It's here at last! It took two years, but it's here: Winter. After the never-ending October (also dubbed the winter that never was), it was a welcome change to put my feet into a pair of boots and wade groin-deep into the snow at Green Mountain.
The three of us set out early, past the forestry gates and heading into the distant valleys in the Nanaimo Lakes region. Green Mountain was not our original goal; our objective was Marmot Mountain. The intense rain of the week followed us into the weekend and showed no signs of letting up. It was still dark as we arrived, and we did our best to dress in our rain gear in the car, to keep warm and dry. First light came as we began walking. We chuckled amongst ourselves, discussing which is crazier - the torrent of rain or the three of us heading into it.
A view from the top
This trip was one for the record books! Within five minutes, we were weathered out. The heavy rainfall (more than 200mm of rain) transformed what is normally a small stream-crossing into an impassible torrent of raging water. The three of us spent all of 30 seconds looking for a way to cross before turning around and heading back to the car. There, we set a new objective: Green Mountain.
Total Horizontal Distance: 5.3 km
Starting Elevation: 1040m
Maximum Elevation: 1471m
Total Elevation Gain: 403m
Total Time: 3 hours
Green Mountain is home to one of the numerous defunct ski hills on Vancouver Island. As a teen, I heard the stories of Green Mountain that persisted in the local culture, and I was always curious about it. I wanted to see the remains of the infrastructure and walk the old ski slopes, but there are two main obstacles in the way: forestry gates, and a deteriorating road. The gates are an easy obstacle, but only passable between October 10th and December 10th, when Island Timberlands opens the gates for hunting season. For the rest of the year, the gates are locked. Once in a while you may find them unlocked - however they may well be locked when you return! The bigger of the two obstacles is the deteriorating road. There is one section with a big dip in the road, either washout or crossditch. Every report I read indicated the need for a high clearance 4x4 to make it past. I attempted it in my Outback.
It took some fancy wheel-turning, and I did lose a small corner of my skid-plate because of my poor approach angle, but otherwise I did it with little concern. I suspect my skid plate was already hanging low from a previous adventure. The remainder of the trip to the parking area is typical deactivated logging road: sections are eroding due to water damage, and turning of the surface by vehicles in 4-low. The rain made the journey exciting, and we found deep pond-sized puddles to paddle through - I mean, “drive through”.
As we gained elevation, the temperature dropped. The cool early morning rain soon gave way to near-freezing temperatures, and eventually snow covered the road. We didn't make the normal parking area before the snow became too deep. It was 9:30 by the time we reached our second destination. Showers persisted throughout the day, keeping us in our waterproof breathables. As we gained elevation, the snow accumulated deeper and deeper. At first it was only ankle-deep, but by the time we reached the final summit block, some drifts would challenge our manliness.
The hike itself is straightforward, though it should be noted that we didn't follow any booted path as any extant route was well-buried beneath a blanket of soggy snow. We followed the obvious old road, past the wilderness sign to the large open slope that emerges on the hiker’s right. Setting our bearing on the hidden summit, we easily slogged up the hill and through a line of trees to the next old road. We continued into the trees beyond the road, making a beeline for the summit. We hoped that the trees would offer easier routing through the deep snow. The bush is dense in places but not impenetrable, though the wet limbs drenched us as we passed through. Mostly it rolled off.... and down into my waterproof gloves, where some quantity pooled inside and made a tepid well of terribleness.
a small view of the Green Mountain region
Exiting the bush, the objective was visible at last, the final summit block. From a distance, the feature looked challenging. It had a light skiff of snow over the surface, and I was concerned it would be a slippery slope to early death. However, as we approached the rocky slope, an obvious route become visible. A fierce wind blew at our backs as we scaled the route. The puddles of water in my gloves chilled, and I felt the cold for the first time. From the top of the step, the summit is slightly to the left. Even in the groin-deep snow, we were standing on the summit within ten minutes
Phil and Ken on Green Mountain
Phil and Ken on Green Mountain
The wind continued to blow as we took our photos and looked across the landscape. The wind blew rain and snow across the landscape. The best we had was peekaboo views of the valley below and the route we used to access the summit. We were at the top well before lunch, which felt ... odd. Our hikes are normally epic knee-crunchers. We considered our options and ultimately decided to return to the car.
As we descended, the howling wind intensified and became a raging gale. It drove the rain and snow into our faces and hands. Water peeled off my jacket as we walked down the step; twice I stopped and turned my back to the wind, because my eyes were so cold they began to hurt. Turning my back to the wind gave them a chance to warm. Once below the summit and back in, the trees of the lower areas protected us from the buffeting of the wind.
The return was quick. We stuck to the old road, avoiding the dense trees. We arrived back at the car before noon, and had no problems driving through the snow back to the gate.