It’s been two long years but it's finally here: winter! Last year, I had big aspirations for winter: snowshoeing, skiing, alpine ski touring, and winter mountaineering. Of course, winter never arrived. Like many other Vancouver Islanders, I have photographs taken on the summits of mountains that are bald! I remember a particular hike up 5040, when Phil and I sat on the summit sunning ourselves in shorts and t-shirts - in February. Even Cobalt Lake had only a thin crust of ice on it, and a few crazy girls were swimming in it! Regardless, winter is here now, and we found it in Strathcona Park.
Ramblers snaking up the hill
Continuing through my long list of mountaineering ambitions, Crest Mountain was the goal for December 20th. By all accounts, it's easy and commonly hiked. It features a well-developed and marked route with signs in a few key places, and the trailhead is on the side of the highway. The trail does have a few steep sections before attaining the summit ridge around 1400 metres, and then an ambling ridge walk to the main summit. However, meteorological conditions prevented us from achieving our goal.
Total Distance: 8.4 km
Starting Elevation: 338 m
Maximum Elevation: 1216 m
Total Elevation Gain: 934 m
Total Time: 6 hours 15 minutes
I picked Phil up at his house before we rendezvoused with more members at Chapters; we would meet the remainder of the hikers at various stops as we made our way up-island to the trail. As we drove Highway 28, the air temperature dropped, snow appeared on the road, and eventually it began to snow. At first they were small fine flakes, but before long there were massive flakes dropping on the windshield. We joked that they were almost fully-formed snow-people; many of them were more than three inches across! We crept along at a safe pace; we arrived at the trailhead (300m) tardy, but we made it.
Seven hikers in total tackled the route in the early winter conditions. The wet snow continued to fall as we took our first steps on the covered trail at 9:30 am. We each trusted gaiters, rain jackets, and gloves to keep us protected from the cold. Our snowshoes were strapped to our backs, and there they remained for the entirety of the day. Though there were only a few inches of snow on the lowest sections of the trail, it was rejuvenating to walk through the pristine conditions. After its long absence, each of us appreciatively breathed in the cool air of winter and admired the snowy landscape.
A view from the bridge crossing the lake
Crossing the bridge on the Crest Mountain trail
The route gains elevation steadily, and the higher we hiked, the deeper the snow piled up around us. The snow of the lower regions was wet, laden with water, and packed down well. Around 600m the air cooled, and the snow turned to powder; it no longer packed well under the boot, but remained only 30 centimetres in depth. As we hit the steepest section of the trail, the final approach to the summit ridge, the snow became wall-like, creating traps to catch poorly-placed steps. This caused us to get off-route, and miss an important gully - the one that gives access to the top of the ridge. By noon it became clear: we would not make the summit ridge. Undaunted, we pushed forward, trying to get as high as possible for our lunch.
lob bridge on Crest Mountain Trail
At its greatest depth, I was nearly swimming through the chest-deep snow, the depth made worse by the steep angle of the hill. I would first pull with my arms, lowering the snow to a level where I could lift my long leg up and kick the snow down. The powder resisted not at all, though it packed poorly under foot. Progress was very slow on the steep terrain, and a few missteps led to some hilarious blunders. I tried stepping onto a log (far below the snow) and missed it. I ended up over my head in the snow and needed Phil and Rick to pull me free.
Phil, testing his manhood!
At last, we stopped below a rocky bluff for lunch. We were fortunate to have a peekaboo view of Kings Peak as we ate. We hit our turnaround time, and the conditions were stopping us from proceeding further, so we turned tail and descended the slope much faster than we had climbed it.
Enjoying our view, at last
Our Peak-a-boo view from our stop
We arrived back at the car by 3:30, damp and tired. It was a good day, but we lacked the vigor that comes with a summit achieved. This one will remain on my bucket list for another day.