Gemini Mountain, Welcome to The Island

It was October of 2018, and ithad taken us the better part of two years to complete our move to Vancouver Island. Several months later, I soon decided I wanted to climb a mountain here!

I had recently decided to join a local hiking group called the Island Mountain Ramblers, and while investigating the trips they had scheduled, I discovered one I had to join. Gemini Mountain, deep within the Nanaimo River Valley, seemed like an ideal destination!

Island Mountain Ramblers

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A very reputable Vancouver Island group, the Island Mountain Ramblers have been active since 1958

There is limited access to the valley, which is controlled by Timber West ( now known as Mosaic) , the private landowners. It was only possible to hike the upper valley in autumn, according to Matthew, our trip organizer and (then) club president. The twin summits of Gemini Mountain were reasonable objectives and, if the weather was in our favour, might serve up some beautiful views. The only catch was that we’d be during hunting season, but at least the area we were to hike was a nature conservancy off limits to the hunters. While that sounded a little scary, of course there were no problems!

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Neither hunters nor wabbits seen on this day!

Eight of us met at “Harewood Mall,” and from there, drove a long way up the Nanaimo Lakes Road to reach our destination. We stopped at a checkpoint along the way, where you need to report in to let security   know where you’re headed. Half an hour later,  we turned onto the K15 logging spur, and a long climb led us steeply up to where our hike would begin.

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The view from where we parked

The Nanaimo River Valley has a lengthy history of logging, and there are still a lot of active haul roads within its watershed. Despite the piles of logging slash burning at roadside as we climbed, you could still see that the valley still maintained a strong  wilderness feel, having somehow transcended the scars of resource extraction.

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Green Mountain, seen here, was once the site of a ski resort
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Mountain Hemlock draped in Usnea, or Old Man’s Beard

After gearing up, we took to the trees at about 1200 metres in elevation, with cold winds urging us on.   Our leader knew the route well, having been there before, but there were very few markers to show us the way. The forest, a mix of mountain hemlock, silver fir, and Western hemlock, was downright enchanting.

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Enjoying the forest walk

Soon the trees would become more widely spaced, and we emerged into attractive subalpine meadows, where heather covered slopes led us into some dense coastal brush. The mist and clouds were constant companions, and would only leave us only periodically throughout the day.

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The subalpine meadows

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We were soon approaching the first of Gemini Mountain’s two summits, and after a short bushwhack, we were there! When we arrived, the clouds cleared, making good on the promise of those spectacular views! I had been hiking for many years in the same familiar ranges of the Lower Mainland, where I was used to being able to identify most of the peaks around me. Here on Vancouver Island, however, my surroundings were entirely novel, and I enjoyed the ever present sense of discovery.

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The view from the first summit
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Decent rewards for only an hour of hiking
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Atmospheric conditions above the clouds

After a short break, we began hiking over to the second, and higher summit. This involved trekking over the shoulder of the first summit and weaving our way down to a col between the two. On the ridge, we passed by the  bedding and grazing sites of Roosevelt elk herds, and found ourselves following their well worn trails. We’d have to return the whence we came, because both sides of the col were lined with steep cliff  bands that would prevent us from taking any  shortcuts.

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Back inside the clouds

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The sun, trying valiantly to make an appearance
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Morning skies

The col was a beautiful and rugged place! The skies parted again for at least half an hour, and we were above the clouds once more. The ground sloped sharply into a valley below the col, and in the distance we could now see the road we had driven to the trailhead. There was a sea of mountains to gaze upon, but again, most  were unknown to me.

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The cliffs at the col, which I recommend avoiding
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The main summit of Gemini Mountain as you see it from the col

We soon departed the col, crossing over to the opposite side, and the base of some steep bluffs. Here we waited, before climbing up to a bench just below the summit. That was the biggest challenge of the day, as the rock was a little unstable in places. While we did that, the skies would clear even more, which had everyone feeling more cheerful.43837671200_6faf4179b0_k

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A look back at the route we descended into the col from the first summit

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Getting closer to the summit

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Looking back down to the valley below
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The first peak of Gemini Mountain, where we had just been
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Stunted alpine trees

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Our trip leader Matthew, along with navigating, had his two year old daughter in his backpack. He also had his five year old son walking the entire route with us. His son did extremely well, and the only help he needed was a boost or two on some of the steepest sections. It reminded me of hiking with my kids when they were young, trying to share with them that fascination with nature, which they still seem to have to this day!

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Matthew and his kids

After we climbed the bluffs we then headed up to the summit proper, at 1525 metres in elevation. This was a broad, spacious plateau, with panoramic views. There were also some alpine tarns that were just beginning to freeze over. I was very happy to be atop my first ever peak on Vancouver Island!

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Gemini mountain, 1525 metres elevation
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That’s the mainland of British Columbia over there
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An icy summit tarn
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Atop one summit looking over at the other

Unfortunately,  the forecasted change in the weather began arriving in earnest. The winds were blowing more briskly as we took a short break before the return hike. Numerous peaks could be seen in the distance, including Mt Baker down in Washington state.

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Ever changing weather
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Clouds have a way of being you it’s time to leave the mountain sometimes!
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Mt Baker is in this photo somewhere

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Light rain began falling as we walked down to the col again, then back up  to the first summit, and finally to the logging road. It seemed like much longer than a five and a half hour hike, yet at 3 pm we were back at our vehicles and rolling down the road to the gate shortly thereafter.

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A last look at one of the tarns!

If anyone out there on Vancouver Island has thought about hiking this mountain during the limited opportunity, I’d highly recommend it. As well, if you’re looking for a hiking club on Vancouver Island, join the Island Mountain Ramblers, you’ll be glad you did!

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