Island Stories:

newDanzig Mine
newZeballos Iron Mine
newConuma Peak 1910
Alexandra Peak
Argus Mountain
Bate/Alava Sanctuary
Beaufort Range
Big Interior Mtn
Big Interior Mtn 1913
Part 1
Part 2
Bolton Expedition 1896
Cliffe Glacier
Clinton Wood
Comox Glacier
Comox Glacier 1922
Comox Glacier 1925
Comstock Mtn
Conuma Peak
Copper King Mine
Crown Mtn
Elkhorn 1912
Elkhorn 1949
Elkhorn 1968
Eugene Croteau
Golden Bullets
Golden Hinde 1913/14
Golden Hinde 1937
Golden Hinde 1983
Harry Winstone Tragedy
Jack Mitchell
Jim Mitchell Tragedy
John Buttle
Judges Route
Koksilah's Silver Mine
Landslide Lake
Mackenzie Range
Malaspina Peak
Mariner Mtn
Marjories Load
Matchlee Mountain
Mount McQuillan
Mt. Albert Edward
Mt. Albert Edward 1927
Mt. Albert Edward 1938
Mt. Becher
Mt. Benson 1913
Mt. Benson
Mt. Doogie Dowler
Mt. Colonel Foster
Mt. Hayes/Thistle Claim
Mt. Maxwell
Mt. Sicker
Mt. Tzouhalem
Mt. Whymper
Muqin/Brooks Peninsula
Nine Peaks
Ralph Rosseau 1947
Rosseau Chalet
Ralph Rosseau Tragedy
Rambler Peak
Red Pillar
Rex Gibson Tragedy
Sid's Cabin
Steamboat Mtn
Strathcona Park 1980's
The Misthorns
The Unwild Side
Victoria Peak
Waterloo Mountain 1865
Wheaton Hut/Marble Meadows
William DeVoe
Woss Lake
You Creek Mine
Zeballos Peak

Other Stories:
Sierra de los Tuxtlas
Cerro del Tepozteco
Mt. Roraima
Nevada Alpamayo
Nevada del Tolima
Nevado de Toluca
Pico Bolivar
Uluru/Ayers Rock
Volcan Purace
Volcan San Jose

Island 6000

Order the Book
Contact Me


Mount Bate and Alava Sanctuary:
Climbing in an Alpine Shangri-la

by Lindsay Elms

Between the towns of Gold River and Tahsis on the west coast of Vancouver Island is an impressive alpine arena known as Mount Bate and Alava sanctuary. Early hydrographic surveyors observed these mountains from their ships off the coast and started naming them after famous naval personnel, not all of whom were associated with Vancouver Island. It is these names that are of historical interest as it records some of the early history of the events that took place in the surrounding area.

Mount Alava is named after the Spanish naval officer Brigadier-General Don Jose Manuel de Alava, who replaced Francisco de Eliza as Governor of Nootka in 1793 and upon the death of Bodega y Quadra became the commandant of the Department of San Blas, headquarters for exploring and administering Spanish territories of the Pacific Northwest. Alava was charged with carrying out the provisions of the Nootka Treaty, signed January 11, 1794, in Madrid. The two commissioners, Alava for the Spanish and Captain George Vancouver for the British, met at Nootka in September 1794 but as Alava was without formal instructions, little was accomplished and Vancouver sailed for home. Alava presided over the final ceremony of abandonment of the Spanish stronghold at Nootka on March 23, 1795, with Vancouver's replacement, Lieutenant Pierce representing British interests. Previously the peak was known as Mount Herbert (origin unknown) but the name was found on a British Columbia map of 1919. This name was formally suggested on December 22, 1933, however, it was pointed out that there was another Mount Herbert on the BC-Alaska border and this raised concerns about duplication. Mount Alava was officially adopted on November 6, 1934, after being suggested by H.D. Parizeau, of the Hydrographic Service.

