Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Backpacking: Jack's Augerpoint Trail

 "All good things are wild and free." - Henry David Thoreau
Ain't that the truth.

Last week I had the pure pleasure of living in the mountains and on the trails of Strathcona Provincial Park.  With a week off and my other half out fishing the coast I decided to pack up and try to cure some of my wanderlust.  It was a full on 'dirt bag peak week' loaded with adventures and I need a week off from my week off- but wouldn't have it any other way!

Here is how I spent the first few days...

Jack's Augerpoint Trail

Saturday morning 4:30am sunrise meet up with the girls, Gen and Sarah, and we were off to the Park.  It takes about 1.5 hours to drive from Courtenay to Buttle Lake and the access area for many of the Park's great trails and routes.  The Augerpoint trail is not officially maintained nor marked and a little beta is needed to find the start.  There is a faded blue/orange arrow spray painted across the road and usually some flagging strung in the bushes on the hill side of the road-approximately 19.5kms from the Gold River turn off, headed towards the Westmin Mine on Buttle Lake.  Set that odometer and look for a pull out on the lake side to park the car.

The start of Jack's Trail is classic SPP style: straight up the guts and through the forest for about 800m to reach the open subalpine - which usually takes about 1-2 hours of steady trekking.  Switch backs - steeper than steep, but oh so much better than the alternative- bushwhacking on 100% slope.  Thank you Don Apps and all of the precious SPP trail builders.  You make life better.

The trail is in excellent shape and pops you out on the ridge below Jack's Fell, a lovely 1700m mountain en route to the larger peaks that await further along the Augerpoint Traverse.  Summitting Jacks' Fell is a great option for a shorter day hike and the views cannot be beat for such a quick trip.  Views of the great peaks deep in the heart SPP to the west and a glimpse of the Salish Sea and Quadra Island to the east.   Sub alpine ponds, wild flowers, mossy rocks and mountain streams guide your way on this first leg of the trail. 

Once on top, we were excited to climb higher and get a view of the peaks we had set out to meet.  We trekked upward, following the well cairned route, along the plateau and to the saddle below the higher ridges.  This was a great spot to set up camp as it had two ponds, outstanding views and was only 3-4 hours of hiking from the car.  We dropped our gear, set up a quick camp and set out to tackle some peaks with our loads lightened.

From camp, we could see the ridge climb above en route to Syd Watts, which was hidden from sight.  We trekked up the bumps and through the 'tree tunnel' to arrive on the ridge above.  Syd Watts was waiting there for us.

Syd Watts Peak (1850m) front with Sid Williams (1800m) in the rear.  

We continued along the Augerpoint Traverse ridge line until reaching a 3-way fork in the ridge.  Straight to Albert Edward via Ruth Masters...Left to Augerpoint Mountain...Right to Syd Watts and Sid Williams.  We chose right (south) and climbed up another bump, finding ourselves face to face with the Syd's and some well-travelled mountain folk, Lindsay Elms and Val.  They gave us some details on the route ahead including beta for avoiding unnecessary climbing on the final stretch to Syd Watts. They also cautioned us on attempting Sid Williams, as it had some technical climbing sections requiring gear that we did not have.  A 5.6 move at the top and a safety rappel to get back down meant that Sid Williams would have to wait for another day.   Based on our chat with Lindsay and Val, we dropped our axes and trekked off along the final approach to Syd Watt's. With our record breaking low snow pack and equally impressive high temperatures,  most areas below 1900m are free of snow already.

 Heading to Syd Watts via the ridge ahead.  Tip of the day from Lindsay and Val: travel below the prominent bump on the ridge, sticking to the snow and scree.  Save time climbing over- and the other side would require some tricky down climbing once on top. 

 Sarah H making fresh tracks in a rare snow patch en route to the summit of Syd Watts.

After traversing under the bump, it was a straightforward walk up to the summit via the south east aspect of the mountain.  Once on top, like all peaks, the gift of space, mountains upon mountains and big sky freedom were suddenly thrown upon us...oh how I love reaching a mountain top.  Wild and free for a moment in time...

 Girls + Mountains = RAD.  On the summit of Syd Watts with Sarah H (left), Gen (centre) and moi.  Last know photo of my coveted Perseverance Trail Run trucker hat.  I managed to drop my hat somewhere in the mountains during peak week...hope it is enjoying the views...

 From one peak to the next.  On the way up Augerpoint Mountain after summitting Syd Watts (background).  

We traversed below the bumps on the right of this image, and across the scree slope to cut off some elevation and contour our way to Augerpoint Mountain. Ruth Masters Lake on the left- most beautiful, Emerald green lake I have ever seen.  The final approach up Augerpoint had some loose scree climbing and scrambling but we made our way to the top in no time from Syd Watts.  The view did not disappoint!  Albert Edward was within reach and we could see both Quadra Island (which Sarah H had just circumnavigated the day prior in 12.5 hours I might add!) and Hornby on either side of Albert Edward.  Endless peaks and lakes lined up for us in all directions.  With every peak checked off our list, 3 more are added it seems...mountains to climb for life!

G en at the summit of Augerpoint Mountain, with the Salish Sea and Mount Mitchell in the background.  Surprisingly, we were the first to summit this year!  Get on up there people!

 Heading back to camp after enjoying the summit of Augerpoint.  The route travels down to the col / saddle below, then way back  up the ridge bumps...finally descending to the plateau/saddle on the far right with the tairns.  You can see our wee tent by the tarn/pond on the left if you look reaaaaaly close.

We made our way back to camp, savouring every single step, taking many one-last-looks and enjoying moving through the mountains.  There is nothing more relaxing, centering and peaceful then spending an entire day walking through the mountains.  I would do it all day, for days on end if I had the chance.  Hey...I did;)

Back at camp, we cooled our feet, got our grub going and settled in for the final show of the day.  Unfortunately it was the longest day of the year and we were too tired to stay up until the show started lol.  A little red wine, a lot of dark chocolate and an 11 hour day in our legs, meant an early night and a lovely mountain sleep.

 The perfect place to lay your head.  Augerpoint Mountain on the left.

I have no idea how many kms we travelled or how much elevation we gained/lost.  It was a lovely long day in the mountains, with girlfriends and nothing but the packs on our backs and the trail under our feet to worry about.  Simple mountain life...what could be better?

The next morning, Sarah and Gen packed up, and hiked home with a side trip up Jack's Fell.  I spent the day scouting the Augerpoint Traverse for a future fast and light adventure.  Along the shores of Ruth Masters Lake, down to the marsh below and up to the base of Albert Edward.  I can't wait to tackle the Traverse from Washington to Buttle Lake via Albert Edward and Jacks Trail.  Stay tuned!

I stayed up top for another night, with only the stars, the ridge lines and my thoughts to keep me company.  That's what makes the difference between loneliness and solitude...  I managed to get up for the sunset, star gazing and to enjoy the sunrise.  Then it was a lovely 2.5hour walk back to the car before heading to Ralph River to set up my next camp...  It was hard to leave the ridge after enjoying it for a few days...but it was time to move on as there were more adventures to be had!

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