–submitted by Rod Szasz
As part of a little micro-adventure to explore and document more alpine peaks closer to home and explore the ski-touring potential of the peaks, Matt Lettington and myself decided to ski traverse two 1350 metre peaks behind Ladysmith – Mt Coronation and Mt. Hall. I had summited both of these as running and day hiking destinations before – last year in March I led a snowshoe hike to the summit of Mt. Hall.
I was intrigued by tales of intrepid Norwegians from Chemainus who ski- toured Mt Brenton, Mt. Hall and Mt. Coronation in the 1930s and 40s. They had even built a lodge at Silver Lake of magnificent proportions before it burned to the ground in the 1980s. At that time it was possible to ski traverse the entire route of over 12 kilometres in first-growth forest. Rampant logging at altitudes above1100 metres removed almost all of this covering. These summits, however, are still pristine and see almost no ascents.
The reason is lack of access. Matt and I originally wanted to travel up the old Ladysmith Comox Logging Road and access an old road to Prevost Lake. A gate at the start made this plan impossible. We opted for access South of Ladysmith on the South Watts Road Forestry access road (for local historical buffs this is also known as the Pete Thorpe-Doubble logging road). Unfortunately, we could access only until the end of Stocking lake…. Nothing for it but to walk from here. This ended up to be a 33 km round trip hike/ski tour, complete with the added weight of the extra pair of hiking boots we now needed to carry in addition to our skis and ski boots.
Fortunately, I knew most of the logging roads along here and cutting through some forest we eliminated at least a few kilometres of walking, but the route was persistent – monotonous logging road for over two hours.
At just after 12 noon, we were on the old access road to Prevost Lake off the Ladysmith main. We donned ski boots and ski skins here, and although the snow was over 2 metres deep the road had annoying open sections where the thawing creek had obliterated the path necessitating taking off skis, hand carrying them and then putting them on again…. and again, and again… and again….
After reaching Prevost Lake we hit an old logging road that continued to a draw between a mountain locally known as Lookout Mtn (1220 metres) and Mt. Coronation. Once in the draw we made a fateful choice to ascend the North Ridge, through tightly planted second growth forest. This amounted to ski-bushwacking.
The route was steep trying to navigate trees in ever deeper snow. The views started to open up and we spied the last ascent part of the ridge…. This looked rather dodgy on skis however. Although the route was not technical, but with cliff bands on the right and left we had no choice but to ascent this knife-edge ridge in skis. Matt went first and I think surprised himself by driving his ski poles down as deep as they would go in the snow, heading his skis up on a drunken angle and then hoping they did not slip backwards as this would mean a tumble down the slope. Eventually he made it through. Before I knew of the possibility of getting through on skis I had unfortunately racked my skis and decided to slowly ascend this 20 metres of elevation on foot. It was slow ….. But we were through.
Now on top of Mt. Coronation in the old growth the ski touring was great as the summit is broad and flat. Snow depth was crazy deep and as we broke out the South-east side of the mountain it was impossible to make out the original logging road. However everything was covered with 4-5 metres of snow and you just pointed skis downhill and we started the traverse along to Mt. Hall. By this time our originally planned micro-adventure of 3-4 hours had morphed into a full-on 8 hour ski ascent with both of us badly dehydrated (in fact, Matt had only consumed about 200 ml of water all day and myself 800 ml).
Only about 30 minutes from the summit of Mt.Hall we decided to stop at 5 p.m. and dig in and set up tents in the lee of a hill shielding us from some wicked winds. After eating and hydrating we settled in for the night with stellar views of the Strait of Georgia.
Next morning brought snow in spades and visibility down to about 100 metres. After a meal we skinned up to Mt. Hall and within an hour had found the steep gulley to get on the North face of Mt Hall. We racked out skis again and descended the gulley. We were now on the cut block. After 20 kilometres of walking we were finally at our ski objective! We took off skins and although I thought to visit the cabin near here the visibility was appalling so we opted to ski the open cut block and logging road. No one had been up here for awhile and we had pristine skiing for the better part of 3 kilometres down a 400 metre descent. We skied right down to the Mt. Hall Main logging road. This had been ploughed of snow.
We transitioned into hiking mode from here… beating the snow out of our hiking boots, getting skis back on our rucks, we only had another 8 kilometres of logging road walk back to the truck at Stocking Lake! By now snow and elevation loss gave way to pounding rain and the initial easy pleasantries of conversation eventually gave way to the quiet contemplation of “when will we reach the bloody truck?”.
Matt and I had done a serious ski tour, ski bushwacking and heavy pack hike over 33 kms in about 13 hours of total time. After hitting the Bean Time in Ladysmith it was back home.
*These mountains make a very good ski-touring destination. The proper way to do them is to drive all the way to Mt. Hall access road on the Ladysmith Main, skin up to the top of the cut block on Mt. Hall and then decide to get in some turns just from here or go up Hall and do the ski traverse over to Mt. Coronation and back. Both are worthwhile day-trip ski-touring objectives and we could have skinned right from the road. Unfortunately gated access makes this a problem. While we would have preferred the access, I was also less than impressed with the amount of beer cans and shotgun shells seen along the open forestry road placed by people whom I have absolutely nothing in common with…on the other hand we saw no one up high or on any of the roads we walked. One can make an argument that have to expend some energy for the beauty you gain.