View: Following history on the way to Standard Peak

Like so many trails in British Columbia, the one to Standard Peak north of Revelstoke can trace its routes to mining.

A mountain biker makes their way along a fading trail through the alpine basin beneath Standard Peak.

It’s the line on a map. The Keystone/Standard Basin Trail is a Revelstoke classic and a destination ride for many.

It’s 11 kilometres to the cabin, but what’s after the cabin? The old maps show a trail extending down into the next valley and back into the alpine, eventually winding up below the summit of Standard Peak.

Why is that trail there, and what is it like? It’s an obvious  question many have wondered about old trails all over the world. Like so many in this part of the world, the answer lies in the mining history of the area.

The Big Bend country north of Revelstoke was the site of one of B.C.’s major gold rushes and for a few years in the 1860s, thousands of men made their way up the Columbia River with the hopes of making their fortune. The gold rush ended almost as soon as it began and before the decade was over, most people had moved on.

When Revelstoke was founded in 1885, miners returned to the area. Mineral deposits, some of which are still being explored to this day, were discovered and worked on by the tough, hardened immigrants that Canada built its legend on. One of those men – Andy Kitson, a prospector from Belfast, Ireland – wrote of building a trail up Five Mile Creek (now known as Mars Creek) into Standard Basin. Kitson was one of the areas most renowned prospectors, venturing up and down the Columbia River to mines up the Big Bend. The writer Lewis Freeman described him in his book Down the Columbia as “a big Husky North-of-Irelander,” who was “deliberate and sparing of speech most of the time, but with a fine reserve vocabulary for emergency use.”

Photo: This 100-year-old geological map of the Big Bend area shows the Keystone-Standard Basin trail (highlighted in black), which used to start right at the Columbia River. ~ Map from the Revelstoke Museum & Archives, edited by the Revelstoke Review.

That trail isn’t the one people hike and bike today. As best as I can tell, the Standard Peak trail dates to the 19th century, when major mining discoveries were around the mountain’s summit. I found a newspaper clipping at the Revelstoke Museum & Archives that said the Boston & B.C. Copper Mining & Smelting Co. consolidated seven claims in the area into one. They were developed extensively for about a decade, and then only intermittently over the following century.

Old maps of the area from the early 20th century show what appears to be the trail, stretching from the valley, up into Keystone Basin, before turning southeast towards Standard Peak. While mining stopped in the area, the trail remained in use. A 1983 geological report mentions “there is an old root trail extending from Keystone Creek, around Keystone Peak and continuing south eastwards to Standard Peak. Local hikers report the trail is passable for its full length.”

While mining died out in the area, the trail remained. When a logging road was pushed up the side of the mountain to the edge of the sub-alpine forest, the trail became far more accessible. The cabin that marks the turnaround point for many people was built by the Revelstoke Outdoor Adventure Program sometime around 1980.

Photo: The view of Carnes Peak from the top of Standard Peak. ~ By Alex Cooper

These days, the majority of hikers and mountain bikers only make it to the cabin. The trail beyond fell into disrepair and downed trees blocked the way. Judging by the state of the trail, traffic was minimal.

A few years ago, in an unsung act of volunteerism, Joel Fafard went in and cleared out the deadfall, clearing up the trail to a new generation. Not long after, I found myself on a bike, heading into new ground. Beyond the cabin, the trail crossed alpine meadows before making a long descent into the next valley. It climbed back into the alpine, into the basin beneath Standard Peak. From there, the trail fades in and out — just aim towards the peak that looms above and you’ll find it again. It crosses the face of Standard Peak towards the lookers left before petering out. From there, it’s a matter of gaining the ridge and scrambling towards the summit.

The views, like everywhere around here, are spectacular. On a clear day you can cast your gaze down Lake Revelstoke and see Mount Begbie in the distance. Many of the highest peaks of the Selkirks, including Sir Sandford, are visible.

It’s a long haul — some 40+ kilometres return trip from the Keystone trailhead. You can do it in one big day, or break it into an overnight trip by camping at the cabin. And if you have time to explore, the old mine shafts can be found.