On September 11th I joined three friends on an unsuccessful attempt at Mount Sarai, a peak in the Genesis Range. We were hastened by fine weather, and though we didn’t make our primary objective, we eventually summited an unnamed bump and enjoyed stellar views.
The clock ticked past 8:00 am as we turned off the Island Highway and onto the logging road. It was another 45 minutes of easy driving before we were forced to stop the Jeep, not far from the end of the road. A huge old-growth log crossed the entire road; it must have slid from high up on the steep slope. It’s here that we prepared for our adventure and proceeded on foot.
Total Distance: 4.4 km
Starting Elevation: 770 m
Maximum Elevation: 1482 m
Total Elevation Gain: 716 m
Total Time: 3h 45m
We used Phil Stone’s description from Island Alpine to plan our route, intending to access a col between two peaks and continue up the ridge to the summit. Unfortunately, the old description didn’t match what we found. Beyond the end of the road, we walked through a thicket of alder and brambles. To make matters worse, even though the forecast was good and the skies blue, the bush was soaked in near-freezing dew —the first signs of fall, and the winter ahead.
We walked only a few minutes, fighting brambles intertwined in the thicket of wet bush, before we stopped to reconsider our options. I was already drenched and freezing, and looking ahead, I saw a lot more bush to fight before we could even start up the slash to the old growth below the ridge. We turned back toward the vehicle.
As we walked back toward the Jeep, we discussed Plan B and I examined the topo maps. It appeared that we could climb up the southwest face to a long ridge, and then on to Mount Sarai’s summit. I’ve written before about the inaccuracies of topo maps; today proves this point.
Just a few metres from the car, we scaled a short, loose dirt embankment to reach the cut block. Within a few metres of the embankment, we lucked into a flagged route up through the slash, probably used by the fallers to get up to the trees quickly. The sun shone brightly as we ascended; its warmth enhanced the smells of fresh-cut fir, fuel, and oil permeating the air. As I wondered how fresh the logging was, my eyes caught sight of a jerry-can and some bottles of oil hanging off the broken limb of a tree at the edge of the cut block–it was fresh, alright! We scrambled over the fallen logs, hopping across strewn tree limbs and stumps, and along the length of larger trees. It didn’t take long for us to reach the edge of the logging and start the ascent through the shade of the old-growth.
The shin-high blueberry bushes parted easily as we climbed up the steep slopes. Even though this route is not the one described in Island Alpine, we found several pieces of flagging, possible boot-packed trails in sections, and one more surprising piece of evidence. As we reached ~1200 metres, the start of what we expected to be the upper ridge, we found a large snag with a dramatic wedge cut in it. Perhaps it’s a waypoint marker on an older route?
By the time we reached the toe of the ridge, we were wet with perspiration. The open ground gave us a quick day. We had climbed more than 500 meters in the first hour, but covered only one kilometre of horizontal terrain. My glasses were so fogged that I couldn’t see the easiest route up, and ended up walking, unnecessarily, through a few bushy sections up to the ridge.
From the look of the map, the ridge has several bumps with 50 metres of elevation loss between. We were ready for it as we worked our way onto the ridge! At first, we tried to contour around the bumps to the right, rather than going up and over a section of rock. We didn’t get very far before we were stopped by a sheer drop-off, much more than 50 metres. We rerouted back to the easy-to-scramble rock and surmounted the first bump.
I was blown away by the view! The weather cooperated and allowed us to see the distant peaks. Looking toward Mount Sarai, we examined the route ahead. From our position, there was no way for us to descend into the notch between us and next bump. Further, the next notch along looked even worse! The topo maps were so very wrong! It was obvious: we were at the end of our hike. We didn’t bring ropes with us, so rappelling wasn’t an option; even if we’d had rope, there was no telling how we would get back up!
We made the best of the location. We ate, talked, and enjoyed the warmth of the noon sun on the summit. All the while, we examined the kilometre of terrain between us and the summit of Mount Sarai. It may be possible to travel on the north side of the mountain, down into the valley, and across a glade below the final ascent to the summit. But it would mean using a steep gully and likely some exposed scrambling up a hundred metres of rock to the summit. Of course, Bonanza Peak looked like this and it turned out to be a lot easier, so it could be that this peak is also easy – we didn’t take the time to find out.
Our return was quick, and with my glasses clear I found a better route down that was nothing more than steep Class 2 hiking, no need to scramble the rock –unless you want the fun!
We were back at the car by 1:00 pm. With so much time remaining in the day, we decided to explore approach routes for upcoming hikes. When it comes time for planning our trips, sometimes the biggest obstacle is gaining access along the logging roads. For example, on our approach today we had intended to use a different logging road but it was so overgrown that it was undrivable. Today we explored more than 100 kilometres of logging road. It whetted my appetite for new adventure!