Photo Credit: BC Parks Foundation | Wikimedia Commons

Go Climb a Rock

Mountain fever burns bright on VanIsle

The founder of the Alpine Club of Canada led the first successful climb of Elkhorn Mountain in 1911

“Because it’s there.” That’s British mountaineer George Mallory’s legendary answer when asked why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest. Mallory and his partner died trying to climb the world’s highest mountain, but his cheeky three-word response has lived on.

It’s become perhaps the most famous sentence in climbing.

It sums up the sport nicely. It’s pointless, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun.

Vancouver Island’s mountains are no match for the Himalayas, but what they lack in elevation they make up for with a rugged character and guarantee of adventure.

That’s why over the years, Vancouver Island has attracted the attention of some world-class mountaineers. A year after the creation of Strathcona Provincial Park in 1911, A.O. Wheeler, the founder of the Alpine Club of Canada led a team on the first ascent of Elkhorn Mountain.

At 2,166 metres, Elkhorn is the 2nd highest peak on Vancouver Island. Located forty kilometres as the crow flies southwest of Campbell River, it’s hard to get there.

Nowadays you take Highway 28 east towards Gold River and pull over to hike in. Back in Wheeler’s day, it would have been beastly bushwhacking through steep timber from the Elk River Valley to the alpine below Elkhorn’s northwest ridge.

So notorious is VanIsle’s bush, that mountaineers have given it a rating system. It goes from easy, B1, to extreme B5, which is described in the Island Alpine guidebook as “A higher plane of existence, where the mind must transcend the body trapped in the painful, primordial struggle for bio-global supremacy between plant and animal.”

Because it was so difficult more than 35 years passed before Elkhorn Mountain saw its second ascent.

In the 1980s, the late British Himalayan climbing legend Doug Scott travelled to VanIsle and established a winter route on the east face of Mount Colonel Foster with fellow Brit Rob Wood and Australian climber and author Greg Child. This 1,000-metre, mixed rock and ice route remains an Island mountaineering classic.

These are just a few of the colourful mileposts in Island climbing history.

Today, there’s a new wave of mountain exploration on the Island. From the MacKenzie Range near Sutton Pass off the road to Tofino and the Haihte Range above Tahsis, many new and difficult routes are being put up every year.

But why bother climbing a mountain?

Because it’s there, of course.