Great Cairn Mountaineering Trip

March 19-25, 2000

Winter Hut Info

"Look up the word "remote" in the dictionary, and you'll find a picture of the Great Cairn Hut. A trip to this hut seldom puts you in contact with other human beings.

The Great Cairn-Benjamin Ferris Hut is one of the most attractive huts the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) operates, as well as one of the most spectacularly positioned. The hut has a mouse-proof wooden food locker and a small table with stools. There is a small wood burning stove for heat, but firewood is not supplied by the ACC. In summer wood can be cut from avalanche debris nearby. In winter wood is available on the densely treed ridge below Azimuth and across Silvertip Creek. (This is much easier to reach in winter than in summer.) A saw is kept in the hut.

In 1953 a Harvard group built a 20-ft high cairn on a rainy day, which became known as Great Cairn. In 1963 Bill Putnam and Ben Ferris visited the area and began plans to construct the hut It was built over the next two years, financed by Bill Putnam and the ACC. It was built from the stones of the Great Cairn.

The hut is located on a red bedrock bench, 4 km NNW of Mt. Sir Sanford in the heart of the Northern Selkirk Mountains of B.C. On map 82N/12 (Mount Sir Sandford) it is at approximately 392268. The elevation is approx 6200 ft or 1890 m.

There are a couple of two-burner white gas stoves for cooking and a white gas lantern. Because it is remote many people bring dishes. There are various tools including a saw for cutting wood. There are plenty of dishes and cookware. Foam pads are also at the hut. People leave food and kitchen supplies behind so there is a real abundance of dish soap there.

Winter Info

We had two concerns flying in on a short-notice change of plans in March. Fuel and wood. We were unable to obtain white gas anywhere in Golden on a Sat evening or Sunday morning. We tried everything. Fortunately there was a good supply there, including some we had left the previous summer. While this is likely to be typical it is a little unnerving to be relying on it. Advance planning is recommended if at all possible to avoid the possibility of arriving and not having any stove or lantern fuel. (On both of our trips we have consumed about a gallon or perhaps just a bit more, for about a week.)

Wood turns out to be less of a problem than in summer. It is an easy matter in winter to ski over across the Silvertip stream to the treed ridge at the base of Azimuth. The dense trees are guarded by a large cornice but it does not overhang any large or dangerous slopes. Wood is abundant in that area. In summer it is no trivial matter to get over there, the stream being quite a challenge to cross.

We were able to find water under only a few feet of snow in one section of the Silvertip streambed. It was a shallow area and the water was silty but the silt would settle out by the time a bucket was carried back to the hut. We relied mostly on snowmelt but this water hole was convenient at times when we needed a bunch of water with the quality not being important. (Washing dishes, boiling for pasta, etc.)

The terrain is very limiting from a skiing point of view. Most areas within easy reach of the hut are either wind blasted or wind loaded. In good touring conditions there are many excellent long trips, and supposedly runs over the other side of Silvertip Pass and Alpina Dome (which CMH heliski uses, having a land tenure on that side of the range).

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