Summit Elevation (m): 3098
Trip Date: Friday, August 28 2020
Elevation Gain (m): 1400
Round Trip Time (hr): 5.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 9.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you are hurting or worse
Difficulty Notes: At first I found the west ridge crux above the gully more “moderate” than “difficult” but on descent and further reflection there are enough no-slip zones, steep slabs and loose rocks to likely warrant an SC7 rating. Route finding is key. The ascent gully is quite straightforward but very susceptible to rock fall and somewhat dangerous as a result.
Technical Rating: SC7
Map: Google Maps
Mount Evan-Thomas has been on my list of peaks to do for well over a decade. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s the highest peak in the intimidating Opal Range and towers over other peaks I’ve done in the area including Grizzly, Opal, Hood, Denny and Potts. As more and more people recorded ascents via both Nugara’s gully route and much later via Kane’s west ridge route, it kept from getting near the top of my priorities. Finally, on Friday August 28th I decided that after hiking 100km and ascending two remote peaks the days previous, it was time for a nice short solo outing to take advantage of perfect weather and conditions. I strongly suspected that Evan-Thomas would be a very short outing after doing Mount Denny in 7.5 hours and Mount Potts in only 7. Both of those peaks use the same access trail up Ripple Rock Creek past Grizzly Peak‘s south shoulder but both of them are much further distance-wise and involve more route finding. I planned to use the same route as Sonny Bou – the Nugara south gully, rather than mess about with Kane’s west ridge route for several reasons. Firstly, I was solo and I’m a peakbagger so I don’t always need to take the most difficult route to a summit. Secondly, I was in the mood for a fast, slab ascent and I expected that in the gully based on photos and other trip reports. The trip would still involve difficult exposed terrain from the gully to the summit.
I slept in a bit on Friday morning being a bit tired from the previous two days’ efforts on Panther Mountain and Flints Peak with Dr. Phil. The drive to the mountains was busier than expected and as is becoming more and more common even the parking area near Ripple Rock Creek was filling up quickly as I parked the Prius in the steep ditch. I noticed that a barrier has been installed along hwy 40 on either side of the road now, discouraging the previous parking spot. I wonder if eventually even the ditch where I ended up parking will be “off limits”? Where the heck would people access the trail from then?! I started up the well-worn trail north of the creek at 09:00 under a hot, smoky sky. I ascended rather quickly to the easy cliffs part way up the trail and started rounding the south shoulder of Grizzly Peak. As I rounded the shoulder, Evan-Thomas and Packenham showed up, looking mighty tall above me!
Almost as soon as I started north around the shoulder of Grizzly Peak I noticed a faint track continuing towards Ripple Rock Creek in the tall grass and followed it. I wasn’t a huge fan of losing height to the creek below so I traversed a bit on steep grass before giving up simply losing height and crossing several steep north branches of the creek. I continued east into the alpine valley between Evan-Thomas and Packenham staying above the valley to my right and above trees wherever possible. I was thankful to have a track from Cornelius Rott showing the bottom of the correct gully as it was very wide and not immediately obvious where to go from below in the valley. I followed the GPS track up an old moraine to the base of the huge ascent gully where I took my first break and started worrying about the lack of water so far on the route. Thankfully I’d planned ahead for this and had 700ml along – but this was a pretty minimal amount considering the hot day ahead. It took me roughly 90 minutes to reach the bottom of the ascent gully from hwy 40 at a steady pace.
It was time to start up the gully to the west ridge looking very high above me and distant at this point. It was. Unlike Sonny who seemed to find the gully slow and loose, I found the gully almost too quick and solid! 😉 I’ll explain. Pretty quickly I noticed many solid ribs and slabs that I could ascend very efficiently in my sticky-soled approach shoes. Unfortunately for me, I was still feeling the effects of the previous two days’ efforts (100km, 3400m gain) and ascending so efficiently was a lot of work! Of course it was also much safer. The gully had me a little worried about rockfall. I listened very carefully before heading up it to make sure no other parties were already in there. If you hear rockfall or notice other parties ahead of you when you get here you should NOT head up. Rocks can fall a long way and go very fast down the slabby terrain. And there’s a plethora of loose rocks as I found on descent… There’s not much else to say about this gully. Go UP. Go quickly. Wear a brain bucket.
As I neared the west ridge above me I was surprised to look up and spot another person quickly moving along down it. Thankfully this person was early and quick enough to kick rocks down my gully. I traversed over a few ribs to my right before angling up to the west ridge and taking a few minutes to catch my breath and scope out the rest of my ascent. It took me only around an hour to ascend the gully to the west ridge – much quicker than I was expecting! I have to say, as I gazed up the ridge I was a bit concerned with how steep and slabby it appeared. The gully was so simple I wasn’t entirely mentally prepared for the steep ridge above. As usual for these things, once I started up the terrain simplified and routes appeared that weren’t horrible. IMHO there are upper moderate lines on this ridge that don’t quite venture into SC7 levels, but overall the route still deserves the “difficult” rating. I generally went left at all difficulties, slowly coming back right to the ridge near the top.
Views from the summit were much less smoky than I was expecting, which was a nice bonus. There wasn’t much wind either and I enjoyed views of many familiar peaks in the area. I sat there with my PB&J sandwich and reflected once again how awesome my summer has been in 2020.
It had only taken me just over 3 hours to the summit so I knew I had lots of time as I started down the steep west ridge under the summit. I carefully down climbed the slabs, thankful for my grippy approach shoes but nervous about the amount of rock fall I generated despite being as careful as I know how! I was very grateful to be the only person on the summit block / west ridge on this gorgeous summer day. I could have seriously injured someone if they were coming up below me.
From the top of the gully I tried to descend it as quickly as possible but found it frustratingly slow thanks to loose rock on slab and steep terrain. Once again I was not impressed by the amount of rockfall I generated despite being careful. I had one particularly nasty event that resulted in rocks careening down the gully below and above me for minutes while I stood there and hoped to heck nothing would come down on top of me and that nobody was below! Finally I exited the gully and could breathe normally again.
From the bottom of the gully I traversed easy alpine scree and grass slopes back across Ripple Rock Creek’s north branches back to a busy Grizzly Peak trail. The sun was bloody hot as I descended the easy cliff and tried not to slip on the dusty hard pack trail below. Approach shoes suck a bit on such terrain! Other than a few stubborn sheep on the trail just above hwy 40 the rest of the descent was quick and easy. I was surprised by my round trip time of only 5.5 hours considering how tired I was feeling early in the day. I suppose I could have slowed down a bit but that doesn’t seem to be my style for some damn reason. I enjoyed Evan-Thomas quite a bit despite its objective hazards. I was happy to be alone in the loose terrain and more than happy to have yet another perfect summer day in the Opal Range.