towns of Gold River and Tahsis on the west coast of Vancouver Island is
an impressive alpine arena known as Mount Bate and Alava sanctuary. Early
hydrographic surveyors observed these mountains from their ships off the
coast and started naming them after famous naval personnel, not all of
whom were associated with Vancouver Island. It is these names that are
of historical interest as it records some of the early history of the
events that took place in the surrounding area.
is named after the Spanish naval officer Brigadier-General Don Jose Manuel
de Alava, who replaced Francisco de Eliza as Governor of Nootka in 1793
and upon the death of Bodega y Quadra became the commandant of the Department
of San Blas, headquarters for exploring and administering Spanish territories
of the Pacific Northwest. Alava was charged with carrying out the provisions
of the Nootka Treaty, signed January 11, 1794, in Madrid. The two commissioners,
Alava for the Spanish and Captain George Vancouver for the British, met
at Nootka in September 1794 but as Alava was without formal instructions,
little was accomplished and Vancouver sailed for home. Alava presided
over the final ceremony of abandonment of the Spanish stronghold at Nootka
on March 23, 1795, with Vancouver's replacement, Lieutenant Pierce representing
British interests. Previously the peak was known as Mount Herbert (origin
unknown) but the name was found on a British Columbia map of 1919. This
name was formally suggested on December 22, 1933, however, it was pointed
out that there was another Mount Herbert on the BC-Alaska border and this
raised concerns about duplication. Mount Alava was officially adopted
on November 6, 1934, after being suggested by H.D. Parizeau, of the Hydrographic
was named in 1862 by Captain George Henry Richards of the Royal Navy.
Richards was at first in-charge of the surveying vessel HMS Plumper
and then the HMS Hecate, which surveyed the coastline of both the
east and west coast of Vancouver Island in the 1860's. If there weren't
names already in existence by the First Nation's People, Richards bestowed
names that were not always associated with Vancouver Island but in many
cases were seafaring naval men. Mount Bate is at the head of Richards'
"Canton Gorge" (Canton Creek at the head of the Tlupana Inlet)
and likely refers to Captain William Thornton Bate, Royal Navy, a noted
survey officer who was killed during the capture of Canton, China on December
(1,680m) and Alava (1,550m) are not the only peaks surrounding the sanctuary.
On the north side is the twin peaked pyramid-shaped mountain called Mount
Grattan (1,550m). The mountain is named to remember RCAF Flight Sergeant
Noel Grattan, from Victoria, British Columbia, who was killed in action
May 31, 1942, at the age of twenty-one. Noel Grattan was born in Yokohama,
Japan, in December 1921, the youngest of five children and only son of
violinist Francis Grattan and his wife Eveline. After Japan's 1923 earthquake,
the family moved first to North Vancouver before settling thereafter in
Victoria. Noel attended Malvern House and Victoria High schools and worked
at Oak Bay golf links prior to enlisting. F/S Grattan's aircraft failed
to return from a bombing mission over Cologne, Germany, presumably shot
down. With no known grave, his name is inscribed on the Runnymede Memorial,
Surrey, United Kingdom. The name was officially adopted July 20, 1978.
surrounding the sanctuary but guarding the entrance at the mouth of Perry
Creek is Malaspina
Peak (1,573m). This peak is named for Captain Alexandro Malaspina,
a celebrated Italian seaman in the naval services of Spain who was asked
by the King to look for a Northwest Passage. The search proved fruitless
and he ended up spending a month in 1791 at the Spanish outpost in Nootka
Sound before returning to Mexico.
are not the only features in the area to have names associated with the
Spanish who presided at Nootka: Mount Quimper, Eliza Ears, Santiago Mountain
and Zeballos Peak to name a few. However, they definitely give a strong
sense of the degree to which the Spaniards were involved in the territorial
claim of the American Northwest. These mountains, however, have become
a playground for mountaineers as the mountains that surround the sanctuary
offer a unique west coast experience.
recorded attempt to enter the sanctuary was in the last week of August
1979, when Syd
Watts and John
Gibson tried to reach it via the Sebalhall Creek. They had
tried the year before to access what they called Headwall Valley but were
turned back by active logging in the area. This time they drove almost
to the head of the Sebalhall Creek then hiked up a clear wide gully that
led up the west side to a col at the 3,400 foot level. They found the
col to be only six feet wide with a steep drop into the Headwall Valley.
