Steamboat Mountain via the Zipline

In Alberni Clayoquot Regional District, Hiking, Island Mountain Ramblers by ExploringtonLeave a Comment

Steamboat Mountain rises prominently on the north side of Highway Four; you may have spotted the prow, a feature on the east end of the summit ridge, on a drive to Tofino. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like up there, it’s incredible! It’s also a problem that took me a few years to work out.

The Limestone Twins, northwest of the Steamboat’s summit.

The mountain screams for good weather approaches. This route, like many of the others off Highway Four, creeps through some of the densest biomass on earth. Buried in dark forest, the route is slimy when wet, and any semblance of a booted route can be obscured by low-hanging, water-laden branches. And here is where I hang my many failed, foolhardy summit bids: winter trips done in search of routes accessible off the highway, as the backroads were covered in snow. Of course, these early spring and late fall months are also the wettest, and short on daylight hours. In short, failed trips done in foul weather.

Total Distance: 15.4 km
Starting Elevation: 51 m
Maximum Elevation: 1469 m
Total Elevation Gain: 1538 m
Total Time: 13 hours, 10 minutes

My fourth attempt was on a hot and sunny day in August (2019). Three of us left the zipline on the side of Highway Four, walking at a leisurely pace. We each had our own objectives; I was seeking the summit, while Carmen was keen on examining the karst features that are prominent above the lakes.

hike under the forest

Since my first trip three years ago, the route has become more defined. At the lake, there are a few sites for tents; good spots with cleared ground and a great view of the lake, making for a lovely sub-alpine camping experience (though probably buggy). It’s a place I’ve often thought about bringing my family for a few nights of camping.

The lake. Our route will take us toward the highest limestone feature visible in this image.

Beyond the lake (720 m), several different colours of flagging create a maze of routes. We stuck close to my original route, which helped in some places, but in others, we were trapped in the land of the little sticks, chest-deep in shrubs. Then, instead of hopping into the watercourse and following it to the cirque above, we wasted time on the south side trying to avoid it; a problem we rectified on the return trip.

finally stepping out onto the rock, We didn’t go back in there.

At 1060 m metres, we left Carmen to rest and admire the karst, while Andrew and I climbed the steep terrain searching for the summit. This was the best part of the day because the scrambling was fun, and behind us, the landscape opened. At xx:00 pm, we reached the summit of Steamboat Mountain (19469metres).

imagine water coursing down those veins

In the background, Hidden Peak (far right) and Mount Maitland (second highest point) in the Maitland Range

What a view! The mountain ranges created blue-green layers as they rose from their misty valleys. Of particular interest to me, Hidden Peak and Maitland Mountain, visible on the next ridge over, offered a clear view of the route I used earlier in the year. I carefully examined the features looking for details I could remember. On the day we summited Hidden, we were deep in the cloud, and it was difficult to visualize what the feature looked like. From the summit of Steamboat Mountain, Hidden looked truly impressive!

The Prow on the north end of the summit ridge

We spent almost an hour on the summit before heading down to rendezvous with Carmen. We followed an easier path, heading back into the watercourse earlier on our return to the lake. However, once we were back on the descent from the lake, we stuck to the original route back to the car.

One last look at the river, as we reflect on a long day of hiking

I’m happy we took our time. We may not have summited in record time, but I sure enjoyed spending time with friends exploring this seldom-summited mountain.

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Matthew is an adventure blogger and photographer. He documents his adventures on 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.

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