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Jonathan Bell

Jonathan Bell

7:59 PM on Friday, May 24, 2019   •   Edited

MacKenzie Range via The Climber’s Trail

Date of trip: April 2, 2013

Joe, Kristin and I got up the Climber’s Trail, 65km from Port Alberni last Friday and made it into the alpine into an area known by climbers as the MacKenzie Range and we even got up a few of the easier peaks. I totally plan on going back to this place. It’s got amazing atmosphere and the climbing opportunities abound. I’ve heard that the bugs and low water situation can be an issue in the summer and fall months but I don’t think that would stop me from getting up some of the rock climbs.

On the map the "trail" is only about 5.5km however, but don’t let that fool you – it’s not a walk in the park and there’s a lot of ele. gain to be done. The trail is not really shown on many maps per say but it is (strangely) in the BC Backroads Mapbook. I’d like to give a huge shout out to Quagger for his detailed route description and photos and to Sasha for his email with photos, ideas and guidance. I should also note that the trail is a classic island feature, built specifically for it’s current utility: to get climbers up into the alpine.

We started by driving to Port Alberni and about 9am from Victoria at the start of the Easter weekend. We arrived in Port Alberni (I think) around 12:30pm and got some grub. With our bellies full we completed the last 60 or so kilometers to the trailhead. I thought that this was going to be a hard part about the trip, but actually it was pretty easy to find the pulloff for the trail.

We loaded up our packs here. If you have a clear day, walk just 50 meters down the highway, and look up into the woods. From here, you’ll see parts of the range and it is really impressive!

The first 7-800 meters of trail is a old road and is pretty tame. You’ll then arrive at a creek crossing. At the time of writing someone has flagged a rough alternative route for crossing the water in a flood. We found it totally fine and low water on both crossings.

Sorry, there’s no GPS track in this trip report, but the trail is well flagged. At the time of writing, the trail felt a little less travelled than I would have expected. Maybe it was just all the winter blow-downs though. The trail is steep and will require a few root pulls to get you up to the alpine.

We hit snow pretty low down, maybe around 6-700 meters. We had to start route finding. The snow in the forest was that annoying melty-out snow that your feet keep punching through. I fell into a few sketchy tree wells. We kept following the edge of the ridge to our left, heading in a SE direction. We eventually broke out onto open slopes.

The late start in the day mixed with soft snow and a low snow line meant an unplanned dinner on the route but I was totally fine with it. The views were amazing and we could finally see our route. The route took us up a T-ridge to the right and then a turn left to follow the right-hand snowy ridgeline.

Stopped for the night, I setup my bivy and got cozy with a mug of hot chocolate and brandy (thanks, Joe!). As I pulled the hood of my sleeping bag tight around my face and lay on my back, my entire field of vision was filled with stars. It was something I will not soon forget!

The night was not too cold for sleeping on snow, although I did wake up once or twice and did wake up cold at about 3:30AM, 45 mins. before our agreed alpine start. I heard Joe’s alarm go off at that time. Through sleepy bivy/tent walls we decided upon another 30 mins. of sleep. We got up at about 4:50am, had some hot and cold breakfasts, packed up our things and left camp. The snow was perfect. A very hard crust had formed during the night. It was so hard, you could run on it with crampons on! It was easy cruising up to the col now!

Gunning for the col, we got there in about 30-45 mins. It was just in time to catch the sunrise proper.

We didn’t really have a plan as to which peak(s) we wanted to head up. There had been some talk of tackling the unnamed pinnacles to the South. They looked easy enough (and turned out to be). We called them the Southern Spires as it sounded cool, but really, they are not spires at all. They’re barely pinnacles but they certainly are peaks, and we will claim them as such!

After enjoying the top of the ridge, we re-traced our steps back down to the col and poked our noses up MacKenzie Peak and around the corner of the MacKenzie/Redwall col. I had to take some pics with Joe’s camera as I had left mine out overnight and the battery had froze. I left it in my pocket for about 30-40 mins. and it came back to life!

After we had had some fun exploring some of the area, it was time to get off of the steep slopes as the sun was coming and already we could feel the air warming up. We had been playing around on a slope with obvious previous avi danger, so it was a good idea to play it safe and leave now that the temps were getting higher.

Well, all good things must come to an end… We took a varied route off of Perez Lookout and headed back down. The tent looked so tiny down there! The snow was already softer and plundge stepping was easy.

The last bit of trail went off without a hitch. Sadly we discovered that Joe could not eat the fruitcake that Joe and Kristin had brought as a gift from their friend. Joe’s allergic to some nuts and it had walnuts in it… Sorry Joe.

All the same, we made it back to the car and changed into some comfortable street clothes.

Joe and Kristin and super nice. Staying true to character, they made me some delicious Indian food at the pullout alongside the highway on our way back to Port Alberni. It was maybe 5PM and the sun was still high in the sky. We all lied down on the rocks and fell in and out of sleep as the stove buzzed on. It sure was delicious! Thanks again, guys. Still my need for calories was not satisfied and the seed of Dairy Queen was planted in my mind. We stopped in Port Alberni on the way back to Victoria for "much needed" Blizzards.

The sun was setting by the time we got to Nanaimo and some members of the climbing party were asleep by the time we got to Duncan…

I think that this was certainly one of the best trips of my life on account of: the excellent conditions and weather, the super company, and the DQ Blizzard at the finish!

Selfie!

Snowline

We followed the right-hand skyline, essentially

Not a bad view

Climbing the first "Southern Spire"

Job done!

Packing the packs

The creek crossing

Steep(ish) trail

First view of the spires!

Gaining the ridge 😃

Camp

View from the col

Heading down to the car..