Many of those who read my blog will know that I live in Nanaimo BC and that most of my hiking trips take me to the mid and north island. If you know your geography at all, you will also know that Nanaimo is wedged between the ocean and the mountains, a magical sort of place. However, that place is being held ransom by timber companies. The relationship between hikers and the land-holders is complicated. Though we would love to see the mountain left untouched, the reality is that most of the access to the peaks we want to climb is provided by the roads that are built and maintained by the forestry companies.
Total Horizontal Distance: 11.4 km
Time: 8 hours
Starting Elevation; 885 m
Max Elevation: 1460 m
Total Elevation Gain: 1087 m
In the past I have written of the challenges of getting into the areas around the Nanaimo Lakes Region. I believe that many folks who live on the Vancouver Island have little concept of how the land owned by Island Timberlands has shaped their concept of where communities are located on the central Island.
Regardless, I am happy to report that I joined in on an ascent to Sadie Peak with the Island Mountain Ramblers and we successfully achieved the summit. We took advantage of hunting season, the only time that Island Timberlands leaves the gates are open to the public, on the weekend.
We met at Rod's house at 5:15 am, we wanted to be at the gate immediately when they opened to ensure that we could summit and descend before the gates closed for the day. Four hikers met at Rod's house, we piled into his vehicle and continued up to the Nanaimo Lakes/ South Forks intersection where we met our fifth. The forecast was calling for overcast skies and the air was chilly but above the frost line.
Early Morning, Near Full Moon
We were at the gate to the Nanaimo Lakes Region before 6 am, several trucks were parked with lights on at the side of the road but the gates were open and there was no gate-keeper, so we continued on our way. We drove along Nanaimo River Road/Nanaimo Lakes Mainline, keeping Nanaimo River on our left, passing first lake, second, third and approaching 4th. At Fourth Lake we began moving cautiously, we passed active logging. At one point we waited for a piece of large machinery to move off the road, even though it was only about 6 am.
Rod, our trip leader had scouted the route a few days earlier. The plan was to reach the gate the prevented access to areas into the Nitinat watershed. We were delighted to find that sometime in the past four days, the gate had been removed, entirely. There were signs indicating gate ahead but there was no evidence of the gate. We reached the high point of the road, the pass leading to the Nitinat watershed and took an old logging road to the south --a left hand turn.
It was still dark, the sun barely breaking on the east horizon as we wended our way along the road. We were nervous as we crept along the old road, the alder saplings scraping the undercarriage of the truck as we plowed forward. The dark created an abyss off the right side of the truck. We could see that the road sidled the hill but we had no idea the depth of the valley below. After about 500 meters we parked the truck and decided to make our way on foot to the end of the road and through the clear-cut on the east side of the road. When at last we stopped we had achieved 900 metres. The drive in this far cut off several hours of road walking, we were grateful.
We left the truck around 6:45 following the old road as far as we could, soon we ascended into the forestry wasteland. It took less than 40 minutes to haphazardly wander over the slippery felled logs and fungus to the treeline of first growth forest. Getting to the first growth was less than awesome but once within, the terrain opened up considerably, footing was easy, though we needed to find our way.
To say the least, route finding is important for this trip. There are no trail marker, cairns nor is there any flagging to loosely mark the way. We had a point marked on the map and GPS, Rod has hiked the area in his youth and has recently ascended several of the surrounding peaks, including Hooper, south-east of Sadie. We picked our way along. There were no significant challenges, nothing dire, nothing death-defying.
The biggest challenge was finding our way off the ridge we were following, to the main summit block of Sadie Peak. We eventually descended south east of the ridge and found a route up a scree slope. This gave access via a narrow gully that I would probably call steep third-class hiking, possibly with a tiny 4th class section to get on top.
Once on the summit, Rod wandered the ridge to the far end, while the rest of us ate our lunch. I took a moment to brew some coffee. Though the day was mostly sunny, we were still at 1440 metres and the small amount of wind chilled the air, everyone put on their jackets as we ate lunch in the crisp fall air.
After lunch we started our decent. If you follow the GPS route you will see that we made a few different decision on the way back. Some of these decisions were made to make the route easier and a few of them ended up making the route more challenging. Regardless, we were back at the truck and heading home by 3 PM.
If you were to ask me if this is a hike worth doing, I would say absolutely! Not only is it right in your backyard but it still remains relatively unspoiled, up above the cut areas below. The route mostly follows well worn elk trails, around the humps and bumps of the ridge, meandering through the moss and tarns of the low-alpine. It is unlike a hike to good ol' Mt Benson. It isn't a highway, you won't see anyone else at the top and the purpose of the hike isn't to get to the top. There are many opportunities to view the multitude of vistas but further, there is much natural beauty in the walk itself.
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