Last Summer I worked for a few months as a Landscape Gardener. Daily we’d go to these palatial mansions in West Vancouver and preen these extravagant, terraced gardens.
At one such house I noted that their garden terraces dropped down from their front windows so that the people living their couldn’t even see their own front garden. Across the street from them was another house whose occupants did not care how their garden looked. There was an old car, rusting and broken, a dog tied up running in circles, patches of weeds and dirt and states of general disrepair. But it didn’t matter, their view was of all the terraced gardens across from them. They had the best view on the street and everyone else around them was paying us gardeners to give it to them.
In many ways I’ve seen parallels to this while in the mountains. The dramatic, jagged peaks, with impressive prominences beckon the Mountaineer to climb, but once on their summits we lose sight of the mountain below us.
While I am drawn to climb to the prominent summits, at least once a year I also try to visit and camp on an obscure summit that doesn’t stand out in its own right, but has the best seat in the house to view another mountain, or range, nearby.
I began this tradition near the end of 2012 when we camped on Panorama Ridge. An unimpressive ridge with a minor bump for a summit that has the best view in Garibaldi Park. After that I began scouring reports for other, similarly unimpressive peaks with impressive views. Last year in 2013 we visited Empetrum Peak, a knolly bump with a view across to the dramatic Black Tusk.
On another trip last year, while scrambling to the summit of Welch Peak, I seen an impressive group of mountains near the horizon across from us. I asked others with me what they were and was told they were the Rexford group of mountains. While those jagged spires of rock drew my attention I was also interested in a ridge I could see that ran parallel to them. This ridge appeared to have an amazing vantage point across a valley to those striking peaks. I made a mental note to do some research about it later and possibly put it down as a viewpoint location for 2014.
After a bit of research I found out that the high point on this obscure ridge was actually a named summit, Mount Corriveau. After a bit more research I found some information about a few colorful ways to reach its summit. Consensus seemed to be to try and reach it’s summit in the Spring, when the snow would be firm and covering the dense bush higher up on the ridge. This worked for myself as I knew if I wanted to camp on this ridge, with no good sources of running water, that I’d need to do it early enough in the year when there would still be snow around to melt.
Months flew by in 2014 and a new job which messed up my weekends to some degree threatened to make my plans to visit this summit fade away. But on the 7th and 8th of June, 2014 the stars aligned at last. I set my sights on Mount Corriveau. I emailed our friend Ben and invited him to join us. He had been with us on our overnight trip to Panorama Ridge and we knew he’d likely be down to visit a new summit and also have a mellow camping weekend up high, somewhere aesthetic, in the mountains.
We met up with Ben near his home and loaded into his vehicle for the drive to the trailhead. En route we discussed how we were going to reach this summit. We knew of a route via Corriveaus north ridge that was steep, bushy and difficult, but relatively short. We also knew of another, longer, but easier, approach from another summit, MacDonald Peak. After some discussion we decided on the approach from MacDonald Peak. There was a defined, cleared trail for most of the way to MacDonald Peak and it would also allow us the option of visiting the summit of MacDonald and another peak, Mount Webb, over the same weekend if the weather was favorable.
We parked our vehicle, put on our hiking boots and headed out on the trail. We moved briskly, making good time. The trail was largely good, with some interesting creek and river crossings on a variety of bridges. Part of what makes these hikes more enjoyable though is the banter on the trails, catching up with friends and joking around. I’ve discussed this before in our trip to Iago Peak that sometimes we can get bogged down in describing the minutia of the routes we take and forget about the experiences we had while on the trail.
Ben told us that the trail we were on was one of the first trails he had hiked when he was getting into scrambling and camping in the mountains a few years ago. He described how green he was back then in regards to his experience level. Later, while we stopped for a water and snack break, we were passed by two young guys who looked slightly unprepared for being in the mountains. I said “Ben, that’s you a few years ago” and he nodded. It was myself and Spring a few years ago also.
As we reached the snow line and started postholing through weak snowbridges we noticed the tracks of the two guys ahead of us were staying low beside a creek and not following the trail anymore. With knowledge of this route we knew that we were coming up on Radium Lake, which sits below MacDonald Peak and that there was a headwall near to it’s outflow. We made efforts to start gaining elevation towards the lake early and worked to stay on the trail, now obscured by the snow, so that we would not need to contend with this headwall later.
