Ascent of Mount Sampson on 2018-09-02

Climber: James Barlow

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Sunday, September 2, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Sampson
    Location:Canada-British Columbia
    Elevation:9222 ft / 2810 m

Ascent Trip Report

I arrived at the trailhead around 11pm on Saturday evening after a long day climbing Wedge Mtn from Wedgemount Lake and then a full descent followed by dinner in Pemberton with Rob Woodall and Pete Ellis. Rob and Pete headed towards Smithers for a few ultras up there which was a bit too far for me to drive as I had to work on Tuesday back in WA. Petter and Åke had left from the Wedgemount TH to Squamish as they had a flight back to Norway on Sunday afternoon. This peak was high on my priority list mainly because nobody else on peakbagger has it, even the heavy hitters of BC peakbagging like Grant Myers, Steven Song, Chris Hood, Adam Walker, Brian Friedrich, John Stolk, Serguei Okountsev, Simon Chesterton, Mat Brunton, etc, some of whom I have had the pleasure of meeting/hiking with, and some of whom I only know by their peakbagging reputations. The most recent ascent I can find proof of online was done in 2014 as a three day ascent. It is not an ultra, so it is likely of less interest to a lot of peakbaggers despite it's status as a P1000m peak. I completely understand - if you focus on BC P1000m peaks, you will die long before you could possibly finish them all!

Trailhead directions:
I followed trailhead directions from Matt Gunn's "Scrambles in SW BC" guide book. They have re-numbered the km markers since he wrote the book separating the Lillooet FSR and Hurley River FSR as separate numbering schemes. From the town of Pemberton, take the road towards Pemberton Meadows, turning right on to Lillooet Forest Service Rd after about 20km. The Lillooet FSR is paved for the first short stretch (~1-2 km) to the bridge and becomes gravel after that. From the junction with Pemberton Meadows Rd, it is 8.5 km to the next junction with the Hurley River Forest Service Rd. Go right on to the Hurley River FSR, which is seasonally closed in winter. Follow the Hurley River FSR for 17km to a short spur road on the left which has a sign set back from the main Hurley River FSR that cannot be seen until you turn on to the spur road and look past the brush that nearly covers it. This turn is just before a bridge over a small creek, so if you hit that bridge, go back about 100-200 meters and you should be good. The spur road is called Hurley River-Hurley River South FSR but has also been referred to in other TRs as Donelly Creek. The overgrown sign says "Hurley River-Hurley River South FSR." There is ample space for 2 or 3 cars right at the intersection of the Hurley River FSR and this spur road. I suspect parking may not be an issue, but best to arrive early to beat the crowds on this one! If you follow the spur down about 100 meters, you will find that the road ends where the bridge washed out years ago. However, if you own a Jeep or other tough 4WD vehicle, you can actually drive across the creek (it has clearly been done numerous times) and actually drive the first few miles of the hiking route. I would only recommend this at lower flow times of the year (like right now in early Sep). I found a pic online of another group that attempted Sampson earlier in the year a few years ago and the creek was raging. My mileage from the paved intersection of Pemberton Meadows Rd and the Lillooet FSR to the intersection of the Hurley River FSR and Hurley River-Hurley River South FSR washed out spur road was just over 19 miles (not km) as my 2007 Toyota Yaris can only do American math, not rest of the planet math. Speaking of the Yaris, this trailhead is accessible by any vehicle without issue. The Hurley River FSR is well graded, but quite rocky - check your spare tire pressure before heading up this way! I would also not want to do this if it were icy.

I quickly set up my sleeping pad and lofted my bag before poking around to see how the road beyond the bridge looked. Well, then I discovered that the bridge was washed out! However, just to the left of the old bridge location there is a short track that drives down to the creek. A good high clearance 4WD, preferably with a short wheel base like a jeep, could make it down and across quite easily when it was flowing really low like it was on this day. I determined that I could easily walk across the creek and carry my shoes in the morning. I did determine that it would be better to wait until it was light to overcome this obstacle. My plan B should this route not be passable was nearby Grouty Pk, also from Matt Gunn's Scrambles book, a very mellow 900m of gain with some light bushwhacking, but mostly meadows and a nice ridge.

