Saturday, June 16, 2012

Celebrating spring on Klitsa Mountain's north ridge

Thirty minutes to the west of Port Alberni begins a thick tangle of steep-sided peaks that channel Highway 4 to the open Pacific. Most see only a trickle of climbers throughout the season but a contingent of local mountain folk have charted several routes up the most prominent peaks.

Avalanche runout at the base of Klitsa Mountain's north aspect

Among those is the 1,639-metre (5,377-foot) Klitsa Mountain, whose summit and north ridge dominates the south west skyline as one drives along Sproat Lake. To the Hupacasath First Nation, the mountain has traditionally been called Kleetsa because of the white chalky appearance it maintains for most of the year. During an early June foray to the summit along the mountain's north ridge, the name didn't fail to disappoint.

Descending Klitsa's Great Gully

 Although closer than many of Vancouver Island's more well-known peaks, the area's many overlooked summits are still a pretty long trek for most south island resident. Throw in the need to catch a ferry over from Salt Spring Island and the benefits of overnight near the trail head become significant — even with 14-hours of daylight.

Our party of eight elected to camp out in a clearing along the Taylor River main logging road which traces the banks of the swift-flowing Taylor River. The head start gave us ample time to enjoy our surprisingly scenic "campsite"before hitting the trail at about 8 o'clock.

We travelled several hundred metres up a logging spur until the deteriorating road finally gave out at a washout. Although it had previously been possible to drive along much of the spur until the trailhead proper, it appears those days won't return anytime soon. To add insult to injury, it seems part of the forgotten spur suffered some pretty hefty avalanche damage.

After about a 45-minute stroll, the trail takes a sharp right and begins to climb alongside a stream through a picturesque old-growth hemlock forest. Some in our group spoke of rumours the area might be logged in the near future, an unfortunate prospect indeed.

The trail reaches the base of a gigantic north facing bowl. A chaotic scene of uprooted trees proved this is no place to hang around in avalanche season. With crampons cinched and harnesses secure just in case, our route followed a semi-steep narrow gully up hiker's left to the North ridge proper. Rain turned to sleet and sleet turned to rain as we crested the ridge and sat down for a well-deserved lunch.

Even in June, the ridge carried some impressive cornices but the snow conditions were ideal as our crew kicked steps towards the summit block. With only a few hundred metres to go, four of our party veered to the east to ascend the final summit block by way of a cozy looking gully that shot its way up the mountain's north eastern aspect.

Ascending Klitsa Mountain's north ridge
Reaching the clouds along Klitsa's north ridge
Towards the Jubilee Gully

The phenomenal views we'd come to take in were nowhere to be seen when we reached the top shortly after 2 p.m. It wasn't until we were preparing to make our descent via the Great Gully that the sun finally burned through the clouds and lit up the massive bowl at our feet. A welcome glissade/butt slide got us to the treeline double quick for the easy ramble back to our vehicles below
Down the Great Gully
For more pictures click here


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