In short order we reached the lake and decided to stop here for lunch on a large, dry boulder that was being warmed by the Sun. About 15 minutes later the younger guys passed us again, looking slightly puzzled about how we’d managed to leapfrog them to the lake.
We enjoyed the warmth of the Sun, which appeared through broken clouds occasionally and ate our sandwiches and snacks. It was around this point, or slightly before it on the trails, that we started the theme of this weekend. Most of the trips we go on end up having some theme in conversation but because we never document them they are forgotten.
Seeing the young guys on the trail with their school backpacks with shoulder straps fully loosened, hanging down around their waist and remembering our own early experiences in the mountains made us start to joke around about how kids and young adults, like we used to be, from the city begin to explore the wild for the first time. Back then everything felt extreme and adventurous. We started saying things like “Oh my God! We are, like, adventurers and stuff. We should totally, like, live here and forage for miner’s lettuce and berries!”
This joking around was a good distraction from the fact that, while we hung out at the lake eating, the clouds were darkening overhead. Looking at those clouds, sitting low and obscuring the summit of MacDonald Peak, we decided to forgo going there. We still needed to get to Mount Corriveau though so we changed our route. We decided to just skirt around the lake and head directly up a slope to gain a ridge leading to Mount Corriveau. This slope looked steep but was sparsely treed and covered, mostly, in firm snow so we knew we could kick steps in it.
We shouldered our packs and headed out, skirting the lake quickly. After about 10 minutes of kicking steps up this steep slope though, Ben stopped at a small island of trees and exclaimed that his sleeping pad had fallen off his pack.
Ben had been ahead of us on the slope and we hadn’t seen his sleeping pad fall past us so it must have fallen out where we had eaten lunch or before that on the trail.
Everyones hearts sank. Losing a sleeping pad, especially when we might be camping on snow, could be a deal breaker for the weekend. As we had a 3 person tent and still had two pads we could likely work something out but it wouldn’t be ideal. Plus, the lost pad, an expensive NeoAir, would be a bummer for the weekend.
Ben quickly dropped his pack and said he was going to head back down to our lunch area to check for his pad. We said we’d continue heading up to the ridge and breaking the trail in the snow. After Ben had quickly started down though we realized that further splitting up would be foolish so we waited near his pack. After 20 minutes or so we wondered where Ben was so we decided to head back down ourselves, the worry was that he might have broken through a snow bridge near where we’d skirted the lake.
When we reached our lunch spot we could see Bens tracks heading back down the trail. We concluded that Ben had realized that his pad wasn’t here so he had headed off to check further back down the trail. Our lunch spot was in a beam of warm sunlight so we decided to wait here for him to return.
As we lay on the warm rock, bathed in the warm sun, we both napped for about 40 minutes. As we listened to the trees rustling and the creeks flowing I thought that, even if we would have to bail on our weekend now, that this experience was enough. Increasingly my time spent in the wild has been less about the summits I reach and more about the experiences I have while being there and the people I share those with.
About an hour after Ben had left us we heard someone approaching us. It was Ben, who was surprised to see us waiting for him. We could tell from his expression that he had been successful. He had run almost half way back along the trail but had found his sleeping pad.
Knowing that the day was getting on now, we quickly headed out again. We started back up the ridge and Ben retrieved his backpack. We continued up the steep slope and eventually gained the ridge crest. From here we could see we were still a few kilometers from the summit but the ridge ahead looked straightforward.
We moved briskly along the ridge now, trying to make up some time so that we could have time to find a camping spot and enjoy the sunset. The clouds still threatened to drop on us and obscure our visibility but we pressed on regardless. As we would joke occasionally “We are, like, totally going to do this. Our selfies… on the summit… will be so, like, awesome!”
We passed a few notches in the ridge and scrambled up some bluffy sections. The ridge itself did not appear to have many good viewpoints though. We were still in the trees a lot on the ridge so I wondered how good the views would be from the summit, which looked, from afar, to be covered in trees also.
Just after 7pm I scrambled up the last section of rock and shrubbery and reached the summit. When I finally seen were we’d be camping I smiled from ear to ear. Not only is the summit of Corriveau free of trees but there are two large boulders on top that are flat and jut out off the summit making the vantage point better. It was as if somebody had built this summit to view the peaks across from it. These large flat boulders would be an excellent place to have dinner and enjoy the last hours of daylight.
