Vancouver Island, home to forest giants and cold oceans is often overlooked for its alpine opportunities. A favourite feature of the high alpine is the chance to strap on crampons and walk the many pocket glaciers and snow fields. However, the changing environment means that glacier walking on Vancouver Island may have it's days numbered. This year with the hot dry conditions, after a year of poor winter snow levels, the glacier ice melt is visible. I visited many mountains this summer and walked on a variety of these pocket glaciers, in all cases the blue ice was on the surface and melting away.
Mount Albert-Edward (left) and Mount Regan (Right)
September 13th, 2015 I was joined by Phil and two others on a day trip up Mount Regan. It's Mount Albert-Edwards neglected little sister, sitting tucked in beside Albert-Edward. My readers may remember that I tried this trip earlier in the summer, but we took a detour when the weather didn't cooperate. This time, the whether cooperated and we successfully reached our goal, experienced a few surprises along the way and despite a hair raising fall, had a great trip.
Horizontal Distance: 36 km
Starting Elevation: 1080 m
Maximum Elevation : 1969 m
Elevation Gain : 1949 m
Time: 14 h
The route to Mount Regan covers 36 kilometers of terrain and more than 2000 metres of elevation gain over terrain that varies between easy to hike class 2 to a few scrambley class 3 sections. Any time you plan a 30+ kilometer day trip you know that you are in for a full day of hiking.
Phil and I were en Route to Raven Lodge by 5:30 am. Driving in the dark drove home the fact that Fall is truly upon us; a stern reminder that we would be pushing daylight and may have a nighttime return to the car. As we reached the parking lot the sun was just cracking the horizon. Parking, we met our third member as were exited the car. Though it was still dim we wasted no time hitting the trail. As we took our first steps on our day's long journey the air held a chill that kept small ice crystals on the surface of the board walk, it was just past seven.
All evidence of the dry summer has given way to moist ground and fall colours. The earthy smell of decaying vegetation filled our nostrils until we reached the high alpine and found ourselves on the rock of Mount Albert-Edwards long ridge.
To access Mount Regan we followed the standard trail through Strathcona Park to Circlet Lake. The trail leads south through Paradise Meadows to Lake Helen Mackenzie and traverses the west edge of the lake before gaining elevation up past the Forbidden Plateau Ranger Station. At the station the route rounds west and down to Circlet Lake. The trip from the parking lot to Circlet Lake is 10 km gaining and then loosing 400 meters of elevation; the lake and parking lot are at the same elevation. The roughest sections start as the trail rounds the lake. It's badly eroded and puts a sad face on the state of Vancouver Islands premier mountain park. It's in a disgraceful state.
Chance for a water break, Albert Edward's ridge in the distance
For a party of three we made excellent time, under 2 hours to Circlet Lake. The official trail ends at the lake but a well booted and marked route picks up --in many ways it is better than some sections of the official trail. The route quickly gains elevation, 600 metres in about 2 kilometres. On this trip we followed the route that moves past the ridge cairn marking the junction between Jutland and Albert Edward. Following the ridge toward Albert Edward we met our fourth party member at spot where eventually dropped off the ridge to the shelf below (marked on the map (10 U 326818 5506100)).
Crowberry slop with the easy to walk rock in the distance
We four examined the two potential routes. Standing at the top of the drop off (1700 m), midway along the ridge, we could clearly see the route heading down to the talus slopes at the bottom of Albert Edward's long moraine ridge. We picked this route as the drop off from Albert Edward, in the distance, looked questionable. We made the smart choice. We descended the steep drop off on the left side , down a combination of choss and crowberry slope. We lost close to 100 metres of elevation before traversing the easy to pick route. Doing so, we contoured around the 1600 mark toward the blind corner where we used a copse of trees to lower ourselves onto a shelf that leads to the slab of rock and ice below the ridge high above. As we approached it became clear that we carried our ice axes and crampons for nothing. The snowfield marked on my map has greatly eroded, the route was clear of ice and snow.
