In early February, the southern half of Vancouver Island found itself in the grasp of a polar vortex. After the incredibly mild winter, and possibly because a couple of famous rodents promised an early spring, the dramatic fury caught residents off-guard. The temperatures fell sharply, reaching near double digits (to the negative). Regardless, I was itching for winter adventure, so Phil and I headed south to El Capitan Mountain.
The morning was frigid, and the little snow on the road led us to take a risk and leave the snowshoes behind. The hike starts with a long section of road that sidles along the Cottonwood River. We moved quickly, slowing only when we had to cross the creek at the deactivated bridge. Be it by log or rock-hopping, we crossed over and continued on the route.
We followed the well-trimmed route easily; even beneath a few inches of consolidated snow, it was easy to find the booted path. In time, we stood at the turnoff to the saddle between Service and El Capitan Mountain. The winter conditions pushed down errant shrubs, and we moved quickly through the brush to the col, then turned east to follow the ridge to the summit of El Capitan Mountain.
We mostly kept to the height of the land, diverting wherever obstacles warranted. At times the snow became ice, and all around us, the cliffs were decorated with spectacular displays of waterfall-ice; in others, we plunged knee-deep through the solid crust into the crystalline snow below. As we ascended beyond 1000 metres, the temperature dropped, and I was forced to add a third layer to my gloves and put a puffy jacket over my windshield.
Just after 12:330, we were summiting the last steps to the summit. At the cairn, we were buffeted by the frigid wind. I turned to Phil and leaned in so I could hear him in the wind that howled by: “My beard is frozen!” I turned to see: indeed, ice encrusted the whiskers of his beard. It was already time to get off the summit!
As we turned to head back to the car, the snow started falling faster. Within a short time, our approach route was obscured below the freshly fallen snow. By the time we were back at the car, a good four inches draped over the body.
Note: We spotted new road centerline after the old bridge. Likely this means new logging deep in the Cottonwood Valley.
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