I was up at 6:30 as that was sunrise so I could search around and make a call as to whether to climb Sampson or Grouty. I initially waded across the creek in flip flops with my shoes and socks around my neck with just my trekking poles and a dirty shirt from the previous day to use as a towel just so I could walk around and see what it was like on the other side. The water was ice cold as expected. The crossing was knee deep which was fine as I was just in underwear and had my pants around my neck with the shirt and shoes. On the other side I quickly dried my feet and left the flip flops and shirt/towel there while I went for a stroll to see how the road looked. It was in fine shape so I walked a bit along the road to ensure that the "left fork going up Donelly Creek" described in Matt Gunn's book was not the main trunk in good shape and the road section I needed wasn't overgrown. I went a way and did not even see this intersection. My GPS confirmed that I was on the correct road after 10 minutes of walking, so I felt good about that. I turned back and figured that it was time to get packed and bag this beast! I re-crossed the creek after looking at the Donelly Creek Recreation site, now completely overgrown but a few picnic tables remain as they rot back to nature. Once back across, I dried my feet again and started packing. I decided to move my car back to the road junction as I had parked at the road's end near the creek to avoid being woken up by passing cars on the Hurley River FSR at night. As I drove up, I saw what looked like a use trail on the right side of the road (left if you are coming from the Hurley FSR). I stopped and decided that it may lead to a hiking bridge, so I followed it. Miraculously, it leads to a large log that straddles the creek that even has traction foot spots carved into it. I crossed this log and it put me right near the picnic tables on the other side that I had seen earlier! I had completely missed this. I went back over, parked the car, finished packing, and walked back here to cross again with all my stuff.

All of this back and forth had cost some time and I was not on the way until a little before 9am. I did not start recording a GPS track until I was across the stream again as I forgot, so the track starts along the road just past the crossing. The hike up the road was initially pleasant until Point 1326m along the road about 3/4 of the way to the end of the road. Then, from out of nowhere, the nice dirt and grass stroll turns into an alder-infested overgrown road. A bridge is crossed just after the beginning of the alder, where more alder awaits on the other side. Throughout the course of this hike I was using my backpack's chest strap buckle as a whistle to keep the bears away by blowing on the whistle ever 10 min or when I remembered. Once in the alder-choked portion of the road, there is a mix of decent use trail through the alder along the road and grass on the downslope side of the road. Thankfully all of the brush was completely dry on this day or it would have been quite miserable - more to follow about that on the return hike. The road end was finally reached where I could not find the use trail alluded to in Gunn's book and opted to instead strike out downhill towards the creek thinking that there would be better walking along the edge of the creek and the other side looked much less brushy, so a crossing could always help even if I had to re-cross back later. The next ~1km of bushwhacking was pure hell, quite possibly the thickest sustained brush I have ever moved through. On two occasions I got close to the creek and determined that my bank was too steep to descend to the creek, there was no place to walk along this side of the creek, and the creek was too deep to cross safely. Shit. I spied a nice grove of tall pine/fir trees on the other side of this alder hell (to the SW), so I headed that direction knowing that the forest would be much better walking. I finally made it to the forest edge, pushed through the last wall of crap and it was as wonderful as I had hoped. I had burned a lot of time bushwhacking this section and stopped for the first snack break of the day.

I walked towards the NE-SW alilgned moraine, knowing that I would need to cross the creek, but it was above the confluence with the creeks draining the Sampson and Boomerang Glaciers, so it would only be 1/3 the strength/depth/width/flow of the river below. I actually found a lot of flagging in the forest marking some kind of future logging road, a riparian management zone, and even some kind of boundary. The forest walk was excellent. It would be nice to have a road or trail to this forest without the side effect of logging this pristine old growth section. I found a decent crossing and made my way across. Getting to the moraine from the creek crossing was not that bad, some minor brush. Once you begin ascending the moraine, you feel home-free from the brush below! The moraine was a pleasant walk, where I was finally able to cover some distance and gain unencumbered by brush. Towards the upper end of the moraine, there is an obvious spot where you can begin to contour down towards the open forest and meadows on larger boulders and without any brush that inhabits substantial portions of the SE-facing side of the moraine lower down.

