Triple Peak summit attempt, on a day that turns wintery…

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Not every mountaineering adventure ends on a summit. Actually I suppose no hike should end on a summit, unless your flying off…   To kick off March, Phil, Mat Light attempted a popular alpine route, one  many other hikers are doing doing recently; Triple Peak.  We were inspired to give it a go on a previous hike when Phil and I were treated to outstanding views of this peak while we summited Mount 5040. This week, we crossed the road and attempted the southeast ridge, considered by many to be class 4. The route is described well by Pillip Stone in Island Alpine Select and on Quagger’s islandhike.com. This is my first trip up Triple Peak and I eagerly anticipated  the lake below the peak.

Triple Peak Map
GPS Route with photographic annotation

Horizontal Distance: 8.8
Lowest Elevation: 537 m
Maximum Elevation: 1525 m
Elevation Gain: 1120 m
Time: 8 hours

The forecast was poor, 60% chance of precipitation in the afternoon. Given the expected temperature, hovering around freezing and the altitude of the peak around 1500 m, we were concerned about snow. Additionally,weather earlier in the week dumped about 20 cm of snow on many of the more northerly peaks.  Unsure what we would find we set our sites high and hit the road early. 
We departed Phil’s home and won our way to Marion Main FSR by 630 AM. The familiar drive was quick but we did find significant fog once we hit Port Alberni. The air temperature was low, when we arrived at the trailhead it was still -1 C.  
I’m breaking my trip report in to three portions, Climb to the Lake, Lake to the Chockstone, and Chockstone to the Summit.  Each section offers different challenges, breaking it up this way makes the most sense. Overall the route is challenging and best attempted by those familiar with ice travel, scrambling and rappelling. 

Car to Lake (1000 m) — 2 km, 90 minutes, 500 m elevation gain

We left the car at 9 parking at 580 m. The route immediately we descends 50 m through the forest and across the stream. The stream was low but we did see a log that is possible to use for crossing during seasons with a greater water flow.  After crossing, the route eventually ascends through regrowing forest and directs the hiker tp a string of waterfalls formed by the outflow of the lake below triple peak.

The route is both well booted and marked. It crosses the waterway multiple times as it cuts across the landscape. There is no direct route, the surrounding landscape is filled with bluffs and dense greenery. Be prepared for travel over wet rock, possibly ice and slippery tree roots and branches. The ascent to the lake requires scrambling up rocks, the worst of which has ropes in place.

Photograph by Phil Jackson, Rick ascending toward Triple Peak
Photograph by Phil Jackson, Rick ascending toward Triple Peak

In many ways this is the most beautiful portion of the hike. The terrain is challenging but varied, keeping us on our toes. The landscape is filled with trees, rocky terrain, cool glacial water pools, waterfalls and on clear days the surrounding vistas.  We were fortunate, we were treated to views of the the surrounding mountains, including a view of Mount 5040 and Nine Peaks off in the distance.

5040 shot from just below Triple Peak's lake
5040 shot from just below Triple Peak’s lake

This day the route was dry-ish, easy to walk and scramble up. We made good time climbing up from the car in 90 minutes to the ridge that hides icy lake. Coming over the ridge is an amazing experience. I knew the lake was there, I have seen the photographs but being there, in that moment…. You can smell it, different from the surrounding landscape.

In a photograph, the lake is just sitting there, sure it’s beautiful but it isn’t alive. As we gained altitude coming up over the ridge and around the rocks, it grew.  The wind caused shifts in the varied surface composed of two types of ice and exposed water. Each of the surfaces provided its own unique view of the alpine lake. The thin melted sections gave  a perfect reflection of the landscape beyond, the new ice had a complex crystalline structure and the dense ice was opaque. Sure the lake just sat there, but it sat there… showing off.

Lake to the Chockstone (1440 m) — 2 km , 90 minutes, 500 m elevation gain

The middle portion is often the easiest of the trip. It climbs over easier rocky terrain, often covered with snow. The goal is to get from the lake to the southeast (climbers left) side of the centre massif. There are a variety of routes one can take. We hiked to the left the first bluff and followed a set of boot prints up an easy route to steeper slopes above. As per the norm, there were cairns leading every which-way.

admiring the route up to Triple Peak
admiring the route up to Triple Peak

 We started walking on our first patches of snow within a few minutes of departing the lake. Around 1100 metres the snow became densely packed with about 3 inches of softer fresh snow on top. With a deeper top layer I would have been concerned about avalanche, as the slope is much greater than 30 degrees at points. However, today the cover gave the benefit of giving easier conditions for self-arrest. Once at the top of the hill by the lake, we put on our crampons. 

