Some hikes come about as a result of tossing ideas about; some hikes just beg to be done when the time is right. This is one of the latter. With an upcoming trip to the UK where we’d most likely not see a single mountain, I had to satisfy my craving to 1) see glacier lilies in full bloom and 2) reach the summit of a peak. Most of the hikes we’ve been doing this year haven’t been to summits, and I found myself really wanting to get up high. I thought about the combination of the two elements above and figured that Gott Peak near Blowdown Pass would fit the bill perfectly. The downside? It had to be done as a day trip: all 450 km of it.
We met Andrew at just after 7 am on a cloudy Saturday morning, stopped in Squamish for petrol and again at Nairn Falls for a comfort break. Through Pemberton and Mt Currie and up onto the Duffy Lake road. Having been up to Blowdown Pass a couple of times before, I knew the way but I underestimated how long it would take to reach the trailhead. It was 10:30 am when we turned onto the Blowdown Forest Service Road. The logging road was in good shape and had much evidence of the local bear population in the first few km (though we saw no bears). The flowers were beginning to bloom at the roadside, and at one point we paused at a small rock slide to photograph a couple of pikas from close range. A rare opportunity!
We passed the 9 km marker and headed up the hill, only to be stopped by the same water bar we’d been stopped by at the beginning of our Stein Valley trip. Since I didn’t fancy walking back up the hill, I parked on the corner where there was enough room for one car to sit. We set off a little after 11 am.
We hiked past the 10 km marker and soon reached the official trailhead (where a pair of Subarus were parked). I remember the trail here being quite overgrown with alder, but someone had been through recently and cut back the trees to allow a vehicle to drive up the old road. Normally old roads such as this are awful things to hike, but our timing was such that there was ample snowmelt running off in small creeks which gave rise to all manner of mini meadows filled with blooming flowers. We saw white and green bog orchid, paintbrush, sitka valerian, spreading phlox, lupine, kalmia (bog laurel) and western columbine (which we’d recently read were called rainflowers by the Haida). Alder and willow were in bud, the former dusting us with yellow pollen, the latter covered in soft fluffy pussy-willow.
Our progress slowed as usual with our attention distracted by the flora. Soon we spied our first isolated glacier lilies and of course went into raptures taking their portraits. At this point the clouds also began to show signs of lifting, with small patches of blue sky appearing. We didn’t want to get our hopes up too high, but the promise of clear skies at the summit of Gott were irresistible.
More flower pictures, more blue sky and after what seemed like an age we reached the point on the road where it forked, the lower trail heading off towards the lake. I remembered seeing plenty of glacier lilies here the first time we hiked to the pass in July 2007 and sure enough we encountered our first miniature meadows filled with the small cheery yellow lilies. Instead of heading to the lake as we’d done before, we opted to continue on the main road, for two reasons: the lower trail was still mostly snowbound, and the upper trail would take us right past vast open meadows, hopefully filled with lilies.
Sure enough, with a minor distraction due to some fine alpine marsh marigolds, we turned the corner and were blown away by the sheer number of glacier lilies filling every open meadow. Not only that, but by now the clouds had mostly parted and we were treated to wide-open blue skies and bright sunshine. Now the day was perfect. Although it was well past lunchtime, we carried on along the road taking more scenery photos, flower photos, and yet more photos of anything we hadn’t already photographed.
The open slopes uphill from the road were simply awash in yellow and green. Dotted among the yellow were almost as many small white spring beauty, western anemone filling in the remaining gaps. It was a beautiful sight in all directions. As we climbed, we spied the lake below, still mostly covered in a layer of slushy ice. The surface of the ice still bore the tracks taken by skiers while frozen solid, with lines crossing in all directions. A small area of the lake shore was snow-free, just big enough to set up a few tents, and the lake nearby was free of ice. Given the lack of bugs that we were encountering, and knowing how bad they could be, we figured that now would also be a good time to camp at the lake. A pity that we didn’t have more time…
A little further up the road a marmot scampered across in front of us, Andrew managing to capture it digitally. We saw others both upslope and downslope of us. Then we came to a huge pile of dug earth where what looked like a marmot burrow had been excavated by something large and hungry – undoubtedly a grizzly. No sign of it now, thankfully, but the digging seemed fairly fresh, not more than a day old. We’d seen grizzly diggings in the Rockies last year, but nothing this big.
We met a group of three girls who were on their way home after spending a couple of nights camping and exploring the area. They were lounging in the warm sun and looked liked they’d had a great time. We definitely need to get out and do some of that. We’d had our taster overnighter the week before, and it merely whetted our appetite for more. Well, we’ll be back from the UK in time for BC day so we’ll see what we can come up with.
We found a good rock to sit on and plonked ourselves down for a late lunch. We had a great view of Gotcha Peak and Blowdown Lake in front of us. We spotted a couple of tents pitched on the snow and saw a trio ascending Gotcha, two on skis and the third on snowshoes. We checked the stats and saw that Gotcha is actually easier than Gott. We contemplated changing our minds but in the end decided to stick with our original plan.