After picking up a game trail they followed that for fifty feet before
coming out onto heather slopes which eventually led to the top of a 4,100
foot peak. From here they had a fine view of a 5,600 foot peak (Mount
Grattan) at the head of Headwall Valley and Mount Bate to the south. Although
they saw some of the mountains surrounding the sanctuary and got a sense
of the topography, they weren't close enough to actually look into it
and see the pristine lakes cradled below like babes in arms.
later Syd Watts and John Gibson were back this time with another Duncan
climber Alan Robinson and three from Victoria; Rob Macdonald, Ben Peterson
and Paul Erickson. On the morning of July 11, 1980, the Victoria crew
met the Duncan men where the Perry River crosses the Tahsis road at 2
A.M. and after a short sleep interrupted by the no-see-ums, they headed
up the new logging road about 7 A.M.. Two kilometres in on the north side
of the river they arrived at a small lake and parked. With packs on their
backs they began bushwhacking around the lake and up the river about one
mile or so. In 'Up Mt. Alava - and down! A Presumed First Ascent' written
for the Island Bushwhacker Vol. 9:2 of the Vancouver Island section
of the ACC in 1980, Paul Erickson and Rob Macdonald wrote:
intention was to climb out of the valley to the west of Alava onto
a ridge between Alava and Malaspina Peak. The contour suggested that
this was not too steep. However, what should have been a reasonable
slope was in fact two thousand feet of rather difficult bluffs. Unfortunately,
this appeared to be the only feasible route, as things appeared even
worse farther up the valley.
started up a series of upward slanting ledges that appeared to offer a
route, however, the first ledge ended in some slippery rock that proved
to be too hazardous. At this point Robinson, Gibson, Watts and Peterson
decided to go down and explore the valley towards Alava Lake while Macdonald
and Erickson chose to try to the right further. Two rope lengths of remarkable
clean, solid rock gave them some encouragement as they entered into a
gully that appeared to lead somewhere. Unfortunately, where it led was
to another rock face with steeper climbing on wet, slippery rock. For
the next four to five hours they continued in this fashion climbing from
ledge to ledge until they emerged from the ledges and overhanging vegetation
onto the ridge and some welcome relief.
After a short
rest they continued along the straightforward ridge to the base of Mount
Alava. A prominent snow gully which dissects the west side of the mountain
and leads to within a few hundred feet of the summit offered easy climbing.
The final direct scramble to the top on good rock was an enjoyable conclusion
considering the memory of the climb up from the valley which was still
fresh in their minds. Without a watch they could only guess at the time
- six or seven in the evening.
peak was apparently unclimbed as there was no cairn. We constructed
one and admired the views of the other impressive peaks in the area.
We descended quickly to the top of the ridge where we bivouacked for
sunset they could see the weather beginning to change as ominous clouds
were building up to the west. The next morning the pair was up and moving
as soon as it was light enough as the change in the weather was obvious.
top of Mount Alava they had seen a very easy ridge down to Alava Lake.
They chose this route as they doubted they could safely descended their
route up without a large number of rappels on dodgy anchors. Within forty-five
minutes they were down at the lake and as they arrived so did some low
clouds funneling up the valley obscuring their view down from the lake.
the outlet of the lake proved to be a little tricky and very cold.
