The Golden Hinde(less) Traverse – July 18-24, 2020

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A Traverse in Strathcona Park: Wolf & Puzzle Mountains with a Circumnavigation of Volcano Lake

–submitted by Matthew Lettington; originally published on

I’m a prisoner to my work schedule, and my summer vacation kicks off in the final weekend of June. However, since meeting Phil, I’ve come to participate in an annual pre-summer trip known as the Birthday Hike. This annual prelude-to-summer trip has brought us to some of the best places on Vancouver Island.

Wolf Mountain

For two days, starting June 22, 2019, we set our sights on the three peaks which rise high along the ridge, on the west side of the Elk River Trail. The ridge is among the best Island Alpine I’ve had the pleasure of hiking; its near-pristine nature is protected by the awful bushwhack of Butterwort Creek on one end and a gnarly few steps on the other. It’s the type of terrain that is only visited by the crazy few who would seek out these diminutive objectives over the many giants of the Elk River Valley.

Total Distance 28.6 km
Starting Elevation: 312 m
Maximum Elevation: 1826 m
Total Elevation Gain: 2421 m

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Adder Mountain

–submitted by Wendy Langelo

Sept 7 – Phil picked up 3 of us in Parksville Saturday morning at 7:15 – we jumped in with him and headed off to Sutton Pass and the logging road up to the trailhead. The logging road up was quite a trip in itself – apparently the logging company deactivating the road had gone relatively crazy with the waterbars in the last 2 years since Phil and Debbie had been up there. I got a lesson on what my Jeep may be capable of with a competent driver 😉

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Mount Mitchell via the Northwest Ridge

–submitted by Matthew Lettington; originally published on

Once you’ve done enough hiking on Vancouver Island, you will realize that most of the great hiking requires that you drive down a section of industrial gravel road. And that’s if you’re lucky; a good number of these places require walking stretches of road as well. Mount Mitchell is one of those.

The summit ridge on our approach to Mount Mitchell

Located along the Strathcona Provincial Park boundary, between the Norm Creek Valley and the south arm of the Oyster River Valley, this rocky feature creates a jagged protrusion of that boundary to include the area above 1200 metres into the Park. Below that, the terrain is stripped bare, and roads are visible throughout the surrounding valleys.

The long road through the valley to Mount Mitchell

Aside from the tragedy of the lost forest, the roads give fast access to the start of our route. In previous years when the gates were open, Mount Mitchell was considered a daytrip. In those days you could access the route either via the Oyster River gates off Highway 19, or from the Boliden-Westmin Road along the Buttle and Park mainlines. However, times change, and so do permissions and road conditions.

Northwest Ridge Approach to Mount Mitchell

Total Distance: 44.9 km
Starting Elevation: 232 m
Maximum Elevation: 1842 m
Total Elevation gain: 2548 m

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Hidden Peak: When the Weather Doesn’t Cooperate

–submitted by Matthew Lettington; orginally published on

I’m not a fair-weather hiker; in fact, I’m pretty stubborn. There are countless times when we’ve hiked despite a crappy forecast. Often, the poor weather never manifests, and instead we get something better; but more often, it’s worse. About the only time the weather stops us is when we are sitting high and dry in the vehicle at a trail head while a storm rages on outside. Then there are those unique hikes, the ones done on sunny days after an overnight downpour, when you end up with soaking clothing in hot weather. You chafe, your boots get waterlogged, and you feel wet, yet hot and uncomfortable at the same time.

lots of this type of fog as we hiked the benches toward the summit block

Our trip to Hidden Peak (July 11th) was an example of uncooperative weather – that which changes for the worse when you need it most. Although we started our journey with the promise of good weather, it became much worse before we got to the good stuff.

Our route to Hidden Peak

Total Distance: 14.6 km
Starting Elevation: 276 m
Maximum Elevation: 1455 m
Total Elevation Gain: 1492 m
Total Time: 14 hours

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Pickering, Carter, Landale — North & South

–submitted by Matthew Lettington; originally published on

Carter Peak

Like many people, I consider May Long Weekend the kick-off to summer. The extra day tagged onto the weekend makes trips further afield possible, and the lengthening days and few extra degrees mean that many people are looking for their first overnight trips of the season. This year, we planned a return to the Port Alice area to finish off the few peaks remaining on our list: Mount Pickering and Carter Peak.

Summit Push! Wolfenden way back there.

Early Saturday morning, after picking up Phil and Shannon, we began our long trip north along the Island Highway, to our destination behind Port Alice. Nearly five hours later, we parked at the end of a deactivated and overgrown logging road, high above the north side of Teeta Creek (~550m). After some conversation and checking the day’s forecast, we selected Carter Peak as the first objective. We expected this route to be the bushier of our two goals, and we welcomed the best weather in hopes of keeping dry and making any terrain challenges a little easier.