The sub-alpine forest and meadows were incredible to walk through, probably the highlight of this hike. This beauty of this area is stunning, well worth a return visit if not for the miserable bushwhack to get to this point. I began angling up towards the moraine along the SE side of the first pocket glacier, gaining this moraine near where it begins around 1800m. The moraine is fine walking with very little sand slipping and ends around 2000m. From here, you traverse up and left for a short bit before angling more west to gain the bottom of the second pocket glacier around 2140m. A second break was taken here to switch from hiking shoes to mountaineering boots (I had packed them along as a pound on your feet is 5 on your back), put on crampons, enjoy some lunch, etc. The walk up the glacier was quite nice as this glacier is really not crevassed, and the walking was easy across the ice. As you ascend the glacier, aim SW towards a red shoulder, gaining the rock above the glacier about 100m to the left (SE) of the red shoulder. Crampons were removed here and stowed in the pack as they were not needed again until I returned to this point later in the day. Continue WNW up the ridge to another red shoulder, this one mostly red dirt while the lower red shoulder is mostly red rock. From this red dirt shoulder, I headed down and skier's right, hoping to minimize elevation loss. Do not do this! While you do not cliff out, you nearly do, and it is loose and unpleasant.

I made it down to the first gully leading towards the summit. Do NOT ascend this more easterly gully! It appears to cliff out above. I traversed over to the second more westerly gully as described in the Scrambles book. The gully is mostly talus, with a few looser sections which were mostly unpleasant walking as you slid a bit but not dangerous or causing much rock fall. The book route seems to head more to climber's right (NE) but my route ahead was clear and straightforward so I continued up. Like a beacon of hope a wonderful bit of solid snow appeared in the gully on the left side, while a sandy scree pile emerged on the right side. This meant that I could pull my ice axe back out and ascend a wonderful snow ribbon, kicking steps up, and would have a nice scree ski down next to it when I descended! I followed the snow until just below 2700m when it seemed that it would be quicker to make my way to climber's right and get to the lower western summit. The lower summit is sharper that the higher eastern summit. At this point I was enveloped in a cloud, so there was no way to actually tell which one is higher. With no desire to re-climb this peak, I opted to summit the 2807m summit first, ensuring that I covered the highest ground there, a rocky pinnacle. I then headed west along the mellow ridge top to the higher 2811m summit. The north face is heavily corniced even this late in the season, so if you are up here in more snowy conditions, be very careful! I had no issue just walking on the rocks the whole way over, so no danger in that. The eastern summit is mellower and at this point it began to snow on me, with wind coming out of the south and blowing snow into the right side of my head. Quite pleasant....

The summit has a tiny film canister register with a single entry from 1980. The pencil would not write on the damp paper for me, so no record of my ascent. I know that the peak has been climbed a number of times in the 70s and a number of times since the 1980 entry. I was actually really excited to see when the last ascent was. The internet has a 2012 dayhike attempt/failure and a 2014 3 day successful ascent as the most recent things I could find (after I returned and did some searching). After the obligatory pictures and an attempt to get a cell signal to text Becca to let her know I was ok and headed down with a very late return time, I began my descent. No cell service out here :-(

I descended a bit lower than my initial hike in as I approached the southern glacier as I intended to have an easier walk back to the red dirt shoulder. On the way down the clouds lifted and the precipitation stopped, allowing for nice views to the peaks across the Pemberton Valley. Descending to the edge of the southern glacier was definitely the right call as my re-ascent to the red dirt pass was much easier on talus without any exposure or rockfall. Once at the red dirt pass, it was a quick easy stroll back to the top of the glacier where I put my crampons back on and made the quick descent to the bottom at 2140m. The crampons were stowed to not be used again, so I put them in the bottom of my pack and ensured that my headlamp was accessible as I would be needing it soon.

During the descent back to the moraine along the lower pocket glacier, the clouds moved in and I found myself in nearly zero visibility coupled with the now post-sunset light. I was able to make it to the moraine and begin my descent as the rain began. Just above 1800m is a large boulder that has a nice sheltered north side. The going was painfully slow here as it was now pitch black and I was in a cloud. The darkness was not the issue, it was the cloud mist and rain making it quite difficult to see. I considered my options and determined that it would be safer to crawl under this boulder for a bit to cook my dinner (I had brought along my stove knowing that I would be making dinner out here). I also had my sleeping bag along for an emergency as I was alone, nowhere near any other humans, well off the beaten path, and Becca knew I would not be back until very late this night. I crawled into the bag and cooked my Indian food, complete with naan. It was not comfortable as the only place out of the rain was quite rocky but dry. I emptied my pack to use it as a pad, which helped a bit. I ended up sleeping in a semi-sitting position for a few hours. When I awoke at an unknown time, it was clear and I could see stars. That is all I needed! I repacked my stuff, most of it now dry as I had pulled a number of things into my sleeping bag to dry.

