Ascent of Mount Harrison on 2016-08-22

Climber: Denise Mclellan

Others in Party:Richard McLellan
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Monday, August 22, 2016
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Mount Harrison
    Location:Canada-British Columbia
    Elevation:11024 ft / 3360 m

Ascent Trip Report


Access to Mount Harrison is from White Swan Provincial Park, eastern British Columbia, east of and near Canal Flats ( fuel, shop, campsite) on the Route 95. A useful location map and park map can be found

There are no permits needed or fees payable.

The Trailhead (at 2050m) is 72 km along gravel logging roads of deteriorating quality from the 95. We were in a small SUV and had no problem; a 2WD car would find the last c6 miles hard.

We ascended Mount Harrison as a day walk ( c 12km round trip) with no special equipment in August. We ascended the ‘standard route’, the so- called South West ridge. The weather deteriorated with snow in the afternoon and ice on the descent scramble. We found locating the start through the trees hard. (We only found it on descent). Above the tree line one emerges into a huge scree basin with bivi sites. You walk steeply up (south) on compressed scree to an obvious col at 2700m.There is then a long traverse east which has steep drops and is loose in places; there is then a steep but not technically difficult scramble north east with lots of alternatives ( ie on the ‘south west ridge’). (Helmets are possibly desirable due to falling rock, especially if a larger party). At the summit we found a steep icy cornice, but luckily there was a low section that we could slither over onto compressed gravel; However, crampons and/or ice axe might be considered. I guess that snow etc varies from year to year.

We camped overnight at White Swan Lake Provincial Park campsite (self registration CA$22 per pitch per night; pit toilets, water; firepits) but there is flat grass and water at the trailhead and camping options en route, depending on your vehicle/ whether you make it a two day trip etc.
There are reported to be bears in the area, so we took the usual precautions including keeping pepper spray easily accessible, storing food and toiletries in the car and taking care with rubbish.

The Lussier Hot Springs (free) on the access road (about 10 miles east of the 95) are popular and worth a visit and comprise several rock -edged pools of varying temperatures by the river. They are accessed by a 250m path which descends from an obvious parking area with a sign saying ‘no nudity, profanity or alcohol.’

Mount Harrison was apparently first climbed in 1964 and named after a WW2 aircrew/ gunner who lived nearby. It is a world ultra and on the list of Canadian ‘11000 footers.’

Accessing the trailhead:

I have called the bridge east of White River Campground on White River Forest road (see map via link above) mile 0. (We had an American hire car, hence the miles). This campground is about 20 miles east of the 95 on a good gravel road. We saw no logging lorries but there are warning signs to keep out of their way.
0 mile (06:45): Turn Right (East) after bridge onto White River Forest Road and continue along the north side of White River. Wide well -graded gravel road.
7.0 mile: Fork Right- sign Munroe lake, not Grave Creek
7.1 mile: over large concrete bridge (44k mark). Riverside camping opportunities either side.
7.8 : Fork R, signed east Fork and Munroe lake
8.9: Ignore signs to Koos Creek and Barr Creek
9.8: Cross Bridge. Tracks twists but generally follows river.
12.5: Ignore R to Short Creek Rd
12.7 : Cross Bridge
13.1: Ignore Bridge to L. It is still a wide well graded road with passing places but with blind bends and steep drops.
16.7 Cross Bridge and immediately after, at junction, turn L to Bull River, staying on main track ( ignore Munroe Lake ‘straight on’ sign)
16.9: Cross bridge
19.7: KM 65 marker. Fork R (no sign) off main track. Road worsens from here, narrower with small potholes; It would be hard for 2wd from here onwards.
20.1: Clearing. Parking opportunity. Sign: ‘Recreation trail, BC’
20.3: KM66 marker. Turn R uphill. Sign: Harrison Creek. Road deteriorates- small rocks, some small fallen logs and muddy runnels
21.0: Zig Zag uphill, grass in centre of track
21.8: Clearing, possible parking, ? former washout area.
23.1: 10 metre washout to cross- muddy runnels across road
23.9: Junction, Go R uphill. Muddy ruts. 10 metre rutted washout. A moose crosses in front of us! Great view of Mt Harrison.
24.6: Parking opportunity for several cars. Ruts and scratchy willows ( I think) on narrow track.
25.7: 15 metre washout area with 50cm deep ruts, just after KM 107 marker
25.6 Miles: We park here at 08:00; 2050m- space for one car. There is willow scrub either side of the track. It is about 500m from trailhead but there is a further 50m rutted washout area ahead which we decide not to attempt.

Detailed route description:

At 08:20 we walk across the washout area and rejoin the track. After about 500 m on a bend to the left we reach a grassy clearing with fireplace on the right (easy parking if you cross the washout). A small track goes into the woods behind this with orange tape markers but it fades after 200m. (In hindsight, we maybe should have tried a bit harder with this to access the stream). We return to the track and turn right and cross a shallow ford, c 3 m wide. There is waist height willow scrub at the side of the road and the trees are much closer to the track. The actual trailhead is on the right, marked by orange tape but we do not spot this as the scrub has closed in on the small path (see Richard McLellan's return GPS track- to be loaded shortly). As we learn on descent, the actual path soon plunges into the dense, mossy forest and follows a small stream up, marked by occasional orange tape, but sometimes not visible on the ground. This small stream is the key to the route through the trees.

