|approaching the final pitch tot he summit of Springer Peak|
|Springer Peak Map and GPS route|
Total Distance: 9.7 km
Starting Elevation: 46m
Maximum Elevation: 1604 m
Total Elevation Gain: 1558m
Time: 6 hours 50 minutes
Trail conditions were surprising. We anticipated a trail similar to that of the Stowe Creek Trail, but the two were nothing alike. Although Bill’s Trail is very wide and easy to traverse, it terminates around 1000 metres and transitions into the more traditional Vancouver Island mountaineering route: up and over rocks, through steep sections of moderately exposed forest, and featuring several viewpoints. This transition turned me into a liar! In my trip description, I classed the hike as steep Class 2, obviously underclassed. Bill’s Trail leads from Seaward to the col between Stowe Peak and H’Kusam Mountain. The trail is notoriously used in the H’Kusam Klimb, and the event produces a great map with many features marked.
Our early morning departure from Nanaimo permitted a great start time at the Sabre Road trailhead; we were hiking by 8:00 am. The day was cold. We started at 50 metres in elevation and the temperature was only -2, with the ground and trees covered in heavy frost. The gravel and soil crunched continuously as we made progress up Bill’s Trail. The route is easy to follow, but you must bring a map. There are a few sections where the trail bifurcates, and the offshoots often don’t rejoin the main trail; it would be easy to get lost in the lower sections. In the higher elevations, Bill’s wide trail ends and a more traditional narrow, steep, and rocky route continues on.
|The route ascends rapidly, and offers views of Seward|
In these higher sections, the frozen ground and rocks made for slow progress up the hills as we carefully chose our footing. On both the way up and down, each of us fell several times. Once, Phil took a fall that turned into a slide down the frozen forest floor. With firmly planted feet, I reached out and grabbed his poles as he slid down the steep slope past me. Fortunately, he was just at the start of his slide – otherwise his mass may have pulled me off my feet too.
|Phil taking his first steps on snow!|
The trail continues up toward the col between Stowe and H’Kusam, but our goal required us to step off the path before the lake. There is a large professional sign on the trail indicating the junction for Bill’s Trail, and the route then heads off into the forest. By the time we reached the turn-off, more than a few inches of snow had accumulated on the ground. If there is a booted path, we couldn’t see it, and route markers (flags and cairns) are far between. Regardless, we worked our way through the woods and up the hill toward the summit. At some point, we lost the marked route and we came to a short snow-covered Class 3 step. I was inclined to route around to the right, but as we looked up the short gully we spotted a ribbon at the top. The exposure is very limited, but the snow added some extra risk to the short rise.
|Phil on the summit of Spinger Peak, Stowe Peak and Johnstone Strait (looking east)|
Though the distance was short, travel was slow. The uneven ground was littered with deep snow drifts, up to my groin in some places. Regardless, within 15 minutes of leaving Paul, we were at the summit. We radioed to Paul that we were at the top. We decided to stay there for some lunch and photographs before heading back down. I was tempted to radio Paul and tell him to come on up. The final section was much easier than many of the more challenging sections he had hiked already. However, I respected his limits and resisted my urge. It took us about four hours to reach the summit at 1604m, nearly 1550 metres of elevation gain. A respectable time, despite being slowed by the conditions.
|Phil finds another hole on a summit! H’kusam and Stowe behind|
Once we met up with Paul, we picked a different route down. We hiked more to the southeast and found an easy route down through the trees and snow. We completely avoided the slippery rock step. Once descending below the step, we merged with the route we came up, and continued on this for the entire trip back to the car. Many of the morning’s treacherous sections were easy in the warmer afternoon temperatures – however, we still had numerous falls. I’m sure each of us came home with a bruise or two.
We arrived back at the car around 3:00 pm, before the light of the day dispersed -slightly bruised, tired, and happy. I would make it home in plenty of time to have dinner with the family and put my little guy to bed.