[insert snappy introduction]
I love mountaineering in the Sutton Range because the peaks offer a sense of exploration I don’t always find in more popular regions. I attribute this feeling to the relative isolation of the peaks: they are a long way from the major population centres of Vancouver Island, and there are no paved roads to the trailheads. Because of this, we rarely see booted routes to guide us on our way. It’s in the Sutton Range that we found our Sunday adventure, on Jagged Peak.
Many of the peaks in the Sutton Range are dramatic, jagged forms that inspire feelings of dread (or excitement) as you look at them. Jagged Peak, aptly named for its long, crumbling gullies, is no exception. Jagged Peak is a less popular destination than other mountains in the Sutton Range, such as Victoria and Warden Peaks. Individually, they might be difficult to identify, but these dramatic, and iconic peaks rise together from the valley and create an easily identifiable Vancouver Island landmark.
Total Distance: 11.5 km
Starting Elevation: 605 m
Maximum Elevation: 1700 m
Elevation Gain: 1150 m
Total Time: 6 h 30 m
The best (and shortest) description for summiting Jagged Peak is that it follows a series of steep, stone-filled gullies to access the summit. At its best, the route is a grunt uphill, and at its worst, a Class 3 scramble onto the summit. The full story is a bit more stomach-turning, but that’s probably why you’re reading this report.We were already exhausted from our drive down the highway when we turned onto the S65 logging spur just after 8 am. This road sees little use because the only reason to drive it is to approach Jagged Peak, a very seldom-climbed peak (as we would soon discover). Despite the road’s disuse, it remains in better condition than many of the
We were already exhausted from our drive down the highway when we turned onto the S65 logging spur just after 8 am. This road sees little use because the only reason to drive it is to approach Jagged Peak, a very seldom-climbed peak (as we would soon discover). Despite the road’s disuse, it remains in better condition than many of the well-travelled roads such as the Bamfield Main.
From the car, we quickly ascended a section of the thoroughly deactivated logging road. Although the mountain sees few humans, animals have created an obvious foot track through the frequent, steep cross-ditches, alder-filled sections of road, and along the side slope that traverses a long section of blasted road.
The real hiking didn’t start until we reached the bottom of a cut-block. We stood looking up at replanted trees, fireweed, and untold numbers of blueberry and salmonberry bushes (~1000m). Martin Smith was kind enough to offer us the route he had used on his 2014 summit of the mountain, and we knew that we had to head east through the bush. The morning fog and rain remained on the plants, and the water-laden leaves caused the branches to droop — I wasn’t looking forward to this section.
I examined my map carefully, and picked a different route up a watercourse. It was a gamble: sometimes watercourses are filled with logging debris, the worst kind of bush to whack through (devil’s club), not to mention water. This time, we got lucky! After an initial scramble under a huge log, we discovered that the route up the rocks was, at worst, moist. Not only was there no water, the watercourse was wide enough that it was like following an slightly overgrown trail up the hill. It’s obvious that the animals have used this route a lot. If the bear poop wasn’t evidence enough, we could see elk trails bypassing the worst obstacles, and the old logging debris is well-trampled and even nibbled (trail trimming!) off many of the green shoots that would normally encroach on the watercourse. Despite the ease of the route, it didn’t take long before we were soaked.
The watercourse led us up the cut-block much faster than I anticipated. When we reached the old growth we continued up through the watercourse until the bush gave way to very open (though still steep) terrain. We turned southeast to head up over the easy, wide open terrain. The area reminded me a lot of avalanche terrain because of the lack of trees, but it wasn’t steep enough and there were no obvious terrain traps.
When we crested the hill (~1280m) I could see a basin at the base of a long choss slope, today it was filled with the little remaining winter snow. As we crossed logs piled up at the crest of the hill, I formed two theories. The choss slope is the terrain trap. The cirque must fill with snow and at times, overflow and spill down the west-facing slope. Alternatively, the cirque must, at one time, have filled with water and washed out the top section of the slope we ascended. Either way, it looks cool.
With the easiest of the terrain behind us, we turned left and headed east up the choss slope. We moved quickly, considering the huge pile of rubble. The large boulders were mostly stable and created an easy staircase to the upper reaches of the gully. As we reached the top third, we heeded the advice provided by Martin’s trip report, and stayed to our right. The terrain approaches 45 degrees, but we kept off the wet heather and on the dwindling choss until we reached the Eve-Kunnum pass (~1560m).
What follows was my favourite part off the Jagged Peak trip. Not more than one step off the choss slope, the landscape drops off at an equally impressive slope into the Kunnum Creek Valley. Phil and I looked at each other, checked the route description, checked the GPS, and decided to do a bit more route-finding. From the pass, the route continues to the hiker’s left, but we didn’t want to descend the steep, wet heather to round the copse of trees. We explored the trees at the base of the rock bluff. It wasn’t until I stood at the trees and moved a branch away that we found a tunnel under the overhanging evergreens. Phil and I crawled through the ten-foot-long tunnel on our hands and knees – the groveling was much better than the slippery mess of descending around the trees. On the other side, we found an easy slope down to the final approach: another, albeit shorter, choss gully to the summit. Whether it was good route-finding or sheer stubbornness, I’ll let you decide!
I know I wrote that the first gully was steep, but this one forced me to rethink that notion. In the mists, we couldn’t see the whole route to the skyline, but we trusted our research and followed the slope up. The higher we climbed, the steeper the route became. We crossed over a few sections of crumbling, jagged rock, and onto smaller loose stones, and still the route climbed higher. When the route diverged, we stayed right, and eventually clambered up dry, loose dirt through stunted, sturdy evergreens, and then clamoured up to the summit ridge.
As we crested over the top, the fog thinned slightly and revealed the features of the north face: steep slopes, persisting snowfields, and trickling water. We turned hard right and kept to the highest (and easiest) terrain, and within a few minutes we were standing on the summit.
We summited faster than we anticipated and had time and desire to linger there, but after a few photographs, Facetime conversations, and snacks, the wind did its job and chased us off the summit – far too soon, as it turns out. It was on our return route that the true nature of the choss slopes revealed itself.
Considering the route to Jagged Peak, the up was a piece of cake; the down was a much slower experience. At the top we accidentally knocked a large stone down. We had time to watch it fall, look at each other, and discuss its descent, and then turn and continue to watch it fall, before it (mostly) stopped. We white-knuckled our way down that slope to the base. Within thirty minutes of leaving the summit, the clouds cleared, blue sky emerged, and the sun beamed down, drying everything. Worse, the views opened up – a bittersweet reminder of the summit. It was a pleasant descent back to the Jeep.
We arrived at the Jeep exceptionally dry under the blue skies. We were stoked at achieving our goal, but it was hard to deny our regret about missing the view from the summit of Jagged Peak.