Summit Elevation (m): 3087
Trip Date: September 1 2014
Elevation Gain (m): 1200
Round Trip Time (hr): 6
Trip Distance (km): 15
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 1 – you fall, you tripped over your own feet
Difficulty Notes: No difficulties if dry. No difficulties if wet. By far the hardest part of this mountain is getting up the first 200 vertical meters of it and driving to the trailhead.
Technical Rating: OT3; YDS (Hiking)
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
Because we’re suckers for punishment, we decided it would be a good idea to attempt a third peak in the Harrison area after coming down from Mount Folk on Sunday and after approaching and climbing Mount Harrison on Saturday. The only beta we had on the peak was from Rick Collier. Rick mentions an elk trail that they discovered on their descent and recommends using it and the easternmost ridge “curving to the south” to ascend the peak, rather than scrambling and bushwhacking up any of the other ridges. The parking spot for the ascent is not easy to spot while driving down the spur road because it is overgrown and disappears into the bush behind you as you drive past it. Steven noticed it or we may not have found it so easily! It was approximately at the 5km mark (from either direction). I had plugged in some GPS points so we knew approximately where it was which helped immensely in finding it. It’s also possible that new logging spur roads can be driven up the other side of Harrison Creek so that you could in theory drive almost right to the bottom of the ascent ridge! But good luck figuring out how to do that without getting hopelessly lost or stuck.
We crossed Harrison Creek on a well-placed fallen log which was not put there by humans – this peak doesn’t see THAT many ascents. We continued up an overgrown road on the opposite side, heading east. Without my GPS way points, which I plotted at home ahead of time, we would have been tempted to head up an earlier ridge on Smith, which would have been pretty bad bushwhacking. Instead, we managed to follow first a very new logging road (with recent vehicle tracks) for about 2km and then a switch backing older one (still obvious) until we found ourselves in a hanging valley between the easternmost ridge of Smith and the penultimate easternmost ridge (say that 5 times fast).
This hanging valley was logged many, many years ago in an interesting pattern. Instead of clear cutting the whole valley like they do nowadays, the loggers took strips out, leaving strips of mature forest in between. This was interesting to walk through – we followed bits of trail (elk) through these strips until we realized it was time to get up on that easternmost ridge. We knew it would take a miracle to find the same elk trail that Rick had used and his ribbons were long gone, so we just started bushwhacking straight up the west side of the ridge. To our great astonishment we did come on a great trail! Steven and Ben decided not to trust it as it was trending in a northerly direction and continued to bushwhack. Eric and I followed the trail up. The trail was extremely steep and went right up onto the ridge where it merged with another trail running the spine of the ridge! It was very good fortune to find this trail – remember we were lugging full bivy packs up and had already ascended a mountain and descended to camp earlier in the day.
Once on the spine of the ridge it was simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other until we found a reasonable bivy spot. We had a great trail to follow, so we did just that. One surprise was the first false summit. We had to lose at least 125 vertical meters after climbing almost to the top of it so that sucked. We’d hoped to bivy at the col between the two false summits, but there was no obvious place to bivy there so we started up the second false summit on steep, forested slopes – still on an animal trail. About 50 vertical meters higher than the col we found our home for the night. It wasn’t perfect but it would do. The weather was starting to deteriorate and we were tired so we made it work. After setting up camp in light rain, we ate supper and settled in for the night. I had an annoying sleep thanks to the angle of my tent. I kept sliding off the back of my sleeping pad.
We awoke to a pretty gray morning – even some rain drops – but decided that we’d been lucky the previous two days so why not this one too? We readied our packs and started up the mountain to the false summit with some nice sunrise colors lighting up the sky to the east, behind us. As we got closer under the cliffs above camp we started traversing scree slopes on the south side of the false summit and eventually worked our way around it on intermittent goat trails to the col between it and the true summit.
Thick clouds started rolling in as we climbed higher up the summit block. Any difficulties on the final ridge were circumvented to the south and eventually we were on the summit with clouds swirling around us obscuring our views and making things very cold. We didn’t linger long, after signing a pretty empty summit register which included the apparent first ascent entry in 1966, we headed back down to our bivy.
From our bivy we decided to take a risk and descend directly into the valley between the two false summits of Smith Peak’s east ridge. There was a perfect exit ramp from just below our bivy which would potentially save us kilometers of hiking back to the easternmost intersecting ridge. The risk was that we had no idea how bad the bushwhacking would get to exit this hanging valley. The ramp was very quick and soon we were hiking out of the valley along a delightful stream dipping into the forested slopes above the clear cuts. The only intense bushwhacking was a short stretch to get past a series of cliff bands just above the clear cuts lower down. This was bad enough that I wouldn’t want to ascend here, but it worked OK for descent. From there we followed our approach road back across Harrison Creek and to the truck.
I can’t say I highly recommend Smith Peak, but if you’re in the area anyway it may be worth your time. The north ridge of Mount Splendid (named by Pat Morrow presumably tongue-in-cheek due to it’s very non-splendidness) is another option in the area. This peak is also labelled “Bull Peak” on Google Maps. Both could be done as day trips from logging roads nearby but both offer little other than views of clear cuts, scree bashing and bush.