King's Peak Trail - part 1

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Pulling off of Highway 28 means the long drive from Victoria is almost over. I swear that I hit far more red lights than usual during the trip up this morning. Regardless, I am at the trailhead and I am the only one here. One last gear check, making sure I have everything on my list. "Check, check, do I really need this? Check." Armed with a compass, a watch with an altimeter, and backpack full of gear, I am setting off on a solo adventure in Strathcona Provincial Park.

The idea was to follow the trail up to the top of King's Peak; one of the taller mountains on Vancouver Island. It is, by the accounts I have studied, accessible to those without climbing experience. So by rote memory of what to expect, up the trail I march.

The first waterfall is no more than a trickle down the face of a rock. Maybe it is just the time of the year. It could simply be that there just is not much snow up above. I am carrying 2 litres of city water and a water filter for collecting more later on. I do wonder though, is that little stream foretelling a lack of water above.

Further up the trail, a second waterfall is running with far more volume. Was the first waterfall actually a waterfall or just a creek? I looked at my watch; I might be behind schedule.

Picking up the pace, another waterfall appeared followed by another. I decided that a better milestone on this trail might be a camping spot; it was what someone described in a trail report as the "North Bowl."

One of the waterfalls

The higher I hike, the more the forest changes. The massive fir trees of a coastal rain forest start to give way to the thinner trees of the sub-alpine. I stop to take in the trail's first opening. This is the first bit of level ground that I have seen in a while and I am surrounded by tall basalt walls. There is a tent area stamped out some tall grass and a spot where someone had a campfire. Everything here has the qualities of that was described on the internet as the "North Bowl" except this place feels smaller and has more vegetation. "Maybe I memorized an old picture?" The trees could have grown since and trail does continue off to the right as I expect. I continue on.

Through the forest and cresting another hill, I find myself looking at a large amphitheatre; this is the actual "North Bowl."

From here, I could see everything I was expecting. Massive rock walls that are reaching into some ominous clouds, a creek with fresh water and this spot has many of options to set up camp. Scanning the rock above, I pick out my route up to the alpine; a narrow ravine that is my only real option.

The North Bowl

Without a map, I navigate by time. It is already 16:30 or roughly 2½ hours until sunset with 3 hours of useable light. Standing at 1,200 metres and I estimate the ridge I was looking to attain was about 300 metres higher. Mount Finlayson back home is roughly 400 metres up. That generally takes 45 minutes; except this was not Finnie and I had already hiked the equivalent of Finlayson 3 times this afternoon.

It is decision time.

My pace up the mountain so far is slower than I anticipated. Should I stay in the comfort of this protected spot? Should I climb into that cloudy alpine weather and risk being cold and wet all night? Les Stroud of "Survivorman" fame has a classic line, "If you sweat, you die." Well not only am I sweating from the hike, but I am completely drenched from walking through the wet foliage of the forest.

My descision is to continue uphill for one hour. If there wasn't an option to make camp along the way, I would head back down here.

Well, nobody would dub something a "North Bowl" without there being a "South Bowl". After climbing for 30 minutes, in front of me is a second meadow, with a better view of the ravine I thought I was hiking up. It is now 17:00 and I recalculate my goals for time and altitude. Finally, into and up the ravine I go.

At 17:48, I am pulling myself up and over the top of the ravine's top ledge. The area in front of me is definitely the alpine, with groups of trees dotting a mostly open area of scrubby brush. I look down to the bottom of that sketchy gully that was my route up here; it may prove harder to get down it tomorrow. To the west, the clouds are starting to break up, offering the odd glimpse of the mountain range in the distance. To the east, clearer skies offer views past the Discovery Islands to the mountains of the Mainland. Above me, loomed 3 tall, rocky ridge lines, the Ramparts, Queen's Ridge and in the distance, King's Peak; they will be saved for tomorrow.

Continue on to part two...