We continue a few hundred yards to another grassy clearing on the right with fireplace where a valley joins the track. We decide to ascend the definite path going up the valley, not realising this is a hunting/ fishing track. We cross the stream in this valley, enter trees for a short time and then emerge into a rocky clearing with trees to the right and a steep cliff ahead. We realise we are in the wrong valley (too far east) but hope it will all join up. A cairn encourages us to traverse left (east) and at 9:15 we turn a ’corner’ into the ‘wrong’ valley onto a well -used traversing path. It’s tempting to follow it, or head up to the ridge above (which we know the path will be traversing under, but on the other side) but we decide to try to rejoin our planned route by taking a rising traverse west above small lochans in a grassy bowl up to a mudstone ridge. At 10:05 we are rewarded by a view down into the correct valley, recognisable from a photo.

We easily descend SW c 200m over scree and scrub to bottom (south end) of the basin ( c2200m) and cross to the west side of the stream on boulders. We note a series of cairns going northwards from the end of the basin. These are on the east side of the stream commencing under some steep cliffs near obvious bivvi sites by huge rock right- angled blocks. We conclude that these are the start of the path we should have ascended- and this proves correct on our return.

By 10:40 we are heading north on firm scree with grass patches and small and large boulders up the steep slope at the back of the basin to an obvious scree col above. There is no actual path but the going is ok; it feels much steeper on descent. We keep the stream to our left, though it disappears half way up.
We reach the col at 2700m (with small stone wind shelters) at 12.15 after a snack out of the wind just below. There’s a steep drop below to featureless scree.

We go left (east) up compacted scree on the wide ridge where a large cairn appears on the edge (south side). From here a traversing path is visible, going east to a nearby ridge across scree (the first and smallest of the 4 ‘basins’ you have to cross). We go across soft sand and scree to reach a cairn on the ridge and from here a further, relatively level traversing path is visible, again in soft scree across basin number two.

There is a cairn at the ridge in between basin 2 and 3 but no obvious onward traverse. After a bit of searching around we see a cairn above and ascend 100m up the rocky ridge to another cairn from where a traversing path is again obvious. Note carefully for return trip!

This third basin has the least well defined path as you have to cross a shallow gully with stream in the centre and some signs of a washout. Various cairns seem to take you upwards to very loose and steep terrain, but we decide after a bit to stick to the level traverse even where it becomes ill defined and bare of scree and awkward and it soon improves again. There is about 150m of this awkward smooth hard grit.

We reach a ridge with a cairn and cross the fourth and large basin on a reasonable traversing path to another ridge with a series of cairns going up. This is the end of the traverse. There are various ways to access this ‘final’ ridge but they all seem undesirable to us! This is possibly the crux of the route: exposed, loose, near vertical, grade 3 scrambling with plenty of not- very -secure foot and handholds for 5-10m -especially as for us a hail squall arrived at the same time! We ascend the short section ok.

We are now at 2800m, only 500m to go, at 14:10. We pause for a snack.

We walk up the broad ridge on compacted scree, heading for an obvious solid rock gully with two streams slightly to our right (east). Light snow is now falling and there is some ice and snow in the gully but it appears avoidable.

It is a pleasure to scramble up the gully on firm rock! There are lots of alternative routes and quite a bit of loose, small- sized rock on ledges (but there were no other parties on the mountain that day; helmets might be useful for a larger party). The angle varies but was about 30 degrees; we thought it was YDS2+ as all the foot and handholds were easy to find. There are also some scree gullies which we used on descent, avoiding most of the scramble.

At 15:55 we reached the top of the rock band onto a small plateau area of compacted scree, only a few metres in height below the summit. There is a hard ice cornice several m in height which we cannot cross without ice axe/ crampons which we do not have, but we follow the scree round to a shallow part, only 75cm high. We can slither across this (luckily) onto the summit ‘cap’ of compacted scree and walk 50m to the obvious summit cairn, set amongst jumbled boulders.
We reach the summit at 16:00, 7.5 hours of ascent including two stops and an unplanned diversion at the start. There are no views in the low cloud and it is snowing and windy so we only pause for 10 minutes. We sign one of the two summit registers in the ammo box at the cairn and check on other possible highpoints on the small ridge, deciding the cairn is the high point.

We descend the same way in falling snow which becomes rain by the time we reach the base of the scree basin at 19:30 (c 2200m), by the bivi sites. As stated above, we pick up a line of cairns on the east side of the stream and these take us between the stream and steep sided scree mounds through willow scrub into the dense forest. The narrow path that we should have ascended on is quite overgrown and muddy in places, with many fallen trees but it basically follows the stream, crossing back and forth. Orange tape consistently encourages us. The thick green moss is truly gorgeous. We emerge onto the track at 20:30 through a short section of willow scrub by an unobvious piece of orange tape and turn left, across the ford, past a clearing on the left, over the washout and get back at the car at 20:40; it is light but still raining. An excellent day.

Summary Total Data
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Stream Ford, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Snowing, Cool, Breezy, Low Clouds
deteriorating, light snow in afternoon

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