Summit Elevation (m): 2793
Trip Date: June 27 2015
Elevation Gain (m): 1200 from hut, 3200 from Valenciennes FSR
Round Trip Time (hr): 8 from hut
Total Trip Distance (km): 15 from hut
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: Remote glacier travel with some crevasse hazards depending on the time of year.
Technical Rating: MN6; YDS (I)
Map: Google Maps
Once we descended from Christian Peak and looped back to our traverse tracks from the day before, we decided to give Arctomys Peak a try. I think we all underestimated the amount of effort required to get all the way over to the eastern edge of the Lyell Icefield from the south ridge of Christian Peak, never mind the effort to then descend 400 vertical meters, cross another small icefield and then re-ascend to the summit of Arctomys. Now reverse it all the way back to the Lyell Hut!! Sometimes we are just suckers for punishment.
As we labored across the Lyell Icefield, further and further from our cozy hut, under a blazing and relentless fireball overhead, we engaged in vigorous debates about if we should continue or not. It was a bit comical and a bit depressing. At different times, different people were motivated to keep going. Steven initially suggested we try for Arctomys. Then, while he and Ben started leaning away from the effort, I encouraged them to continue the effort. Then I started backing off once I saw the incredible amount of height loss we had to do and Steven was back encouraging us to continue. Ben was right in the middle – sort of wishing he wasn’t there and sort of wishing we’d get to the summit already! Eventually we arrived on the eastern edge of the main Lyell Icefield and found ourselves negotiating some sagging bridges to a small icefield leading to the lower west ridge of Arctomys. It was funny, standing at the same height as the peak, looking across all that elevation loss / gain and wondering why the hell we were doing this again?! Peakbaggers can be such idiots sometimes.
It felt good to take the snowshoes off for the south shoulder / west ridge ascent of Arctomys, but it also felt bad. It felt good because ‘shoes are heavy and somewhat unbalanced, but it felt bad because we were so far from the hut and truly committed to this diminutive peak and I was wondering WHY? Well – I soon found out. There is a very good reason to scramble Arctomys Peak, if you have the opportunity. The view from it’s summit ridge is probably among the top 10 I’ve had on any mountain, anywhere in the Rockies. It was that good! As we slowly gained height on the ridge, we glimpsed views into the Arctomys Creek valley far below on the north side of the peak. As I overheated my camera I was again reminded that the best views are often from the smaller peaks surrounding by huge ones. Mountains look a bit dull from too high – they lose a bit of their grandeur when everything is lower than you.
The views improved until we could see the incredible plunge of the Lyell Glacier hundreds of meters down to Arctomys Lake with a crashing waterfall and a thin ribbon of water wandering off down the green valley far below, accumulating in many distant, sparkling lakes along the way. Honestly, I’ve seen some good views in my hundreds of summits, but Arctomys was extra impressive. We spent almost an hour at the windless summit, enjoying the sublime views in all directions and catching a few moments of shuteye in the very hot sun. Even the westerly winds were warm on the summit.
After our break on the summit we all agreed that doing Arctomys was a great idea. The experience was much better than we expected it to be and this gem of a peak probably doesn’t see very many visitors either – it’s way out there and doesn’t look impressive from below. The views that its summit offers, are not obvious when looking down on it from the Lyell Glacier. Of course, now we had a long, hot slog across the icefield to the Lyell Hut ahead of us. And it was a long slog! My eyes were so irritated by the sun’s reflective glare that I wore my gaiters under my cap as huge peripheral blockers – it worked surprisingly well.
Finally, after ascending the icefield, ascending up and then down the south ridge of Christian Peak and then reascending to the Lyell Hut we were finished another long day with incredible views. We could spot smoke from a new forest fire just west of our area from the hut and knew that the next day would be another scorcher with no over night freeze. Our chances of summitting Walter Peak were extremely thin and we started thinking about other options for our last day.
Arctomys Peak is another example of a minor summit having unexpectedly fantastic views. Being surrounded by giants such as the Lyells, Forbes, Amery and Erasmus contributes to its stunning setting. I’m not sure it’s worth a trip all the way up the Glacier Lake trail but for the intrepid peakbagger who appreciates something out of the way and off the beaten path, Arctomys certainly fits that description perfectly.