Phil, Rick and Mat following up the final slopes of Triple Peak
Phil, Rick and Mat following up the final slopes of Triple Peak

Climbing Triple Peak, shot by Mat Light
Climbing Triple Peak, shot by Mat Light

The final approach to the chockstone is fairly straight forward. Look up, see where you are heading and move toward it. It final slopes below the chockstone are steep and we definitely used our mountaineering axes.

Phil heading up toward the chockstone on Triple Peaks southeast ridge
Phil heading up toward the chockstone on Triple Peaks southeast ridge

Chockstone to Summit   1 hour, 250 m, 100 m in elevation

Gaining the southeast ridge is straight forward and requires only familiarity with scrambling and travel on ice slopes. The remainder of the climb requires the hiker to be comfortable with very steep terrain, exposure, possess a degree of flexibility and willingness to use green-belays. Our final approach to the chockstone was on snow. We drove our axes in deep and kicked steps while using the boulders to mantle ourselves up to the hole below the chockstone.

Once at the chockstone, we removed our backpacks and pushed those through the small opening before shimmying ourselves through, one at a time. We noted that there is a newer piece of tubular webbing with a metal ring installed, this provided us the easy ability to rappel the steep slope, make our descent easier.

Once beyond the chockstone the terrain transformed. Immediately the mountain dropped away and the snow disappeared. We had little view as the cloud was starting to lower, slowly and ominously. Preparing for the final scramble ahead we removed our crampons and backpack. We consulted the knowledge provided in our research and poked about to find a route up.

If you examine my GPS route you will note that we first attempted a route straight up the greenery. Though this may be possibly it had a level of exposure we were not comfortable with. We searched and found an easier way. From the chockstone, follow the contour to the west side of the mountain (climbers left). From the west, we were able to use vegetation and rocks to step up onto a large boulder, This was the biggest challenge, Once on top of the boulder, we found a route marked by webbing left by past hikers. We able to easily scramble up class 3 & 4 terrain, climbing heather, trees and rock, higher and higher.

I made it as high as the the open book, about 20 metres in elevation below the summit. I could see belay points above me but I wasn’t ready to scramble up on my own, another hiker below me had the rope. I’m confident I could get up but less secure in the down-climb.   This isn’t the only reason we turned back. Time was ticking, 15 minutes past our turn around time and weather was rolling in. As I sat at the open book, snow began falling. It came as a few flakes at first but before long it was descending at a constant rate and accumulating on the cold rock and trees.

It was the right decision to turn around and save the summit for another day.

Descent

The decent from the summit was only slightly faster than the climb up. The steep slopes and snow cover provided excellent practice for self arrest practice, glissading or descending steep ice slopes.   Some of us participated in self-arrest the practice. I want to be more comfortable descending snow and ice so I descended, mostly, by walking.

We didn’t descended via a different route, we wanted to save time and reduce exposure to hazards. We considered that we may have followed a slightly longer than needed route up,so we looked for a different route down. The conditions were such that our foot prints were starting to be obscured and at the lower elevations of exposed rock was now wet.

I was the only one to have a fall this day. I stepped on a patch of snow attempting to move down a 3 metre section of slab, ice greeted my foot and I slid on my ass down to the moat of snow below. I’m lucky I didn’t injure a knee, shin, or anything other than my pride. Needless to say, the remainder of my group took a detour back toward our original route. This left me on my own as I hustled the short distance down to the lake.

I had about 15 minutes to kill before the gang arrived. So I took the time to boil up some hot water for coffee and hot chocolate. When the others arrived we took our time admiring the lake and enjoying our drinks before carefully descending the rocky and wooded terrain below us. We arrived back a the car with no further incidents at 4:45.

Brewing coffee at the frozen lake, Triple Peak
Brewing coffee at the frozen lake, Triple Peak

I’ll return to this peak, giving myself more time and bringing  extra rope.

View Full Album of 28 Photographs

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  1. Pingback: Failure Is A Stopping Point on the Way to the Top: Climbing Triple Peak via Southeast Ridge | Explorington

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