Boring Art, Boring Life: El Capitan trail clearing                                                  

El Capitan trail clearing

Recently, the Island Mountain Ramblers purchased a piece of trail-clearing equipment with the help of a grant from the Federation of Mountain Clubs of British Columbia. The club members had a busy summer, and September 25th was the first chance for us to get out as a club and use it.

GPS Route and Map with Photographs
Total Horizontal Distance: 20.8 km
Starting Elevation: 208 m
Maximum Elevation: 1210 m
Total Elevation Gain: 1051 m
Total Time: 7h 5m

There are a lot of trails in need of maintenance. For our first effort, we chose to clear the Lomas Lake trail. In the summer of 2014, Sherry Durford led a club trip to the lake, and we noted that the trail was slightly overgrown. At the time, we discussed the need for trail maintenance; this was the impetus for us to submit the application for the grant. Our plan was to clear the trail to a point right before the final creek, and then search for a route to the col between Mount Service and El Capitan.

A view of Service from the logging road
We arrived at the Cotton Wood mainline gate around 9:30am. As we unloaded our gear and prepped our bikes, we met two other hikers, members of the ACCVI, who were planning to hike the route we were searching for. They were surprised to hear we were coming to clear the trail, because the trail had been clipped sometime in the summer. We were a bit disappointed, but didn't give up. There is always work to be done.

The logging road follows the Cotton Wood Creek for about 6 km. The route is all uphill, gaining 230 metres. The ride was no small feat! I haven't been on a bike since I dislocated my patella on the Juan de Fuca trail in the spring of 2013; and even though I hiked all summer, my legs are not conditioned to riding, particularly the unfamiliar ride of a mountain bike as compared to my road bike. We pedaled up gentle grade for about 45 minutes before arriving at the removed bridge, where we stashed our bikes in the bush.

The river was low, and crossing was done by rock line or wobbly log. I opted for the wet log and made it across without incident. The trail continues along the road for about two kilometres more before turning to the hikers’ right and into the overgrown logging road, eventually converting into trail.

Generally speaking, the route to Lomas Lake is well-booted and is without need of cairns or flagging. As we snaked up the south face of the route, we noted evidence of previous trail-clipping. The four of us set to cleaning up the trail: cutting more of the alder, and clearing the branches of evergreen trees which would likely grow into the trail in the coming year. We made sure to cut the alder at the ground, and cleared much of the wood, including the trimmings from the previous group. Our work made the trail less of a tripping hazard, and gave it a more pleasing aesthetic.

We stopped for lunch where the old growth begins, around 820 metres. We basked in our accomplishment and looked forward to the route-finding from the creek. The remainder of the trail to Lomas Lake leads through typical mature coastal forest. The floor is visible, and we passed multiple forest monsters towering high above as we routed ourselves up the steep trail. For the most part, the route through the old growth to the lake is easy to follow; remnants of older trail markings are visible, orange squares nailed to the trees. For those familiar with navigating in the woods, the path is obvious

Though the route we followed is referred to as the Lomas Lake Trail, our goal was El Capitan. Our written description advises accessing the summit via the creek, though the description is vague and basically suggests using a series of ledges from the col between Mount Service and El Capitan. Our first goal was to make it to the col. The two ACCVI hikers were traveling well ahead of us, having used the route before, and they kindly flagged the turning point (10 U 410020 5423089) around 1000 metres. The creek is only 80 metres higher in elevation, so with care we were able to see blue sky through the trees, and a few pieces of flagging placed by the other group.
a sign we are on the right path
From this point, we turned up the creek bed. The terrain is varied, nothing more than simple hiking; however, there are no obvious signs of an established route. As we followed the creek on the right hand side, I was beginning to doubt the route as we eventually lost the trail of older and new ribbons. Our only further evidence of being on track was an old wooden sign reading “Mount Service”. Obviously, we were on an old route! Marking and clipping as we went made progress slow, but eventually we crossed to the left side of the gully and followed a series of elk trails to the open col. We were rewarded at the top with a view of the valley on the north side of Service and El Capitan; the valley dropped away, and on the opposite side an enticing ridge of peaks emerged.

We considered ending the day at the col. We had marked and trimmed a route, making it easy to find and follow; we were confident it would provide a reasonable route to Mount Service. However, there were still questions about El Capitan. With only 30 minutes remaining before our 2:00 pm turn-around time, I made a dash for the summit. I didn't make it, but I did get an additional 150 metres up the south face of El Capitan, enough to see the bluffy aspect of the summit above. I didn't mark the route, so I relied on my GPS to find my way back. Given more time, I believe I would've picked my way along the ledges to the summit.
around 1200 metres looking south

looking east, lots of bush and many ledges
Our return to the bikes was fast, and the return to the car was ridiculously fast! Because the route was almost entirely uphill on the way in, the route back was all downhill! I checked the GPS data at the car, and we’d topped out at 41 km/h, covering the distance in less than 10 minutes. It was definitely worth the effort to bring the bikes!

Though we didn't make the summit, we were not disappointed; our goal had been trimming and routing. It will take at least one more trip to find a third-class route to the summit and flag it, but I don't know when that will be. I still need to summit El Cap and Service so I'm sure it will be sooner than later.
a group of four pose for a shot at the trailhead

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