marker on one of the trees.


The old warden cabin has seen better days.


Many fearsome beasties roam the valley.


About to enter the marsh, quite refreshing for the feet.


The marsh is mostly what gives this approach a bad reputation.  Due to the interesting stratta in the valley (the Ice River Complex is very distinct compared to the rest of the Rockies) water remains quite near the surface and never really drains as you find in many other nearby valleys.  With this in mind river shoes are essential for exploring around here (don't bother with sandals or flip flops as the mud will suck them off after a few steps and you will never see them again)!  That being said on a hot day the water is actually kind of refreshing (especially when it gets to around waist deep in a few sections).  Following Dow's beta on Summitpost I kept an eye out for blue flagging tape which marked the proper avalanche path to head up towards The Goodsirs.  There are tons of different ways to walk in the marsh, I found sticking a little bit west of the eastern edge avoided the really deep standing water sections but did require crossing the Ice River a couple times (which lives up to its name in chillyness!).  My original plan had been to bivy up high below Goodsir North but with a lot of convective buildup in the sky it seemed like a thunderstorm might be in the cards so changing plans to a lower camp seemed much more prudent.  After that decision the next focus became finding a campsite (not that easy when 95% of the ground is waterlogged).  Thankfully one slightly raised patch was actually quite dry and made for a pretty cool place to stay for the night (hard to complain with views of The Goodsirs right out your tent window).


The Ice River is a very muddy river.


Really cool views towards the head of the valley to the north.


Zoomed in towards Mount Vaux, Mount Ennis, and Alan Peak.


Marshes can be quite pretty.


Looking up at The Goodsirs from the valley.


The blue flagging to mark the trail up towards the bivy site.


One of several crossings of the mighty Ice River.


After setting up camp I reckoned might as well keep exploring up the valley while in the area.  Sure enough the marshy landscape continued as I walked further north, passing Goodsir North and carrying onwards.  If you were planning on going to the head of the valley hip waiders might even be useful (then just walk right up the river rather than dealing with the bushy sections on either side of it).  After getting a little past Garnet Creek the bush started to get a little more ferocious (and crossing the river many times seemed to be likely) so I turned around and gobbled some grub before the rain started (for this summer if your forecast calls for a 0% chance of rain, it is certainly going to rain...).  Thankfully after an hour or so of downpour things cleared off making for some lovely lighting around sunset and a sea of stars above.


Below the north tower of Mount Goodsir things get bushy down in the valley.


Looking back towards Zinc Mountain.


The V on North Goodsir is a very interesting feature.


Sure enough the rain eventually started.


After the storm ended there was very nice lighting to the north.


Clearing skies around sunset on The Goodsirs.


Good night Goodsirs.


The next morning I woke up leisuerly (the troublesome thing with your altimeter watch being in for repairs, nothing to set an alarm with) with a blazing sun above, it was going to be a pretty toasty day.  For variety I decided to head back closer to the western side of the valley and came across a few very well defined animal paths, even if people don't head up the valley that often critters certainly do.  While further south I came across a few more sections of blue flagging tape which seemed to mark a path roughly in the middle of the marsh.  One thing to keep in mind in this area is that bank erosion on river bends is a big factor (with right beside the shore possibly being several feet deeper than the middle of the river), plan your crossings accordingly.  Before too long I made it back to the warden cabin and gobbled down a block of cheese for late lunch and set off down the trail (with a brief detour up Sodalite Creek trying to find any sodalite).  Descending the trail was actually pretty quick and it helped a lot mentally to know that the trail never really vanishes completely.  Once back at the road the sun was out in full force and I was really happy for the tree cover on the last few km back to the parking clearing.


As far as scenic wetlands go this is pretty good.


One last look Goodsir-wards.


Quite the game trail on the western side of the valley.


The trail gets a little more overgrown in places.


The Blue Tape Bandit struck again!


Some quite deep sections near the shore where the river bends.


Almost back on solid ground.


A selection of rocks in Sodalite Creek.


Engraved signs have a lot more charm than the cookie-cutter metal Parks ones.


The flagged turnoff for the Ice River Trail.


Quite the 'trail' indeed right near the parking clearing.


The parking clearing.


I really think that the Ice River Valley has an undeserved reputation.  The approach road is in quite good shape, the approach trail is better than some official trails elsewhere in the Rockies, and the marsh is marshy but not too unpleasent.  Coming back at some point for a longer trip going all the way north up the valley could be really interesting (could even make a traverse descending the scramble routes on Mount Vaux or Chancellor Peak).


Not that bad of a trip at all.

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