I often wonder how my blog posts are perceived by those who read them. While the website is a vanity site, it’s never been my intent to brag; rather, I’ve always been interested in sharing first-hand experiences gained in Vancouver Island’s diverse backcountry. However, over the past few months, I’ve come to realize that some folks must think I’m bragging. Not that every post celebrates some new summit, but more often than not this is the theme of my content. On September 10th, however, during a hike in the Maitland Range, I found everything but success.
Total Distance: 8 km
Starting Elevation: 290 m
Maximum Elevation: 860 m
Total Elevation Gain: 651 m
Time: 6 h 15 m
When the regional forecast called for heavy rain, we thought better of our scheduled bushwhack and instead headed for the west coast. Maitland Mountain, our Plan B, is part of the Maitland Range, nestled on the west side of Highway 4 before Kennedy Lake. Even though the area is notorious for its bush, we took our chances here rather than face the certainly wet bush of the Prince of Wales Range. Our gamble didn’t pay off.
You know the going is rough when Phil voices his doubt about the route within the first half-hour. After parking on the side of the logging road, and hopping across a nearly dry creek bed, we continued on a long-abandoned road grade. It took only a few minutes before we were fighting through towering salmonberry, mixed in with blackberry and alder. Either there was rain the night before, or the plants were well-moistened by a heavy dew that morning, because we moved at a snail’s pace as we struggled to stay dry. In that first half hour, we still held hope that the route would ease up and the plants would give way to much easier-to-navigate old-growth. It never did. The road grade got worse and worse, until eventually the three of us stood in the middle of the bush towering several feet above even Phil’s 6’3″ frame.
We came ready with a GPS route and a description used by others, but we gave up on it – the bush was just too thick, and the ground too hazardous. Several times, one of us stepped forward and found no footing, then tumbled a short distance forward into the bush. We’re lucky we didn’t get hurt! Instead of stubbornly forging ahead, we looked to the high bluff on our right and pushed through more dense bush until we reached a narrow band that crossed below the rock bluff that towered above. This would be our first, and worst, mistake of the day: we listened to the siren’s call and got sucked into five more hours of bushwhacking.
Our route was – wait, let’s not mince words, there was no route at all; not even animals go to this place! We followed a bushy series of benches and ramps up steep terrain, often requiring the use of green belays to lift ourselves up to the next line that looked like it would go. Eventually, we did break out of the trees for a few minutes, onto a rib leading off the peak high above. Even at our highest, we were still below 870 metres in elevation, which was truly disappointing; however, we did have a few moments where we could see heli-logging occurring in the valley below, and the surrounding peaks were beautiful.
As we climbed, we gave up the quest to remain dry, and by the time I reached just 500 metres elevation my clothes were saturated to just above my navel. With every plant I touched, I could feel the water running down my legs and into my shoes, at which point it just flowed out through the mesh. If I thought this was wet, I was soon to find out what wet really meant. Even as we traversed the ridge crest, we didn’t escape the bush, nor the wet. By the time we reached the incredibly steep, forested section where we decided to turn around, I was soaked up to my shoulders. There was no part of us that was still dry.
It didn’t feel like defeat when we turned around; it felt like a quest to find our dry clothes back in the Jeep. We descended a different route, and although I think it was an easier route than what we came up, there were still plenty of hazards to negotiate, ones that nearly caused us serious injury. At one point, Phil slipped and found his leg twisting above his head, but came to rest safely at the edge of a twelve-foot drop; Shannon stepped on a hidden rock that rolled out from under her feet, and the only thing that saved her from a ten-foot fall was a rock that pierced into her backpack and caught her. We got lucky!
When we arrived back at the car, I happily changed into my dry clothes and drove toward home. Because we turned around so early in the day, we had time to stop at Bare Bones in Port Alberni, a stop that almost made the day worth the misery. Well done, Maitland Range!
So if you have ever read through my site and thought I was just bragging, please think otherwise. I make mistakes of all kinds, and though I don’t post every mistake I’ve ever made, you can be sure that this trip isn’t the only crapfest I’ve experienced.