I did the math: I’m approaching the 100th peak in my Island Alpine Quest. Although most peaks on Vancouver Island have some level of difficulty associated with their approach, some are even more difficult to get to, and Gemini Mountain falls into this category. It’s tucked deep in behind Nanaimo, past Third Lake and south of Fourth Lake. Although there is a good-quality gravel road that drives up to 1200 metres, and the peak would be a lovely short summer hike, the trick is getting access to the road!
Total Distance: 5.4 km
Starting Elevation: 1218 m
Maximum Elevation: 1524 m
Elevation Gain: 600 m
TimberWest owns the land, and thusly controls access to the gated road. Fortunately, the gates are open from October to early December, coinciding with hunting season. That’s right, we were wandering through old-growth forest while armed hunters searched for their prey; but so far -fingers crossed- we’ve been able to avoid getting shot!
Fifteen Island Mountain Ramblers met outside a local Harewood coffee shop, in the early morning light of Sunday November 13th. After signing waivers, drinking some coffee, and having a good how-do-you-do with each other, we loaded into five big vehicles and made our way through the pouring rain to our destination. As the vehicles climbed the logging roads, I was surprised at how high we were able to drive. By the time we reached our parking spots, we were higher than 1200 metres.
It was still drizzling as we exited the vehicles and prepared to head up into the old-growth. Each of us was dressed in waterproof breathables, and a few even dressed in rubber jackets, hoping to stay dry. We stepped off the road and into the old-growth, with nary two metres of slash to deal with! The trees are well-spaced and the underbrush light, all making for easy travel up the steep hillsides. Eventually we intersected an old route, complete with sparse flagging; not enough to navigate by, but enough to confirm that we were on the right course.
As we approached 1400 meters, the air temperature dropped and the rain turned into slush. Clumps of snow darted off our clothing and hats as we pushed through a final section of light bush toward the summit. The final ridge meanders through low alpine terrain. A thick layer of moss and heather create the groundcover, but they barely hide the choss below. On a dry day there would have been no obstacles to speak of, but the greasy slush added a small challenge to just one section of rocks. However, it barely slowed us. We arrived at the first summit by 10:00 am, but stood around only long enough to take a few photos. The combination of cold, wind, and wet gave each of us a chill, and chased us south toward the second summit.
We made great time through the trees and over the terrain. We trudged down the hill, losing more than 100 metres of elevation to get to the col between the twin peaks. The space between is gorgeous, with hardly any evidence of human activity. Though a few of us complained about the cloud because it blocked our view, I enjoyed it because it added to the feeling of isolation and did its part to hide the logging on the surrounding hillsides.
We arrived on the second summit at around 11:00 am. It’s a broader summit than the first, with a few small puddles that we had to navigate between. The day’s snow was starting to accumulate on the ground. It made for an aesthetic experience, but not a comfortable one. The group didn’t waste time on the summit; it was simply too cold! We stepped behind the shelter of a dip in the land to eat some snacks and enjoy warm drinks from a thermos.
Our return was quick, even considering that we walked off route once. The descent was slippery, and more than a few of us did a bum slide down some of the steeper sections. However, we arrived back at the cars uninjured and in good time to make it out the gates.
I thoroughly enjoyed the route, and the company even more. As I hiked, a single thought kept running through my head: I sure wish I could visit this area in the summer! Perhaps one day, I will get to do that.