Adventure is ephemeral. For many, a real sense of adventure comes in a novel experience, such as discovering a new place or a new activity. For me, adventure comes in taking chances. On Sunday March 5th, the adventure was in risking poor weather on a hike up Mount Becher, and navigating in questionable conditions.
Mount Becher is a common location for those seeking easy access to a backcountry experience. Depending on the season and conditions, it offers hiking, snowshoeing, backcountry skiing, ice climbing, ridge walking, and more. On occasion, I’ve even found snowmobilers using the old ski runs! The trailhead is the old Forbidden Plateau ski resort, also referred to as Wood Mountain. From Highway 19, follow Piercy Road to Forbidden Plateau Road (less than five minutes down the road). Forbidden Plateau Road is usually in good condition, often accessible by city car, because it's plowed in the winter. This explains why, on a sunny day, I frequently find 15 or more vehicles parked in the lot.
Total Distance: 11.4 km Starting Elevation: 690 m Maximum Elevation: 1391 m Total Elevation Gain: 770 m Total time: 6 h 30 m
Upon arriving at the parking lot, we discovered that the recent snow that dumped 50cm on nearby Mount Washington had delivered only rain to the Forbidden Plateau area. It was almost bare; looking up the hill, I could see a lot of exposed rock and gravel leading up to the old shed. I wasn't surprised, as winter is coming to a close. I abandoned the hope of testing my sled on some steeper terrain, and strapped the snowshoes onto my backpack.
Four of us departed the cars just before 9:00 am. While passing the foundations of the old ski resort, I noted the crazy number of old fire pits that have turned into charred logs lying on bare ground. We walked the patchy snow and rock to the old shed, and it was here that we decided to finally wear snowshoes.
We worked our way through the sloppy, slushy snow, climbing the east face of the old ski hill below the defunct ski lift. We followed the commonly-used summer route. In the winter, the route is usually well packed; sometimes it's even possible to walk the route in regular boots, with no need for snowshoes. On this day, the track was only barely visible below the heavy blanket of fresh snow. We navigated up and out of Wood Mountain Park (~1000m) and crossed into Strathcona Provincial Park.
We wandered the route, passing between the trees and following near-ancient trail markers that had long ago lost their reflective paint. As we hiked, we found evidence of winter's demise. The warm ambient temperatures melted the snow on the limbs of trees, and their boughs drooped low, with rain-laden snow weighing heavily on the branches. We could hear frequent plops as snow sluffed off the trees. Periodically, we found deep wells of melt that created pock marks on the otherwise blanketed landscape. Passing these wells, we could see water flowing along the hard-packed summer trails. The walls of these pits were as deep as three metres in some sections. It's difficult to fathom how such wide areas could simply be washed away! Three meters of snow depth must literally be tons of snow.
We turned at the old wooden signs and trekked up to the higher terrain, with snow conditions improving as the temperature dropped. Fresh snowfall was evident: obviously the rain at lower elevations was snow here. We walked along the side of the hill, between the trees. Francis was tired and took a misstep, ending up on his back facing downhill! It took some effort to get him righted, but he has an amazing attitude. He remained positive, and we carried on.
edging a steep section
the largest cloud fungus I have ever seen. Big as my head!
Before reaching the summit, we stopped for lunch at 11:45 am. It's a good thing that we stopped at the lower elevation for lunch, as we would need the energy for what lay ahead. As we mounted the last hill to the broad summit ridge, we could see the forecasted weather descending, and when we reached the top we were in the thick of it. Wind gusted, blasting us with snow and freezing temperatures. Our breathable jackets had frost forming: as the moisture wicked through the membrane, it froze in the cold winds. It was difficult to see the separation between the landscape and the sky. Not only was it snowing, but the gusts picked up the surface snow and blew it directly in our faces.
Snow encrusted trees poked through the snow
The long blowy road to the summit of Mount Bechar
Progress along the final half-kilometre of the ridge was slow. A few of us were tired, and the whitewashed conditions did not help. We summited around 1:30 pm, pausing for a few moments to take our pictures, and then let the winds blow us off the mountain and back the way we came.
three on the summit, Michael Drinking hot coffee
As is often the case once we dropped off the ridge, the weather changed again. The clouds of only a few minutes earlier were blown away by the winds, replaced with blue skies and sunshine. We descended quickly and without incident; we were back at the cars and on our way home by 4:00 pm.
Taking a moment to reflect on the trip, one that I have done multiple times before, the feeling of adventure came from fighting the weather and then revelling in the warmth of the sun. That warmth may seem like a small gift, but it lightened the entire day and had Michael jumping for joy.
I also want to reflect on one of the moments we had on the summit. The moment belongs to Francis, and I was lucky enough to share it with him: his first summit. It's rare that I get to share this moment with someone; I can't say how he felt, but I was inspired by the accomplishment.