Mount Bate was named in 1862 by Captain George Henry Richards of the Royal Navy. Richards was at first in-charge of the surveying vessel HMS Plumper and then the HMS Hecate, which surveyed the coastline of both the east and west coast of Vancouver Island in the 1860's. If there weren't names already in existence by the First Nation's People, Richards bestowed names that were not always associated with Vancouver Island but in many cases were seafaring naval men. Mount Bate is at the head of Richards' "Canton Gorge" (Canton Creek at the head of the Tlupana Inlet) and likely refers to Captain William Thornton Bate, Royal Navy, a noted survey officer who was killed during the capture of Canton, China on December 29, 1857.

Mounts Bate (1,680m) and Alava (1,550m) are not the only peaks surrounding the sanctuary. On the north side is the twin peaked pyramid-shaped mountain called Mount Grattan (1,550m). The mountain is named to remember RCAF Flight Sergeant Noel Grattan, from Victoria, British Columbia, who was killed in action May 31, 1942, at the age of twenty-one. Noel Grattan was born in Yokohama, Japan, in December 1921, the youngest of five children and only son of violinist Francis Grattan and his wife Eveline. After Japan's 1923 earthquake, the family moved first to North Vancouver before settling thereafter in Victoria. Noel attended Malvern House and Victoria High schools and worked at Oak Bay golf links prior to enlisting. F/S Grattan's aircraft failed to return from a bombing mission over Cologne, Germany, presumably shot down. With no known grave, his name is inscribed on the Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, United Kingdom. The name was officially adopted July 20, 1978.

Not directly surrounding the sanctuary but guarding the entrance at the mouth of Perry Creek is Malaspina Peak (1,573m). This peak is named for Captain Alexandro Malaspina, a celebrated Italian seaman in the naval services of Spain who was asked by the King to look for a Northwest Passage. The search proved fruitless and he ended up spending a month in 1791 at the Spanish outpost in Nootka Sound before returning to Mexico.

These mountains are not the only features in the area to have names associated with the Spanish who presided at Nootka: Mount Quimper, Eliza Ears, Santiago Mountain and Zeballos Peak to name a few. However, they definitely give a strong sense of the degree to which the Spaniards were involved in the territorial claim of the American Northwest. These mountains, however, have become a playground for mountaineers as the mountains that surround the sanctuary offer a unique west coast experience.

The first recorded attempt to enter the sanctuary was in the last week of August 1979, when Syd Watts and John Gibson tried to reach it via the Sebalhall Creek. They had tried the year before to access what they called Headwall Valley but were turned back by active logging in the area. This time they drove almost to the head of the Sebalhall Creek then hiked up a clear wide gully that led up the west side to a col at the 3,400 foot level. They found the col to be only six feet wide with a steep drop into the Headwall Valley. After picking up a game trail they followed that for fifty feet before coming out onto heather slopes which eventually led to the top of a 4,100 foot peak. From here they had a fine view of a 5,600 foot peak (Mount Grattan) at the head of Headwall Valley and Mount Bate to the south. Although they saw some of the mountains surrounding the sanctuary and got a sense of the topography, they weren't close enough to actually look into it and see the pristine lakes cradled below like babes in arms.

One year later Syd Watts and John Gibson were back this time with another Duncan climber Alan Robinson and three from Victoria; Rob Macdonald, Ben Peterson and Paul Erickson. On the morning of July 11, 1980, the Victoria crew met the Duncan men where the Perry River crosses the Tahsis road at 2 A.M. and after a short sleep interrupted by the no-see-ums, they headed up the new logging road about 7 A.M.. Two kilometres in on the north side of the river they arrived at a small lake and parked. With packs on their backs they began bushwhacking around the lake and up the river about one mile or so. In 'Up Mt. Alava - and down! A Presumed First Ascent' written for the Island Bushwhacker Vol. 9:2 of the Vancouver Island section of the ACC in 1980, Paul Erickson and Rob Macdonald wrote:

The intention was to climb out of the valley to the west of Alava onto a ridge between Alava and Malaspina Peak. The contour suggested that this was not too steep. However, what should have been a reasonable slope was in fact two thousand feet of rather difficult bluffs. Unfortunately, this appeared to be the only feasible route, as things appeared even worse farther up the valley.

