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The Spanish Pivot:
Rambler Peak and El Piveto Mountain

by Lindsay Elms

In the 3rd Annual Progress Report of the Strathcona Park Survey in 1914 written by Colonel Reginald H. Thompson a spectacular peak in the newly established Strathcona Provincial Park was designated a name that sounded more fitting in Spanish then the English translation: "One of its summits rises like a great pivot. For this reason, although we are not familiar with the Spanish Tongue, we have attempted a Spanish name and have designated 'El Piveto'." Because of the steep rugged nature of this peak the survey parties that were ascending various summits to take triangulation readings of the surrounding mountains for topographical maps, chose not to attempt 'El Piveto' as they believed it was too difficult considering they were not mountaineers per se and had no technical mountaineering equipment.

Today the mountain that was called 'El Piveto' is now named Rambler Peak after the mountaineering club (Island Mountain Ramblers) of the first ascentionists and a neighbouring summit has the designation El Piveto Mountain. It is unknown why the obvious pivotal peak lost the name El Piveto and how and when a neighbouring summit became 'the pivot' as in shape or form it does not resemble its designation.

Rambler Peak is located at the head of the east branch of the Elk River next to Elk Pass while El Piveto Mountain is situated three and a half kilometres southeast of Rambler. Both peaks form guardians at the head of the pristine Cervus Creek, home to a large herd of Roosevelt Elk who find sanctuary under the huge old growth Western Hemlock and Douglas fir trees. Rambler, at 2,105 metres, is one of sixteen peaks (see Island 6000) on the island over 2,000 metres and is the fifth highest. El Piveto Mountain, however, falls short of the 2,000 metre mark by twenty metres.

Both Rambler and El Piveto received their first ascents in the mid 1960's when mountaineers were focusing their attention on the high peaks of the Elk Valley. In 1912 a strong party from the Alpine Club of Canada, under the leadership of Edward Wheeler, climbed Elkhorn and then over the next two years W.R. Kent, W.W Urquhart and a young immigrant Dane, Einar Anderson, spent some time in the valley while mapping and photographing Strathcona Park, however, it was another twenty-two years before anyone else visited the valley. Two surveyors, Alfred Slocomb and William Moffat, were working under Norman Stewart who was in-charge of mapping Strathcona Park in the 1930's. Moffat and his assistants, William (Bill) Bell and George Colwell, climbed Kings Peak and Elkhorn South, while Slocomb and Jack Horbury climbed one of the summits of the formidable Mount Colonel Foster, however, the complexity and the technical difficulty of the main summit made sure its ultimate peak remained inaccessible.

In 1949 mountaineers focused on the second ascent of Elkhorn and then in the mid 1950's and early 1960's the main summit of Mount Colonel Foster again became the centre of attention. Mountaineers from both the Island Mountain Ramblers out of Nanaimo and the Vancouver Island section of the Alpine Club of Canada were increasing their efforts to be the first to succeed on 'the colonel'.

With unrelenting frustration the mountaineers were repeatedly humiliated on 'the colonel' so in July 1964 three teenagers from Nanaimo decided to try the unclimbed peak at the head of Elk Pass instead. Ron Facer, Steve Todd and Barrie McDowell camped just off the road near the Elk River and early the next morning started up the Elk River Trail. After five hours they reached the fork in the river near the cascades. The right fork led up to Landslide Lake and Mount Colonel Foster while the left fork, the east branch, headed up to Elk Pass. The teenagers had lunch in the sun then moved up the east branch for another hour before they set up their base camp.

Todd and Facer, after setting up camp, reconnoitered further up the valley to a place where they hoped to see the peak, however, their view was blanketed by cloud but at least they were able to return to camp with knowledge of the route through the narrow canyon into the upper basin.

On the morning of July 19 the three were away from camp by 6 A.M. under high cloud. They followed their tracks from the day before and by 9 A.M. were on the left side of a large snow gully on the West Face. The three climbed up the snow to a rock band that broke across the wide snow gully and got onto the rock on the left side. Once again they gained the snow but as it was getting steeper they roped up and made their way to the col separating Rambler Peak from what is now known as Rambler Junior, the lower sharp summit to the south.

They arrived at the col at 11:30 A.M. and stopped for a rest and some lunch. The final climb looked steep but the rock appeared solid and a direct route up from the big snow basin on the east side of Rambler was found that looked feasible. The first thirty-five metres were strenuous and in places there were few holds but then after a traverse around to the right for another thirty-five metres an easy way was found to the summit which they arrived at by 1 P.M.. The view from the summit was mixed as the clouds continued to swirl around them but a brief glimpse of the Golden Hinde and Mount Colonel Foster boosted their jubilation. After building a rock cairn and placing their names in a glass jar they left the summit and returned to their camp in the valley and in their words feeling as though they had had a: "…very exciting adventure."

