It was 3 am on a Monday morning when I rolled reluctantly out of bed, making it as far as the couch. You know, I used to be an early riser once, but that’s becoming something reserved for special occasions lately. As I forced down coffee and breakfast and read my computer screen in the fading darkness, my eyes later came to rest on a sentence: “430 am and heading for a hike, Mt Klitsa, here we come!” The words were Mary’s, and it occurred to me that despite how early it was, everyone else was getting up a whole lot earlier than I was! Less than an hour later I met up with Dustin, Jim, and Mary, and we were soon rolling toward our destination.
Klitsa Mountain, at 1639 m in elevation, is the second highest peak surrounding the Alberni Valley. It’s not as high as Mt Arrowsmith, but because it gets far more snowfall it normally stays snow covered until much later in the season. The mountain’s name,“Kleet-sah”, derives from the aboriginal word that translates as “always white”.
The route to access Klitsa, at least via the Brooke George Trail, is certainly a circuitous one. For us, it meant driving on Highway 4 to Port Alberni, then following Stirling Arm, Gracie Main, Nahmint Main, and finally the N600 spur which led to a branch where the trailhead begins. Dustin was able to drive us all the way there, to within 20 metres of the first trail marker. That gave us the advantage of beginning our hike at 800 metres in elevation! It also helped that Mary had been on the trail before, so navigating the maze of roads was, thankfully, somewhat easier.
It was still fairly early that we piled out of the truck and began gearing up, and the blast of frigid morning air had us moving around quickly, with more than our share of joking around. I’d hiked with Mary and Dustin before, and also joining us on the trek was Jim, who I hadn’t met until then. It turned out we had more than a little in common, as you often discover on those long trips on logging roads!
The only hitch on the entire trip happened within 150 metres of the trailhead, where a stray set of flagging tapes had us heading in the wrong direction, but we soon sorted that out and were promptly back on track. The route to Klitsa from the Nahmint Valley is actually long established, and the trail was renamed the Brooke George Trail in honour of a very well respected member of the Alberni Valley Outdoor Club. Brooke passed away some years ago in a mountaineering accident, and the club has adopted the trail in the years that have followed.
The path began by leading us up through a considerable stand of untouched old growth forest, while following roughly along a creek that drains the upper bench below Klitsa. Sections of the trail were quite muddied but we were quite lucky that much of it was partially frozen, at least on the way up. Once we arrived at the small lake that sits in a bowl at about 1050m we took a break and studied the route a little bit more. I knew that the trail was soon going to be traversing a fairly wet subalpine meadow which you get to by working your way north, along the lake’s eastern shores. Once past the lake, the climbing would begin in earnest as we wove our way along the route toward the alpine.
Pretty soon the path began to dry out somewhat as we entered the alpine, eventually reaching a junction with the less often used route that comes up via the Brigade Lakes Trail and the Gibson-Klitsa Plateau. From what I understand, that track is an equally worthy objective but it does come with a good deal of bushwhacking in the upper lakes basin. I know I’ll want to spend some time there as there are apparently a great number of ancient trees to be seen! The Brigade Lakes Trail is much more readily accessible if you don’t happen to have a high clearance vehicle, as you can park at the Taylor River rest area on Highway 4. It was actually built by a group of loggers on a forest service project who felt the area was so special that it ought to be saved! As a result, much of the Gibson-Klitsa Plateau became part of an old growth conservancy, though currently there is some concern about a road boundary marked on the lower reaches of the Brigade Lakes Trail. It would be a shame to see any of this wilderness damaged!
Once past the junction, you begin to see the lakes below, and the higher you rise, the more mountains appear! The footbed is relatively well worn, and cairns appear here and there, along with the occasional flagging tape.
Klitsa soon made a more prominent appearance to the east, and before long the summit block was before us. We had reached an open clearing that was clearly marked on both sides of the trail, but we weren’t quite sure where the path went from there. I looked up to the left at first, as my friend Chris had cautioned me that the right hand side was harder to climb and more exposed. He and Shane had climbed it earlier that month in a virtual whiteout and ended up with a little more fun than they bargained for, though they’d managed it well. We hesitated for a minute or two and looked around , but as it turned out we rediscovered the path basically straight ahead of us, after which it trended strongly to the left. In different conditions, there may have been several gullies worth ascending but since we had ice to contend with we were content with the easiest possible line.
