Second Ascent of Elkhorn:
From the diaries of Geoffrey Capes
Charley Nash picked me up in Courtenay at 5 p.m. Friday. We proceeded up the highway through Campbell River to Camp 8 of the Elk River Timber Company where we waited for Phil Wolstenholmes from Campbell River and Bill and Mallory Lash from Victoria. When the others arrived Charley and I drove to Upper Campbell Lake to arrange with Sutherland to have a boat to Camp 9 at 7 p.m. Tuesday for three of us (the Lash's were staying till Thursday). That done we waited for the speeder from Camp 8, which came bringing the rest and pushing a flat car bearing the Lash's car.
Charley and I piled on. At Camp 9, where we got of, there was a station wagon belonging to an American family who had started up the road to Drum Lakes for fishing. Seven miles up the road the piles under a bridge had collapsed and their car had suffered serious damage. Their bad luck saved us from this catastrophe. Camp 9 was deserted but most of the doors were open. As it was too dark to go on we each got a cot and a mattress and slept very comfortably in our sleeping bags.
The weather was superb as we set off next morning up the road in Lash' overloaded car, five men with five packs. We carried two narrow planks eight feet long and with these we were able to get across the broken gap at the beginning of the bridge. Driving on 13 miles to beyond the logged off area, we parked the car on a wide bridge over the Elk River. It was 9:50 a.m, groaning, we lifted our packs weighing variously from 48 to 58 lbs. Proceeding through the woods we climbed steadily, the going not too bad. We rested frequently. At two we reached the only accessible water on this route. The mountain is steeper here but we made good progress. We rested at our campsite of a year ago, when fog finished our trip. We were all getting tired as we made our way up steep bluff after steep bluff, the rhododendron bushes helping us in the steeper spots. At last we reached the top of the ridge where the heather grew and could walk in the open. At 6:20 we found a fairly level camping spot above a small bank of snow with a tiny pool of running water. Soup and hot tea was the favoured menu.
It was a breezy dawn but the sky was clear. We got away at 8:30 and traversed around King's Peak, continually climbing over a series of terraces. The views were superb under a cloudless sky. Mount. Waddington was visible, its terrific mass rising above the other mountains of the Coast Mountains. In the other direction we could see the Pacific. At lunch cups of snow, which we hoped would melt in the sun, had to suffice for drink. Elkhorn was now in view but the route to it was still not clear.
From here we descended over long, gentle slopes. At last at 2 o'clock we were able to gaze at the majesty of Elkhorn, rising from a circular basin 1500 feet below. We could see a fair sized creek running to one side of a beautiful campsite. Our ridge was at an end, blocked by a mass of rock we named The Thumb. The Lash's plan was clear; below lay the camping spot for the advance on Elkhorn. To Phil, Charley, and me the issue was clear too; we could not climb Elkhorn and return to the boat rendezvous by 7 Tuesday evening.
It was a bitter disappointment to have carried 50 lb packs over miles of tough country to no avail, and this the second attempt. Persuaded however, by the attractiveness of the scene below, we decided to go down with the Lash's to the camp. It was not an enjoyable descent. For about 1000 feet we slid down heavy and light scree, then into gulches. At last we struck the remains of a snow slide and at the bottom flung down our packs. We could go no further had we wanted. This basin was the end of the valley blocked by Elkhorn.
We contemplated the mountain. It was a tough looking climb but did not seem to be more than 3000 feet. We just wondered; normally one descends a mountain faster than one ascends. Could we possibly make the climb tomorrow and start on our return after getting down? My own calculation was that we could do the climb and be back by 3. The decision was changed; the five of us would attempt the climb. Now there was nothing to do but rest, a glorious feeling! I walked down to a small pool, bathed, and sunned on a rock.
We woke to another day of superb weather. The climb started with a walk up rock slabs to a snowfield. It was not difficult up the snow to the col. At this point we could see something of our route and it did not look like an easy walk. In fact from here on, except for one spot near the top, there is no place one could say is easy climbing. The mountain is composed of loose rock and we had to watch our handholds. Phil soon decided it would be better if he did not accompany us; he had not had much experience.
The rest of us went on. There was no lack of hand and foot holds but one had to be continually watchful about knocking rocks down on the man below. Mallory led the party magnificently. The Lash's had luckily brought a 60 foot rope; a longer one would have been better. We cold not have made the climb without it.