Total Distance: 20 km
Starting Elevation 560 m
Maximum Elevation 1115 m
Total Elevation Gain 1350 m
Total Time  9h 30 m

From where we parked the Jeep, we walked the old road to a saddle between Carter Peak and Mount Pickering (~700m). We were looking for the final spur that would deposit us on Carter Peak’s north ridge; it was so overgrown that at first we passed it, and had to double back. Once we located it, we stood to scratch our heads. The alder towered over our heads, and we couldn’t see more than 15 feet into the bush. For a brief minute, we considered bushwhacking through the re-growing evergreens over trying to use the old road–insanity!

A common scenario on the road to Carter Peak

Burning that idea, we pushed on through the bush. As dense as the bush was, it was still young enough that we could weave between the trees or force our way through the branches with relative ease. Sure, at times we didn’t know if we were still on the road, but when we finally broke onto the end of the road, we were standing just thirty metres from the old-growth with only one obstacle between us. Crouching and crawling to duck under the thicket of desiccated salmonberry stalks, we forced our way along a path suitable only for small mammals.

Once we were inside the forest, we quickly followed the height of the land, straight up the ridge. Once in the old-growth, we noted that most of the salal and at least half the blueberry were dead or dying, but the azalea and the low-hanging branches from the evergreens left plenty of bush for us to push through. ‘Straight up the ridge’ is only a turn of phrase; the forest meant that we meandered –twisted, really– up the ridge to Carter Peak.

It’s the one lovely rest stop on the hike to Carter Peak (~700 m)

At times we were on the left of the crest, other times on the right, but we had minimal difficulties finding a route. The most challenging part required us to scramble up a rocky headwall and thread between a rock and the exposed roots of a tree overhanging the path. Shannon had a few moments of excitement here as a rock dislodged below her and she earned a few scrapes on her arms, and tears in her shirt (~1000 m we did find a different route down, no coming This direction).

it’s an owie

Above the headwall, we found our first patch of consolidated snow, which made the walking a bit quicker. Within thirty minutes we had gained the elevation to the unremarkable summit (1115 m). We anticipated some excellent views into Brooks Peninsula; unfortunately, the summit is partially treed, and we didn’t get much more than a peekaboo view.

The view through the trees, if you stand on the dead stump

On the route down we avoided the rocky headwall. If you read my blog, you’ll know that I often use gullies to get up and down mountains; well, guess what we found? A gully, a ravine, or a seasonal watercourse –whatever you call it, we followed it down. An inconsequential trickle of water flowed down the centre, but there was little bush to contend with. Around 800 metres, where the gully turns east, we hopped up the embankment and used green belays to help us up to the ridge, where we eventually re-joined our original route.

Down the gully

Back where we first gained the ridge, we took a gamble. Rather than use the road on the top of the ridge (our approach route), we decided to give a lower road a chance. Even the hope of a slightly easier course was enough of an enticement to draw us away from the assured route back to the logging road.

From the ridge about to head back into the bush. Mount Pickering pictured at the end of the ridge.

We bushwhacked down the re-growing forest, linking up with old game trails and watercourses, but still leaning heavily into dense evergreens to the road below. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as clear as it looked when viewed from above, but it was far better than our approach route. It didn’t take long before we were all back on the open road, enjoying a sit-down lunch.

Mount Pickering

Carter Peak had been significantly more relaxed than we anticipated, and by the time we finished our lunch, we still had half a day ahead of us! Rather than heading back to the car to camp, we took aim at Mount Pickering. The two routes originate from opposite ends of the same logging road, as the two peaks are likely two bumps on the same ridge. We hiked east, gaining the roan on upper Mackay Ridge (840 m) , and carried on to the end of the road for a secondary objective, Mount Pickering.

The route up Mount Pickering

As compared to Carter Peak, Pickering was a breeze! Following the southwest ridge, the bush is sparse with plenty of open glades, and the terrain is benign.

AH! What it’s all about

By the time we summited (1000 m), we were hot and tired, but awestruck by the view. Where Carter restricts the west and southern views, Pickering offers a superior view along the northern shore of Brooks Peninsula and near-panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. Of interest to me, Wolfenden rose tall across the valley, a route that we did just a few weeks earlier.

Looking West to Brooks Peninsula

Descending back to the car was quick, despite a minor hiccup that required a second ascent up the mountain to retrieve an item that fell out of a pocket. But, even with that delay, we were back at the car by 7:15 pm.

These two accessible mountains together made for a surprisingly quick day of hiking, about 24 kilometres round-trip and 1400 metres elevation gain. They offered a perfect early-season trip where we logged some good, snow-free distance and elevation gain.

Having completed our objectives, we considered our options for the next day. There was a lot of talk about Merry Widow, but the forecast was questionable with lots of cloud and likely precipitation. We didn’t make up our minds on what to do until we got back to the Hyde Creek gas station. After refueling and grabbing some sandwiches, we decided to drive home and sleep in our own beds, then head to Mount Landale in the morning.