The descent under headlamp was now quite easy and I was down to the beautiful meadow area rather quickly. I then regained the moraine, nearly losing my headlamp into the boulder field as I pulled of my hat at one point and it dropped between the rocks. That would have been a problem... Near the lower end of the moraine, the morning sun began to lighten the sky and I was able to put the headlamp away. The forest to the stream crossing was easy, though I noted that all of the brush was now wet from the evening rain. Still wearing my mountaineering boots, I found a place shallow enough to cross without going barefoot again, a nice time saver. The forest on the other side was initially a little brushy but gave way to the old growth patch with the flagging and made for quick movement for a short distance. Then, the trees ended and I needed to cross the 1km slide alder hell.

It was terrible. Everything was soaked and it felt like I was in a shower. The progress was painfully slow with times that I had to crawl to make headway. About 3/4 of the way across this hell I aimed for a pair of pine trees. Right at their base was miraculously a very overgrown use trail with flagging. I was able to follow this very brushy route for about 90% of its course back to the end of the alder-choked logging road. The alder road was much less pleasant on the descent as it was all now wet and I was getting tired. I finally made it to the bridge where I knew it was just 3 more minutes of easy alder-bashing back to the open road. Once I arrived at the open road, I could see a sunny area about half a kilometer ahead and decided that a break in the warm morning sun was in order.

Upon reaching the sunny area I pulled off my heavy gloves and wrung them out, getting enough water out of the pair of them to fill a 1L Nalgene. My legs and feet were mostly dry thanks to my La Sportiva mountaineering boots and Becca's Arc'Teryx hard shell pants. My Mountain Hardwear jacket had taken a lot of abuse on this but had kept me about 50% dry on my torso and arms. I pulled off my t-shirt and switched to my mid layer. I also pulled off the boots and switched to my dry hiking shoes and a dry pair of socks, leaving the hard shell pants on. I stuffed all the wet stuff in my now saturated pack and enjoyed the softer footwear for the hike out. The grass on the road was soaked so my feet had soaked through by the time I was about halfway back to the car from my stop point, but it was not a big deal since I was almost out and quite comfortable walking in these lighter shoes. When I arrived at the stream crossing, I considered just fording it in my now-soaked shoes, but opted to take the log back across. Upon arrival at my car, I changed once again into dry clothes and hurried to leave so I could get a signal and let Becca know that I was out safely, just a bit delayed.

A well-deserved brunch awaited me at Tim Horton's in Whistler after I got a hold of Becca near Pemberton and assured her I was ok in spite of my delayed return. I was excited to get home and spend the day with her before she had to go in for call all night! Pics from my beautiful yet painful ascent.

My advice for future peakbaggers:
Bring a machete, bulldozer, or agent orange...
If it is wet, you will be soaked long before you get close to the peak. Pack accordingly.
Late in the season like September means that the streams at the trailhead and again at the lower end of the moraine are very low. I saw pics online from an earlier season ascent where the trailhead creek was raging and dangerous. Also, I only saw one mosquito which I killed!
Another option to avoid the brush hell is an ascent when skis can be used to pass over it when snow-covered. I do not know when the Hurley River FSR opens or whether the long road ski from Gold Bridge would be worth the effort.
Maybe this would have been more reasonable as an overnighter - it took me 9 hours to reach the summit from the TH, though I was a bit sore from my ascent/descent of Wedge the previous day.
I would assume that the road will only get worse with time and the alder will continue to creep lower down the road.
Click on photo for original larger-size version.
Mount Sampson rises into the clouds above the overgrown Hurley River south fork (2018-09-02). Photo by James Barlow.
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5284 ft / 1610 m
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Stream Ford, Scramble, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Headlamp, Ski Poles, Bivouac
    Nights Spent:1 nights away from roads
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:5284 ft / 1610 m
    Distance:9.5 mi / 15.3 km
    Route:Bushwhacking and lots of talus
    Start Trailhead:3938 ft / 1200 m
Descent Statistics
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by James Barlow
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

This page has been served 338 times since 2005-01-15.

Copyright © 1987-2021 by All Rights Reserved. Questions/Comments/Corrections? See the Contact Page Terms of Service