At 7:00am on a cool, dark January morning, the boys picked me up and we started the two hour drive to Peak 5040, located in the Alberni area. An obscure peak that many, if not most people have not heard of. The reviews online (such as summitpost.org) promised spectacular 360 degree island views.
Instructions to find the logging road are clear and correct. Head towards Tofino/Ucluelet after Port Alberni, just past the top of the summit is a logging road on the left. There is a sign marking it as “Marion Main,” but this cannot be seen from the highway. After this is where the instructions become less clear. Regular 2WD vehicles with low clearance likely would not make it very far up the logging road, as there are numerous and huge cross ditches preventing a smooth entrance to the back country mountains. The landcruiser we were in handled these cross ditches like a breeze and before long we found ourselves 10km up the logging road. (Due to the high snow level this year, we didn’t encounter any snow until we had been hiking for a couple of kilometres on the trail. Friends of mine that attempted this mountain a while later found snow so far down the logging road that they had to park at the 3km mark and couldn’t even find the trail head). There are two trail heads on this mountain– one higher than the other. Neither are marked very clearly, except for a semi-obvious area with enough parking for a few vehicles. We thought we’d be able to get even higher up on the logging road and blaze our own trail, however a massive cross ditch near the top prevented even the landcruiser from passing and we retreated to the regular trail.
For the most part, Peak 5040 is an easy to moderate hike with spectacular views right from the trail head. Triple Peak stands gloriously in front of Peak 5040 and if you are lucky, you might catch some loose sun rays dazzling in the snow on its dynamic face.
I love venturing out into the mountains. People ask me, “why mountaineering?” And to me, the answer is simple and obvious.
I love learning. Being up in the mountains teaches me something new every single time, in a way that I could never have gleaned from sitting in a classroom or reading a book. Not only do I learn something practical and long withstanding, but I also learn something about myself.
This experience was no different.
Please read the following and do so carefully, and by paying much attention:
Do not venture out into the mountains without an ice axe or other means of self arrest.
Whew, I’m glad that I got that off my chest… Why?
Mountains are inherently dangerous. One little slip, misstep or weakness in the snow pack on the side of a gully could send you tumbling down its face, with no means of stopping or even slowing down– except for by using your ice axe. So, if you did not bring one, good luck with that. Hopefully your group members feel like abandoning their summit goals to come find you who-knows-where at the bottom of that gully, likely half buried in snow, bruised and shivering. Or worse.
There were a few areas during our scramble up to the summit of Peak 5040 that had me wishing that I had brought an ice axe. (I wished I had crampons as well, but the mountain was doable without them and while crampons would have made it much safer and much easier, was not entirely necessary).
At one point, I took a minor tumble and slid on my butt towards a small ravine that had cut itself into the mountain side and boasted an admirable drop of at least a couple of metres. I would not have died and likely would only have suffered minor injuries, but getting out of that thing would have been difficult. Even though I didn’t slid very far or long, those who know me know that I gave out quite the scream. I was able to steer my way into a bush and stopped just before the ravines edge.
Later, after reaching the summit and heading back down, we skirted a steep gully, and I was last. After three people going over it the first time and being the third person to go across on the way back, the steps we had made in the snow had softened and began to give way. Suddenly, my left foot (the gully side) no longer had a hold. Instantly, I squatted down and put all my weight on my right side as I attempted to dig myself another hold with my left foot. The snow just kept giving way and soon, I felt the right side begin to give way too, and slowly, I was beginning to slide down towards the gully. If I’d had an axe, it would have been easy enough to drive it into the upside of the hill and hold onto it while I dug myself a new foothold. Without the ability to self-belay, my friend had to come rushing back across the gully and kick me in some footholds so that I could stabilize again.
This was an easy lesson to learn, and nothing too dangerous or scary had to happen. (Don’t get me wrong– slowly sliding down towards that gully was scary enough! But it wasn’t a matter of life and death). I don’t need a thrilling tale of hurtling down a mountainside, feet over head, twisted and jumbled up, only to go careening over the side of a cliff and landing headfirst into the hard snow, barely clinging to life, to tell me how to make myself safer in the mountains. I can imagine the scenario, and learn from it.
Thick clouds and fog would block our view most of the way up the mountain, and our hard earned summit was rewarded by a signature in the log book and a glass of white wine partway down (I definitely had the coolest ever partners that day to supply white wine in plastic wine glasses!). After clambering down the ladder that was kicked into the snow in order to climb up and around an exposed bluff (again, doing this would have been a LOT safer and easier with the use of an ice axe…), we knew how lucky we were to have conditions as good as they were to have managed that summit with our inexperience.