Strathcona Park is a jewel nestled among many of the island’s tallest peaks. In many places, the long mountain ridges are the natural boundaries that define the shape of the park. All around the park, and sometimes within it, is evidence of industry: logging and mining change the landscape, and the juxtaposition of the two creates a dramatic, and obvious, delineation of the park boundary. Like it or not, these industries create roads that give access to some of the more obscure regions of the park, including the underappreciated northwest tip where Mount Judson (1750m) is located.
From some angles, Mount Judson looks intimidating. Bands of cliffs are clearly visible through pockets of dense forest, and on the skyline, steep snow slopes hide the true summit from view. For us, it was more than just a simple hike to the summit, but on June 11th our group rose to the challenge.
Starting Elevation: 1200 m
Maximum Elevation: 1745 m
Elevation Gain: 1070 m
Total Time: 6 h 20 m
The common approach is made via a spur off the Heber Mainline. However, beta we obtained the weeks earlier on our Horseshoe Mountain trip – confirmed by fellow hiker Walter Moar and by Google image searches – told us that this approach would be a festival of alder-bashing. Our trip was a bit of a route-finding mission! Phil had the brilliant idea of linking the Mount Judson route with the route we had used on Horseshoe Mountain. It was a gamble to link the routes this way, because topographical maps are often incorrect or have hidden features that block passage. Regardless, we opted for this route, and would have been satisfied doing Horseshoe Mountain as an alternate objective.
Around 8:30 am, I turned my Jeep onto the Saunders Mainline and exhaled deeply in anticipation of our long drive to the trailhead. The five hikers weighed heavy on the vehicle’s suspension, and when we hit bumps, the oversized tires rubbed noisily against the wheel wells. Generally the mainline is in good condition, but our destination was at the end of a deactivated spur. At the worst spot, only a few seconds from the mainline, the passengers got out and Phil directed me around the jagged rocks and through the deep ruts until I was safe on the other side. The remainder of the spur was a slow drive because of the many crossditches, but the drive was worth it. We saved time and energy, and were able to park at 1200 metres.
We decided to leave the snowshoes behind at the vehicle. It was a risk prompted by our experience the week before, when we had carried our snowshoes for the entire hike up Mount Heber; today, we hoped for even better snow conditions — and we found them! We stepped off the logging road, up into the snow-free, old-growth alpine forest, moving quickly up the gradual slope to follow our Horseshoe Mountain route. It was only when we reached the still-frozen alpine lake at ~1400 metres that we were hiking on consolidated snow.
The sun reflecting off the snow-covered lake was near blinding. For a moment, I regretted leaving my sunglasses at home, but it didn’t stop me from looking carefully into the turquoise pools forming around the edge of the lake. We rounded the east side of the lake to a low saddle which gives access to a watercourse running southeast, away from the lake. We stood on the edge, examining the route down: Would it go? Phil and I looked at each other and smiled; not only did the route go, but the watercourse was still filled with snow, with barely a tree to manoeuvre around! In all likelihood, the watercourse is probably filled with thick alpine shrubs and blueberry, but today it was an easy walk down the gully. The snow was ideal for easy plunge stepping down to 1200 metres, where we cut to our left along the southeast slopes, aiming for the Gold-Horseshoe pass (~1200m).
Once back in the old growth, we slowed slightly to navigate through the forest. We were lucky and found an open route through the trees by following the path of least resistance through blueberry and other medium-sized bushes. At the Gold-Horseshoe pass, we emerged from the dense forest and finally saw Mount Judson. It looked daunting! We could see cliff bands glaring through the steep, densely-treed slopes, and at the very top, steep snow! Our beta told us that this route was supposed to be an easy class 2/3 hike to the summit, but from here it looked to be a complex series of ledges and ramps.
Upon entering the forest, we caught another stroke of luck. Wrapped around a nearby tree we found a ribbon, and then another, and another. The route was snow-free and a variety of windfall and exposed root made for wet and slippery terrain. We hiked up and to the right of the first rock outcropping, and then cut back left up over the terrain as it rose. We hit the snow again around 1400 metres, and as the slope angle increased, we pulled out our mountaineering axes. By 1500 metres we were traversing 35-40 degree snow slopes to the base of an even steeper, narrow gully. Fortunately, the gully hadn’t melted out yet, and after spreading out we were able to use our axes and kick steps up the steepest sections. Midway up, we had to cross over some patchy sections, where rock poked out from below the snow. My long legs allowed me to step up and over, but others used the green belays on the eroding banks to pull themselves up to the next band of snow.
It wasn’t far from the gully that we followed another snow slope to get above yet another band of rock, then traversed a steep, exposed snow slope (I suspect without snow it would be a lovely broad ledge). It’s here that Dean decided that he had come far enough, and rather than risk the exposure, decided to hang out in the shade of a largish alpine fir tree.
Phil led our group along the slope as it rounded out of view, and soon we were walking at the edge of the snow and rock, looking down the moat to the rock below. On the other side, we looked down at the short runout and paused to remember: It’s easy, just don’t fall. After a short rock step (on our return route we discovered that just five metres to the side, we didn’t need to scramble the rock), we had nothing left but to kick our way up a steep snow slope to the skyline above. Once over the crest of the hill, it was an easy amble and a few careful steps to avoid tender cornices to the summit.
It was around 1:00 pm when we reached the summit of Mount Judson. On the summit, a light breeze threatened to chill us, but my jacket made the heat from the sun nearly unbearable. We ate our lunch sitting on a few bare rocks that poked out of the snow, recovering the energy we had spent on our ascent. The panoramic view of the surrounding peaks is stunning, likely made better because we were looking out on peaks that we have hiked. To the southeast, Idsardi Mountain; to the south, across the Heber River valley, Mount Heber (which we’d hiked just the week before); to the southwest, Treo Mountain, and to the west, Horseshoe Mountain. Of course, there were lots of peaks left to tackle, too: Crown Mountain, Conuma, and at least one or two others.
The trip back was uneventful, but regaining the 200 metres from the Gold-Heber Pass in the scalding sun was sweaty business.
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