Two men from Kimberley, British Columbia, have successfully traversed the entire Purcell mountain range on foot. They covered about 280 kilometres in 24 days. The day after they finished we did an interview to learn about the hardships.

It most definitely is the year of epic British Columbia traverses. Two Nelson men bagged the 13 peaks of the Mulvey Basin in the Valhallas in less than a day. Squamish rock climber Will Stanhope successfully linked three of the hardest climbs in the Bugaboos in 23.5 hours. Martina Halik and her 60-year-old mom completed a six-month ski traverse of the entire coastal mountain range. And now two guys from Kimberley, Steve Tersmette and Shawn Emmett, have successfully accomplished the first summer traverse of the Purcell Mountain range on foot. We published a story about the duo’s plan on August 24th and followed the highs and lows of their adventure to its completion on September 17th.

The following day, September 18th, we caught up with Steve Tersmette via phone to hear more about their epic adventure. Here’s the interview:

Congratulations Steve! We’re stoked for you guys. This trip almost didn’t happen, eh?

Yeah. We were plagued by uncertainties right from the start. Just before our departure date, the wildfire situation forced a backcountry closure in the Cariboo-Chilcotin region and we were asking the Ministry whether this was going to happen to us. We were told chances were slim so we went for it. Sure enough, they closed the backcountry.

The duo’s route took them through the heart of the Purcells.

It’s amazing you were allowed to keep going.

My wife worked tirelessly for us behind the scenes. We were right on the border of the closure but eventually were told that as long as wildfires weren’t directly in our path we could keep going.

What other hardships did you guys endure?

Our boots got wet early on due to the snow, water and sweat and at night it was too cold for them to dry. During our first week, Shawn’s feet became really blistered, wilty and gross. His feet were literally held together by hockey tape. We had to take a rest day in Toby Creek even though we were a day behind to give his feet a good chance to recover. It made all the difference for him. He was able to continue without much problems….Also, I pulled a calf muscle near the beginning of the trip and and it was definitely causing me some discomfort.

Shawn suffered Trench Foot near the start of the trip.

And then there was the Giardia.

Yeah, the “Beaver Fever” was absolutely awful. It hit me eight days in on our first rest day. For four days after that it was just Armageddon-like bathroom episodes. I couldn’t keep anything in. I had a fever and a headache. The day after our rest day we maybe hiked five and a half kilometres and I said to Shawn, “We need to set up camp and eat and I need to sleep right now.”  It was four days of incredible misery.

Did you not have a water filter?

We had chlorine drops and tabs. But if we could see our water source, like a glacier, we tended not to treat it. Typically we’d treat any water below tree line but who knows where I picked it up. There were so many water sources we drew from.

What was the travel like?

We started off pretty good but found out very quickly how slow it was going to be. Everything is loose. Every rock. You can’t trust any step. The bush is immensely thick. By day four we had fallen a full day behind our expected pace. And we never really made that up….We had to compromise on a few things. There were a few mountains that we wanted to tick off but had to pass by. For the most part we maintained travel above the tree line but it was steep and loose with all kinds of talus. It was much slower than anticipated. We were hoping to maintain a two km/hr pace but it was more like 1.5km/hr. In the end we were two days delayed. We made up a day by sprinting out the Beaver Valley and connecting with the TransCanada just north of Rogers Pass versus going over the glacier. Had we gone that route we would’ve just been coming out today.

How about the days you had to bash through the bush?

I think Shawn and I still have PTSD from being down in Carney Creek. That was definitely the worst day of the trip. I get sick to my stomach just thinking about it. The alder was so thick. Just walls of it. We ended up walking in the creek where we could but even so it was almost impassable. We were going maybe 300 metres per hour.

And the weather?

We were blessed with amazing weather for 21 out of 24 days. There was a storm in the Conrad icefield area that pinned us down for the day but luckily we were in the Malloy Igloo. [Ed note: the Malloy Igloo is a 12-foot fibreglass dome on the Malloy Glacier, about 13km north of the Conrad Kain Hut in the Bugaboos.]

Did you see any animals?

We saw the butt of one grizzly bear thrashing through some berry bushes but I don’t think he knew we were there. We also saw a golden eagle up close, which was incredible. And there were a few goats and a mule deer. Lots of tracks and evidence of animals but we were both surprised at how few animals we saw. Probably because they’re all jittery back there.

Steve’s photo of Mount Clutterbuck and Lees from near Mount Findlay in the heart of the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy.

Which peaks did you bag?

We did Radiant Peak, Mount Klahowya and Tri Kootenay Peak. That one was interesting because the little glacier on the north side of it is where the headwaters of the Columbia River starts.  And it’s the muddiest, grossest trickle you’ve ever seen. And the last entry in the Mount Klahowya registry was 1996. There were only five others before that one. We did Mt. Osiris in the Jumbo area as well but that’s when I became sick with beaver fever and we lost a lot of time. So many of the other mountains we wanted to bag, we just gave them a glance and walked on by. It was a bit heart-breaking to pass them knowing how remote they are and difficult to access though. The last one we did was Caribou Peak on the divide before dropping down into Glacier National Park.

What did you guys weigh at the end of it all?

Shawn lost 13 pounds. I thought I was going to be down a significant number due to the beaver fever but I’m only down seven pounds. I started at 140 though so seven pounds is still a big deal.

What did you learn from such an epic mission?

The importance of having a good team. Shawn and I made a really great duo. I don’t think you can go out on a trip like this if you don’t really trust and respect the guy you’re with. We just spent 24 days of every waking and sleeping moment together. Beyond that it was a very rewarding. It’s still sinking in a little bit. Our master plan was to be the first to traverse the Purcells on foot in the summer. That was the big picture but there were a lot of other things along the way that were equally important like the views and the camaraderie.