Hiking Queen Peak in the Sutton Range

In Activity, Clubs, Hiking, Island Mountain Ramblers, Mountaineering, Regional Districts, Strathcona Regional District by Explorington1 Comment

Queen Peak (Sutton Range) sits well off the highway, easily accessed via the Seward Junction. The name of the peak often creates confusion with another Vancouver Island feature commonly referred to as Queen’s Face, part of the King’s Peak hike in Strathcona Park. Queen Peak offers a steep approach through logging slash and first-growth forest to reach a long low alpine ridge that leads to its summit, which provides one of the best views of Victoria and Warden Peaks.

Queen Peak Vancouver Island, Hiking Lettington
The view of the valley below

Anticipating a long drive from Nanaimo, our plan of attack included camping at the trailhead to give an early morning start. We left Nanaimo well after dark as I needed to tuck Hemingway into bed first. The four of us rendezvoused at Phil’s house before hitting the long road to Seward Junction. Our beta provided good directions to the trailhead. Though the road is in reasonable condition, we encountered several cross-ditches at the upper elevations. Twice the passengers vacated the car to give enough clearance to get through the ditches and up the steep sections of hill. Once, they even pushed so I could get enough power to get up the hill; damned standards! All told, the drive took about four hours, including the long (more than 40 kilometres) logging road. It may have been faster had we travelled in daylight; the drive includes multiple turns on logging roads, and a few times we nearly took incorrect spurs.

Queen Peak Vancouver Island, Hiking Lettington
A late setup by car-lamp and an evening beverage before bed.
Queen Peak, Vancouver Island Map and GPS Route
Queen Peak GPS Route and Map with photographs

Total Horizontal Distance: 6 km
Starting Elevation: 700 m
Maximum Elevation: 1639 m
Elevation Gain: 972 m
Time: 6 hours 20 minutes

High up on the logging road, at the start of our hiking route at 720 metres, we set up camp under clear skies. The stars shone bright, outlining the black silhouettes of the distant peaks. We shared a few beers before heading to bed. Though I slept well, I would be remiss in my friend-duties if I left out one detail: we camped near a trickling stream that created a significant amount of noise all night long. Though I didn’t have an issue, several of the hikers found sleep difficult, and made several trips to … water the forest.

We woke at first light to freezing temperatures. The gathered condensation formed into ice crystals on the tent fly. As I dressed, I shook the fly and the small ice balls dislodged, rolling off the fly onto the ground. We left the tents standing, anticipating a nice day; we hoped the tents would be dry by afternoon and easy to put away. We ate our breakfast and packed our bags; by 7:45 we were on our way up through the slash, the nastiest section of the day.

The route travels up the southeast face, through an old clear-cut. Picking a way through the slash and emerging regrowth is no fun task. We discovered a lightly- flagged route, though it’s difficult to say if this was placed by hikers or by tree planters. We climbed to the edge of the clear-cut (around 1000 m); looking down, we could see our camp. Though we had a clear view of the landscape, we just walked – no route was evident. We turned our sights to the forest, and as we moved up the hill, fortune favored us; we found a lightly-flagged route.

Queen Peak Vancouver Island, Hiking
a few steep sections, with plenty of tree-holds

Following the flags, we maneuvered up over a series of ledges, and around the features of the landscape. We trended to our right, heading generally toward the exposed ridge we had seen from the car. The terrain is steep but clear, with very little underbrush to trip us up. The route we followed up is better than the one we used to get back down. Heading up, the route was steep, but mostly class two with a tiny bit of class three. The short steep sections had plenty of handholds and trees to assist us as we moved.

Queen Peak Vancouver Island, Hiking
emerging from the trees at the skyline/ridge

Below 1300 metres, we trended below a section of bluffs toward the skyline of the ridge (the one visible from the car). Once on the ridge, the forest gave way to krummholz, and easy hiking of the upper ridge. We had an amazing view of the distant mountains. The route was easy to follow – we picked up an obvious booted route. We were surprised, because fewer than three people a year sign in to the register! It’s sobering evidence of the impact hikers have on their environment. A good reminder to stay on the beaten track to preserve the pristine nature of the surrounding environment.

Phil on the move
Snow and ice accumulating on the ground 

Once on the ridge, we followed the crest up and over a small bump before catching a glimpse of the main massif. From a distance it looked formidable, but as we approached, an easy class two route became evident. As we ascended, accumulated snow in the low areas of the rock made deliberate placement important. Otherwise it was easy, and we made it to the summit by 11:00.

A most majestic view of Victoria and Warden from Queen Peak Summit

The cairn was just visible under the fine crust of snow that formed on the broad summit. We easily pulled the register, adding our names to the list of visitors. Since the register was placed by Rothermel in 2008, fewer than five groups have signed it. From the summit, we had excellent views of Victoria Peak and the valley below. A strong wind gusted as we reached the cairn; it was cold, and every one of us put on our rain gear to cut the wind. After a lengthy lunch and some good conversation, we turned our backs on Victoria Peak and headed home.

Queen Peak summit shot
Queen Peak summit shot

Returning, we followed the ridge along our original route. As we descended into the trees, however, we diverted from our original route and followed a new set of flagging down the steep slope. The route does go, but it’s a much more aggressive angle, with some sections of exposure and a few scrambley bits.

Emerging from the forests atop the clear-cut, I felt the day’s hike was done. We had less than 400 metres to travel to the car! Unfortunately, it took us almost an hour to make it through the slash, as we didn’t find the flag route to guide us down.

At the car again, we discovered our tents warm and dry. We were packed and loaded in the car by 1:40, Queen Peak disappearing behind us. On the drive back, about 45 kilometres from the highway, we passed two RCMP constables driving in a service truck.  We pulled aside to let them pass, and they stopped and talked to us from their vehicle. Apparently they were “out for a drive”. The conversation was benign, but they gave my Outback a long hard once-over with their always-observant eyes. I guess the kayak racks raised questions. You run into folks in the darnedest of places.

I would jump at the chance to do this trip again! It is a pleasant, if aggressive, slope to hike, and the alpine gives great views.

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