Summit Elevation (m): 2865
Trip Date: Saturday, September 8, 2018
Elevation Gain (m): 1450
Round Trip Time (hr): 10
Total Trip Distance (km): 25
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain your wrist or you break your leg
Difficulty Notes: An easy to moderate scramble with some routefinding through the lower headwall but easy upper mountain. NOTE: The trip I describe includes three peaks as part of a two day effort involving over 3100m of height gain.
Technical Rating: SC5; YDS (3rd)
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 forecast 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!
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.
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.
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. Oops. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.