After returning to Nanaimo and talking to their friends in the Island Mountain Ramblers it was suggested that this peak should be named after the club that these three teenagers were members of. The information was forwarded and soon it became known as Rambler Peak.

Two years later in 1966 a large party from the Island Mountain Ramblers converged on Elk Pass for a week to climb a number of peaks. Ray Paine and Dave Birch had hiked through from Marble Meadows and arrived at Elk Pass on the morning of July 31 and saw two hikers ascending the slopes up to them. Shortly the peace and quiet of their solitary week long hike was disrupted by the arrival of the two hikers and the sound of a helicopter. The rest of the large party of Ramblers was ferried in by helicopter from the Elk River Trailhead and camp was set up on the pass. The next day Ron Facer, Mike Hanry, Ralph Hutchinson, Mike Walsh, Ray Paine and Bob Tustin climbed the Southeast Peak of Mount Colonel Foster and then Facer, Hanry and Hutchinson gingerly proceeded along the knife-edged ridge to the Southwest Summit where they found the record of Karl Ricker, and Hugh and Ferris Neave's 1957 ascent. The following day Bob Tustin, Ralph Hutchinson, Ron Facer, Mike Walsh, Ray Paine and Mike Hanry made the second ascent of Rambler Peak, while Doreen and John Cowlin and a few others went up to the Southeast Peak of Mount Colonel Foster.

Two days later on August 3 from their camp on Elk Pass, Ray Paine, Mike Hanry, Mike Walsh, Bob Tustin, Syd Watts, Elizabeth and Patrick Guilbride, and Doreen and John Cowlin left the pass at 7:30 A.M. and climbed over the south shoulder of Rambler and dropped down to a beautiful little lake in the basin below. Walsh and Tustin left their packs at the lake as they were planning to hike to Forbidden Plateau to join another climbing party later.

From the lake they ascended the westerly slopes of an unnamed 5,600 foot peak (unofficially known as Mount Cervus) upon which a cairn was erected. They then descended the easterly slopes, crossed a snow saddle and started up El Piveto Mountain. From the saddle they veered southeast to scramble up the southerly rock to the snow slopes that lead to the summit.

Mike Walsh reached the south summit and built a cairn while he waited for the others to arrive. Ray Paine and Bob Tustin then headed over to the northern summit and just before reaching the top Paine accidentally dislodged a large rock. Although Paine attempted to push Tustin out of the way, the rock grazed Tustin's chest bruising him, but in the process Paine received a nasty gash on his leg from the rock. Neither were seriously injured and continued on to the summit.

From the summit of El Piveto they enjoyed a magnificent view of the Golden Hinde, The Behinde, Mount McBride, Mount Cobb, Mount Con Reid and Rambler Peak. They all returned to the lake where Tustin and Walsh's packs had been left then the two continue through the park while the others went back to their camp on Elk Pass.

In 1990 two well-known climbers from the Heathens Mountaineering Club in Campbell River, Chris Barner and Paul Rydeen, decided to attempt a new route on Rambler Peak up the huge West Buttress. They had been eyeing up this obvious route for a few years and came to the conclusion that it would probably require some technical aid climbing to reach the top. Many days were spent honing their aid climbing skills at Crest Creek Crags until they felt fully prepared for the ascent.

On July 25, the pair hiked up to a large tarn in the basin below the peak at the head of the east branch of the Elk River. The next morning, with packs weighed down with big climbing racks, Barner and Rydeen began the ascent by climbing the initial rock band between two waterfalls to easier ground at the base of the main buttress. Steep gullies, cracks and chimneys for the next two hundred metres led to an exposed traverse on loose rock at two-thirds height on the buttress. A crescent shaped chimney went at 5.3 and then a couple of gullies led to an obvious white rock band below the summit. Finally, two pitches on solid rock at 5.6 and the summit was reached. The overall climbing was easier then they had anticipated and the route contained no pitches requiring aid, therefore, the big racks they were carrying proved to be overkill. However, when confronted with the unknown it is better to be prepared for all the eventualities then having to fail on a route due to lack of gear. Eleven years later (2001) Barner, Rydeen and Tak Ogasawara returned and climbed the buttress in a fifteen hour roundtrip from the Elk River Trailhead completing its second ascent.

