Red McKim and the Great Sheep Creek Volcano Hunt

It was late November in 1945. Two East Kootenay trappers were excited because they had seen and heard what seemed like volcanic activity in the hills. Mrs. J. Smith and James White of Fort Steele had heard rumbling and seen flashes in the night sky near the headwaters of Sheep Creek (Lussier River) not far from Skookumchuck.  A few days later the pair had been trailing  packhorses into their cabin up the creek when a debris flow came downstream miring one of the horses. The muddy water gave off a strong smell of sulphur. Geologists  were contacted and doubted that an active volcano was present but thought it could be possible and should be investigated. Mine Inspector Hughs of Nelson was dispatched and Newsweek magazine contracted two Kimberley men to check out the situation. Charlie Warmington was a miner (Sullivan Mine was going strong then) and photographer for the Kimberley News. Red McKim was a well known local outdoorsman, miner and prospector and a very colourful  character – indeed. The following report is from Charlie`s notes:

Chasing Volcanoes for a Hobby

Left Kimberley by car for lumber camp near canal Flats where trail goes into Sheep Creek. Enough snow to make the trail hard to see. many signs of  game: deer, elk and moose. Two miles down the trail we came to what is known as the Indian Grave. The old native custom is to put an evergreen branch on this cairn as you pass by to insure a safe return. One  of the many legends about this place is that the son of a Kootenay Chief was slain at this point by the son of  a Stony Indian Chief.

Along the trail were natural salt licks used by wild game. Arrived at Hot Springs on Sheep Creek at three PM. These are hot sulphur springs not commercially developed. Checking equipment here we found a soup mix, four pounds of hard tack, three pounds of cheese, three pounds of bacon, one pound of wieners, a pound of macaroni, three tins of beans and butter, sugar, prunes, pancake flour and chocolate bars along with sleeping robes, ice pick, axe, snowshoes, fluorescent light, cooking utensils and camera and gear, The two packs weigh around 45 pounds, Camped at the hot springs and used the hot sulphur water to ease the aches of first day`s travel.

It was here we first found traces of mud in the river. Evening meal consisted of macaroni, hard tack and coffee. Later we used black light on rocks and found some with a coating of lime that fluoresced . Travelled six miles -little snow and mild with an up and down trail on the stream  bank.


Breakfast hot cakes, bacon and prunes. When leaving the cabin, a deer started up the mountain after drinking at the springs. A fine snow was falling as we left – its now knee deep on the trail. Camped at Good Luck Camp on the creek where we found a water mark of mud which had been two feet higher than the present level.

Supper of canned beans, bacon, hard tack and coffee. made our beds under a big fir tree by placing canvas folded up on sleeping robes. Good Luck Camp is where big game hunters stop when in this district. Its supposed to bring a successful hunt when they camp here on the way in . Weather started to clear and the snow stopped. Travelled six miles today.

November 18

Better sleep than expected. Breakfast of prunes, bacon, hard tack and coffee. On breaking camp, we found ice underneath the canvas where we slept. On the trail, a four point buck was standing and did not want to move, Arrived at Coyote Creek where the mud had come downstream and entered Sheep Creek. From this point on, the trail faded out and we bushwhacked for about two more miles. Lots of windfall now and we had to ford the creek from time to time getting our feet wet.

Stopped and made dinner which consisted of hot soup, cheese and hard tack.  Slow progress was made over poorly marked trail that we started to blaze for ourselves.  Camped under another fir tree.  Supper was beans, bacon, hard tack, coffee and roasted wieners.  Travelled four miles due to looking for trail, and snow was 8 inches to 2 feet deep in places.  Bright moonlight and fine weather.

