Sutton Peak is one of Vancouver Island’s illustrious 6000 footers. It’s a destination that I frequently poke Phil about doing; since he first summited – without me—back in 2016. Aside from its height, this route’s sparkling feature is the long west ridge that leads mountaineers to seek this summit.
No GPS Track Available
Total Distance: 15 km
Starting Elevation: 1094 m
Maximum Elevation: 1870 m
Total Elevation Gain: 1511 m
Total Duration: 8 h 30 min
On Saturday, August 8, I was part of a seven-member group that used the west ridge route. Our hike began where the road turns bad on the Fn5120 spur, a short road at the terminus of a newly renovated spur that heads south of Stuart Main. I’ve left my approach route in the Map embedded in this report.
We came ready for every type of weather. A week before, we completed the Filberg Range Traverse amid a seasonal heatwave that left us dehydrated each day, despite drinking ten litres of water a day. The forecast for our Sutton Peak trip promised clouds with sunny breaks and cool weather. On the ridge with a mild breeze and under cloudy skies, I don’t think we the thermometer pushed above ten degrees, but the sunny spots were harder to come by. More problematic than unseasonably cool weather, the dark clouds threatened rain and, at times, obscured sections of the route. We were lucky, though the rain never manifested.
We ascended that last section of the road from our vehicles (parked at 1080 m on the south side of Sutton’s west ridge). With the benefit of Phil’s firsthand experience, we headed for the end of the road to a flagged route. Though the way is well worn, the blueberry is encroaching on the path. Easy enough to follow and clear of debris, our feet were hidden beneath the foliage. The worst I can say about this section is that the rain that fell the night before had accumulated on the delicate leaves, and as we walked through the knee-high plants, the water found its way into our boots.
Regardless of the minor annoyance the wet boots brought, within 20 minutes, we exited the brush and continued along a well-booted route into the marvellous low alpine terrain (above 1200 m). And even wet boots weren’t enough to tarnish the splendour of the rest of the trip.
When Phil did his first summit of Sutton Peak, he was excited to tell me how amazing the ridge was. So vivid was his description that the feature became part of the club’s Ridge Rambler objectives. As we wandered through the subalpine, I immediately found the appeal of the place. When we finally found our way to the height of the ridge, I was blown away by the route that stretched out before us.
The majority of the day was spent on the ridge. It’s definitely hiking — we seldom used our hands– but I’d call it a mountaineer’s hiking. There are many places where the terrain is steep –still class-2—but anyone opposed to exposure may find the route too much. When it comes to the summit block, the route takes a rocky turn, it’s no longer hiking.
On the ascent of the summit block, we used a rocky route that’s apparent on the bluff’s face, starting from the col between the ridge and the summit block. The damp rock was slippery in places, but it was easy to find flat places to step and grippy rocks for hands. Above the scramble, we followed easy terrain to the skyline on our left, up an obvious gully, and then traversed to our right bellow an impressive walk wall, to the base of a long heather-filled gully.
I’d say the heather gully posed the most significant challenge for the day. I was happy the route was snow-free, but I could have wished for these delicate plants to be a bit dryer. They posed little challenge, but they certainly gave pause as we started heading up. When I reached the top, I looked back down and watched the line of people coming up. They all looked like they were having a great time!
After the gully, we found our way along the summit ridge. We were a bit disappointed that the clouds were thick enough to obscure our view of the Victoria and Warden. We had a lengthy lunch on the summit (45 minutes), and at that time, the clouds changed often enough that I think we saw all of the surrounding views, not all at the same time.
Our return route was very similar, with one significant difference. Once we descended the heather-filled gully and the lower obvious gully, we followed easy terrain south, slowly descending the ridge to the enormous snow gully that stretches from the col to the summit ridge. With a little looking, we found a series of accessible ramps that walked us down into the broad moat. We were able to use this to walk on gravel on the steeper sections before hopping onto the snow slope and descended to the col.
The final surprise of the day was discovered on our return to the car. Nearly invisible, even walking through the unlikely substrate of crowberry, we spotted five baby ptarmigan and their mother.