The last hundred metres were a bit more of a grind, but that was mostly because we’d all been pretty active the day before. Dustin, for example, had spent the previous day hiking up Kings Peak in Strathcona Provincial Park, which was an all day affair. Mary had climbed Mt Maxwell on Saltspring Island, while Jim and I had been active trail running. Jim, also an avid skier, kept busy contemplating all the possible lines up for grabs once the snows fell there!
There was loose rock to contend with while we lost ourselves in the views, but the walk was neither hazardous nor exposed. A relatively easy scramble soon had us on the summit, where we enjoyed little if any wind and ideal temperatures. I was about as happy as I could be, as this was a mountain that had really captured my imagination! One could see the ocean on both sides of Vancouver Island from our perch, which was a new experience for me.
From the summit, the entire Alberni Valley was laid out before us. You could see Sproat Lake and the Taylor River below, as well as Highway 4. In the distance Arrowsmith loomed prominently and beyond, the Salish Sea. Across the valley to the south is Nahmint Mountain and as you look westward peaks like 5040, Adder, and Steamboat can be sighted, as well as countless others. Northern views are dominated by the mountains of Strathcona, notably Nine Peaks, Big Interior and Septimus. Since I’m an Island novice, about the only one I was sure of was the Comox Glacier! According to Mary, on the clearest of days one could also see Elkhorn and the Golden Hinde but if my photos captured either I’d not have known what I was looking at!
As stoked as we were to be there, after about half an hour we decided to begin the hike homeward, after all, we did have a long way to go! Before we departed, everyone took another good look around, as though imprinting the views to mind. It was a place I would return to in a second!
The walk down went uneventfully, with the added benefit being that much of the ice had begun to melt, though that madethe trail lower down all the muddier. We didn’t mind, though, because it could not have been a better day to be outside! We made such good time we decided to take another break on the way down.
Once past the lake, it was just a matter of trekking through the woods again for about an hour to reach the truck. That in itself was a treat, as there aren’t too many undisturbed old growth forests left here on Vancouver Island. It’s quite likely many of the Mountain Hemlocks exceeded 400 years in age!
All told, it was a very memorable day on the trail. We completed the hike, which probably had close to 900m of vertical gain, in roughly five hours car to car, I think. As relatively quick as that was, the same could not be said for the drive back, which was as long as it had been that morning. The roads, however, were all in excellent condition, so we had few complaints!
On the ride home, we decided to stop in at Bigfoot Burgers in Whiskey Creek for a late lunch. Dustin and I had wanted to eat there on an earlier trip to Mt Cokely but hadn’t managed to do so. This time around we were pretty determined to get those burgers, but the restaurant was closed for a staff party, of all things, so no luck there! At Mary’s suggestion, we made our way to Coombs Old Country Market, better known as “Goats On the Roof”. There’s a restaurant there that served us up some pretty decent burgers and fries, I’ll say! One unusual thing about the place is that it’s also well filled with wood carved art, much of it for sale. There were many pieces that were naturally or culturally significant, and quite a few that were rather ornate or even a bit risqué. One in particular featured a tiny little stool on which the backing had been crafted into a phallus, of all things. We all had a bit of laugh over that, and a few other pieces. I had joked that “My wedding anniversary was the following day, and there were some pretty decent carvings of life sized bears there, hmmmmm.” “Well, I do have a truck with plenty of room,” said Dustin. It was a fitting and fun end to a fine day out. In the end, I recommend both the mountain and the restaurant, you can’t go wrong with either! (No, I did not buy the bear.)
*** Author’s note: Some thanks are in order regarding this day in the mountains. Thanks to my friend Chris Hood, who first piqued my interest in this mountain. He was to summit it himself two weeks later, and I wish I could have shared that day.
Thanks as well to Chris Istace, whose invaluable information provided about the trip he and Shane Johnson had just done a couple weeks before helped us to have a successful outing.
Finally, thanks to my hiking companions on the trek and to Dustin for driving, you all helped make it a memorable day! ***