Summit Elevation (m): 1630
Elevation Gain (m): 1300
Round Trip Time (hr): 10
Total Trip Distance (km): 15
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: Easy hiking and scrambling on a trail with minor exposure on some sections. Note: This trip report is for both Elk Mountain and Mount Thurston.
Technical Rating: TL4; YDS (Hiking)
Map: Google Maps
While in BC for a family wedding my father-in-law suggested that the ‘boys’ should go bag a peak somewhere. Well, since I’m a prolific peakbagger I couldn’t resist this chance! At first the idea was to climb Golden Ears. Once I researched that scramble I realized that our group did not have the necessary experience or gear to attempt this objective. Dad suggested Elk Mountain, since he’d done it a few times with his high school students. After researching Elk, I realized that this could turn into a two peak day with Elk and Thurston and with Elk being mainly a hike and Thurston only an hour further along a ridge this sounded like the perfect objective for a half-day outing.
The morning dawned clear and cool. For parking / driving we followed directions I found on the web. This worked reasonably well, except we did not drive 2 km after the paved road – it was much closer to 1 km. We drove too far and ended up turning around before parking at an obvious pullout right alongside the road with 3 other vehicles. The trail from the parking lot was wide and obvious. It gained height quickly through the cool forest. Even though the day was hot and sunny, the hiking was very comfortable due to the shade. Being from Alberta, I’m used to being in the hot sun, even in the forest. Our trees are so small on this side of the Divide that they don’t block all the sun light.
Trees are good for the hike, but I was slightly disappointed by them higher up. As we approached the summit the trail became a bit more scrambly which made some members of our hiking group a wee bit nervous. It was nothing more than very easy scrambling though and soon we were at the top of Elk Mountain with a great view of Mount Baker, McGuire, Tomihoi, Border Peaks and Slesse. The view to the north was blocked by trees – something that I’m not used to on a summit! In Alberta we spend at least half of the trip above tree line on 99% of our peaks. Our summits are almost all completely bare of any vegetation which grants us 360 degree panoramas. Guess I’m a little spoiled. We soon realized that Elk Mountain is a popular launching point for hang gliders. I’m not sure what’s more impressive though. Leaping off a mountain into thin air or hiking up 800 vertical meters with a glider on your back?! After appreciating the views for a while, three of us decided to continue on to Mount Thurston while the remaining group members decided to hang out and then start slowly down.
After scrambling up Elk Mountain, three of us decided to continue on to Mount Thurston, the actual high point on the ridge. We were in a wee bit of a hurry since the rest of our group was heading back down Elk shortly, and we didn’t want to keep them waiting in the parking lot too long. The beta I had indicated that Thurston was about a one hour hike from Elk. That meant 2 hours round trip – a bit too long for our tastes, so we aimed to cut that time down a bit. The trail from Elk Mountain to Thurston is a diminishing one! We started out on a clear trail that descended about 50 meters before angling back up to the bump between Elk and Thurston. This bump offers the best views of the three high points (ironically it’s the only unnamed one!) and sported a huge rock cairn. My curiosity was roused by a brown package visible in the cairn. When I removed it, I noticed a name – ‘Augustus John Valaitis’ on the package. Upon further inspection I am convinced that what I was holding was the ashes of a person named ‘Augustus’! I carefully re-buried the package.
It took us about 20 minutes to get to the summit of the middle bump. The sun was hot and the bugs annoying as we hurried down the trail to Mount Thurston. This trail was much smaller than the one we’d been on to Elk and the middle bump. An obvious testament to the fact that far less hordes bother with the summit of Thurston than Elk or even the middle bump. We managed to squeeze our way up to the beautiful hanging meadow just before Thurston – this meadow and the slope above it had much better views than the summit. After regaining height from the meadow we took a sharp turn to climber’s right at the top and came to a small clearing with a survey marker in the rock at its center. Assuming we were on the peak, we snapped some photos and headed back to Elk. It took us another 20 minutes from the middle bump to Thurston – moving at a quick pace.
The trip back to Elk was uneventful, if a little tiring. We had to regain and lose height over the middle bump and back up to Elk in very warm temperatures. I ran all the way down from the summit of Elk and made it back to the parking lot 5 minutes after the main group arrived! My time from Elk to the parking lot was around 45 minutes. I can see why people do this hike after work – it’s not a long one! I would recommend the traverse to Thurston from Elk if you have the legs and the time. It adds about 300 meters of vertical and 1.5-2.5 hours to your day but the views and the flora along the way are well worth the effort.