–submitted by Matthew Lettington, originally published on explorington.com
Back in September 2016, I was one of a group that failed to summit Mount Sarai in the Genesis Range. On that trip, we routed up a steep slope to the end of the west ridge in the hopes of following it to the summit. Unfortunately, we discovered a piece of not-so-micro terrain that didn’t make it onto the map – a not insignificant bluff- that stopped our summit attempt. On that day, from our highest vantage point on the end of the ridge, we looked down into the valley and spotted a route up a gully that we believed would provide access to the summit of Mount Sarai. But it wasn’t until May 6th, 2018, a week after our successful summit of Mount Adam, that we gathered ourselves for a spring summit of Mount Sarai.
Total Distance: 8.4 km
Starting Elevation: 812 m
Maximum Elevation: 1670 m
Total Elevation Gain: 960 m
Total Time: 6h 20 m
We started our hike from the bridge that crosses a tributary to the Abel Creek (819 m), flowing from the watershed between Mount Sarai and Mount Abel. Debris on the road prevented us from driving farther ahead and, due to either dread of walking up through the slash or being too lazy to walk around the corner to investigate, we opted to hike up between the creek and the logging slash. Although we ascended quickly, at the head of the slash we discovered cloying underbrush that hindered our travel, not the open old-growth we’d hoped to find. Wind-fallen trees, shrubs, and boulders caused us to zig-zag, hop up and over, duck under and crawl, and twist through the bush until we rowed our way up the hill.
We trended to our right, keeping to the north side of the range, and eventually navigated up the steep hill and finally found the open old-growth. Across the snow- and debris-filled slide gully, we took note of the odd cut marks on trees, and the new ribbon that we suspect indicates the path of future road grade leading deep into the valley between Mount Abel and Mount Sarai.
By the time we reached our first waypoint, a shoulder around 1200 metres, we were walking on a meter of firm snow that mostly supported our weight. Our route descended slightly, and eventually, through the trees, we caught sight of the gully we had spotted back in 2016. From our low vantage it looked steep, though much less than it had a year ago from the higher elevation. As we approached, the only obstacle was a rock break midway up the snow slope. We tackled it head-on, only to discover that the rocks were nothing more than class-two terrain.
In time, we made it to the saddle (~1500 m) at the ridge above without issue. Phil and I arrived together, leaving Rick and Colleen to play catch-up; meanwhile, we took a five-minute detour to hit the sub-bump at the end of a spur coming off the central ridge. It was time well spent, as it gave us a better vantage of the valley between Sarai and Able, and a spectacular view of the full length of Sarai’s west ridge. By the time we were back at the saddle, Rick and Colleen were waiting for us, and together we tackled the remaining west ridge to the summit of Mount Sarai. It was an easy enough affair with little exposure, but a good deal of routing around thick evergreen shrubs and rock outcroppings.
We arrived on the summit of Mount Sarai (1670 m) just before noon; fast, but still slower than we’d hoped. We took time to look for a route down into the Abel Creek watershed between Mount Sarai and Mount Abraham. There was a good deal of accumulated snow, and I was reluctant to get close to the edge for fear of unseen overhanging cornices. Regardless, we could see that we would only make the single objective today. Descending from Sarai into the valley, across to Mount Abraham, back up over Sarai, and back to the car would take far too long for the time we’d allowed.
Once we’d taken in the views, we departed the breezy summit and took our lunch back on the saddle. As we ate, we noted that at the end of the west ridge, we could see the highpoint where we stood in 2016. We had a good view of the cliff face and could see that it was indeed a doozy of a rappel. We were happy with the route we chose, and content to leave the challenge of walking the full length of the ridge to people with a more adventuresome spirit.
As is almost always the case, the route back to the vehicle was faster than the ascent. Not only did the butt-sliding cut off a chunk of time, but the intense morning sun caused the snow to consolidate, making it firmer and reducing the post-holing. We saved even more time by modifying our return route. Rather than fighting the bush of the lower section, we merged with our 2016 course and followed it through a steep, denuded cut block back to the road. Although I much prefer this route, that opinion isn’t unanimous; some people just love the bushwhacking.
We had an awesome day in the mountains, through the bush, up the gullies, and a little butt- sliding, all in the beautiful sun. What made it all the sweeter was that the moment I touched the car handle, rain started to fall.