Once on the other side, a stand of timber led down into the valley
and into a canyon evident both on the topo map and from our vantage
point above the lake, before the clouds rolled in.
were uncertain whether we could get through it so we decided to try
to traverse high above it. That was the idea, anyway. For the next
several hours however, what we really did was wander around in the
fog, down-climbing bluffs that ended in voids, climbing back up, try
farther over and so on. Finally we made the decision to give up and
go back to the lake and try the direct route through the canyon. This
was fine for awhile and we were almost through when we were stopped
by a waterfall and sheer rock walls on either side.
close and yet so far
as a measure of our desperation we even
considered attempting it. However, we backtracked slightly and attempted
to try to climb out of the canyon to some trees above it. Our gully
didn't go all the way though, and while I sat and cursed, Rob disappeared
around a corner along a ledge which appeared to me to be mainly some
bushes growing out of a crack. When he hadn't returned after a few
minutes, I decided that either he was hopelessly stuck or had found
a way through. When I got around the corner, there was Rob fifteen
feet above me and from his admonitions, obviously through the worst
of it. When I asked him how he got from the ledge I was on to where
he was, he pointed to a springy little conifer that grew out of the
ledge where it ended. Although I couldn't believe it at first, it
seemed the only possible way. So with a prayer and an assist from
the bush I made it and as it turned out we had made it through the
River Canyon was not through with them yet and for the next several hours
they slipped, crawled and clawed their way through the slide alder, deadfalls
and devil's club with a steady rain falling as well. Eventually they came
out onto the logging road and were met by the welcome sight of the others
who had been waiting for them. Although the others had an inkling of what
they had been through from their attempts up the valley they were to hear
the full story of the 'horrendous bushwhack' on the drive back down island.
In a special
report in 1982 for the Island Bushwhacker Vol. 10:3/4 entitled
'First Known Ascent of Mount Bate: A Unique Mountain and Wilderness Area
on Vancouver Island' Macdonald wrote:
years ago Paul Erickson and I climbed Mount Alava, about 10 miles
east of Tahsis. We had the opportunity to look down into a branching
set of glaciated valleys which had two blue green lakes at the bottom.
The lakes were offset by barren red rock walls which terminated in
several peaks. The area to our north and east occupied perhaps 10
square miles but was different from anything we had collectively experienced
on the island.
upper lake, which I will call here Peter Lake, (according to a float
plane pilot) was almost spectacular. At its northern end is a pyramid-shaped
mountain with a face broken by two sets of diagonal cracks intersecting
one another. A long rock rib rose along the west side of the lake,
gracefully curving to the west till it abruptly ended in the summit
upon which we stood. Across the lake from us and to the right of the
pyramid mountain was a prominent pinnacle shaped like some giant hitchhiker's
thumb, frozen in rock. Peter Lake is held in check at the northwest
corner by a sill past which the overflow poured, forming a cataract
which tumbled down a braided curve, eventually reaching Alava Lake
some 650' below. And, like a twin sister, water ran from this dropping
a further 650' into a gorge which led to the Perry Valley. In each
lake the dark, mineral green-blue waters were offset by white triangles
of snow which remained at the bottom of several avalanche gullies,
and everywhere there were the red rock slabs rising 1000' above the
lakes. The area had not yet finished its assault on our senses. Almost
directly to the east was Mount Bate, guarding the south end of Peter
Lake. From the outset it was apparent that this mountain would be
a challenge to climb.
intervening two years Rob Macdonald and Paul Erickson had made two attempts
to enter the sanctuary but were thwarted by weather and time, however,
they had found an alternative and more 'civilized' route that avoided
much of the bushwhack of the Perry River. Shortly after midnight on September
16, 1982, Macdonald and Erickson arrived back at the Perry River where
they slept in the back of the car. The following report, almost in its
entirety from Macdonald, gives a sense of the spectacular climbing and
the challenges involved with route finding in this sanctuary.
little after 0700 next morning we drove up the logging road along
the west side of Perry River and parked near 1300'. We retraced our
old route around the southeast side of a small lake passing (with
many expletives) the blowdown area. After negotiating a quarter of
a mile of the valley we angled up a prominent valley to the south,
following a stream on our left. The bushwhacking was not splendid,
but possible. After crossing the river and passing thru some fairly
open forest we reached the head of the valley and climbed easily into
a col (3000'). Behind us rose Malaspina Peak and before us the rocky
outcrop (4300') separating us from Mount Alava. Several times we had
to pause to rest but were so pestered by blackflies and mosquitoes
we hurriedly continued, silently thankful for the tent in Paul's pack.
