After a great bivy at the lovely Lyall Tarn, Wietse and I awoke at around 06:00 to an extremely windy, cloudy and dark sky beneath the brooding rock walls of Mount Lyall. We both commented on the quality of our sleep - the night was very calm and quite warm for September and we both got over 9 hours of shut-eye. Just as forecasted on SpotWX, the wind picked up fiercely in the early morning hours, and by 06:15 we were feeling rain drops outside the tent. Darn it. I seem to be getting a lot of rain on my trips in 2018!! I can only remember packing up a few dry camps this year and I've spent a lot of nights under the sky, as usual. If it's not raining I seem to get screwed over by a heavy dew. The smattering of rain drops soon became a proper downpour and we dove back into the tent where we ate breakfast and enjoyed a hot coffee while wondering if we'd even get to do our planned scramble up Mount Gass this day. Phil's decision to return to the comfort of his house the day before was starting to look like a brilliant move on his part!
Thankfully, as the sky slowly brightened, the rain slowly tapered off until about 06:45 when it seemed to be ending already. We finished packing up the soaking wet tent and donned Gore-Tex for the upcoming hike since the vegetation along our route would now be soaking wet. Wietse suggested that perhaps we should follow the trail north from the tarn to the GDT and follow that trail to the Memory Lake OHV Trail before turning west to the headwall on Gass rather than try hiking directly to Gass along the cliffs - an unknown and likely inefficient route. I readily agreed, especially now that everything was soaking wet. We set off from camp, down a good trail heading north towards the GDT. The key word for the next few kilometers was down. The trail to the GDT was mostly downhill and the GDT itself was an excellent trail but sure seemed inefficient at maintaining any sort of elevation! We didn't mind too much as we were planning on ditching the heavy packs once we arrived at the (hopefully obvious) Memory Lake Trail.
[Hiking along a soaking wet GDT thanks to early morning showers.]
[Streams along the GDT provide welcome sources of fresh water even this late into a dry summer.]
Thankfully the Memory Lake Trail was indeed, large and obvious - it's an OHV track which sits exactly on the border of the Beehive Natural Area. We made sure to hide our overnight gear well off the GDT and Memory Lake Trail since I've heard of folks having their gear stolen under similar circumstances this year already. I think it's mostly innocent, when a hiking party stumbles on a bunch of 'abandoned' gear and assumes someone left it behind for some reason and takes it on themselves to 'clean it up'. Maybe we should start leaving notes on the gear explaining that we're coming back for it...
We were delighted to see that the Memory Lake OHV Trail continued in a very straight line up towards Mount Gass - again cutting right against the Beehive Natural Area. Wietse set a good pace up the wide gravel trail and soon we were looking at the imposing headwall that was supposed to give us access to the easy south ridge of Mount Gass. Already from Mount Lyall the day before, we'd noticed another possible route up an obvious gully on the east aspect of Gass which looked to be very direct and pretty well angled. Rick Collier had accessed the peak from the NE, likely over the false summit and ridge from the top of the east gully, but we wanted to make our ascent as easy and straightforward as possible via the south ridge / slopes if there was a route through the headwall to the BC side of the mountain.
[Starting along the Memory Lake trail towards Mount Gass - note the sign at left indicating the border of the Beehive Natural Area which the OHV track skirts and flirts with.]
At first glance the headwall looked nigh impossible but as we looked closer, a couple of route options presented themselves to us. The first option was via scree / slabs near the center of the headwall, the second option was via treed ledges to the left (south) end of the wall more directly over our approach road. The scree traverse looked to be fairly exposed to cliffs below so we chose the treed ledges figuring we could pick a fairly moderate route up through them. It turns out that we choose wrong. Ooops. To make a long story short - avoid the trees and ascend the scree! The route up the treed ledges wasn't as obvious up close, and we navigated some difficult, exposed, loose terrain that wasn't necessary. On descent we tried the scree / slabs and it was no more than easy scrambling with some loose rocks.
[Our two options loom over the OHV track. We took the treed ledges on ascent but this is much harder than it looks. The scree option that we descended was much easier than it looks. Go figure. Take the scree option.]
[We traversed to the treed ledges at right center and ascended a convoluted route that I don't recommend. Mount Lyall rises at center here.]
[Despite looking easy from afar, the route got a bit desperate as we got higher. There might be an easier way but we didn't find it.]
[Now we're wondering why we went this way?!]
[We were on a sheep track but it was fairly exposed in spots. The alternate direct route rises behind Wietse here and I was tempted by it all day. I hope someone tries it some day because it looked fast and fairly easy - I'm still not 100% sure why we didn't try it but I guess we had another route in mind.]
