Boring Art, Boring Life: H'Kusam Mountain via the Stowe Creek Trail                                                  

H'Kusam Mountain via the Stowe Creek Trail

I'm the classic weekend warrior. I only have one day a week to get out and make mountaineering magic happen. Though there is a ridiculous number of opportunities on Vancouver Island for outdoor adventure, Phil and I are exhausting the climbs that are possible to do as day hikes.
H'kusam Mountain via Stow Creak Trail
Phil walking in the krumholtz on our way back from the summit. 
Already we are pushing far up-island. Many of our Sunday adventures require more than five hours of driving, including early 5 am departures from Nanaimo. The Prince of Wales Range is proving to be a great location for new hikes. On Sunday, October 4th, Phil hosted an Island Mountain Ramblers event, a hike up H'kusam Mountain. Four of us met and hiked this objective, and three of us made the summit!

H'Kusam Mountain Stow Creek Trail Map
H'Kusam Mountain via Stow Creek Trail Map

Total Horizontal Distance: 11.1 km
Starting Elevation: 700 m
Maximum Elevation: 1664 m
Elevation Gain: 1028 m

Time: 7 hours

There are several trails used to access this peak. Two of them form a portion of the trail used for the H'kusam Climb, an annual trail-running event hosted out of Seyward. We used the Stowe Creek Trail, accessed off the Stowe Creek Main Line. Driving north about 60 kilometres from Campbell River, turn right off the highway onto Timber Road and take the left fork. The Stowe Creek Main Line follows the route used for the H'kusam Climb and as such, some maps have the road marked as a trail. It's definitely a road, but only a vehicle with high clearance and 4WD will be able to negotiate the crossditches and creek crossing to make it to the start of the trail. I left my Outback near the highway and hopped into Phil's Jeep Liberty. The larger vehicle made it to the trailhead at 700 metres of elevation with little challenge.

The air was cold, with the thermometer in my car reading two degrees when we started driving up the logging road. We started our hike at 8:45 am, and within minutes we passed the bullet-pummeled sign that marks the start of the Stowe Creek Trail. The trail is regularly used by race participants and therefore is well planned, booted, trimmed, and flagged. Additional features include: bridges to aid in water crossings, a hand line on the upper slope of the trail, and an emergency shelter with a pit toilet.
H'kusam Mountain via Stow Creak Trail
The sun peaking through the forest as we gain elevation
The initial section of the hike follows hard-packed logging roads, but after several kilometres the trail hits the second growth forest and softer trails. Elevation gain is gentle as the trail snakes up the mountain. Eventually the trees part and the soft forest floor gives way to loose rock (around 1180 metres). The parting trees expose the ridge looming far above and the col the H'Kusam Climb passes over (not our destination on this day). A hand line stretches down the hill, and shortly after the start of the line, the trail splits. The right hand route follows the race trail over the col and down to Sayward, while the route to H'kusam's summit continues up the hill for a stretch before eventually turning 90 degrees to the left (south). The route to the summit leads through some light bush which quickly gives way to a small creek crossing and a steep ascent up a southerly slope to the cirque below the ridge of peaks above.
after emerging from the trees we looked up the steep gully
looking up the gully after
the bushy section
Climbing the steep gully to the circe on the stow creek approach to H'kusam Mountain
Phil D climbing the steep gully 

As we climbed, the view opened to spectacular vistas of the Johnstone Strait and the mountain ranges on the mainland. There was no evidence of snow in the cirque, a feature that most of our beta indicated we would find. We were hoping to find a tongue of snow leading up a couloir to the main summit, but no such luck!
The cirque below H'Kusam Mountain
at the entry to the krumholz at the circque
We approached the cirque and made a choice to gain a ridge to the left (east). It provided easy access to the main route, though trail markings and cairns disappear. Once below the summit block, some poor choices cost us time. First, we gained too much elevation on the route. Next, Phil tried a gully on the far left of the massif; it would have required protection that we didn’t have. Third, I hemmed and hawed before traversing the steep scree slope toward the gully we first noticed upon entering the cirque, to the right of the main summit block.
long choss gully which leads to H'Kusam's Ridge
Looking up the gully which leads to the ridge
As Phil negotiated the complicated gully to the northeast, I continued toward the long gully. I carefully clambered down to the gully and started the long ascent. It's the crux of the hike and though it's a class three scramble, you should have the stomach for a steep angle and long slope. The biggest challenge is getting over a large boulder wedged in the gully. Lots of good hand- and footholds make it easy to get up, but care should be taken. The gully terminates in a col between two bumps. Once at the top, I turned left toward the summit and laughed. The slope on the opposing side of the mountain is ....easy. I was at the summit within a few minutes.
From the top of the long choss gully on H'Kusam's Ridge
From the top of the long choss gully on H'Kusam's Ridge
I stood at the summit, admiring the view of the surrounding terrain: Johnstone Strait, other peaks in the Prince of Wales Range, and the snow-covered coastal peaks across the strait. I stood quietly, listening for the other hikers.... nothing.  I returned to the gully and called out to the rest of my party. One had turned back, but the two others, independent of each other, were working their way either to or up the gully. Eventually both made their way to the top of the gully and to the summit. 
Looking east from the H'Kusam's summit over Johnstone Straight
Looking east from the H'Kusam's summit over Johnstone Straight

The summit is broad, easy to hike, and is accompanied by geodesic points and a survey tripod. We signed the register and enjoyed the view.  Phil J. and I took a few minutes to scoot across to a sub peak, just to make sure that it wasn't at a higher elevation. We were back at the main summit within ten minutes, and we lounged in the sun eating our lunch and chit chatting about the route - we were in no hurry.

Looking South From H'Kusam's summit
Looking South From H'Kusam's summit

Descending the gully was easier than I expected, but slow. We stayed close together so we wouldn't set rock loose onto each other. We descended the full length of the slope to the cirque below. At the bottom, we worked our way back to the original route and collected the fourth hiker before heading back to the car.
Phil and Phil scrambling down the tough section of the choss gully
Phil and Phil scrambling down the tough section of the choss gully
Though the hike took longer than we anticipated we made it back to the cars with plenty of daylight remaining. The hike and views were definitely worth the long drive. Soon we will be driving longer than hiking. For those who are considering this hike, check out the route I posted and consider printing a map that has the route details on it - it will save you a lot of time.  

I can't wait to get back to this area! Phil and I are planning a trip using Bill's Trail coming up from Sayward to Springer and Stowe. See you out there!

View album of 36 photographs from this hike...

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