The five started up a series of upward slanting ledges that appeared to offer a route, however, the first ledge ended in some slippery rock that proved to be too hazardous. At this point Robinson, Gibson, Watts and Peterson decided to go down and explore the valley towards Alava Lake while Macdonald and Erickson chose to try to the right further. Two rope lengths of remarkable clean, solid rock gave them some encouragement as they entered into a gully that appeared to lead somewhere. Unfortunately, where it led was to another rock face with steeper climbing on wet, slippery rock. For the next four to five hours they continued in this fashion climbing from ledge to ledge until they emerged from the ledges and overhanging vegetation onto the ridge and some welcome relief.

After a short rest they continued along the straightforward ridge to the base of Mount Alava. A prominent snow gully which dissects the west side of the mountain and leads to within a few hundred feet of the summit offered easy climbing. The final direct scramble to the top on good rock was an enjoyable conclusion considering the memory of the climb up from the valley which was still fresh in their minds. Without a watch they could only guess at the time - six or seven in the evening.

The peak was apparently unclimbed as there was no cairn. We constructed one and admired the views of the other impressive peaks in the area. We descended quickly to the top of the ridge where we bivouacked for the night.

After the sunset they could see the weather beginning to change as ominous clouds were building up to the west. The next morning the pair was up and moving as soon as it was light enough as the change in the weather was obvious.

From the top of Mount Alava they had seen a very easy ridge down to Alava Lake. They chose this route as they doubted they could safely descended their route up without a large number of rappels on dodgy anchors. Within forty-five minutes they were down at the lake and as they arrived so did some low clouds funneling up the valley obscuring their view down from the lake.

Crossing the outlet of the lake proved to be a little tricky and very cold. Once on the other side, a stand of timber led down into the valley and into a canyon evident both on the topo map and from our vantage point above the lake, before the clouds rolled in.

We were uncertain whether we could get through it so we decided to try to traverse high above it. That was the idea, anyway. For the next several hours however, what we really did was wander around in the fog, down-climbing bluffs that ended in voids, climbing back up, try farther over and so on. Finally we made the decision to give up and go back to the lake and try the direct route through the canyon. This was fine for awhile and we were almost through when we were stopped by a waterfall and sheer rock walls on either side.

So close and yet so far… as a measure of our desperation we even considered attempting it. However, we backtracked slightly and attempted to try to climb out of the canyon to some trees above it. Our gully didn't go all the way though, and while I sat and cursed, Rob disappeared around a corner along a ledge which appeared to me to be mainly some bushes growing out of a crack. When he hadn't returned after a few minutes, I decided that either he was hopelessly stuck or had found a way through. When I got around the corner, there was Rob fifteen feet above me and from his admonitions, obviously through the worst of it. When I asked him how he got from the ledge I was on to where he was, he pointed to a springy little conifer that grew out of the ledge where it ended. Although I couldn't believe it at first, it seemed the only possible way. So with a prayer and an assist from the bush I made it and as it turned out we had made it through the canyon.

The Perry River Canyon was not through with them yet and for the next several hours they slipped, crawled and clawed their way through the slide alder, deadfalls and devil's club with a steady rain falling as well. Eventually they came out onto the logging road and were met by the welcome sight of the others who had been waiting for them. Although the others had an inkling of what they had been through from their attempts up the valley they were to hear the full story of the 'horrendous bushwhack' on the drive back down island.

In a special report in 1982 for the Island Bushwhacker Vol. 10:3/4 entitled 'First Known Ascent of Mount Bate: A Unique Mountain and Wilderness Area on Vancouver Island' Macdonald wrote:

Two years ago Paul Erickson and I climbed Mount Alava, about 10 miles east of Tahsis. We had the opportunity to look down into a branching set of glaciated valleys which had two blue green lakes at the bottom. The lakes were offset by barren red rock walls which terminated in several peaks. The area to our north and east occupied perhaps 10 square miles but was different from anything we had collectively experienced on the island.

