Winter 2018 took its sweet time arriving on Vancouver Island. Many Vancouver Islanders eagerly watched the forecast as they tuned their skis and took stock of their winter gear. I too anticipated a beautiful winter pursuing adventure in the white stuff. Yet, by late October we were still waiting for the first hints of snow to hit the alpine. Fortunately, in the seemingly endless wait between the hot summer and the white stuff, there was a lot of fantastic fall hiking.
On October 18th we had a fantastic day; ideal for the type of hiking we wanted to do in the Prince of Wales Range. I love hiking the peaks in this range. They offer easy access to what I’d call mostly-easy hiking–except for the bush. And on top of the quality of the hiking, the mountains, Roberts, H’Kusam, Springer, Stow, Milner, Kitchener, High Rigger, and Big Tree all offer stellar eastward views of the Johnstone Strait. Plus, if you have a clear day you get views of the Coast Ranges including Mount Waddington; while, to the west Victoria and Warden stand prominently on the horizon. The views are tough to beat (in my opinion only surpassed by the view from Tyee Mountain).
Total Distance: 12.9 km
Starting Elevation: 744 m
Maximum Elevation: 1485 m
Total Elevation Gain: 878 m
Total Time: 7 hours
We followed a route similar to one described by Lindsay Elms in the Island Bushwacker: follow an overgrown logging road for four kilometres, hit the south ridge and hike up into the bush to the alpine to the summit. As described, the route is easy, and the terrain is simple to navigate–not bluffs just bush.
We had perfect weather for the route to Mount Roberts. The twisted alder branches were bare, and in any other season the leaves would be sure to cause a sense of claustrophobia, inhibit forward movement, likely harbour water that would drench us; But today, the frosty morning air allowed for dry, crisp air and moisture free branches. The leafless skeletons parted easily as we pushed our way along the four kilometres of the logging road.
We followed the old road as it pushed deep into the valley and below the west side of Mount Kitchener. Where alder roads are often a slog, today we rowed through them with minimal effort. Personally, I was encouraged by Mount Roberts which was visible even in the thickest part of the road.
Before we reached the end of the south ridge, we found a section of slash that looked relatively clear and started our upward travel. The toughest part of the day was the barrier between the slash and the mature forest. A dense thicket of stubby evergreen near halted our forward progress and leafless stalks of devil’s club greeted us in some of the soggier areas. However, this didn’t last long, and in not much time we pushed onto the south ridge and ascended the low-alpine terrain to toward the summit.
At worst the terrain could be classed class two, though I did have to touch a rock with my hand once on the way up (on the way down we rerouted in favour of more comfortable walking). With the sun shining we reached the summit before noon and took the time to enjoy the view of the mountains all around us.
Being that we reached the summit in under three hours, we had the luxury of laying out on the rocks to eat our lunch and bask some sun. Phil and I explored the ridge looking for options to get to Big Tree (more on that later). Although we had a great view of the coast range and all the peaks in the Prince of Wales Range from Mount Roberts, the strait was filled with a sea of cloud. Its view was a stunning spectacle, but we couldn’t see the coastline or islands.
After more than an hour on the summit, we headed back to the vehicle. Mostly, we followed the south ridge, along our ascent route but to avoid the devils club we found earlier in the day, we continued along the crest of the ridge until we were less than 60 metres elevation to the road. Here we turned sharply and descended.
Above, where I wrote the bush between the slash and the mature forest was thick; that was wrong. In comparison, the short stretch back to the road took forcible pushing to move the branches apart. In places we just squeezed between closely packed immature trees. Fortunately, we found no more devils club-bonus!
Once back on the road, It took about ninety minutes to get back to the car. Moving through the twisted alder felt more challenging, but it all in my head! It ninety minutes; the same time as the morning.
It was an unexpectedly great day on Mount Roberts. For a long time, we put off this hike because we dreaded the overgrown approach. I’m sure that our fabulous time was only because we picked the perfect season, and the perfect day.
As for Big Tree Mountain, there’s hope for a better approach. When we were high up on Mount Robert’s ridge, we spotted fresh logging across the valley. After a lengthy search through three valleys, we found a recommissioned logging road that looks promising. Big Tree Mountain, here we come!
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