Winter Climbing Mount Arrowsmith
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Added by Chris Istace
A terrific winter ascent route as an introduction to high angle snow climbing. Magnificent views of east coast of Vancouver Island including the Gulf Islands and as far as Mt Baker in Washington to the south, the Alberni Valley and Broken Islands to the west and lastly the mighty peaks of Strathcona Park to the north. Opportunity due to the Island temperate winter season to start in a lush green rainforest and end high atop a snow and ice covered alpine summit.
Mount Arrowsmith resides in the heart of Vancouver Island between Nanaimo and Tofino within the Alberni Valley region. At the height of 1817m this peak boasts being the tallest point on the southern half of the island. With it's easy access it is surely the most visited and summited mountain on the island during the summer months but it's real beauty to me is revealed with the snow blankets the terrain and keeps the average hiker at bay. Winter is a time of silence and serenity on the mountain and for that reason the Main Snow Gully is a superb choice to pick for a winter ascent.
I must urge before embarking on this trip that you check local forecasts and also do your best to know the current snow conditions, this route is in exposed avalanche route. Please understand and respect the dangers as well as be honest with yourself on your skill level.
The road to reach all climbing and hiking routes for Mt Arrowsmith starts just west of of the Alberni Pass Summit on hwy4 turning at a very well marked intersection turning south. Follow the road to the junction of Cameron Main (approx 3km) where you will keep left following the road. At roughly 10kms you will cross the river and take the left spur called Pass Main. You will follow this much steeper road up for roughly 5.25kms and at the end a few switchbacks you will find a flagged route on the right hand side of the final left hand switchback. Parking just past on the left side of the road.
The trailhead for the Climbers Trail is at N49° 13.580' W124° 37.104' and is well flagged , you will start at 927m elevation. The trail begins by descending ( I know right :) ), to a small creek and then starts backing its way up through the forest . You make your way up alongside the right of the creek and its many waterfalls hiking through beautiful old growth forest. This route steadily climbs upward until you reach the open alpine at roughly 1440m elevation.
When you reach the end of the forest you will work up a scree or snow runout to the right which brings you to the Lower Cirque . This spot is home to a beautiful little alpine tarn and is a good spot for a quick snack break. From here you will see a gully heading upwards, this is not your route and is called Bruggers Gully. The trail continues to the right and past the tarn through a bit more tees and then working slightly rightward up to the Upper Cirque and the starting point of the Main Snow Gully.
The Main Snow Gully or Arrowsmith Gully begins at roughly 1650m at N49° 13.533' W124° 35.766' . This would be a good time to check the snow quality and analyze the terrain risks before proceeding. If the conditions are good then its time to strap on your crampons and get out your helmet and axe.
The snow gully is pretty straight forward with minimal objective hazards but is considered a 4th class climb at at 45' degree angle with a winter grade of 2. The gully works steadily up and you will emerge just to the north west of the lower summit. From here you will easily link up to Judges route and scramble the rest of the way up to the Main Summit at 1817m. At the summit sign the register log which can be found in a green ammo box stuck underneath the helicopter pad, this may be a fun game of hide and seek in deep winter snow.
To descend you can either return your exact route retracing your steps or if you had two vehicles you could drop one at the Judges Trailhead and then be able to hike down Judges route as an alternative. I have done both and are equally enjoyable.
Total trip stats if you go up and back on the same route via Climbers Trail to Main Gully will have you at about 5-6hrs depending on lunch and photos. The elevation gain is 930m and distance is just over 5km.
I hope you get the opportunity to try this route out and highly suggest searching out "Island Alpine Select Vol2" by Philip Stone as his book covers Mt. Arrowsmith extensively and its many options.
Now get out there and do something #BeyondTheUsual
- 10 Essentials including leaving a route plan and check in
- Crampons, Ice Axe, Helmet
- If snow conditions warrant > harness, rope and snow pickets
- Clothing appropriate for extreme weather swings due to alpine elevation and winter season
- Cell Phone, GPS or satellite device (inReach Explorer is my recommendation) for communication and location navigation (paper map as failsafe always)
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More
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