Lost Gully Mt. Arrowsmith-
I've lived on Vancouver Island almost all my life and out of all 4 seasons spring has usually been my least favorite. We are on the "wet" coast after all, but in the last 3 years we have had a few patches of unseasonably good weather roll through in late march and onwards. 3 years in a row we had stellar skies for our annual 4 day Easter sailing trip. I was beginning to enjoy the spring ski-touring that the coast had to offer but when the snow started to harden, I yearned for a good alpine slog. I hadn't had the axes out in a while and I wanted to climb something fun.
In the weeks of late may and early april I had made a few aborted plans to climb Mt Arrowsmith, this peak holds significance in mountaineering history not only because it is one of the largest summits on southern Vancouver Island but because it was from here that Don and Phyllis Munday first caught a glimpse of Mt. Waddington or "The Wad" as it is affectionately known.
Mt. Arrowsmith has in recent years become a mini alpine playground with many stellar gully and ice routes and superb logging road access. Finally we got a saturday forecast that looked like it might hold for the day and at 7:30am we met in whiskey creek for the drive in. We hauled ass along the logging roads and parked the car at the base of our spur. We had decided to go for the Lost Gully Route, a mixed snow, ice, and rock route that was supposed to be stellar in spring, an island classic.
The start of the approach is standard, your typical Island Logging slash, something that can only be appreciated by true west coast bushwhackers.
But soon we were above the worst of it and into the trees, after a bit of a slog we gained the shoulder leading up to the snowfield below the base of the route. The morning air was crisp and the views were not so bad either.
After taking a quick break to put on the pons, we gained the snowfield and traversed below the south summit to the base of the two gullys.
Whats the best part about spring though? The weather can change in an instant, and by the time we hit the base of the first gully, the weather was starting to sock in. It started with an eerie early morning fog but it would not deter us, we were going up. We kicked steps up the lower gully as it gradually steepened before it deposited us at a notch in the ridge. A small mixed rock and ice step blocks entrance to the upper gully and must be negotiated.
The weather was starting to worsen as the wind picked up, visibility was deteriorating and this bench was open to weather from both sides of the mountain. We decided to push ahead and get into the upper gully, we climbed up the base of the mixed step and found a traverse across the rock, this led to a few good sticks with the ice tools, some steep snow and bush/tree climbing and voila!
As you enter the upper gully the angle begins to steepen, we kick our points in and trudge upwards. A fall here and you'd slide so fast you'd shoot off the rock step and land in the lower gully.
Our feet felt solid though and onwards we trudged, steeper and steeper until the gully split around a small rock. Right led out onto a lower spot in the ridge, left was steeper and direct to the south summit, we chose the latter and with calves burning we kicked our way up the final frozen snow rib with great exposure dropping off both sides of the mountain.
We smashed through a small cornice and flopped onto the south summit. Our plan was to traverse the bumpy ridge and scramble up the remaining 4th class to the main summit but by now the wind was in full force, white out and snowing... did I mention this was April 13? The weekend before we had 19 degree weather...
We didn't stay for long as we quickly reversed our steps dropped back into the and kicked our way back down the gully, reversing the rock band until we arrived back at the base, where the weather promptly turned bluebird, typical spring.
Of course reversing our route meant back out through the steep forest, through the logging slash, rednecks shooting rifles on the logging roads near the car, and all the goodies a typical slog has to offer.
I'm learning to love the spring these days, there is excitement in the unpredictability, a delight in the snow cover, a joy to the sogginess...