Zeballos Peak Exploration

In Clubs, Island Mountain Ramblers, Mount Waddinton Regional Distrcit, Mountaineering, Snowshoeing by Explorington3 Comments

Sitting on the south side of Zeballos Lake rises a seldom-summited peak of the same name. It suffers from the ignominious problem of being a neighbour to the far more glamorous peaks of the Haihte Range; with an elevation of only 1540 metres, it’s a problem that won’t be outgrown by this report.

a hike to Zeballos Peak

Zeballos Peak, the south face

On March 17, 2019, I joined Phil and Ramsay on a summit attempt of Zeballos Peak. We were in high spirits as we started our hike. The south-facing slopes of the mountain were clear of snow to the end of the road, allowing us the luxury of heading straight into the slash without the additional work of grunting up a steep logging road (450 m).

Zeballos Peak Route

Total Distance: 6.8 km
Starting  Elevation: 450 m
Maximum Elevation: 1380 m
Total Elevation Gain: 941 m
Total Time: 7 Hours

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1Cy7h3oi3MWjqJdXdMXO1lx8o88vy9O1p&usp=sharing

the sub bump on the same ridge as Zeballos Peak, as viewed from the start of our route above Zeballos Lake

We lacked significant beta on the peak, and prior to the trip had numerous conversations about route options. Even at the vehicles, before we started our hike, we picked a different route only moments before heading into the thicket of slash.

Whether it be favourable or foul, we had fantastic weather. We were catching the first days of an early spring heatwave that pulled the island out of a series of polar vortexes throughout the late winter. At first, in the shade of the old-growth, we were delighted by the warm sun. But as we crawled beyond 900 metres, we entered onto a snow slope that brought the full heat of the sun.

a hike to Zeballos Peak

We moved quickly up the barren slope while the light reflecting off the snow baked into us and forced sweat on our brows as we ascended. The heat also brought other problems: avalanches and cornice drops.

a hike to Zeballos Peak

Still smiling

It was obvious that the center of our slope was a slide path; even if our line was sheltered from the cliff in front of us. If our instincts and experience didn’t reveal this fact, the frequent river of snow slowly flowing down the center of the slope was clue enough. We ascended on the left , well clear of the river and always keeping our eyes up. As we ascended, the right side of the slope rose high into a wall, and it became clear that the slope narrowed into a gully — a gully with high walls and several largish cornices overhanging an obvious terrain trap we would have to travel through should we continue on our course. We didn’t.

a hike to Zeballos Peak

watch out for the snow!

At 1250 metres, some 150 metres shy of the crest, we cut across the still wide slope, seeking a different route to the summit. We could see a short section that required a brief ascent up some steep snow and some scrambling up the rough rock to…who knew what. Only a moment after we decided going further up the snow would be foolish, we heard a very loud crunch as a cornice crashed into the ground and raced down the mountain — not all that close to where we were previously standing, but the incident validated our choice to change direction.

a hike to Zeballos Peak

into the cruddy rock

Of course, things seldom go as planned. Continuing our route took some awkward moves over ice-covered rock to get up to a ledge to another ice-covered slope. This was my least favourite part of the day, because there were so few options for footing. I couldn’t kick through the thin layer of ice because of the rock below, and I was in no position to put crampons on (we hadn’t needed them 2 metres below as we were up to our knees in snow). I jammed the pick of my axe into the snow and held my breath as I used the edge of my boot to creep to safer ground.

a hike to Zeballos Peak

At this point Phil took the lead up the next obstacle, a debris-filled rocky scramble up. It looked easy enough, but proved to have a variety of challenges including falling debris, spontaneously falling rocks let loose by melting snow, and a side of the rock face that left Phil scrambling for footing like some sort of cartoon character. Let’s just say, it’s a good thing we had donned our helmets back at the car.

I had only a little more luck than Phil. As I was at the top of the rise, I reached my hand forward to test the stability of a large boulder (probably close to my own weight). I hardly tugged on it when the whole fucking thing tumbled out on me. I did a short hop and kicked my legs out of the fall path, while yelling, “ROOOOOCK, DUCK!”. Looking between my legs, I watched the boulder tumble a few metres and crash off the rock where Phil was waiting, sheltered behind; take a second bounce off the rock Ramsay was sheltered behind; and then drop out of sight… only to explode, a short moment later, into a shower of small rocks. The thunderous crack we heard told us the boulder must have landed on rock and snow below, throwing dozens of small stones and snow up into our field of vision.

We got out of there as quickly as we could and counted ourselves lucky that we didn’t have any serious injuries. Things could have been dramatically worse if we hadn’t taken as much care as we did, and if luck wasn’t on our side.

a hike to Zeballos Peak

Starting our route back

That short slope crested at 1280 metres, and from there we found much more forgiving terrain that we scooted easily along until we finally caught a glimpse of our goal. Its south face looked starkly orange-red against the contrast of the blue sky and white snow cutting across the face. We were so close, but our time fiddle-farting around on the cruddy section had cost us significant time. Examining the route, we all agreed that we had no intention of returning the way we ascended, and that extra time would be  needed to find an alternate way back to the vehicles. We knew we could make the summit, but the prospect of bushwhacking down unknown slopes by headlamp was stupidity. I think we also felt that our good luck was running out. We headed for home.

a hike to Zeballos Peak

Our route back meandered down snow-covered slopes, through trees, and worst of all down into thigh- and sometimes hip-deep wet snow. All through the afternoon, we could hear avalanches roaring in the Haihte Range across Zeballos Lake. We made excellent time, even with the difficult route-finding.

a hike to Zeballos Peak

Around 540 metres we crossed paths with what was likely the remnants of the cornice drop from early in the day –-dang, that went a looooong way down!

At the vehicles, we licked our wounds, revelled in our successes, and enjoyed the exhilaration brought by a fabulous day in the sun. We’ll be back, Zeballos Peak, but not soon.

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About the Author

Explorington

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Matthew is an adventure blogger and photographer. He documents his adventures on explorington.com. His stories create a vivid backdrop that give his photographs cotext. He finds his adventures with the Island Mountain Ramblers, and whenever possible, his family joins his adventures.


Comments

  1. Rad photos dude and great report. We were up there around the same time.

    1. Great article on Zeballos Peak
      I am coming over from the UK in October and staying in Zeballos fishing
      Looking for one day away from the fishing , any guides out there that would be interested in taking me up the Peak ?
      Welcome any contacts you may have

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