Mount Landale

When I arrived home around 1:00 am, I discovered Octavia sharing the bed with my wife –in a perpendicular orientation. So as not to wake them, I spent a restless night on the couch. I’m not going to lie: after nine hours of hiking and 11 hours of driving, it was more comfortable than it probably should have been! When my alarm sounded five hours later, I rolled off the couch and shuffled around the house, preparing for the hike to Mount Landale, near Lake Cowichan.

This trip was my second attempt at Landale this year. The first was back in March when there was a layer of snow right down to the Widow Main gate. At that time, we struggled through snow that was, at times, up to our hips, and gave up with 1.5 kilometres (as the crow flies) remaining to hike to the summit. During our March trip, we thought were only another 90 minutes from the summit, but now, having completed the hike, I realize we were likely three hours away due to the conditions at the time.

Cotton Wood creek, about the most aesthetic element on the hike.

Total Distance: 25 km
Starting Elevation: 220 m
Maximum Elevation: 1532 m
Total Elevation Gain: 1505 m
Total Time: 7h 15 m
There are three common ways to access this mountain: we picked the Widow Main access on the east side of Cottonwood Creek. The route follows the logging road into Widow Creek Valley, and cuts back north, high above the Cottonwood Creek valley, as the road traverses along the ridge toward Mount Landale. The old road deteriorates at times, making it difficult to drive, even if you can manage to get keys or access. We followeded the road along several switchbacks to their terminus ~1000m. Where the road ends, we cut through the moderate bush to a road 100 metres higher that traverses the ridge between the Cottonwood Valley (to the west) and Sherk Lake (to the east).

By the time we crossed this section of the ridge, my feet were burning, and my skin was dry and salty. Along the whole route, there were no possibilities of getting more water (save for the river way back at the gates). I was approaching mild dehydration, saving what was left of my water for the summit and the walk back to the Jeep.

El Capitan as pictured from Mount Landale

At the end of the road (1230 metres), we followed a string of ribbons up the well-defined boot track. If I were to call this the start of the hike and ignore the approach, then the trip to the summit is very short! The route is well-defined, the bush very sparse, and it breaks into the alpine in short order.

Phil on the summit

We summited (1532 m)  at 1:00 pm. As I took my first picture, I heard voices calling to the north; we spotted three people waving at us from a feature between Landale and El Capitan. They were doing the same as us, resting and eating.

Three people eating lunch on the ridge

After admiring the view and eating our lunch, we struck off for home. The afternoon sun was blinding, and the heat sweltering. There were a few knees crunched on the hike back; none of us wanted to spend more time on the logging road than we already had. We arrived at 4:00 pm.

By the measure of distance and elevation gain, Mount Landale is a tough hike — a logging road grind. Although tougher than I expected, in every other metric, the trip is easy. I’m happy to get this peak checked off my list, but I won’t be using this route to return. I far prefer the Cottonwood Main approach via Lomas Lake.

Come the next day, I was exhausted. The more than 2800 metres of elevation gain and 45 kilometres of hiking were a great warmup for the season!

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Tahsis Mountain – Ramblers trip 20190511

–submitted by Ramsay Dyer

The Ramblers trip to Malaspina Peak was disrupted on Saturday morning by a large Grand Fir that had laid to rest across the Canton West Main, a few kilometres before where we wanted to go. I hadn’t thought to throw my saw into the truck, but cutting it up will be a fairly big project anyway. We did briefly try to pull it out of the way, but no.

So we decided to go for Tahsis Mountain. When we did Santiago the previous week, we got a look at the approach that Lindsay had taken from the same area to ascend Tahsis Mountain. This seems to involve a fair bit of road walking and bush now, so taking the alternative route, ascending in the Malaspina drainage, that I’d explored previously had some appeal. I guess I’d kinda forgotten that that also involved a fair bit of road walking and bush (probably considerably more).

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Santiago Mountain: A Verticle Bushwack

-submitted by Matthew Lettington; originally published on

Santiago Mountain rises from the shores of Tahsis Inlet on the west coast of Vancouver Island. From its summit, you can see some of the best views of Nootka Island, Tahsis Inlet, and some of the island’s most prominent peaks. Yet, for all its selling points, Santiago Mountain sees very few summits. At 1485 metres, this bushy peak’s summit barely reaches the alpine, but still includes enough tree-climbing, exposed scrambling, exposed tree climbing, and long, steep snow slopes to deter most island mountaineers from catching the views. How many have done so is a matter of debate: there’s no summit register to document the ascents –probably not worth it—and in our research we could only find one trip report, the evidence of at least one other via a rusted aerosol can on the summit, and shared word-of-mouth about one other person to successfully summit.

hiking on Vancouver Island's Santiago Mountain: A Vertical Bushwhack
Brooke and Ramsay, on the down route from Santiago Mountain

Distance: 12.5 km
Starting Elevation: 458 m
Maximum Elevation: 1292 m
Total Elevation Gain: 882 m
Total Time: 10 hours

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