Rambler Peak does not receive all that many ascents and in winter the narrow canyon in the upper section of the east branch of the Elk River is bombarded by avalanches off the steep surrounding ravine walls. The results of these avalanches can be seen late into the season on the valley floor and is one of the reasons for Rambler not receiving its first winter ascent until January 2003.

Philip Stone, Ryan Stuart and Cameron Powell had been watching the prevailing weather systems and chose what appeared would be a spell of good weather for the climb. The three met at the Quadra Ferry terminal in Campbell River on the morning of the January 9 and then drove up to the Elk River Trailhead. Clear blue skies and picture perfect mountains paved the way as they hiked up the Elk River reaching the campsite at the gravel flats after dark. The next morning after a cold night they continued up the East branch of the Elk River to the campsite in the grove of old growth below Ramblers North Col. Here they left the tent and some food and dry clothing before continuing into the upper canyon of the Elk River. As far as possible they climbed up the west side of the canyon (to feel some heat from the sun) aware of the affects of the sun on the upper snow pack but the week of high temperatures had loosened much of the avalanche prone snow off the above mountains and deposited it in huge mounds in the narrow confines of the canyon floor.

They arrived at Elk Pass a half hour before the sunset behind the peaks of Strathcona Park. Without their tent they dug a shallow pit in the snow in which to sleep. That night bands of clouds kept drifting overhead periodically blocking out the moon and stars, however, just before sunrise the weather finally made up its mind what it wanted to do. The wind rose and the visibility plummeted to one hundred metres as they made their way up to the shoulder of Rambler Peak. Taking compass bearings to ensure a safe return they eventually reached the East Gully. While climbing up the gully they were protected from the wind, however, it returned with vengeance once they toped out on the Rambler Glacier. With just enough of a view of the base of the main summit tower to have a reference, they took a second compass bearing for their return before striking out across the windswept glacier and around to the gully system on the north side of the summit tower. The snow and ice above looked steep but inviting. A greenish blue gleam and the chimney-like width of the gully looked like a page out of a book of classic Scottish winter climbing. Stone climbed the easy grade three gully solo while Stuart and Powell roped up. Stone wrote:

Arriving on the crest of the narrow shoulder below the summit block I cut a small ledge and sat down as Cam followed closely behind towing the rope. After setting a hasty T-slot Cam belayed Ryan up. As we regrouped on this exposed perch, the storm rose another notch in intensity. Ryan led through a short pitch to the top of the shoulder and again we gathered to survey the final step in a blinding whiteout. It seemed foolhardy given the conditions to make another pitch of it and then deal with setting a rappel off the storm lashed summit. There would have been a real danger, we felt, of being literally blown off the top if we tried to stand up there. So we each scrambled as high as we dared against the block, tagged a high point and then hastily down climbed to the top of the gully. By now the storm was reaching its peak and thick ice rime was forming on our clothing, tools and ... well everything. The wind whipped snow and ice crystals into such a frenzy at times it was impossible to see an arm's length. I urgently dug a bombproof T-slot using one of our snow pickets and then dropped the single 9 mm rope down the gully. As I downclimbed/rappelled I fixed gear, including a solid angle piton halfway down, so that after Ryan had followed on rappel Cam could down climb the long 60m pitch with a belay. This sequence went off slowly but without a hitch. As I waited for each of the other two I watched the clouds part from time to time exposing the wicked edge of the North Ridge dropping down into the Elk River. When visibility was poorer I settled for marveling at the spin drift which was pouring down the gully and getting picked up by the wind and carried right back up the fissure.

Once all three were back down on the glacier they unroped and climbed across to the East Gully. A quick descent and then the short traverse across to Elk Pass where they picked up the rest of their gear and headed down to their tent in the grove of trees lower down the valley. The next day during their hike out to their vehicle the weather again improved and they could see all the freshly fallen snow on the surrounding mountains. Their climb was typical of winter ascents on the island where calculated risks are taken at times to achieve their goals.

Nowadays, El Piveto Mountain is rarely climbed as it is off the main Phillips Ridge to Elk River Trail traverse route through Strathcona Park but the few times that it is climbed has been from camps on Elk Pass. However, on August 11, 2001, Lindsay Elms and Peter Ravensbergen day tripped El Piveto in a sixteen hour round trip from the Elk River Trailhead proving that some of these remote summits can be reached by fit, fast climbers with the skills, physical and mental stamina and knowledge of the terrain.

Both Rambler Peak and El Piveto Mountain are still beautiful mountains and are worthy of attention by mountaineers. However, for those whose interests are not necessarily the airy summits of the islands big peaks, Elk Pass and the little lakes and tarns in the immediate vicinity, are spectacular places to just hang-out and enjoy the grand alpine scenery on Vancouver Island.


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