The flat boulders weren’t entirely level so we couldn’t set up our tent on them, but, close by was a wind cirque in the snow that proved perfect for our tent. We spent 10 minutes leveling it out with our ice axes and then our tent fit perfectly, protected from any wind by the walls of snow beside us.
With our tent set up, our water boiling for dinner and the weather calm we could finally fully relax. As the Sun began to get closer to the horizon the sky around us started to clear and hues of reds and oranges accented the clouds. It is always a risk to head up high into the mountains when the forecast has clouds in it. Clouds are pretty unpredictable and can change from valley to valley. But the gamble is worth it as clouds in the sky add drama to mountain landscapes, give a sense of scale and height and act as a canvas for sunset colors to be painted onto. On this occasion, the gamble paid off.
We enjoyed a lazy dinner and when the sky finally went dark we made a small fire near some rocks from some dead branches we found on the ground.
At close to midnight we all turned in and zipped up our sleeping bags. I set my alarm to get up for Sunrise at around 5am. Nobody else seemed enthused about waking up that early. At 5am, with the tent starting to get brighter, I pushed myself out of my warm sleeping bag and outside. Nobody really wanted to join me, I couldn’t blame them. A low ceiling of cloud now hung on the peaks around us. I waited for a while but when I figured they weren’t going to break anytime soon I went back to the tent for another few hours of sleep.
At just after 8am everyone else stirred awake and we all got up for breakfast. We had a lazy breakfast, shuffled around camp for a while chatting and trying to put off having to leave. Eventually we packed up and were ready to go around 11am.
We discussed the night before about our objectives for the following day. We agreed that if the weather was clear we might head back along the ridge and try to reach the summit of MacDonald, if it was cloudy we’d continue along the ridge to the north and descend the route we’d heard about that came up this ridge, once down we’d then have to circle back around the base of the north ridge to meet up with the trail we took in, completing a loop.
As the clouds were low above us, obstructing the summit of MacDonald we settled upon the latter option. We headed out, and once past a subsummit of Corriveau, started to descend the north ridge.
As we started to reach the snow line we picked up flagging which indicated which way we should be going. Thankfully we were still able to follow spines of snow for a good while before they petered out. Flattened down beneath these spines of snow we could see the tangled branches of many alders. Once loosened from their Winter prison Alders can become a nightmare to progress through as they tangle together and constrict tighter as you try to push through them.
Eventually we entered the forest again and the slope steepened below us. The snow had ended so the Alders here had now come back to life. From here on down we would be bushwhacking and thrashing our way off this mountain. As we pushed through ever denser alder thickets we all agreed that our choice to not come up this way had been a wise one. At least we had gravity on our side which aided in our sliding and pushing down this slope. We could see a pretty complicated maze of micro terrain around us, gullies and short rock bluffs so we took our time and stayed on the flagged route put in by others.
The slope was pretty steep in places but we always had trees and roots to help lower ourselves down. The thrashing through the bush was sometimes sustained but one of us would always lift the mood by saying something like “guys, just remember, we are, like… totally doing this… oh my god, we’re so courageous”.
Eventually we got low enough that we could see an old road below us. We fell into a bit of a heuristic trap at this point. While we’d been vigilant to stay on the flagged route up to this point, seeing we were only a few hundred meters from the bottom we decided to just start making our own way down from here. This proved to be a mistake as we got channeled into a dried up drainage that was choked with fallen, rotten trees that we needed to scramble through. After risking more than a few twisted ankles stepping on rotten branches that just disintegrated under our weight we eventually traversed the slope until we picked up the route again and then stayed on it until we hit the road.
From the road we knew we still had quite a few more kilometers to go before we were back at our car but we were now out and back on a well used trail. The rest of the plodding along the trail passed in a blur. Once back at the car we loaded up all our gear and headed to a nearby lake for a swim to rinse off all the needles, leaves and dirt that had made it’s way into our clothes and onto our sweaty skin as we wrestled with the underbrush in the trees. That dip was cold, but invigorating. A perfect end to an awesome weekend spent with friends in a beautiful, natural, place that couldn’t have turned out any better. We… like… totally did it!