[Great early morning views off the headwall with Memory Lake showing up at right.]
Once up the headwall our route was easy and obvious to the south ridge. The only fly in the ointment was the 100m height loss across the south end of the mountain, but the weather was clearing out quite nicely by this point and we could see a very easy route to the summit and knew as long as we continued with one foot in front of the other we'd be tagging our third summit with no issues. The fall colors were out in all their glory (except for Larches of course) and for the first time on this trip we encountered clear signs of recent Grizzly activity in the alpine meadows beneath the peak. As we gained the south ridge we could see a prominent logging road coming right up to Gass's south flanks, likely an easy drive from Sparwood, BC, assuming it's not privately owned by the local coal mine. We realized at this point that Mount Gass is likely ascended more than we initially hoped, because of such easy access from the west.
[Almost up the headwall with Memory Lake at left with the OHV trail visible.]
[Looking back at an outlier of Lyall and the pass above the headwall at left.]
[There are many possible route options from the SE ridge of Gass, including the south ridge at skyline which we took, and the south face or even the SE ridge directly above us here at right.]
[The traverse across the bottom of the south face of Gass was very pleasant. There was evidence of Grizzlies in these alpine meadows.]
[Traversing to the easy south ridge over grassy meadows.]
[Now on the lower south ridge looking up the easy ascent to the summit above.]
The Elkview Coal Mine became more and more visible to the west as we slowly ascended the laid back south ridge but the views towards other Rockies peaks also improved, including Harrison, Smith and other lesser known peaks of the South BC Rockies. The wind was cool but not nearly as strong as earlier in the day and we quickly gained height to the false summit where a huge man-made rock wind break greeted us, confirming our suspicions that this peak is probably fairly popular with BC locals from the Sparwood / Elkford area. I think Mount Gass likely gets ascended more often than Mount Lyall, but it's hard to say for sure with such limited beta available on the Internet.
[Not much smoke today! Looking south off the south ridge where we gained it. Elkford is at distant right over the ridge about 15km distant and there's a good road leading all the way to Gass, visible here running down the valley from Elkford and again at lower left.]
[Looking up the easy south ridge of Gass with our approach route at right, from the top of the headwall and Lyall's north outlier at extreme right. It might not be a very sexy peak, but hiking up here on a perfect late summer day was very enjoyable. ++]
[Looking over the huge mine works towards Mount Peck and Bingay at left and Hornickle at distant right.]
[Looking over our traverse from left to right towards Mount Lyall which we scrambled the afternoon before. Note the road running right under Lyall's north face. The map indicates a small lake tucked under that face which is likely where the road leads to, but we didn't see it either from Gass or Lyall. ++]
[The slope steepened but remained largely a hike right to the false summit. As you can see from looking over the south face, there are slabs and scree on it which may make it a bit tougher than if first appears but I think it was go as an easy to moderate route.]
[The slope gets a bit more blocky as we near the false summit. The clouds were thickening as we ascended, unfortunately.]
After passing through the huge man-made windbreak on the false west summit, we completed an easy traverse to the true summit where the clouds thickened up around us. Our distant views were still better than the day previous despite the clouds and we enjoyed picking out neighboring peaks that were less familiar to us. There was a fairly new summit register with only two entries from 2017 in it. Apparently we were the first of 2018 to sign, so it's hard for me to say this is a popular peak. After around 20 minutes we got chilled in the cool west winds, and started a slow, lazy descent back down the south ridge, after briefly considering (and rejecting) the idea of descending the south face or even the east gully to see if they would go. Neither of us felt like rushing down an unknown route and with great weather and a clearing sky we decided to reverse our ascent route.
[Looking north off the summit towards O'Rourke W3 at right and Greenhill Peak at left and Turnbull at distant center.]
[Looking SW towards Mount Lyne at center distance (rocky peak - not the treed ridge).]
[Mount Lyall with Beehive to it's left in this view south. The false summit of Gass with its giant windbreak at far right. ++]
[Ominous views over the Elkview Coal Mine towards Mount Hornickle.]
[Mount Burke to the east.]
[Looking NE towards Mount Gunnery, Mount Head and Holy Cross.]
[Interesting views down the NE ridge - the route Rick took from the NE peak at left. ++]
[Mount Harrison is buried in clouds to the west.]
[The size of the coal mine operation is hard to grasp but it covers a huge area!]
[Mount Hornickle appears from the clouds.]
[Mount Harrison looms far above another part of the mining operation to the west.]
