Wet. It was wet. It was very wet. This doesn’t even come close to describing how wet we were by the end of the day. It was the kind of day where any effort or equipment used to contravene the water would result in failure; so, we left our raingear in our backpacks with our dry clothes in case we needed them to get warm—a smart decision. It was the kind of day where I saw water well out of the cuff of Clarke’s boot when he stepped down onto a rock, and oozing out of the tongue of Phil’s boot when he flexed his toes.
Total Distance: 9 km
Starting Elevation: 225 m
Maximum Elevation: 1258 m
Total Elevation Gain: 1140 m
Total Time: 9 h 15 m
Our Mount Maitland adventure was a hike into the dense Highway Four forest. If you love bushwhacking, Mount Maitland is a perfect example of a classic B3/B4 bushwhack that ascends through the various zones of biodiversity that exist in the rainforests of Vancouver Island. Our original plan was a daytrip to Hidden Peak, an adventure we’ve failed on once before. But, because of the recent rains, I was concerned about the required creek-crossing, and we did a small search of the logging spur where we would typically park. As we followed the road –beyond the end of the mapped road– we drove onto a new logging road and eventually parked at a very new, though locked, gate in front of a new bridge–Eureka! That’s all we needed. We were enticed to explore farther along the road.
We walked a short distance and discovered a new Tla-o-qui-aht micro-dam project and a fresh road that led even further. This inspired a new plan for the day. High above us through the clouds we caught glimpses of Mount Maitland. This final objective for my bronze climbing award called to me, and we answered– into the dense bush!
It’s as though the first 500 metres –the most physically and mentally exhausting part of the trip– is a warning for everything yet to come. It’s an obstacle course littered with all manner of booby traps and micro-terrain. The weather was no help; a misty cloud engulfed everything. It was worse than heavy rain, because the water hung on the leaves of every plant, rather than falling to the ground. Additionally, the mist obscured what limited sightlines we might have had through the bush.
It probably goes without saying, but the route up the very steep east slopes required excellent route-finding skills. In addition to fighting the dense bush and rough terrain, we also had to navigate around a series of tall headwalls to find access up the mountain. At other times we crawled on our hands and knees over blankets of moss so thick that it hid giant boulders (far more massive than a human body), which periodically shifted as we tried to walk over them. Sometimes we squeezed between rotting logs that lay stacked on top of each other, slid down slime-covered rocks and moss-filled gullies, and there was definitely a large amount of rowing through water-laden blueberry.
Every element of the hike required careful consideration, and as a result, it took three hours to cover just 1.3 kilometres straight-line distance to the ridge at 1100 metres. As we climbed, I hoped to break out into low-alpine terrain above 1000 metres, but we found only two small spots along the route that I would consider open viewpoints. Even at the ridge, the forest was dense with plenty of underbrush. We followed the ridge north and kept to the left of the ridge (good luck trying the right– that first step is a doozy). After nearly attempting to summit the wrong massif, we dropped farther down the west slope, traversed below the summit massif, and climbed back up to a bushy col between Mount Maitland and the western sub-peak.
Gaining the summit was an easy scramble, but the route was a fun challenge. After following a bushy gully to 1200 metres, we worked ourselves far out to our right between bushes and rocks. At one point we looked down on the trees we had threaded between on our approach. Even just 20 metres below the summit, there was considerable bush to move through, and the final scramble up the gully had a few well-placed trees that I used for green-belays.
It was shortly after noon when we finally broke out of the bush on the summit. Sadly, there was no view. I don’t often care if there isn’t a view, but today I was hoping to look down on Kennedy Lake to see Laylee Island. Several years ago, I made a trip with my family on the lake, and Mount Maitland was the first mountain that my son took not of and talked about.
The route back to the car was excruciatingly slow. The upper section went fast enough, but that last 500 metres before the road took us more than an hour to navigate.
If you’re looking for your own adventure in the Maitland Range, I’d recommend Steamboat Mountain over Mount Maitland. But, if you insist on summiting it, then my only piece of advice is this: if you find yourself in open terrain, you’re off route. At least, you’re off my route, and I wish you luck.
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