The upper lake, which I will call here Peter Lake, (according to a float plane pilot) was almost spectacular. At its northern end is a pyramid-shaped mountain with a face broken by two sets of diagonal cracks intersecting one another. A long rock rib rose along the west side of the lake, gracefully curving to the west till it abruptly ended in the summit upon which we stood. Across the lake from us and to the right of the pyramid mountain was a prominent pinnacle shaped like some giant hitchhiker's thumb, frozen in rock. Peter Lake is held in check at the northwest corner by a sill past which the overflow poured, forming a cataract which tumbled down a braided curve, eventually reaching Alava Lake some 650' below. And, like a twin sister, water ran from this dropping a further 650' into a gorge which led to the Perry Valley. In each lake the dark, mineral green-blue waters were offset by white triangles of snow which remained at the bottom of several avalanche gullies, and everywhere there were the red rock slabs rising 1000' above the lakes. The area had not yet finished its assault on our senses. Almost directly to the east was Mount Bate, guarding the south end of Peter Lake. From the outset it was apparent that this mountain would be a challenge to climb.

During the intervening two years Rob Macdonald and Paul Erickson had made two attempts to enter the sanctuary but were thwarted by weather and time, however, they had found an alternative and more 'civilized' route that avoided much of the bushwhack of the Perry River. Shortly after midnight on September 16, 1982, Macdonald and Erickson arrived back at the Perry River where they slept in the back of the car. The following report, almost in its entirety from Macdonald, gives a sense of the spectacular climbing and the challenges involved with route finding in this sanctuary.

A little after 0700 next morning we drove up the logging road along the west side of Perry River and parked near 1300'. We retraced our old route around the southeast side of a small lake passing (with many expletives) the blowdown area. After negotiating a quarter of a mile of the valley we angled up a prominent valley to the south, following a stream on our left. The bushwhacking was not splendid, but possible. After crossing the river and passing thru some fairly open forest we reached the head of the valley and climbed easily into a col (3000'). Behind us rose Malaspina Peak and before us the rocky outcrop (4300') separating us from Mount Alava. Several times we had to pause to rest but were so pestered by blackflies and mosquitoes we hurriedly continued, silently thankful for the tent in Paul's pack. We traversed the dry south side of the outcrop and soon had to climb near its summit to get into the pass that would give us access to Alava and Peter Lakes. On the way up this dry barren slope I saw a small green frog and marveled that he and his forebears had managed to hop (unroped) to over 4000 feet! I gave him a friendly smile knowing that a good part of his bulk must have been reconstituted mosquitoes.

Once at the pass, it all came back to us. We could see the lakes, "The Pyramid" and "The Hitchhiker." Mount Bate was still hidden behind Alava but we could clearly pick out our earlier route up it. We dropped down the snowfield as fast as the suncups would allow, passing a yawning crevasse on our right. A few hundred feet above Alava Lake we crossed the Perry River and ascended 400' up to the north end of Peter Lake. Shortly after 1600 we set up our tent by the shore just a stone's throw from where the water ran over the sill and down to Alava Lake.

When we left the car we had planned to get to our camping spot and climb "The Pyramid" the first day. On arriving at Peter Lake four hours short of dark we were too tired and agreed a further thrash might spoil our chances for climbing Bates. Climbing "The Pyramid" seemed pretty straightforward but Bate offered some route finding problems. We agreed it was better to fail in an attempt on Bate than to succeed on "The Pyramid." Mount Bate was clearly the jewel of the area.

After a short rest we made a scouting trip to inspect the Northwest Face of Bate, and so crossed the Perry River at the tip of the lake and started up the rib curving towards the summit of Alava. As we progressed we were treated to large and small flutings in the rock, heritage of its ice-carved past. The setting sun augmented the red rock giving the impression of being inside the Grand Canyon. For the first time few insects bothered us and we walked leisurely through the mini canyons, some containing small clear pools - the home of tadpoles.

Once we had gained a few hundred feet we could see the whole Northwest Flank of Mount Bate; this renewed our first impression from Alava that this mountain was well defended. Rising from the lake was a sheer 1000' cliff, split by a single waterfall. It appeared this could be overcome by a snow gully on the southwest side. However, above the cliff was a steep icy snowfield with runnels and crevasses, surrounded but a continuous 150' rock band. Above that was second snowfield leading up to the notch between the angular west peak on the right and the main summit rising from the snow like a molar. At this point we both agreed that around to the south might be easier and it was pointless deciding yet how to tackle that. We dropped back down to the campsite in time for a twilight meal.

