On May 11, four Island Mountain Ramblers assembled on the West Canton Main to make an attempt at Malaspina Peak. Unfortunately, we discovered a 20″ diameter Grand Fir tree laying across the road. A significant obstacle by any measure! We spent some time delimbing it, but even then
Ramsay’s large truck didn’t move it an inch before the wheels started spinning in place — it was just too huge! After scratching our heads, we quickly decided to change our day’s goal to Tahsis Mountain.
Total Distance: 13.4 km
starting Elevation: 250 m
Maximum Elevation: 1295 m
Total Elevation Gain: 1180 m
Total Time: 9 hours, 15 minutes
This trip report is sure to raise some conversation among island mountaineers as to which peak is the real Tahsis Mountain, because there are a variety of resources that hold conflicting information. Between Google, CalTopo, the BC Trim Maps, and the BC Geographical Names database, there is no consistent placement of the mountain on the ridge. Conventional wisdom maintains the summit of the mountain is the highpoint of a ridge, but on Vancouver Island, I can point to at least four different mountains where the highpoint isn’t the summit. Regardless, for the purposes of this report, I’m going to use the summit that is described by the BC Geographical Names database.
Because of our earlier misadventure, we reached our parking spot beyond the south side of Malaspina Lake near 9:00 am. From here, our hiking route followed an old deactivated logging road deep into the valley we spent our day climbing out of and then back into. We were lucky to find a game path that led us to the head of the high-walled valley, through a re-growing slide area, and over a lightly-flowing seasonal watercourse to the place where our fun would begin.
In the bright sun and heat, we looked to the skyline from the base of the valley. It was breathtaking to see the high, bare limestone features converging with bushy evergreens, and above all of this a few prominent gendarmes marking the ridgeline. Originally, Ramsay recalled the route being “not that bushy”, but by the time we reached the valley I was beginning to question his personal tolerance for bush.
Our route struck up the west-facing slope. We kept to the high ground and paralleled a seasonal watercourse as we headed northwest along our route. In the lower sections, we found a good animal path, but it petered out as the slope angle increased with the density of the bush. In some sections, we were ascending through what I call exposed forest: places where you step onto trees that are overhanging long vertical drops to who-knows-what below. Although the bush wasn’t the most persistent we’ve ever travelled through, it was very thick in places. Adding to the level of challenge, there was some scrambling up limestone, where the forest duff created slippery conditions.
Over the next three hours, we climbed up through the bush, following the direction of the terrain without seeing our goal. Around 1000 metres, right when the terrain opened up, we finally found our first patch of snow. It’s here that we started the debate over which bump was our goal for the day.
We settled on the target that was marked on the printed maps; our GPS showed a moderately different point. From our lower elevation, we ascended moderate snow slopes to the base of a rock slope. A short scramble along narrow ledges and over loose debris brought us to a small saddle where my GPS announced we had arrived at the summit– clearly not! We headed north along the narrow ridge crest and in just a few more minutes we stood on the rocky summit (1280m).
We ate our lunch, staring at the obviously taller rocky pinnacles to the south. They rise dramatically, with bush, rock, and snow forming the towers that rise from the ridge. The completionist inside me sweated, and the pragmatist groaned because I didn’t know the elevation of Tahsis Mountain as reported in Island Alpine. After a good deal of conference with Phil, we decided that we didn’t have the time or the water needed to reach either of the bumps.
We departed our perch, intending to follow the north ridge along an alternate route, previously explored by Ramsay, back to the vehicles. This was the highlight of the day. From our summit, the ridge looked incredibly long, but in reality, it was just an illusion created by the perspective of the mountain. The bumps are quite close to each other.
I can’t say that we hit every feature, but we did reach most of them. On the second-to-last one, I had the joy of inspecting the navigational sign that overlooks the Tahsis. Several years ago, when I hiked Nootka Island, I looked up from the town and saw the sign. At that time, I couldn’t make out what was on it. Well, now I know: nothing. That’s right! It’s a really fancy metal sign constructed to withstand the elements, but the fabric sign has blown away, leaving just the threads flapping in the breeze.
While Phil and Dustin hung out in the shadow of the big sign, Ramsay and I ran out to the final bump to get a glimpse of Tahsis Inlet below. Having stood on this last bump, we returned to the others and started the trip down to the car.
We descended north off the ridge and joined up with a snow-filled drainage. While three of us took the easy route in, Ramsay tried to repel his way down using trees –crazy! Eventually, he succumbed to my pleas, climbed back up, and followed behind us. This gully gave quick, bush-free access to the saddle on the lower ridge.
We dropped off the east side, seeking a deactivated road in the valley. Whether the terrain was easy, or it was just fascinating, we moved quickly through it. As we proceeded, Ramsay pointed out some karst features hiding in the snow and forest duff: vents (and maybe grikes). These were evident because of the large depressions created in the snow.
Before long we’d cleared the old-growth and found ourselves at the edge of the cut block. Tall salmonberry and robust Devil’s club were abundant, but we got lucky and happened across a very well-worn elk trail that meanders down to the logging road.
At first, thinking back to Ramsay’s recollection of the road as “not that bushy,” I was grateful to be on the logging road. Unfortunately, that feeling didn’t last long –Ramsay will be the first to admit that his memory about the road was poor. Over the next 90 minutes, by some combination of Twister and limbo, I worked my body and bag between the 4″ alders –at least there were very few branches at body height. Soon, we popped out on a much better section of road.
In comparison to the bushier section, this final section of road was quite remarkable. At one point we passed through what must be an elk rut. Almost all the trees in the vicinity bore the black scars of aged antler rubbings.
At the end of the road, almost back at the vehicles, we had one last water crossing. Even with the high heat and the creek at max flow, it was passable by either rock-hopping or wading. Phil and Dustin pulled off their boots and reveled in the icy waters that soothed their hot feet, while Ramsay and I hopped over the rocks to get to the other side. At this point, it was only another 10 minutes before we arrived back at the Jeeps.
On the issue of climbing the peak listed in Island Alpine, I fear we missed it. When I got home and checked the published elevation in the book, it’s listed as 1310 metres — we only attained 1290. As for the issue of which peak is the true summit, I’ll leave that for others to decide. I know that I have to go back to get my objective, and probably the highpoint.
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