We set off again after lunch and hit the remaining snow on the road, only 5 minutes or so from the pass. It was beginning to soften in the sunshine and we postholed in a couple of places but it still pretty easy going. We reached the pass and were reminded of why it was called Blowdown Pass as the wind hit us for the first time. The snow continued over the pass into the Cottonwood Creek headwaters, but up to our left, the route to Gott Peak was snow-free. Or at least, there was a snow-free option available. Maria took that route, while Andrew and I plodded up the snow. Not sure which was harder, but we all ended up off the snow in the end.
The first part of the ascent was a steep grunt up out of the pass, and here again I found the altitude getting to me as I had to pause frequently to catch my breath. We stopped to watch the skiers and snowshoer on Gotcha slide their way down to their tent in a matter of moments. Wow – what an easy descent! It looked steep from our perspective, but in practice it wasn’t that bad. Within 20 minutes of leaving the pass we reached the false summit on the ridge. The view from here was superb, and it really had us wondering why we should bother going on to Gott, another kilometre away. But I’d said to myself that I wanted to bag the actual summit and so we continued on, picking our way down off the false summit into the col between the two. Though it looked narrow, there was mostly a well-defined trail and it was easy to avoid the edge. Most of the steeper north-facing slopes still had remnant cornices, with well-defined moats which we could easily avoid. In several places, the cornices had collapsed creating avalanches, and the bowl down to our right contained the debris made up of large chunks of ice and snow.
We dropped about 50 m and began the 100 m ascent to Gott Peak, the wide-open south-facing flanks of the mountain spread out before us. I was beginning to tire and it was slow going, especially with all the photos which I simply had to take (!) but again it wasn’t long before we reached the summit, complete with celebratory cheers all round. Then the cold wind hit us! Brrrr! We stood and admired the view, and decided yes, it was well worth heading up to the real summit. The views were absolutely fantastic all round. It was especially good to be able to trace our route into the Stein Valley, and make out the valley itself. One amazing aspect of our view was the fact that we could see the snow lessen with increasing distance inland. The mountains around us, to the south and west were still mostly snow-covered; further east, the snow had almost completely gone and then farthest east there was no snow at all. I don’t know how far we could see – maybe 50 km from west to east?
We hunkered down out of the wind and relaxed with a late-afternoon snack. The wind was howling past our ears, and it was damn cold up there despite the sunshine. The summit of Gott Peak is at 2511 m (8200 ft) and the wind was coming across the snowy northern mountains so I shouldn’t have been surprised. Despite that, it felt so good to be at the summit and to have such mountainous country spread out before us in all directions. Truly an awe-inspiring sight with no sign of human influence in any direction (with the exception of a couple of clearcuts in the Gott Creek valley). Amazing.
After our much-needed break, we snatched a quick windy group photo before retracing our steps. The group of three we’d seen earlier appeared on the ridge before us, the two skiers taking a line across the tops of the cornices! Brave? Knowledgable? Or stupid? We couldn’t work it out, but it seemed pretty dangerous to us. Back down into the col and up to the sub-summit again before our descent to the pass. Andrew opted for the snow – I wasn’t sure of it so I stuck to the trail. Near the bottom I did venture back onto the snow to find it had softened considerably and was not much fun to walk down. Andrew ventured up the opposite slope and slid down it :-)
Soon we were back on the old road and making our way back. The ice on the lake had thawed a noticeable amount. We were startled by a very loud whistle a short distance in front of us, and looked up to see another marmot dash across the trail. It stopped on a rock at the edge of the downslope side of the trail and we edged closer to get a photo, managing to snap a few before it continued its dash down the hill.
Further on we came to the meadows of glacier lilies again, by now lit by a soft, golden late-afternoon/early-evening light which caused them to glow the brightest yellow I’ve ever seen. We carried on down the road, where our next photo stop was a nice little wet meadow full of globeflower, alpine marsh marigold and western anemone. By now it was pretty much all about getting back to the car and we trudged our way back down the road. An hour or so later we turned the last corner and we were done. At last!
We piled back into the car and began the drive home. We got a few km down the logging road when we noticed a snowshoe hare sitting in the middle of the road. For the first time we were able to see just how big their hind feet are, and that they remained white even in the summer. We slowed down to get a photo but it hopped away. We carried on, only to round the next bend and see two more. We managed to get a couple of photos, including an action shot as one of them hopped away. Driving on, we saw another… and another… and more. By the time we finished we’d seen more than a dozen bunnies :-)
Finally convinced there were no more sightings to be had, we got on our way, pausing briefly at the pika hotel we’d seen on the way up (too dark to get any photos), and to admire the evening light on the Joffre Group. Then homewards, via Splitz Grill for much-needed nourishment! We arrived home about midnight: almost an 18-hour day, but in my mind worth every minute of it. I’d seen my glacier lilies, and I can’t wait until next year to see them again :-)
Distance: 14 km
Elevation gain: 1050 m