The red walls towering over us slowly darkened until the starry night was lighter. Four stars of Cassiopeia hung over "The Pyramid" and a frog started calling. As we sat there talking about the tremendous wilderness of this area and absorbing the impact of probably being the first to enjoy it, a bat made his choppy passes just above our heads. I hoped that mosquitoes were big enough to show up on bat sonar.

After a fitful night during which, it is claimed, I hogged the tent, we hurriedly ate and set off shortly after 0700 (September 17.) We retraced the previous night's route; at this point we were beginning to feel at home in our new environment since things began to look familiar. The ledges were characteristic enough that we knew from the other passes we'd crossed that we could find a way down into the gully leading to the southwest shoulder of Bate. We dropped on 300' ledges and crossed a couple of snow chutes funneling cold air down on us from Alava.

We picked our way through the jumbled rock at the bottom of the southwest gully and climbed it, gaining better views of Peter Lake and yet another hanging valley to the north. About halfway up the gully we came upon a small open cirque. A small remnant glacier clung to the north side, perhaps all that remained of the giant that had once carved out the basin in which Peter and Alava Lakes nestled. All over the snow were small flying ants, and little gray-crowned finches flitting here and there making small chirping noises of delight as they came across some special breakfast morsel.

Soon we topped out at the col which led onto Mount Bate and had a chance to inspect our hoped-for route up the south side. We were doomed to instant discouragement for what we saw was vertical and overhanging with no obvious way even to traverse the face. The northwest flank began to look more attractive. We climbed the west ridge passing directly over a 200' gendarme, roping for the exposed slab at the top. It was composed of very rotten rock and could probably be passed by a system of ledges leading around its northwest side from the col. Up the ridge we soon stood at the foot of the west arete leading directly to the west summit. It looked exposed and difficult in a few places.

Having come this far we decided to examine the northwest flank. By-passing the west buttress we angled onto the northwest side below the snowfield. Although it was icy, the edges consisted of hard snow and we made our way up the right edge by kicking steps, till three quarters of the way we got past the bergschrund and onto the sloping rock. This we climbed with ice overhanging on our left and the west buttress towering on the right till we came to the corner where the 150' rock band intersected the west buttress and the snowfield ended. Standing in the chill of the deep moat, we roped and started to climb a flaw at the corner, heading toward the sky above the overhanging ice. A full 150' of mid class 5 led us onto the upper snowfield. We were now past two of the mountain's defenses, three if you count the bushwhack.

Turning our backs on the easy west peak we traversed and climbed up toward the main summit block. When we arrived at the base we found a gully splitting its west side and leading to a small notch perhaps 100' up. This we scrambled up, abandoning our axes. At the notch we noticed a small ledge leading around to the north side. Occasionally a mountain can give a pleasant surprise and here was one of the first order. We followed the ledge to a corner where it seemed to disappear in space, but we could step around to the north side where the mountain lay back at an angle suitable for class 3 scrambling.

We attained the summit ridge and crossed again to the northwest side. The ridge itself was considerably broken up, one piece looking like a bergschrund in stone. But there was one last challenge left for us. The actual summit was a wedge-shaped tooth with an unprotectable thirty foot slab that could be climbed from the north. We gingerly edged up on thin holds and felt greatly elated as we reached the summit; it was like the thin edge of the wedge, about one or two feet wide by thirty long.

After building a cairn (we could only find a few rocks and not much space for them) we descended the rock band at the same point we'd climbed since a half-rope rappel would fall pitifully short of a decent stance. We opted for the centre of the rock band where we had noted a broken section from a distance and hoped to find some way across the bergschrund. Sure enough a class 4 scramble got us down to the snow and by using two axes and a belay we were able to surmount the gap between snow and rock. A 400' traverse across the top of the ice brought us back to our original route up. We had one bad moment on the way down when, due to sloppy rope management, we hooked the trailing loops over an ice horn below us. We freed the rope by climbing a short distance and applying a few curses. After that we retraced our steps back to the tent. For our victory dinner we waded out to a small rock island which was relatively bug-free and sat soaking up the last rays of the sun, watching the canyon walls turn a golden red.