There was no way we could see to by-pass our first real difficulty, a 25 foot chimney with practically no holds and the two walls at a wide angle. Mallory got up and belayed each of us separately. Just above was a nasty spot, about 100 feet of sloping rock with no handholds. The slope was not excessive but it was covered with a thin layer of light, slippery scree. Mallory got up and belayed the others. I managed to find a little safe going, more to the right. This brought us to the base of the gendarme. Around a buttress of this, where one could not see, was another tricky spot. It was only a few feet but there were no hand or footholds on either the buttress or the sloping rock on which we stood. We belayed each other around.
We had arrived at a steep snow slope. We roped up, four of us on a 60 foot rope. The two Lash's had ice axes. The snow was very firm and it was not difficult cutting steps. The top of the snowfield brought us to the bigger area of flat space on the mountain. The final peak was now ahead of us. The ice axes were left here.
The climbing continued to be very steep, in some spots very exposed, but there was only one more spot where the rope was used. We had a breather before tackling what looked to be the last of the worst of the climb; another chimney, though not as bad as the lower one. While being belayed a small stone hit Bill on the head. One trouble with this mountain is that when belaying there are hardly any spots where one can get out of the way. Once up the chimney the slope grew less steep. Near the top of the mountain about six small grey coloured birds flew past, they looked something like swallows. A bee was buzzing around. We reached the summit at 1 p.m (I had estimated noon).
An hour on top taking photos and admiring the view passed very quickly. We roped down the chimney near the summit; Mallory coming last, rappelled. On the rope down the snow slope the two Lash's, having ice axes, brought up the rear. We belayed each other around the buttress. Then came the tricky part over the light scree on the sloping rock. Mallory belayed us down this. At the bottom there was a space to dodge rocks. Bill and I, waiting there, were lucky that a big rock that was dislodged stopped before reaching us.
The most difficult part of the whole descent came last. This was the first chimney we had tackled. Mallory had only one place he could stand from which to belay us; he kept his head down as low as he could behind a boulder while each man lowered himself to where he could tie on the rope. This chimney took a lot of time. I was down first and got the full benefit of the sun shinning against me and the mountain behind. It was a beautiful sight to see the Pacific shimmering miles away in the sunlight.
After Mallory had rappelled down we did not use the rope again. We followed the rocks to a scree slope which took us down easily t the snowfield below. Phil was waiting for as at the col. According to taste we proceeded down the rocks or the snow. We reached camp at 6:40. There was no argument; it was impossible to pull out that evening.
I wakened Phil and Charley at 6:10. It was barely light. I glanced back at Elkhorn and in a notch half way up the summit gleamed a blue morning star. We breakfasted, packed up, and the three of us were away at 7:20. Another wonderful day. We were able to travel mostly in the shade up the 1500 foot rise. The route picked was good but it took two and a quarter hours before we began the descent. First we quickly disposed of a tin of tomato juice leaving the tin on a rock to guide the Lash's.
We hit our previous camp right on the nose at 11:35, had a good lunch of bacon, sausages, and tea and, starting again at 12:50 were soon on the steep bluffs. We made good progress hanging on to the bushes. We were lucky and struck the only pool of water at 2:15, drank quite a lot of it, ate some chocolate, took off our boots and socks, and bathed our feet.
For the rest of the way we kept to the open bluffs as far as possible. Twice we had difficulty finding our way down and had to retrace our steps. The last hour was the worst, we thought the land was never going to flatten; it was an effort to put one foot before the other. Just before we reached the road we came upon a garter snake, 24 to 30 inches long, crawling backwards, the hind end of a huge toad in its jaws; the toad appeared dead. A long conveniently felled tree at last took us to the road, within 100 yards of the car at 5:10.
After cooling off in the river we drove to Upper Campbell Lake. We left Phil there to arrange our transportation with Sutherland while Charley and I took the car back for the Lash's. I went as far as the broken bridge to guide Charley across then started the seven mile return walk. Charley drove on the other three miles; it was decided he would walk back quicker than I.
I tried to make three miles and hour. It was 6:40. Although the sun was behind the mountains the still air felt very close. Occasionally from the open logged off land a delicious perfume was wafted on the air. At this time of day there should have been deer, elk, and bear, but I saw only signs along the road. Through the low lying wooded area near Camp 9 the mosquitoes were bad. A deer fly buzzed around my head for a mile. I reached Camp 9 at 8:50 and saw smoke coming from one of the buildings. Phil and Walter Sutherland were waiting. They had soup and tea ready. Charley came along half an hour later.
We had trouble
with the outboard motor but at last proceeded down the lake, a full moon
lighting up the landscape. It was after 11 when we got into the car. We
left Phil at his place in Campbell River. Going down the highway
we noticed a bush fire blazing near Cumberland. We reached Courtenay at