–submitted by Matthew Lettington, Read the report on his blog
This report is a chapter in a longer series of reports from a multi-day car camping and mountaineering expedition done in the summer of 2016. In this section, day 2 July 17th, we climb Whiltilla Mountain.
Every summer I look forward to one of two long trips trekking and mountaineering in Vancouver Island’s backcountry. They become the focus of the summer because it’s difficult to get 7 days where I can head into the backcountry with friends so these days are sacrosanct. This summer we planned a trip through Strathcona Park along the Wolfe/Cervus Divide. Mother nature had other plans. As the day of departure came, the forecast called for three days of lighting. We changed our plan and traveled farther north, and used the days to do some climbing in the Bonanza Range.
Total Distance: 7.8 km
Starting Elevation: 948 m
Maximum Elevation: 1698 m
Total Elevation Gain: 782 m
Total Time: 5 h 20 m
I’m starting to like the basecamp thing. Instead of waking at 4 am and loading into a car we didn’t wake until 6 am. Considering it’s a hiking day, that’s practically sleeping in! I scratched at the back my arms, as I lay inside my sleeping bag. They are still they were still itchy and swollen from the hundreds of blackfly and mosquito bites I earned climbing Bonanza Peak, yesterday. After eating a quick breakfast, we were heading down the logging road toward our destination, Brach 35f-1. We parked the Jeep around 930m and continued south down the undrivable portion of the old road.
The road contoured the valley, we could see the end of it off in the distance. We examined the denuded hillside on the left of the road. As we walked we discussed a route and settled on the lazy-man approach: we took the nearest easy-looking path. A small stand of old-growth interrupted the logging wasteland where a riparian habitat runs down the side of hill. We made this narrow band of old growth our route to the plateau above.
Though the ground cover was dry, and the skies overcast, in the windless trees of the protected valley the evaporating water created horribly muggy conditions. These conditions and the speed we climbed through the easy terrain made for 3 very sweaty hikers. As we ascended through the forest we could see an unclimbable wall of rock that rose from the forest to the broad summit. We hiked southwest to avoid the cliff and climbed 150 meters from the road to the plateau (~1150m).
It’s here we met a fourth member of our group. It was a surprise to find them there but we could do little to dissuade them from following along. The plateau is gorgeous. We could see a distance to the south over the rolling landscape. A thicket of shrubs adorned it, but we could see over them to a subpeak. We picked our way along rounding to the northwest. we were only slightly slowed by the light bush until we started up the steep slope to the summit ridge. Our guest kept up with us easily, they practically floated along, hardly showing any effort at all.
The route up from the plateau is steep and a not-insignificant grunt. It gains nearly 600 metres of elevation over easy terrain that crosses multiple dead trees and slippery heather. The worst sections we easily pushed through when a dense copse of bush blocked the route. As we scaled the steep slope the early morning cloud burned off and we were walking in pure sunshine. The crowberry, heather and mountain flowers dotted the hillside and the smell of spruce mixed with the fragrance of the flowers wafted through the air.
When our route intersected a band of rocks, we looked left and right, and although it appeared as though one could follow a series of ramps toward the summit above, we took a scramble approach. Clamoring up the rock band, we left our guest behind. Perhaps they were afraid of the sun exposure or the gusts of wind on the ridge, or maybe just the rock; either way, they hung back, waiting for us to return. Using thick stunted trees and lichen-covered rocks as handholds, we climbed the short wall to the barren summit ridge.
On the summit ridge were each surprised. We had been in trees and shrubs the whole morning, but up here there was nothing! It a barren wasteland of slab and choss. There were few places where even a sprig of dried grass stood tall. We paused only briefly to recover from the elevation gain, but before long we were meandering the gradual slope toward the summit.
On the summit we had an amazing view! Though our approach was along a slope; the other side of the mountain was a cliff face. We looked deep down a gully and into the valley around 700 m below. It may not be a sheer drop, but from our vantage point it was difficult to take note of that. I sure wouldn’t want to fall off!
Because I was going to be away from my family for so many day’s I promised them that I would try to facetime my 3-year-old from every peak. I was lucky to have service on Whiltilla. I told my son to watch the screen and I turned the camera around so I could show him a panorama off the summit. His reaction was priceless: Wow! Where’s that! It was a great to share the experience with him and I look forward to doing on some of our own mountain adventures, together.
Returning to the car we followed a slightly different path off the summit. We followed a series of benches, at times pushing through dense trees but we did find an easy class 2 route down to the plateau below. However, if I was to redo this route I would use the short scramble again. Not only did it save time but it was fun. Once we were off the summit we met up with our guest once again. They didn’t seem at all phased that they missed out on a fabulous summit. They were content to follow us down, right back to the jeep.
We moved quickly down the long hill. From the plateau, we attempted to use our ascent route, but the groundcover was too dense and obscured our tracks. Regardless, we found an easier, if not busier route back down to the road. As we walked the final section of logging road back to the jeep I began to wonder about our guest’s intentions but back at the jeep we the bloodsuckers stayed behind on the logging road. We were happy to watch them disappear in the rear-view mirror. We would each have a reminder about our guest for the rest of the night, between us we had hundreds of itchy bumps that would plague us for days.
With an early end to the day we decided to head into Port McNeil for some food, drinks and fuel. It was nice to have a hot, if not mediocre meal before making our camp at Bonanza Lake forest rec site. We shared a few drinks around the fire ring but the guys didn’t last long after dark before they hit the sack. I waited to catch a sunset across Bonanza lake. I guess it was a good one, let me know what you think. It was the best one of the summer, in my opinion.