The next morning Macdonald and Erickson packed up and decided to try the old route out via the Perry River Canyon. The descended down to Alava Lake and crossed the waist-deep outlet just above where it descends into the lower valley. At first they attempted going high to escape bushwhacking but were foiled by huge overhanging bluffs. In a state of exhaustion and depression they backtracked and dropped down the Perry River to the gorge. This time they found a game trail which by-passed the hair-raiser they had fought through last time, however, it was still a good nine hour thrash by the time they got to their vehicle.

Macdonald stated that Mount Bate was the most enjoyable and challenging climb he had experienced on the island, even more so when he considered that he took what was probably the easiest route. He also mentioned that it wasn't likely he would return to this area if he had to bushwhack. However, with time one soon forgets the hardships but remembers the excitement of the climb. Nine years were to pass before Macdonald realized that the sanctuary wasn't finished with him yet as he still had some unfinished business to attend to.

In late June 1991, Macdonald visited the Sebalhall Creek with several friends but rain washed the trip out so in early October he decided to return to the sanctuary with Julie Henderson, Rick Eppler and Paul Erickson again. On the night of October 4, they drove up to the Perry Creek and camped as they had done on previous trips. However, this time instead of contending with the horrendous bushwhack they were airlifted from the outlet of Perry Lake. " … all the feelings rushed back like it was yesterday. There were those fantastic red walls surrounding Peter Lake; the lake itself glowed like sapphire and we were once again in this little sanctuary which is so different and yet so classically Vancouver Island."

After setting up camp they decided to proceed on the slabs around the north end of the lake to go after the pyramid shaped peak (Mount Grattan). They split up into two parties going up a wide talus and gully system leading to the ridge. Along the way they encountered some interesting climbing but nothing difficult and both parties reached the col to the west of the peak. In "The Alava-Bate Sanctuary Revisited" for the Island Bushwhacker Vol. 19:4 Macdonald wrote:

We headed straight over to the intimidating seven hundred foot summit block, traversed rightward on slabs and under overhangs until we reached the right hand side of this face. At that point, we climbed up through blocks and slabs (cl 3-4) on really nice rock. You can't go wrong here as any desire to traverse further is stopped by a very precipitous drop-off. So on we continued upward in almost-too-hot sun, each of us climbing in his own world. Rick and I found a difficult way to get onto the upper west face, while Paul found a straightforward method. Julie sat down and waited to see who would prevail. After a pitch of class 3ing up a corner, Rick and I regained the face to see Paul way above us and cruising. We dropped back to Julie's perch and followed on - his way.

A traverse over the ridge atop the west face led to a false summit and with a pleasant scramble we all gained the peak at about 2:00 P.M..

That night it blew hard at times and when dawn arrived everything was socked in, however, they decided to return to the summit of Mount Alava which they had climbed ten years previously. Climbing over familiar territory they soon reached the cairn they had built in 1980 and found it still intact. To the southeast of Alava stood a slightly lower subsidiary summit that they decided to have a go at. They descended to a col they called "weird-rock gap" and climbed the northwest ridge of this unnamed peak. Well satisfied with the days climbing they returned to camp content with the knowledge that they had climbed what they had set out to achieve.

The following day they trekked down to Alava Lake and descended the now familiar game trail down the Perry River Canyon to the logging roads which had been pushed even further up the valley. As Macdonald and Erickson walked out they wondered if they would ever return again. They had learned not to say never again. For them, they had made first ascents of all the major peaks in the sanctuary, but they knew from their first-hand knowledge that there were untold challenging ridges and faces still to be climbed.

The Bate and Alava Sanctuary still rarely sees climbers visiting this spectacular arena, however, it has become another one of those magical areas that many talk about and say that one day they must visit. Unfortunately, it is the report of horrendous bushwhacks that tend to turn many off but this leaves this mountain shangri-la for those who are willing to receive a "good-old bush thrashing."

Back to toptop



How to order | | About the Author || Links || Home


Copyright © Lindsay Elms 2001. All Rights Reserved.