[Gazing north over O'Rourke, Pierce and Etherington (R) towards Courcelette and Cornwell.]
[Mount Mike at left with Harrison and Smith at right and the mine in the foreground.]
[Waiting at the summit for skies to clear. There seemed to be evidence of lots of traffic - look at the stoneworks and the wind wall on the false summit at left makes this one look tiny - but I'm not sure how many folks get up here. ++]
[Starting the descent with views opening up again as the clouds clear.]
The clouds cleared a bit on our descent and we took advantage by slowing down a bit and enjoying the atmosphere of a gorgeous late summer peak. The traverse back to the top of the headwall went quicker and easier than expected. Here we deviated from our normal MO and chose to attempt a descent of the "scree line" down the headwall rather than reverse our ascent line up treed ledges. The route worked well and was only easy to moderate scrambling at most, with some exposure down slabby cliffs on loose scree / boulders. I would recommend this route for both ascent and descent.
[Mount Mike is almost 11,000 feet high at over 10,800 officially - I'd love to measure it myself some day. Mount Nicholas at right.]
[Find Wietse on the ridge below me here. Mounts Washburn and Fryan barely visible at distant center and right.]
[Mount Harrison and Smith Peak are now clearly visible over the mining operation.]
[A gorgeous day as we descend the south ridge to our alpine meadow traverse. Gass at left with Mount Lyall at center. ++]
[Mount Frayn (R) has a very distinctive look.]
[Traversing alpine meadows back to the col / top of the headwall at left.]
[Negotiating some steep sections across the meadows - we were trying to avoid as much height loss as possible here.]
[Grizzlies like this area apparently.]
[Nice views over the top of the headwall towards the north outlier of Mount Lyall.]
[Looking down the surprisingly easy scree bench on the headwall. It looked much steeper from below! The alternate ascent route up the east gully visible here running lower right to upper left. I'm pretty much 100% convinced that this is an easy / moderate scramble, and a very direct route up Mount Gass from the east. You could save an hour or more by simply going straight up! Let me know if you do it and it goes.]
[Looking back up the upper scree ramp with our treed ledge ascent route at mid-center. Some exposure to the cliffs at lower left but it isn't too bad - although it does get worse than what you see here.]
[Down the headwall and looking back at our two routes. The treed ledges left of Wietse and the scree traverse above slabby cliffs at right, running up and climber's left. I wouldn't recommend either the treed ledges or the "x" scree gully but recommend our descent line for both ascent and descent. ++]
Once down the headwall, all that was left for us was a long easy plod down the Memory Lake OHV Trail back to the Oldman River and Wietse's SUV. We enjoyed the easy exit in great weather, although it did start feeling long towards the end of the hard pack trail. Views off the lower Memory Lake trail were much better than the initial views off the Soda Creek Trail, but of course there was some damage from OHV's visible along our exit too. There were many camps along the way - we passed at least 4 well used camping spots. Surprisingly for a gorgeous Saturday, we didn't encounter one other person either hiking or riding in the area, which was fine by us!
[One last look back at the headwall (C) with the east gully visible at right - a very attractive looking direct route up Gass that avoids the headwall and the traverse but is likely a bit harder than it first appears.]
[The Memory Lake OHV Trail is pretty straight!]
[Memory Lake is nice, but not nearly as scenic as the Lyall Tarn that we bivied at the night before. Mount Gass rising at left here.]
[Most of the OHV trail is easily bikeable and would be a very quick exit thanks to its elevation losses.]
[Pleasant hiking along Memory Creek which merges with Oyster Creek and Pasque Creek and becomes the Oldman River further downstream.]
[Looking back at Mount Lyall (L) and Gass (C) from the OHV track.]
[Beehive Mountain looms above a colorful Oldman River Valley as we walk back to the parking spot.]
[Back on the Oldman River Road which continues north, past where we parked and was easily drivable for the section we walked.]
About 8.5 hours after leaving our bivy at Lyall Tarn we arrived at the trailhead. I think by taking the direct east gully route and using bikes on the Memory Lake OHV track, Mount Gass can be easily day tripped from the Oldman River Road in 8 hours or maybe even less. It's tough to say if Mount Gass is a popular mountain or not. At first we thought it must be because of the huge man-made wind break on the false summit but with our ascent being the only one recorded in 2018 so far, and only two in 2017, it can't be that popular. I am also not aware of other trip reports so perhaps it's location has kept it off people's radar. It's well worth a trip IMHO, especially if you can combine it with other easy peaks in the area or a GDT hike.