The Sutton Range holds a good number of peaks that I’ve included my Island Alpine Quest, including our goal for the day: Mount Abel. The names of the peaks and valleys follow a pattern – Mount Cain, Mount Abel, Mount Adam, Adam River, Eve River, and so on – that have some people referring to that portion of the range as the Genesis Range. Mount Abel, like most mountains, has both an easy or a difficult approach. The west aspect is a dramatic rock wall, but from the southeast there is a good variety of easy mountaineering options.
We parked a short distance down a logging spur, just off Adam Road (~850 m). Only the week prior, the snow was piled at least forty-five centimetres high on the place we were now parked. That’s a lot of snow melt in seven days! Seeing how fast the snow is melting brought a smile to my face, as it’s a sure sign of summer ahead. At the same time, I groaned a little, knowing that we would be trekking through some sloppy conditions.
Total Distance: 9.9 km
Starting Elevation: 886 m
Maximum Elevation: 1819m
Total Elevation Gain: 943 m
Total Time: 6 hours
The day’s forecast called for heavy rain and cloud cover. But as we looked toward Mount Abel, we could see patches of blue sky with the odd patch of cloud– at worst, one may call it overcast. In fact, the air was warm as we started, and as we started the sun came out! I suspected then that we would have what Shannon calls a bipolar weather day. That’s an apt description.
I’m going to spoil the surprise. We either went too late in the season or way too early. The first obstacle is a 200-metre-long section of logging slash. And, while the crossing may be short, it’s not sweet. Large sections of the slash had snowless ground with two to four inches of water flowing across the dead grass, and immediately adjacent to these areas snow piled more than sixty centimetres deep. Unfortunately, with each step, I risked post-holing up to my groin –which I did, more than a dozen times! And poor Phil ended up with his shoes in a puddle, a fact that haunted him throughout the day — his feet froze at the higher elevations. Regardless, the stretch was short, and in less than twenty minutes we joined up with a second logging grade.
I was surprised by how straightforward the route is. We followed the logging grade east, slowly gaining elevation. At the terminus (~1280 m), we turned northwest and climbed through the sparse, mature forest. Our progress was slowed only by the sloppy snow on the steep slopes. At times, it was challenging to keep our footing, as the snow simply slid away below us. We persisted, and in less than an hour the terrain leveled out (~1380 m???). As we left the trees behind us, two ridges rose up, creating a snow-covered valley between them. Closing off the head of the hanging valley, we could see Mount Abel’s summit ridge. We opted for the trusted route, the one used by Phil on his first ascent of Mount Abel.
Staying on the left to avoid the potential of falling cornices, we walked toward an apparent bump at the head of the valley. It’s subtle enough that it doesn’t appear on the topo, but this steep slope creates a ramp to the upper ridge. At the higher elevation, the snow was solid and bore our weight well. We tested the snow for failure, but it wasn’t possible to punch through the top crust.
It was an easy ascent, though hot as heck when the sun beat down on us. At a few minutes before noon, right before the summit ridge, we stopped for a snack and water break. I took advantage of the break to put on sunscreen; I could already feel the sun on my skin as it beat down and reflected off the snow. I regretted leaving my sunglasses back in the Jeep, and considered wearing my ski goggles. Once we were on the move again, it only took five minutes to reach the summit ridge.
Cloud and cold greeted us atop the ridge. Yes! In the short time it took us to ascend to the ridge top, a dense cloud had rolled in and obliterated our view. The members of our group who had removed their jackets at lunch, now stopped to put them on again. As we walked the final 100 metres to the summit, it started to snow!
Though it’s early Spring, the summit ridge is still buried under several metres of snow – enough that the summit ridge is all but level. Phil raced ahead to the summit, and the image of him on the ridge was fantastic! Small cornices mark the mountain’s edge, and a sharp drop to the valley below. His body appears small in contrast to the landscape, enhancing the sense of perspective and the scale of the landscape. The five of us congregated on the summit to pose for pictures. I was hoping for the cloud to lift; instead, a mild wind kicked up and the snow started to fall. Apparently, the forecasted heavy rain had started!
Our return to the lower ridge took less than five minutes, and as we descended off the upper ridge the cloud began to lift, though a light snow continued as we started our butt-sliding adventures. What took us well over an hour to ascend took only a few enjoyable minutes to slide down.
The return to the car was quick, though once we dropped below 1200 metres the snow was so soft that I found myself buried up to my belly button more than once. I dropped through to the caverns created in the logging slash. As you probably guessed, crossing the logging slash was much worse on the way back to the car. We made no attempt to avoid the watery ground. It made the crossing quick, though it meant finishing the hike with water-filled boots.
I really enjoyed hiking Mount Abel. We should have climbed it a month earlier or waited a month later. Having colder temperatures would have yielded more snow with a harder crust, but would have extended our travel time because we would have started several hundred metres lower on the logging road. Conversely, we could have waited another month, and hiked on solid ground or consolidated snow. Though, this would also mean walking through more bush.
Mount Abel is a great hiking destination. For those who are just starting their adventures in mountaineering, consider this hike, but wait for a lovely summer day. Most of the route is Class 2, at least a smart navigator will find it so. At worst, there will be one small section of scrambling. On a clear day, Mount Abel’s summit will reward you with amazing views of the Sutton Range peaks.