Since beginning my project to summit all the peaks in Island Alpine, I’ve spent more time exploring the various unknown peaks and ranges of Vancouver Island than I ever spent hiking more well-known objectives. Sometimes, when I think about the time I’ve spent hiking, driving, and reporting– it’s become very time-consuming– I wonder, Is it worth it? Why am I doing this? Am I still having fun?
These questions are usually fleeting, but they strike like an avalanche. With more than two dozen trip reports in various forms of drafts, it’s a problem that seems impossible to surmount. Especially considering that these were some of the most important trips I’ve done over the past three years: Nootka Island; West Coast Trail; Augerpoint Traverse; Hesquiat Peninsula; three different seven-day kayak trips; Tatchu Peninsula; my Rambler Peak Trip where we summited Devoe and Slocomb; and a half-dozen family trips. These, and about a dozen other daytrips that I haven’t even started writing, add to the overwhelming workload I’ve created. I just can’t seem to keep on top of it. And if I’m not committed to doing them all, then why even do any of it?
Surprisingly, this lost and overwhelming feeling is one that I’ve grown accustomed to in my life. Although it’s easy to be subsumed by the feeling, there is also a small comfort that comes with it. I imagine it compares to an explorer crossing an ocean to an unknown destination: there’s probably something on the other side, and there’s definitely something behind you. The farther you get from the known shore, the braver you must be. Without landmarks to position oneself, it’s difficult to take stock of progress, and sometimes you just have to trust you’re heading in the right direction.
But taking notice of my accomplishments is the key to navigating through the sea of hopelessness, and that’s why I write these reports. On December 1, I was one of a group of six that summited Big Tree Peak in the Prince of Wales Range. The peak itself is hardly worth noting; it’s not the highest, bushiest, or most challenging, nor does it have the best view of all the peaks in the Range. However, it was the final peak I needed to summit in the range. And for that reason, it’s important to take note: I’m making progress.
Total Distance: 7.2 km
Starting Elevation: 789 m
Maximum Elevation: 1419 m
Total Elevation Gain: 724 m
Total Time: 4 hours, 43 minutes and 34 seconds
In the early morning in not quite the heart of winter, we headed north of Campbell River to summit our final objective in the Prince of Wales Range. Only two weeks earlier, we stood on the summit of Mount Roberts and looked longingly at the southwest ridge leading to Big Tree Peak. From the summit of Mount Roberts, the ridge leading to Big Tree Peak looked very doable, if not a little long; adding excitement to our plan, we could see a fresh cut block at the end of the ridge at ~1000 metres elevation. We were keen to get this final peak done, but not so keen that we wanted to follow the route described by Lindsay Elms in the Island Bushwhacker; we couldn’t bear to travel the overgrown road when there was another viable option.
At the end of our Mount Roberts trip, we searched for that cut block on the southwest ridge of Big Tree Peak. After a great variety of wrong turns, we eventually found the cut block, and even better, we found a rehabilitated road that terminates at the end of the Big Tree Creek Valley. We parked here (~700m), on the west side of the southwest ridge.
A bright light illuminated the surrounding peaks, a stark contrast to the blueish light in which we walked. The cool tone enhanced the chill in the air brought on by frost and ice that encased some of the bush we walked through. From the car we proceeded through the cut block, following a watercourse at first, and then through some barren blueberry and azalea until we reached the base of the rockface. From here we followed the face to our left, toward the summit of Big Tree Peak.
Most of the day’s work was in making it to the ridge. After pushing through the bush, we eventually hit some crusty snow that buried bush and covered rocks, making it easier to travel. We reached the treed ridge and continued toward the summit, following the crest of the ridge.
After breaking into more open terrain, the summit was hardly an hour away. We moved over the terrain easily as the 6-10″ of snow supported our weight –even in our boots. It didn’t take long for us to reach the summit of the mountain. The biggest challenges were frosty slabs of snow-covered rock that may have been in better condition for crampons than mountaineering boots, but we were careful and passed these easily.
Calling this mountain a peak is a courtesy; in fact, it draws into question why one would even call it a peak. At no point did we come to anything that I would call pointy. And in the blowing cloud our visibility was poor, so we spent some time wandering the “summit” looking for the highpoint.
After reaching the summit, we split the group into two: some wanted to eat in the wind on the summit, while others wanted to descend out of the wind. We followed a slightly different route down the ridge. Although it was bushier, it avoided a short icy step that caused some grief on our ascent (affectionately referred to as Hillary’s Step).
Generally, we follow our ascent route back to the vehicles because we have first-hand knowledge of any compromising terrain. But when it comes to travelling through a thicket of bush, it’s often useless to try and follow that route, as we walk off route and find ourselves in the middle of a piece of terrain we were trying to avoid.
We dropped off the ridge and cruised down through the mature forest, and even in the younger regrowth we kept an easy pace as we twisted between narrow gaps, crossed creeks, and waded through the sparse, low shrubbery. I know I wrote that most of the work was in the ascent to the upper ridge, but the toughest bit of the day was the final 200 metres back to the car. We found ourselves stuck in the middle of a mass of dense bush. Fortunately, it was dry and leafless, which meant that the full weight of my body was all it took to force my way through to the road.
On the road, Phil and I congratulated each other and looked at the peaks surrounding the valley. We took a moment to revel in completing this accomplishment, and to say goodbye to the Prince of Wales Range–at least for now.
To address how I started this post, my problems are of my own making. I could simply choose to stop writing and documenting; I could just as easily stop hiking. Each option seems as unlikely as the other. I think it comes back to my own nature: I’m a glutton for punishment.