Friday, July 11, 2014

'A stupendous mass of rock'

It's hard to miss Mt. Arrowsmith; the peak and its surrounding massif stands out in a mantle of snow for much of the year, offering an impressive sight for anyone driving along the island highway.

Mt. Arrowsmith was one of the first mountains I climbed after moving to the region nearly 10 years ago - cannot believe how time has flown by. Having settled from the province of Quebec, I recall being amazed at the trail's steepness and the massive trees that manage to thrive along the slope..

I've since climbed the Judge's Route with friends from "back east" who express the same amazement at the trail's intensity.

"Ma t'en calisser une," as we say in La Belle Province.

Judge's Route, Mt. Arrowsmith, May 2014
After hiking elsewhere on the West Coast, I discovered Arrowsmith's steepness is pretty much the status quo for island peaks, which confidently strike skyward out of the Pacific Ocean.

I've climbed the peak half a dozen times now, mostly on the popular Judge's Route. The latest trip, in May 2014, took about six hours. Tempearatures in the valley below were well into the twenties - quite hot for May in these parts - and the sizzling, sunny weather followed us to the summit, yet there were still some pretty expansive snowy patches along the way.

"A steep, formidable climb when viewed from below, it is in fact a very aesthetic line which does not require technical skills," writes Lindsay Elms of the JR in his chapter devoted to the mountain in Beyond Nootka.

Judge's Route, Mt. Arrowsmith, May 2014
Arrowsmith offers a range of climbs for all skill levels, including the Unjudge's Route, Lost Gully and the dizzying Nose routes. Whatever path you choose, the mountain is sure to offer a challenging mountain experience in every season.

Despite an elevation of only 1,817m (5,962 ft), Arrowsmith looms large in the history of Vancouver Island mountain life. The earliest recorded ascent was an apparently thirst-quenching slog from the nearest road access that entailed a river crossing, porters and an overnight near the ridge. Back then the mountain lacked the easy access offered by the logging roads that now dissect the area.

"The next morning we were up at daylight and went about two miles climbing over the ridge of the mountain and up to the main peak - a stupendous mass of rock, about as big as 10 St. Paul's Cathedrals," wrote Dr. James Fletcher of his 1901 ascent.

In the late 1800s, many mountain folk thought Arrowsmith had to be Vancouver Island's  highest point. There was clearly much they hadn't seen, but the peak still stands as a stupendous mass that can inspire and challenge alpinists of all abilities.
Summit platform, Mt. Arrowsmith, May 2014


Elms, Lindsay,  Beyond Nootka: A Historical Perspective of Vancouver Island Mountains: Misthorn Press, 1996.

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