When it comes to ascending seldom-summited peaks, I’m often reticent when we depart the Jeep. So many questions about the route and what we will find ahead make me reflect inward. So, it’s probably no surprise that when winter’s snow and ice become part of the adventure, there is sometimes a certain amount of foot-dragging before we leave. That was indeed the case for our planned New Year’s Day ascent of Mount Sir John; we didn’t even make it to within six kilometres of the peak, calling off the trip before we had even put our boots on.
Distance: 11.0 km
Starting Elevation: 831 m
Maximum Elevation: 1443 m
Total Elevation Gain: 724 m
Total Time: 5 hours, 56 minutes
The winter started with very little snow and moved into even stranger snow patterns, creating approach issues and questionable alpine travel conditions. Disheartened, we took most of January and February off from chasing the remaining peaks on our Island Alpine Quest. By February 16th, however, I was itching to get in a winter adventure. Because of the long drive to the start of the route, we planned an overnighter to Mount Sir John. We anticipated between six and ten kilometres of travel over snow- and ice-covered logging roads. We intended to drive as far as possible on the Kokish Main before proceeding on foot to the base end of the road; camping there would give us plenty of time to ascend the easy slopes to the summit and return to the car in the same day.
We departed at the nearly humane hour of 5:00 am, and after stopping several times to pick up party members, we found ourselves four-wheeling through the snow, ending our approach by 10:30 am with our trucks stuck in the snow. We dug out the trucks, turned them around for the trip home, and exited the vehicles to gear up. The sun was blazing, with bluebird skies contrasting the white peaks on either side of the valley, and we paused to assess the situation.
Exceeding our expectations, we had made it to within four kilometres of the peak before we got our vehicles stuck in the snow. So did we follow through with the plan to hike to the end of the road and camp for the day? Nope! We abandoned that plan with our overnight gear, donned our snowshoes, and lit off toward the summit in the scorching sun!
By the time we reached the end of the road, we were sun-baked– a few of us went shirtless! But once we entered the forest, shirts, jackets, and even gloves were thrown on in a hurry. After discussing our approach options, we settled on a ridge walk to the summit, though that meant gaining and losing almost 100 meters of elevation.
Gaining the upper ridge was the toughest part of the day. After exiting a snow- and ice-filled gully, we edged along rock bluffs and scrambled over short rocky steps to gain the ridge. Once we broke out of the trees, we were greeted by a spectacular view of the Johnstone Strait.
From the ridge, we wandered east along the height of the land until we crested the sub-bump, then negotiated down slippery snow slopes down to the saddle, and back up to the summit. In some places the snow was like marble below us, and our snowshoes were more like skis; and in other areas, there was only a light dusting covering a hard crust that the snowshoes’ crampons bit into. Regardless, the final short push to the main summit of Mount Sir John was done with ease.
It took us only three hours to attain the summit, and we lingered there a long time in the sun to admire the views. To the south, we spotted several peaks we’ve summited over the past few years: Tsitika, Derby, Peak, Ashwood, Bonanza, Russell, Palmerston, and more.
Although walking the ridge was the real feature of the day, the icing on the cake was learning that our group likely had the first winter ascent of Mount Sir John. Way to go Rick, Phil, and Colleen. And an extra special congratulations to Connor: this peak was his first winter ascent of a mountain and his first peak on the Island– way to go!
We followed a different route back to the Jeep. Rather than follow the ridge, we descended from the saddle along a much easier terrain. We quickly traversed below the sub-bump, and within an hour we were back on the road, tromping back to the car.
We made the decision to load up and head home. The drive made this short hike into a long day, but I’m sure that it will rank highly on my trips for 2019. The sun and the snow made for one of the most aesthetic trips in recent months, and the few steep sections and short scrambles made for some fun mountaineering adventure to make this trip rank more highly than an average hike.
For anyone considering a trip to Mount Sir John, if your goal is merely the summit, ascend to the saddle and up to the summit. But if you’re looking for some aesthetic mountaineering adventure, aim for the approach ridge. It’s so worth it!
Note: we spotted a new road center line and boundary ribbons; this area isn’t long for this world. I’m happy we did it this year.