Ossa Mountain

Summit of Ossa Mountain

For detailed information about this scramble see: Scrambles in SW BC by Matt Gunn

On the 26th of October 2010, myself and a hiking buddy,  Matt B. attempted Ossa Mountain in a day. We failed. I was ~30lbs heavier back then with well over 100,000 less feet of elevation gained on my legs. I think Matt could have done it, but there were no views. Anyone who has hiked with Matt will know, he loses motivation quick when there are no views. Just getting to the base of Ossa and then back to the car took us over 14hrs. Ossa Mountain is usually attempted over two days due to the long approach and large amount of elevation gain. It has been done in a day before, but generally by people a lot fitter than I was.

Well fortuitously, on the 27th of August, 2011, myself and Matt would both finally summit Ossa. Albeit separately and unaware of each others plans. He would head out to bivy overnight on the summit. I headed out earlier with my hiking partner, Spring, to prove to myself that I was now fit enough to tackle a big day like this in the mountains.

At around 5:20am myself and Spring headed out for the Trail Head after grabbing breakfast to go at Tim Hortons. After parking and gearing up we were on the trail shortly after 6am. We moved briskly without stopping, although, I think whenever you hike with others your speed naturally slows. At times I felt like jogging, but I ended up getting too far ahead of Spring, at times Spring would move faster than me but end up having to stop so that I could catch up.

Crossing a slide path

We made it to the Sigurd Creek crossing in under 3hrs, then the moraine camp in under 4hrs where we had our first snack and got a look up at Ossa towering above us. The Bugs. Were. MENTAL. Mostly black flies, which don’t seem to bite until they’ve been on you for a few seconds, but they have a propensity to fly right into your ears, eyes, mouth and nose. Every time we’d hear each other coughing on a mouthful of black flies the other would say “remember its just protein”

Bridge crossing

From there we angled up towards the trio of lakes. I didn’t angle up fast enough and we ended up close to a waterfall below the lower lake. I just cut straight up which required some scrambling to get up to the lake. At the highest lake we stopped and filtered some water and made a mental note to go for a swim here on the way down. There are loads of water sources en route at the moment, even on the ridge right below the summit, so you never need to carry more than a liter at a time.

From the lakes we headed up to the basin that a few creeks run into and tried to spot the ramp up to the ridge that Matt Gunn describes. Once we settled on which way to go we headed off. We where on snow for the first part then transitioned onto rock where the scrambling and route finding began. You can pretty much just weave your way upwards however you like and you’ll eventually hit the plateau on the ridge crest which gives you your first views of Mount Tantalus.

From here we got our first look at the ridge hike and scramble to the summit. Ridge walks kill my pace. I can’t help but stop every minute or so to take a picture. The views were eye popping in all directions.

We made it to the notch described as the crux in Matt Gunns scrambles. First point of note is that the picture in Scrambles is showing somebody returning from the summit. You don’t ascend the notch, you descend it. Second point of note is that it did not feel like the crux. I’d imagine if the rock was wet it would be considerably more difficult.

Notch Crux

There was some confusion on where to go after the notch as it says to drop down 5m’s, take some grassy ledges then head up a gully to the summit. There are a number of grassy ledges and gullys and all of them look doable. We traversed one grassy ledge for around 20m’s before seeing a gully which we just decided to head up and check out to see if it was the right one, it got us to the summit. You would not want to lose your footing on the grassy ledge. The exposure wasn’t as airy as, say, Sky Pilot, as the drop below you was onto maybe a 70′ slope rather than a sheer drop, but I’d say slipping and falling out from the face would result in the same outcome. On a wet day I’d probably not even attempt it, there’s far too much moss and loose cassiope for me to trust my footings on it when wet. A piece of moss gave out under my boot when I was traversing back along it and my foot slipped off the ledge, thankfully my hand holds where solid but it gave me the willies for a few seconds.

Anyway, from the top of the gully you walk up a slab to the large enough summit area. We probably should of snapped a few photos and headed back right away as it had taken us over 8 hours to get there. But we didn’t, we stayed on the summit for over an hour, enjoying the views, reading the scraps of paper under a rock in the cairn that make up the summit registry, taking a dirt nap, naming mountain peaks. Basically just killing time and giving ourselves excuses not to leave.

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We did leave however, at 4:30pm, and hightailed it back down the ridge. Loads of Mountain Goat evidence, their wool is all over the place as well as their tracks but we didn’t see any of them. As we descended off the ridge towards the lakes who should we bump into but our friend Matt B. on his way up for the night. We chatted briefly and laughed at the odd coincidence to meet in such an isolated place on a mountain we had both attempted together in the past. He headed off for the summit for the night, whereas we headed back into the forest for the night.

View from the summit of Ossa The trio of lakes The tarn we had a swim in

We probably shouldn’t have stopped at the upper tarn for a swim, but I don’t regret it. There’s only so many days in a year where you can comfortably, sorta, take a dip in a lake in the alpine. We both got into our birthday suits and had a heart stopping dip for as long as possible. Something excellent I’ve also noticed is that bugs seem to leave you alone when your skin is cold. Warming in the sun by the lake whilst the bugs let me be was awesome.

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The dip revitalized both of us and it felt like it had hit the reset button on the day. With a new found verve we headed back as fast as our legs could carry us. We made good time to the lookout knoll on the route which meant we were on the final leg of the hike out and donned our headlamps.

The day was not over yet though, the trip through the forest in the darkness was a beleaguered blur.

When we tried to move fast we’d end up going off trail at a switchback or at one of the new short sections of dead fall from avalanches I’d imagine. My GPS was hopping all over the place and I couldn’t accurately use it to tell if we where on trail or not. We both also agreed that our 40 lumens headlamp are insufficient for night travel in the forest. We could barely make out the differences between a trodden trail and the forest floor.

We had to considerably slow our pace to make sure we stayed on trail, not wanting to take a wrong turn at any of the junctions. What should have taken us less than 40 minutes, ended up taking us over double that to get back to our car. The pain of traveling in the dark through the forest could have been avoided if we hadn’t delayed taking photos on the ridge, having a siesta on the summit and taking a spa break at the lakes. Do I regret any of that… Nah! It was worth it.

All in, car to car was over 16.5 hrs. Our longest hiking day yet, and well worth it.

The trip out

 

Author: Leigh McClurg

I grew up in County Dublin, Ireland and moved to British Columbia, Canada with my wife in 2010. I fell in love with being in the Backcountry and Mountains that are all around me here and try to spend all of my free time exploring those wild places. My main goals are to chase happiness, see as much of this planet and its cultures as possible and grow every day through knowledge and experiences.

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6 Comments

  1. Nice one. I love it as a day trip. The bugs are awful up there in summer. But a good place to camp is the moraine camp. Lots of cold air drainage off the glaciers to keep the bugs at bay.

    The summer 2012, the entire moraine camp area was covered in deep avalanche snow. There’s a giant boulder under which I’ve camped several times. It’s about five or eight meters high. It was completely covered at the beginning of September. No sign of it under the snow.

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  2. Yeah, we stopped at the moraine camp for a break as it was free of any bugs. We’re hoping to do Ossa again actually. Maybe as a trail-run or sleep up on the summit.

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  3. Can you post your GPX file for download?

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  4. Awesome report. Just ran the approach yesterday (stopping at the knoll after 10km), but Ossa was unfortunately covered in clouds. Your photos make me want to return for a summit one day!

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    • You will love it Jeff! The views of Tantalus from Ossa are stunning. Definitely go back on a clear, sunny day. We have been thinking of returning one day soon to do it as a trail run as well!

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