In the past three years, I’ve summited more than one hundred peaks on my list, and I’ve categorized them based on their type – which makes it easier to make recommendations to friends. When it comes to aesthetic ridge scrambles on Vancouver Island, Mount Abraham is among the best; for anyone interested in easy scrambles, I recommend giving this mountain a try.
On June 3rd we were turned back on our attempt to summit Mount Abraham because of poor visibility, weather, and a misunderstanding of the route description (read more here). But on June 10th, we came ready with a better understanding of the route and a burning desire to outrun the impending weather due in the afternoon.
Total Distance: 11.6 km
Starting Elevation: 784 m
Maximum Elevation: 1702 m
Total Elevation Gain: 1103 m
Total Time: 6 hours, 30 minutes
Immediately out of the Jeep we found our biggest surprise of the day: the twelve-foot-high alder grove that covered the road the week before had been given a fresh haircut — thank you, hiking angel! This new path allowed our group of three to reach the end of the road quickly and then head over the creek, up the west-facing slope to the Adam Creek Valley, past the lake, and south up the gully to the saddle on the ridge (1480m).
We took our first break at the saddle, revelling in the view we were denied the week before. Today, the forms of Schoen, Adam, and Maquilla were evident across the valley from us. After our snack, we followed the west ridge up to the sub-summit. We paused on the shoulder to take in the view of the wall that forms the next bump on the ridge, another feature we couldn’t see the day before. It looked dominating, but thanks to the trip report we knew what to do. We dropped off the west side of the notch, descended around the base of the craggy pinnacle, and back up to the notch on the other side.
Standing at the notch, we were faced with an exposed step up. Phil scrambled it without a thought, but I needed at least two or three before I grabbed a hold and put my back to the 50-metre drop immediately behind me. One or two easy movements brought me to the top of the rock and through a small but dense thicket of snow-slathered alpine fir –cold!!– then down and up the next section of rock, where we trended to our right. Phil opted for a direct route straight up some rocks, but I opted for the easier, although much bushier, route to the same endpoint.
By this time, I thought we were ascending the final slope to the summit of Mount Abraham, but when we crested the bump I could see that the ridge carried on over a series of rolling bumps. It was only a few minutes later that I made the final hike up a short section of snow to the summit.
We had an awesome view down into the Temptation Creek valley, and Schoen Lake stretched out below us. The peaks beyond the valley looked beautiful, but I was captivated by the east ridge leading away from Mount Abraham. The craggy points of the ridge rose out of the snow laying on the north slope. Although it looks aesthetically pleasing, I’d wager it’s a navigational nightmare!
As for the weather, we didn’t manage to outrun it. On our way to the summit, we got caught up in another June-uary snowfall. But the combination of snow and sun breaking through the clouds while we were on the ridge meant that we were never cold.
It was still early in the day, and none of us was overly excited about scrambling down our ascent route, so we took a risk and used an unknown route back down to the lake. Israel scouted ahead and found a few options for us to explore. He found a steep gully descending into the cirque below the northwest and west ridges (we looked down into that on our way up to the summit), but we could see a moat at the bottom that looked menacing. Instead, we tried descending the bushy ledges, hoping we could scramble down and avoid the steep snow gully.
It was a foray that ended with us looking precariously over the edge of the bluff while holding onto an azalea. We returned to the gully and slowly kicked our way down to the moat, then hopped onto the rock on the left side of the gully and walked off onto the snow of the cirque.
With the worst of the terrain behind us, we quickly navigated through the terrain (debris told me it was a common avalanche path) and down through the steep forest to intersect our ascent route above the lake.
If you’re considering this route and wondering which option would be best for you, decide what you like better: a choss-filled gully, or light exposed scrambling. If you’re keen on the scrambling, take the east ridge approach – you won’t regret it.
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