Johnathan leading across the talus slope, just below the drop off
The ice creaked and cracked, we could hear collapses from inside the ice
The final approach to the saddle between Albert Edward and Mount Regan is up an easy to navigate slope of rocks. The rock is stable and I felt confident as I took most of my steps. Around 12:45 we arrived at the saddle and sat to eat and examine the route up the mountain. Even with our great route descriptions and GPS tracks the mountain looked indomitable. However, the route revealed itself as we approached the slopes. Reaching the summit block we stayed right, to the south face of the mountain. At no time would would cross over the ridge line to the opposing side.
I had a lot of fun walking this long fin of glacial till
The most challenging portion of this hike is the route finding from the saddle to the midway point up the mountain. The terrain is littered with easy to scramble rock and it is easy to set rocks falling, be careful! There are a number of gullies that provide passage to higher points above. Many of the sources I referred in my research pointed to a key gully (N49 41.033 W125 25.907). This is the crux of the entire trip. It is simple class three with some minor exposure. After the gully it was easy to find our way. We traversed as we climbed the south face to the opposing skyline where were able to easily pop up to the summit around 1:30 PM.
Martin has this image from his trip report that shows the route at a distance.
we climbed and/or stayed to the intimidate right of the dark rocks in the middle of the image
Phil coming up the gully
On the windy summit we found a register and signed in. In my previous post I quoted others stating Regan sees fewer people in a year that Mount Albert Edward sees in an hour on a busy summer day.... so true. Examining the register we noted that in 2013 the mountain had no visitors and that each year only one group visits! We were quick-ish covering the 18 kilometres in six and a half hours but Lindsay Elms put us to shame logging the summit in 4 hours from the parking lot?!
Returning to the car we followed the lower route down the mountain. The key gully was easier to down climb than it was coming up! Phil grumbled as we descended, he carried his heavy 60 m rope to rappel the gully; a heavy piece of gear to carry 36 km and not use. Thanks Phil!
On Mount Regan's lonely summit.
I would love to say that the trip back to the car was quick and uneventful. I would like to say that but I cant. As the trip leader I suggested we walk a long fin of moraine that leads down to the path we hiked up (in fact, I hiked in this way). The fin is basically a pile of glacial till, probably formed by glacier movement down the hill. As we walked, I had the terrifying experience of watching a fellow hiker lose his footing.
It happened a benign way. His foot twisted and he rolled, falling onto his back, then turned with his head facing down hill! I could see tragedy coming. At the last moment he was able to turn and get up on his feet but that didn't stop the slide. He veritably surfed down the gravel and rock backwards, setting off a slide of rocks as he went. Fortune was with him, he looked like a pro, one hand on the ground a fierce look on his furrowed brow as he lost about 20 metres of elevation; he didn't fall. Rather than continuing up the slope he continued down the way gravity would carry him We met at the bottom to provide some first aid. He had some nasty gashes on his hands and an injured ankle, no broken bones and he declined the need for SAR. Though he was slowed, he was not incapacitated and was even in the lead as he marched us out.
The hike out was no faster than the hike in and we were only rounding Lake Helen Mackenzie when the sun set. We broke out our headlamps and continued on our way, making it to the parking lot at 9PM. We were tired but happy to be at the car with the summit in our memory and the long path behind us.
For those that bothered to read the route description be sure to give yourself a lot of time to complete this hike. We hike fast, most folks won't be able to cover more than 30 km in a single day.
I want to acknowledge those that provided beta for us: Shawn Hedges for photographs and GPS route; Peter Rothermel for an excellent trip report and route description from his trip in 2008; Martin Smith for his route description on Summit Post. The more I hike the more connected I feel to the generally disconnected group of mountaineers. We build a knowledge-base about the mountains we love and I am happy that we can share our experiences with each other.