Another May long weekend has come and gone, and with it another “first of the summer” camping trip. I don’t put much stock into the idea of the shoulder season — it’s a myth made up by The Man — but this trip felt more like a summer getaway than any other of the season, except for the rain, fog, and snow up to our knees. But thank goodness that the shoulder season is over, right?
The trip started with a hoot an’ a holler. We anticipated a longish slog along a deactivated logging road, more of an alder farm complete with cross-ditches, but today we found that the former jungle has been replaced by a new logging road. We cheered the removal of this most dreaded obstacle, the one that would take the most amount of effort with the least amount of reward. Driving to the end of the logging road allowed us to park just meters from the old-growth, and probably saved us a few hours of travel in each direction. What a boon! We grabbed our gear and headed up into the dense West Coast forest.
Total Distance: 33 km
Starting Elevation: 844 meters
Maximum Elevation: 1645 meters
Total Elevation Gain: 3155 metres
Day One — Mount Peel
16 km, 1750m elevation gain, 11h 20m
We started hiking through the logging slash, but when that got too bushy, we ducked into the old-growth where we hoped the going would be easier. It was, though not by much. Our large backpacks, protruding mountaineering axes, and dangling snowshoes slowed us; every time we tried to duck under a log or scoot through some shrubs, we got hung up. Eventually, we found and followed a dry watercourse, until the slope became too steep and the soil began to slide out underfoot. Instead, we worked our way up a ridge that rose between two ancient watercourses.
As we gained elevation, it was as though we were passing through the season. Down at the Jeep, the foliage was in full summer mode, robust and blooming; as we approached the ridge, we headed back into winter where the spring buds were yet to burst. It took careful route-finding to reach the crest of the ridge. Along the way (~1000m), we found a surprise — though it shouldn’t have been; a line of ribbons flagging a future road grade.
It was already 11:00 am when we arrived on the ridge. We took a break to set up camp and eat a snack before heading northeast to our first objective: Mount Peel. Our research prepared us for a simple route along the ridge. As the crow flies, Mount Peel is only 4.5 km from camp, but we knew the route along the southeast ridge would be longer.
Once we gained the ridge, we were able to follow it to the summit — more or less. What our beta didn’t prepare us for was the extent of the ups and downs. Sure, we could see the bumps on the map, but the reality of the elevation loss and gain was more significant than we expected. From our camp, the route passes over three sizable bumps before reaching the summit bump. In fact, calling it a ridge is more of a kindness.
The southeast-facing slopes were mostly melted, making for some challenging and bushy route-finding; but the northwest-facing slopes were still blanketed in snow that made for perfect, and fast, plunge-stepping on the descents, and good ladders on the ascents. Although there were a few scramble sections, including one where Israel lost a pole between the rock and the snow, there wasn’t much exposure to deal with.
Either by skill or, more likely, luck, we didn’t struggle on any of the obstacles along the route and by 4:15 pm we found ourselves on the summit. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it in time to catch the view. Most of the trip had been up through dry bush, and even some sun. But on the second bump, the clouds rolled in; by the time we reached the third bump, we were completely socked in, and as we reached the summit, the rain started.
After a lengthy lunch — we hoped to wait out the weather for a view — we headed back to camp. Somewhere near the top of the second bump, I remember someone yelling, “Why aren’t these all mountains!?” It really was ‘uphill both ways’. By the time we arrived back at camp, we had added another 550 metres of elevation gain to the day.
It wasn’t the most social of evenings. We arrived an hour before sunset, soaking wet; there was no time wasted getting into dry clothes and climbing into tents, and we probably exchanged fewer words than at any other time of the day. We even prepared and ate our meals from inside our tents. It was just beginning to get dark when I fell asleep, right after a bout of really fantastic leg cramps.
Day Two — Mount Derby
18.4 km, 1491m elevation gain, 11h 15m
Those precious moments spent inside the sleeping bag on early alpine mornings are fantastic. It’s a fleeting moment when I become aware of the sounds of the real world creeping into the dream world, but haven’t quite remembered that I’m still camping – it’s the best. It’s only when my eyes first cracked open and I tried to move that I remembered the thirty-some thousand steps it had taken to summit Mount Peel and then get back to camp.
Waking for our second day to summit Mount Derby was all rainbows and lollypops; sorry, I mean soggy…everything was wet or damp, including the swimming pools I call my boots. We dragged our butts as we prepped our meals and packed day bags for the trip. The worst part was stripping down to bare skin in the morning mist and putting on the wet hiking clothes I had used the day before.
As we prepared for the hike, Rick and Colleen announced that they were heading back to the car. Colleen’s hip wasn’t agreeing with her after the fight up the bush and the long first day — who could blame her? As I stood gazing at the flaccid shape of my soggy tent and all the wet gear, envy welled up within me. I had a thought: Within an hour I could be sitting in my Jeep, warm and dry! But I’m stubborn. I was there to summit Mount Derby!
Around 8:30, we finished our snowshoe debate — we left them sticking in the snow at camp — and set off through the mists along the southeast ridge toward Mount Derby. Our movement was slower than the day before; thanks to the warm air, the snow was a slushy mess. We travelled west, following the most accessible route over the height of the ridge, over at least six humps depending how you calculate, before we made it to the base of the summit block. The terrain is mostly open, but no day in the mountains is complete without a bit of bush. Fortunately, that small section we found took us less than twenty minutes to get through.
As we approached Mount Derby, we were daunted by what looked like a rock wall; but, as we stood in the narrow saddle with the rock wall in front of us, we found it a third-class scramble. Even the second section of scrambling was simple once we got up close and personal with the trees. By about 12:30 pm we took our summit shot, posing against the oversized summit cairn.
I’m a little disheartened that we hiked all that way without a view; I hear it’s a great one. But I enjoyed the long lunch we took on the broad summit. We stayed long enough that we stripped our boots and socks off for a good lie down on the exposed rock and heather — a highlight of our break. Despite the horribly overcast day, my exposed feet were warmer out than in. While we waited, the sun tried its best to blaze through the clouds, but at best it only warmed us.
After our satisfying break, we left the summit and followed our route back down to the saddle. Here, rather than staying high on the ridge, we took a risk and followed a different line on the north side of the ridge, in hopes of skipping the bushy section. Ultimately we abandoned that route because it threatened to go far lower than we anticipated, and instead returned to and followed our approach route back to camp.
Once back at camp we packed up in a hurry – it took less than thirty minutes to repack all our wet gear into our backpacks. With Israel in the lead, we headed back down through the bush. He did an amazing job keeping us on track through the dense shrubs, and in less than thirty minutes we were back at the Jeep and getting ready for the long ride home.
What a trip. Good luck if you try this route. I hope you get the view from the summit — it’ll be fantastic.