April is a month of unpredictable weather. Before we head out on a hike, we are seldom concerned about the forecast; let’s face it, it’s usually wrong. On Sunday, April 24th, we planned to hike Steamboat Mountain, in the Maitland Range. We were going to use a route notorious for its bushwhack. With rain in the forecast, we made an exception to the rule and changed our plan–wet conditions and bushwhacking are a recipe for disaster. Pushing through trees branches, getting soaked and freezing, isn’t exactly my idea of great fun! Instead, we headed north, looking for respite from the forecasted rain.
Kokummi’s Long east ridge, shot on our way down
As predicted, the weather was erratic. We had it all: we hiked over logging slash and through dense bush in light rain and snow, through deep-snow-covered old growth in misty windy conditions, and finally along the gorgeous, rolling, snow-covered ridge to eventually be bathed in sun. The day was fruitful and the images created lasting impressions.
Over the past year, I’ve hiked some obscure mountains on Vancouver Island, in some hard-to-reach places, and even some previously unexplored regions. I’ve only just started exploring the Sutton Range, but so far I’m blown away by the views! This range of peaks is found on the northern half of Vancouver Island and accessed via a series of logging roads near Sayward. The drive may be long, but the views are well worth it.
We piled into Rick’s city car and drove the long road to Sayward, finally turning onto the all-too-familiar logging road that leads into the valleys between many of the peaks in the range. As we drove, we could see the monsters, peeking through the clouds above. They whispered a warning, but we didn’t listen. We had our minds set on a goal: Kokummi Mountain.
Rick’s car did well on the road, which is mostly in good condition. As the route climbed, the car struggled for purchase in the loose gravel. We parked below a steep section (~550m) on the MC12 spur, off the Gerald Creek Mainline. Bringing the city car saved us money on fuel, but we now had nearly five kilometres of logging road remaining to walk before starting our hike. I really wished we had brought my Jeep!
Warden and Victoria
The road is open and easy to walk; any all-wheel-drive vehicle would make it. The road twists as it climbs the mountain, gaining altitude quickly. We worked up a sweat early on, and soon the sky brightened and the air warmed, making our temperatures rise. This road must be an elk superhighway; there were literally hundreds of sections of scat piles on the length of the road. As we walked, we looked to Victoria and Warden and could see cloud quickly blowing over the peaks. It made these prominent peaks look even more impressive!
clouds in the low valley
We carried our snowshoes on our backs, but even now, at 1000m, the snow was just starting. The conditions were consolidated, and carried our weight well. We dumped our snowshoes, as we were now confident we wouldn’t need them.
We selected a line that looked clear, as there was no obvious trail. After crossing a ditch, we headed up the steep slope to the saddle, visible 80 metres above. Though the exposed ground was steep, it was easy to navigate between the sparsely planted spruce, hemlock, and cedar; in my opinion, it hardly even earned a B2 rating. The biggest challenges were the small shrubs that tugged at us as we passed, and the loose gravel that slipped away beneath our feet on the 40-degree slope. We quickly gained the snow-covered saddle, and caught our first view of the valley on the opposing side. It looked inviting, but it was nothing compared to what came later.
up through the old growth
We gingerly picked our way the short distance to the old growth. The snow was shallow, and as we walked overtop of fallen logs, we were careful not to break through the shallow crust into the pit traps beneath. More than once we broke through, and expletives were uttered. Into the old growth, and up we climbed. The route was steep once again, but the snow was in perfect condition for kicking steps, making it easy to gain the open upper ridge.
Emerging onto the open ridge (~1300m) was rewarding – we could almost see our goal! A thick fog blew across the ridge, but we could make out the shadow of the peak we sought, less than two kilometres down the wandering ridge in the distance. As we trundled west over the ridge, we had clear glimpses of the mountain ahead. At times it was clearly visible in the sun that blasted through clear blue patches in the sky, other times it was nearly encased in dense fog that made it impossible to see.
Across the valley
Kokummi Peaks through the clouds
Phil and I walked close to the edge of the snow-covered ridge and nearly jumped back! We accessed the ridge via a steep slope, but on the other side it is a sheer drop-off. As we stood at the edge, we had a view to the valley, 400 metres below us. It was clear of snow, and the sun bathed the creek and surrounding area in light, creating a stark contrast from the winter wonderland we walked.
Up into the clouds, Mount Kokummi east aspect
Our biggest obstacle was the final approach to the summit. The steep snow on the northeast face looked daunting: a slip would spit you off the side of the mountain. We played it safe and kept to the left, travelling over some light rock and snow to gain the summit above. Though it looked formidable, in the end, it was easy.
We were at the summit in good time. We gained the final 100 metres in fog, but as we reached the summit, the stiff breeze blew most of it away. We had a good view of the long ridge were walking, in both directions. The wind sculpted sharp edges on the crests of the snow-capped ridge, and the sun created a stark contrast that emphasized the sharp nature of the snow. To the south, we had a great view of Victoria and Warden Peaks. Even in the distance, across the wide valley, they towered above us. They would be an adventure for another time, an adventure much more challenging than today’s pleasant ridge walk.
Me and Rick on the summit of Kokummi Mountain
With the awesome snow conditions, the return trip was fast. What took us a few hours to ascend took us just thirty minutes to return. As we descended, the weather was up to its old tricks: midway down the ridge we looked back, and the cloud was gone, leaving Kokummi Mountain doused in sunlight. This earned nothing but a few grunts from our group.
descending back to the car
If you are looking for an out there mountain that offers exciting ridge walking and excellent views, but are not comfortable with exposure, this mountain may be for you. Although we needed to use our hands on occasion to fight the light bush up the short distance to the saddle (even this was easy), the route is fantastic.
The biggest challenge for our day was the logging road. Today was one of those days: six hours of driving, ten kilometres of logging road, five kilometres of ridge walking. If I sound bitter, I’m not – this trip was worth it!