When I think back on my numerous mountaineering adventures, Triple Peak stands out as a favourite among them. The approach is as beautiful as the alpine; it ascends beside a waterfall, and up to the large lake that sits in the bowl below the ridge. The lake alone is worth the trip, and many people make the hike simply to lie on the rocks and bathe in the water; however, it’s what’s beyond the lake that interests me. I seek opportunities to scramble over good quality rock, strap on some crampons, and ascend steep snow slopes on my way to Triple Peak’s aesthetic summit block. From there, different routes offer chances to place protection and climb to the summit.
Geographically, Triple Peak may be part of the Mackenzie Range; but as viewed from Marion Mainline, it stands out, separate from the rest of the range. It has a big mountain aesthetic: its three jagged peaks are fully exposed rock, emerging out of a large ice field below the summit massif. It looks more like the epic mountains you would find in the Rockies than a low-elevation mountain on Vancouver Island. Though it looks gigantic, it’s only 1525 metres high, ranking around the 183rd tallest mountain on Vancouver Island.
Total Distance: 8 km
Starting Elevation: 546 m
Maximum Elevation: 1560 m
Total Elevation Gain: 1069 m
Time: 9 h 3. m
As I drove Marion Mainline, I was reminded that the backcountry isn’t immune to change; a renewed interest in this region is bringing extra traffic. Approaching the trailhead in the early morning, I was surprised at the deterioration of the road. Only a year ago, I was able to drive my Outback to the trailhead; today, in my Jeep, I needed to carefully approach some of the trickier cross-ditches. As I navigated, I questioned how much worse the conditions could get.
Of course, not all the changes are for the worse. As recent as 2014, the route up to Triple Peak was listed as one of the top ten bushwhacks on Vancouver Island. A local hiking club has since adopted this route, as well as the route to Cobalt Lake, and has made dramatic improvements to both of them. As we ascended the waterfall approach, I was pleasantly surprised to find significant improvements along the route: the bush has been clipped back, many new handlines have been installed over the more difficult sections of the route, and a few <em>Leave No Trace</em> signs have been placed
Starting out from the car (~580 m), I had to coax my legs to start moving. They were stiff from the grueling effort on Idsardi the day before, and my tailbone still ached from the fall I’d taken there. Today, the dry conditions made our ascent easy, nearly slip-free as we moved quickly over the rocks and roots and snaked our way up the waterfall to the lake. We were only about 20 minutes up the trail when I realized I didn’t have my helmet or crampons, so I had to rush back to the vehicle to get them; Ryan pushed on ahead, and we met at the lake by 10:30 am, aiming to complete the greatest portion of the elevation well before the hottest part of the day.
Once we were back together, we discussed which route to use. We chose the Southeast Ridge Route, because Ryan was more interested in summiting than in picking a route that I had not done before. I was pleased; this is a fun route with lots of varied climbing options. Leaving the lake, we followed a lightly- booted path into the rocky alpine to the snow above. It was good to see a healthy snowfield on the side of the mountain, not only because I wanted to use my crampons, but also because the snow makes for easy hiking, both up and down. Once we hit the snow, it didn’t take us long to make our way to the chockstone and squeeze under it.
Once beyond the chockstone, I showed Ryan the bushy crack that most folks use to start the climb to the Open Book. Instead, I traveled to the left around the rock, scaled the easy step to a shelf, and then scrambled to the rap station above the bushy crack. Looking over the edge, I could see Ryan below, looking for me. I threw a rope down and top-belayed him up.
We had a lot of fun scrambling up through the bushy southeast ridge toward the Open Book. We built an anchor out of an old piton and bush, and added some small cams at the bottom of the route. Although most route descriptions call this route fourth class, we were happy to use the 20-metre section –the climbing may not be difficult, but a slip would be fatal! Ryan led the Open Book; once at the top, he belayed me up, and we approached through the dense bush before reaching the summit around 2:00 pm. We sat, ate lunch, and enjoyed our hard-earned view!
Sometimes, the trip up the mountain is the easy part; this trip was one of those, and the fun began on the return. We rappelled down the Open Book, but I forgot to take one of the two knots out of the rope, and it jammed in the ring at the belay station. I climbed back up to retrieve it, wasting a good chunk of time, and then rappelled back down. On the bright side, we both had a chance to lead the pitch.
My second blunder came as we traversed from the steep upper snow slope down a short rock scramble (three metres high and maybe two metres wide) to the final easy section of snow. My crampon slipped on the snow, and to save myself from falling down the rock and into the deep moat, I put my hand out to catch myself. As I did so, I heard the clatter of my ice axe (I suspect this will open me to some criticism) as it clanked down into the moat. I could hear the distinct sound of the aluminum tinking against the rock, well after the axe disappeared under the snow. It was gone. I lowered myself onto the easy snow slope below and marked the location on my GPS.
As we descended the waterfall, I had my third blunder. I had set my poles down against the rock to take a photograph of Ryan descending a handline, and the poles toppled over. I managed to catch one, but the second one tumbled down the gully and continued off the ledge at the bottom. Despite looking for it, even getting into the gully and checking the base by the water, I couldn’t find the pole. I suspect that it’s hung up in a tree midway down the gully.
There you have it: a selection of simple, easily avoidable mistakes that significantly slowed us down. It’s a good example of how fatigue can alter reaction time, costing time and increasing exposure in the alpine. I got lucky, I didn’t have any injuries – but certainly these incidents will inform my future practice.
We reached the car around 6:45 pm. Sadly, the delays meant that I made it home too late to put my little guy to bed, and poor Ryan didn’t make it home until well past his bedtime. In the end, we had a fine day in the sun, scrambling and climbing good rock, enjoying the slopes, hanging with the mosquitos, and spending time ascending one of the most aesthetic peaks on Vancouver Island. Not a bad way to spend my 40th birthday.
On the topic of tethers or leashes, I often use one if I am wearing a harness on steep snow and ice, but don’t usually use one while mountaineering. Further, if I was ice-climbing, I would be using a different tool that had a leash on it, but I’d also probably be attaching ropes and protecting the route. I started out using a lead, but over time I found that it caused more problems than it solved: for example, in more than one instance, I tripped on my leash. I walk toe-out on both feet, and I frequently caught my boot or crampons on the leash, causing me to stumble and careen down a snow slope, fighting to free my axe from my leg so I could self-arrest. I’ve also seen cases where fellow hikers have slid down slopes with the axe hauled down behind them like a weapon, flying toward them! There is a risk, whether you use one or not: although there are cases where it should definitely be used, there are others where it may cause the user problems.
There is a happy ending to the ice axe saga. Only a week later, the snow had melted enough to expose the axe –that’s a lot of snow melt! Apparently it was sitting on bare rock, no snow in sight. Thank you to Michelle and Ryan for picking it up and getting it back to me!