It isn't often that I am able to take time to go camping in the middle of the week. I made a smart decision and took time off work to join in on adventure, a trip up a never-before-summitted mountain.
June 8, 9 and 10th, I joined four other hikers. We dialed in our compasses and GPS's to a (probably) unlimbered peek in the Alberni Valley, on the east side of Henderson Lake. For those that know Henderson Lake by its claim to fame, it left t us dry. It receives more than 21 feet (690 cm) of rain per year, making it the wettest region in North America but we had blazing sun and skies with only wisps of cloud... because they were mostly below us.
Starting Elevation: 2m
Maximum Elevation: 1379 m
Total Elevation Gain: 1900 m
Total Horizontal Distance: 18 km
For the record, I take no credit as being a trip leader, I was strictly a participant. Each of the other hikers carry far more experience with route-finding, climbing and island history than I. Rod Szasz, did a lot of the leg work for this trip. He communicated with the Uchucklesit First Nations, gaining permission to climb in this politically sensitive region.
viewed from the lodge, our goal
Accessing Henderson Lake requires a sense of adventure and a willingness to get out there, way out there, beyond where even Backroad Maps books will take you. The steep route has some loose rock, necessitating a 4x4. The road terminates at an old fish hatchery, a man named Blain met us outside its gate. He is converting the hatchery into an ATV adventure facility, which hosts t least 15 guests.
He greeted us heartily pointed us to a cedar tree with the largest canopy in Canada, only 200 metres from the lodge. It's branches are bigger than most timber being cut fropm forest these days. It is so large that it's starting to consume a large spruce tree beside it, I'm sure it's at least 20 feet in diametre.
The hikes starts at the end of a deactivated logging road. Within minutes we were walking through salmon berries that reached well above our heads. We followed the path of least resistance, skirting close to an avalanche path and water way. Chris expertly navigated up through the dense old growth forest and around the numerous bluffy sections. with a little lookiloo when we came to bluffy areas.
We climbed high, quickly, every few steps taking us higher. To gain the ridge where we camped at 960 m there were only a few moderately exposed steps, nor ropes needed as there is good handholds and great footing. If the conditions were different, wet, the story may be different.
The dry river bed at the start of the route
Val crawling under a rock ledge and using a tree to pull herself over the airy step with the ground 100 m below.
We originally aimed for a the col between the main peak and a sub peak, we hoped to descend from there to a lake in the circ below. We missed our target, we climbed a bit higher than intended but upon looking down we realized that the col was in thick bush and the descent to the lake, 150 metres below, possibly even bushier. We made camp on the broad shelf, close to a clean tarn, the only reasonable water source since Henderson Lake. The site is gorgeous but this otherwise idyllic campsite is home to many mosquitoes, black flies and noseeums. I still had welts subsiding several days later.
The morning of day to we woke to a fabulous view. The Henderson Lake basin was totally engulfed in cloud. After admiring it for a time, we ate breakfast and prepped for the day's hike.
submerged in clouds
Val, inspecting the route
The climb to the summit was easy, the route cleared of trees around 1100 and we didn't have to fight for every step. The hot dry conditions made for excellent traction and the rock surface is filled with with amygdules. The route is mostly simple hiking with only three short scramble sections over, made easy using green belays.
West Face of the summit massif, Uchucklesit Peak
From camp it took us around a hour to achieve the summit at 1379 m. Our anticipation of a bare summit was confirmed, no summit cairn or other evidence of past visitors. The view of the surrounding peaks is spectacular! Lindsay, Chris and Rod pointed out the surrounding peaks, an endless number: Golden Hinde, Comox Glacier, Triple Peak, 5040, Nahmint, Klitsa, Cats Ears, Hall, Lucky 13, Mackenzie Peak, Canoe Peak, Hannah, Hooper, Deer Group Islands and Broken Group Islands and so much more... of particular note, the Mackenzie Range in the foreground look dramatic, particularly Triple Peak.
Looking southeast from the big bump on the ridge
Rod Szasz walking northwest along the ridge after descending from the summit
We sat on the peak for some time before down-climbing the north face of the peak to follow the ridge north. The descent from the summit was sketchy class 3, we definitely relied on the timber and bush to lower ourselves to the broad ridge below at 1250. The easy-to-walk ridge undulates over several large bumps. We stopped several kilometres from the peak to eat lunch on the summit of one of the largest bumps.
Panoramic of Mackenzie Range and more
On our return to the camp, we avoided rounded the summit massif by circumnavigating to the right (west) over steep bushy terrain. With some effort we found our way back to our original route and to camp.
Day three brought with it the downside of hiking in the mountains; the descent, the return home. Often returning is faster but on this trip it wasn't. It was nearly impossible to follow the exact route down. We tried to avoid one section of minor exposure and as a result we needed to do a lot of route finding on the way back to the lake. Though we avoided the worst of the exposure, we also found some new challenges too.
We hit the shore of Henderson lake for a celebratory beer and rinse. Blain was still in the lodge and he invited us up for a sit-down and conversation. He regaled us with stories of Henderson Lake, how wet everything gets and the dramatic waterfalls on the hills.
I''ll be hiking with these guys again soon but I wont be hiking this mountain. The route was rough.