Summit Elevation (m): 2890
Trip Date: Saturday, September 21, 2019
Round Trip Time (hr): 6.5
Elevation Gain (m): 1050
Total Trip Distance (km): 16.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break something
Difficulty Notes: A fairly short but fun outing that includes moderate scrambling to the summit and a nice larch forest near Buller Pass.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
Map: Google Maps
A lot of folks have been grumbling about the weather in 2019. I get it, but in my case I have generated more of my own “bad” conditions than the actual weather has – and usually by going too early in the day and summiting in clouds while exiting in sun. Unfortunately for me, Mount Lillian would be a repeat of this strange phenomenon. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve actually had a pretty good 2019 season despite the wet summer. Views have been better than summers past thanks to no forest fire smoke, so there’s that bonus too.
Mount Lillian has been on my radar since hearing rumours that the views from its summit were pretty stellar. Thanks to its location above (south) Buller Pass I figured during larch season it would be even better and was saving it for a few years for good conditions and the right opportunity. There aren’t a ton of online trip reports from Lillian for some reason, adding to its attraction for me. As the last week of September approached the weather forecast was ominous. Normally I can count on some pretty sweet larch trips during the first week of Fall in the Rockies, but 2019 was in character and predicting a lot of clouds and snow later in the week. To make a long story short, after humming and hawing about several different options I decided to tackle Mount Lillian with Dave and Wietse on Saturday the 21st and we decided to leave fairly early in the morning. On hindsight perhaps a wee bit too early yet again…
We were the first to leave the Buller Pass parking lot at around 08:00 on a thinly grey morning with a recent rain still soaking the trail and the forest around us. I say “thinly” grey because there were clouds, but they were the thin kind, not the threatening kind. The trail to the pass is well defined and we chatted and hiking quickly along it, trying to stay warm in the chilly morning air.
We were hiking through the alpine meadows just below the pass within 1.5 hours of leaving the parking lot and the larches were giving us a pretty good show – just as expected! The sky was clearing but a very cold wind kept us moving at a pretty good pace all the way up the steep scree highway to the pass that I remembered seeing from Buller Pass Peak when I scrambled it in 2018 in bad weather. At the pass we were treated to good views towards Ribbon Lake, Mount Kidd and Mount Bogart. We also got a good look up the north slopes of Lillian and they looked mostly snow free, which was a good thing considering we’d left our snow gear behind.
After a break at the pass we turned our attention upward to Mount Lillian, rising steeply to the south. The north ridge / slopes proved to be easier than they appeared. My approach shoes struggled a bit with the frozen solid scree but for the most part it was just a steep grunt. Views off the ridge towards Ribbon Lake were fantastic and definitely a highlight for the day. Even if you don’t go to the peak, if you’re ever in the area, you should ascend about 100 vertical meters up the north ridge just for the views over Ribbon Lake.
Within only about 45 minutes of leaving the pass we were negotiating the upper slopes under the summit, wondering just where the heck the actual summit was! There are very few online reports from this peak and none of them are very clear regarding the summit block. All we knew was that there was supposed to be a “moderate” crux that felt more difficult on descent. We also knew that Nugara had done the peak twice in a week with quite a bit of snow so it couldn’t be that difficult. Since I was in the lead at this point, I decided to check out a peak rising to the west of what I suspected was the summit block while Wietse and Dave went up the probable summit. I got some nice photos from the outlier but the summit was clearly right above the north ridge where Dave and Wietse were – no traversing necessary on this peak!
I quickly bailed off the outlier and joined Dave and Wietse below the obvious crux leading to the summit. We decided to let Dave go first since he was already half way up the dang thing! 🙂 The crux certainly looks fierce and it’s loose as heck but once Wietse and I got on it, it didn’t feel more than moderate to me. There were a lot of holds (loose) and options to make things harder or easier so depending on your scramble senses you might find it easier or harder than we did. When we popped out on the summit the views were indeed pretty spectacular although I must admit some disappointment at the clouds, especially dulling the fall color and the lakes below. I was also surprised to see a subsidiary summit just to the east that looked very close to the same height as the cairned summit we were on. I didn’t remember Nugara or anyone else mentioning this other summit but when I went to check out the traverse I quickly decided the one we were on was sufficiently close to the same height to be the official, unofficial “Lillian”. Upon returning home and checking Nugara’s reports, we were on the correct summit, or at least the same one he did.
After enjoying the somewhat muted views thanks to the grey clouds, we got chilled in the cold wind and started our descent. The crux didn’t feel too bad to me but again, it is very loose and should be treated with respect. We managed to find some good scree on descent of the north slopes back down to Buller Pass and made short work of it. Another break in the warmer temperatures at the pass had me grumping a bit about “leaving too dang early” and missing out on the clearing skies and warming temperatures.
As we made a quick exit of the now warm and sunny Buller Pass trail, we met smarter folks who timed their hike a bit better than we did. I felt bad about feeling grumpy considering how gorgeous our views had been and the enjoyable outing but I really did feel like we missed an opportunity to enjoy Mount Lillian in full Fall glorious sunny conditions. The worst part is that all it would have taken was sleeping in another couple of hours!! Some days leaving early is NOT advisable I guess. I’ll get over it. Eventually. 🙂
We hiked back to the parking lot under a gorgeous sunny sky and finished in less than 6.5 hours making Lillian pretty much a half day trip. I highly recommend this peak as a pretty tame outing (if dry) during the Fall season to take advantage of the larches near Buller Pass and the wonderful lakes tucked into the valleys below. If you time it right and get some sunshine on those lakes I’m sure this would be a premier viewpoint considering how scenic it was even under a dreary sky.