November 20th

Up at six, better sleeping than expected, weather fine.  Breakfast was bacon, prunes and hard tack.  Fairly cold during the night.  Had to wait for good light to see blazes on trees before leaving. On the trail a five-point elk was standing and was reluctant to move off .  Checked creek for mud, and found little evidence of it there.  Trail became well blazed in timber 8 inches to 2 feet in diameter. Arrived at patch of burned out timber and trail scarcely visible. Snow few inches deep and dry and powdery. Came to the cabin of James White of Fort Steele. He is the oldest trapper in the district and is assisted by Mrs.J. Smith who is one of just seven or eight women trappers in the East and West Kootenay. They were away on their trap line when we were there. We spent the night and checked the creek for mud. Supper was deer liver found at the cabin, bacon, cheese, hard tack and coffee. Highlight of the day was Red running out of snuff after putting a thumb tack at the bottom of the box to keep himself from taking too much. Tough going today, lots of blow down. Travelled five miles.

November 21

Red was making hot cakes mixed with macaroni and cheese. He claimed this was the way mother used to make them with prunes and coffee on the side. Started at eight – the trail was well marked now. We left the equipment in the cabin and explored the creek where we saw more mud. Along the trail we came across traps set for martin. About six miles up we came across the slide which was six hundred feet wide at the bottom at the entrance of Coyote Creek.  It had apparently come down in one slide spitting in two at the bottom, with mud being grey in colour. No mud up Coyote Creek past the slide entrance.  Many big boulders in the slide, all coated with mud which shows they were wet in being brought down. Following the slide up the ravine for a mile found it narrower owing to high banks on both ides. Took samples of mud off the boulders to be analyzed.

Report from Sheep Creek having sulphur in the water caused people to think it was a sulphurous mud slide. there were heavy deposits of sulphur about 75 feet above hot springs at Sheep Creek that probably caused the water to be rejected by the cattle.  There were no indications of mud coming in from Small Creek which flows into Coyote Creek. In some places on Coyote Creek mud was over ten feet high and apparently had pushed up trees and windfall on the trail along the banks.

Two miles up from the cabin, mud was noticed clearing up and getting into a coarser material like small gravel. Upon reaching the slide we had dinner, consisting of cold hot cakes and hard tack. Returning to the cabin, arriving at five, after travelling 14 miles that day. Figuring that it was at least another twenty miles to the source of the cause of the slide, turned back as we reported that our trip would take no more than eight days. Fine weather, with temperature around the freezing point. Supper soup, liver bacon, hard tack and coffee.

ovember 22nd

Breakfast prunes. bacon and liver. Going back over the trail that we had broken, we were able to make good  time, stopped at old camp, had hot soup, cheese and hard tack. Arrived at Good Luck Camp at 3pm, and decided to go on to the hot springs. Over our trail deer, cougar, and coyotes had passed. In some places it was hard to tell our own marks. Arrived at the Springs at 6 pm after travelling in the dark for at least an hour. Made 17 miles. Supper soup, beans, hard tack. Another bath in Sulphur Springs to relieve aches of travel.

November 23rd

Breakfast prunes, hot cakes and coffee, after breakfast met Arthur Nicol, guide and big game hunter with camera on his way out from White Swan Lake, with four horses, where he had been taking motion pictures of mountain sheep. It was the opinion of Mr. Nicol, who has climbed the Rockies in this part of the country for the past 35 years, that it was a very big rock slide, probably touched off by lime deposits. He believes the rock slide dammed the high mountain creeks up until they overflowed, precipitating a heavy mud slide.

Started out for lumber camp on the way home. There we met the mine inspector HC Hughs, who was on his way officially to investigate the cause of the slide at the request of the Canadian Government. With him game warden Ben Rauch of the Cranbrook district and CF Kearns, Provincial Game Inspector for East and West Kootenay. We informed the party of trail conditions, and our discoveries as far as we went arranged to compare notes on their return, which is expected to be in two weeks. The true story of the actual occurrence will then be known. We slept at the lumber camp.

November 24th

Saw the inspector and game wardens on their way, and returned home ourselves by car from the camp, arriving at mid-day.

So it appears that a slope failure occurred high up the creek. The slide blocked the creek for awhile until the mud and water broke free and washed downstream picking up sulphuous water along the way. Combine this with some mysterious  rumbles and flashes and you have the makings of a Rocky Mountain Volcano!|



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