Valentine Lake & Saxifrage Mountain

Date: Aug 1/2, 2021

Participants: Brittany Zenger, Geoff Zenger

Difficulty: 3

Report: A last minute change of plans meant that rather than car camping Friday night and hiking in the smoke on Saturday, Brittany and I decided to leave town mid day on Sunday and take advantage of the long weekend to do our main exercise on the Monday when the smoke forecast called for better weather.

I knew very little about the access to Valentine Lake, but it turns out to be way easier and nicer to get to than I expected. We left Coquitlam just before noon, and drove up the Sea to Sky through quite dense forest fire smoke. Turning off onto Spetch Creek FSR 13km from the stop sign in Mt. Currie, the road starts out flat, then has a steep and very loose section between 1 and 2km up the road. People with 2wd vehicles really need to stop trying to go up roads like this, spinning their tires and turning a perfectly nice logging road into a mess. Past this loose section, just follow the main road up to just past 7km, where find a nice landing with a clearly marked trail starting on the right. The smoke was quite thin by this point, and we could clearly see the peaks above. Amazingly, despite the long weekend there was only a single other vehicle there, with only two people. Guess the smokein town scared everyone off…

Note that there is a new logging spur from the last couple years that heads up to the right perhaps 200m before the trailhead. This could be taken as well, as the trail passes through the trees just past the end of the clearcut. Using this spur would take off maybe 800m of walking each way, but would require a bit of a thrash through the slash to connect to the trail until a proper footbed is established.

Leaving the car minutes before 3:30, the trail briefly ascended next to Spetch Creek, before turning and ascending steeply for up to a few hundred metres of elevation. This section has a lot of minor deadfall that someone with a saw could quite easily remove, but is otherwise in great condition. If you see this, be a good citizen and lug a saw or chainsaw up the first 2km with you 🙂

Above the steep bit, the remaining 4km or so to the lake ascends gently through very pleasant meadows (when dry!) and open terrain, eventually turning left at a pass and soon arriving Valentine Lake. The lake was nicer than I expected. On arriving at the lake, there is a tent pad just to the left of where you arrive and the other party was staying there, so we continued a few minutes around to the north end of the lake where there is a large flat grassy area perfect for a few tents and that has a fresh water supply via a running creek going past. I would recommend staying here rather than at the tent pad for this reason. It was 6:10 when we set our packs down, for a total ascent time of about 2:40.

We made quick time setting up camp, cooking a freeze dried dinner, and enjoying the sunset. By the time the sun went down the smoke had almost completely cleared. The only problem is that the bugs were absolutely atrocious. and I had forgotten my pants down at the trailhead. At least we had some bug nets to cover our upper bodies and save them a little bit…

Monday morning we woke at 6:30, cooked breakfast, and took off shortly after 7:30. The trail continues up the heather & boulder meadows for a short distance but soon peters out and we were left to find our own way up through the meadows and occasional talus fields towards the base of Saxifrage’s SE ridge, which we reached around 9:30. By this point Brittany was not feeling well and she elected to wait at a pleasant vantage point at the base of the ridge while I went to find my way up.

I took off up the ridge proper at about 9:55 and going solo made quick time. Now, Gunn’s Scrambles book says for difficulty “moderate, tricky routefinding”, and while this might technically be accurate, the route is completely out of character compared to the rest of his “moderates”. Really, it’s a proper 3rd class alpine climb.

The route involved plenty of easy 3rd class climbing on good rock, lots of minor backtracking to find ways to skirt difficulties (almost always to the left), a number of loose gullies to cross, and one somewhat exposed 3rd class mandatory downclimb to connect two ledges between the two main gullies. As I was solo, I found this quite stressful, but when I get stressed I climb fast, and I made it to the summit at 10:35. 300 metres vertical of 3rd class scrambling & routefinding in 40 minutes! Phew!

The views from the summit were great, with only a little forest fire smoke obscuring the furthest away peaks. The Place Glacier peaks were clear, as were peaks over in the Cayoosh area. Nonetheless, with Brittany waiting below I lingered only long enough to take a few photos, eat a quick snack, and set off back down again around 10:45.

Knowing the route, the way down the ridge was easy enough, and although I still did not at at like the loose gully crossings and descent I found there were decent enough holds on the rock on the far side to traverse and descend them safely. Despite one minor delay waiting for the other party up there to go through the crux downclimb I made it back to where Brittany was waiting at 11:30, for a descent time almost identical to my ascent time.

From here the ridge across to Cassiope looked like it’d be slow traverse and from our distance the ascent gully looked quite slow, and we wanted to be back in town to spend a bit of time with the kids and put them to bed, so we elected to leave Cassiope for another day and headed back down to camp. We arrived back in camp at 1pm, ate some lunch, packed up the tent, and took off around 1:40.

The descent was pleasant through the meadows, although with our sore feet the steep descent back down to the car couldn’t come soon enough. Nonetheless, we trudged onwards and made it down to the car at 3:55, for a descent time of 2 hour, 15 minutes.

Overall, this was a fantastic hike, much better than my expectation going in. The lake is a really fantastic place to camp at and can be recommended just for that. Saxifrage is definitely an interesting and exciting scramble, and can also be recommended as a worthy destination, just go in with the mindset that it’s more challenging than you’d expect from its rating as “moderate”.

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