We traversed the dry south side of the outcrop and soon had to climb
near its summit to get into the pass that would give us access to
Alava and Peter Lakes. On the way up this dry barren slope I saw a
small green frog and marveled that he and his forebears had managed
to hop (unroped) to over 4000 feet! I gave him a friendly smile knowing
that a good part of his bulk must have been reconstituted mosquitoes.
at the pass, it all came back to us. We could see the lakes, "The
Pyramid" and "The Hitchhiker." Mount Bate was still
hidden behind Alava but we could clearly pick out our earlier route
up it. We dropped down the snowfield as fast as the suncups would
allow, passing a yawning crevasse on our right. A few hundred feet
above Alava Lake we crossed the Perry River and ascended 400' up to
the north end of Peter Lake. Shortly after 1600 we set up our tent
by the shore just a stone's throw from where the water ran over the
sill and down to Alava Lake.
we left the car we had planned to get to our camping spot and climb
"The Pyramid" the first day. On arriving at Peter Lake four
hours short of dark we were too tired and agreed a further thrash
might spoil our chances for climbing Bates. Climbing "The Pyramid"
seemed pretty straightforward but Bate offered some route finding
problems. We agreed it was better to fail in an attempt on Bate than
to succeed on "The Pyramid." Mount Bate was clearly the
jewel of the area.
a short rest we made a scouting trip to inspect the Northwest Face
of Bate, and so crossed the Perry River at the tip of the lake and
started up the rib curving towards the summit of Alava. As we progressed
we were treated to large and small flutings in the rock, heritage
of its ice-carved past. The setting sun augmented the red rock giving
the impression of being inside the Grand Canyon. For the first time
few insects bothered us and we walked leisurely through the mini canyons,
some containing small clear pools - the home of tadpoles.
we had gained a few hundred feet we could see the whole Northwest
Flank of Mount Bate; this renewed our first impression from Alava
that this mountain was well defended. Rising from the lake was a sheer
1000' cliff, split by a single waterfall. It appeared this could be
overcome by a snow gully on the southwest side. However, above the
cliff was a steep icy snowfield with runnels and crevasses, surrounded
but a continuous 150' rock band. Above that was second snowfield leading
up to the notch between the angular west peak on the right and the
main summit rising from the snow like a molar. At this point we both
agreed that around to the south might be easier and it was pointless
deciding yet how to tackle that. We dropped back down to the campsite
in time for a twilight meal.
red walls towering over us slowly darkened until the starry night
was lighter. Four stars of Cassiopeia hung over "The Pyramid"
and a frog started calling. As we sat there talking about the tremendous
wilderness of this area and absorbing the impact of probably being
the first to enjoy it, a bat made his choppy passes just above our
heads. I hoped that mosquitoes were big enough to show up on bat sonar.
a fitful night during which, it is claimed, I hogged the tent, we
hurriedly ate and set off shortly after 0700 (September 17.) We retraced
the previous night's route; at this point we were beginning to feel
at home in our new environment since things began to look familiar.
The ledges were characteristic enough that we knew from the other
passes we'd crossed that we could find a way down into the gully leading
to the southwest shoulder of Bate. We dropped on 300' ledges and crossed
a couple of snow chutes funneling cold air down on us from Alava.
picked our way through the jumbled rock at the bottom of the southwest
gully and climbed it, gaining better views of Peter Lake and yet another
hanging valley to the north. About halfway up the gully we came upon
a small open cirque. A small remnant glacier clung to the north side,
perhaps all that remained of the giant that had once carved out the
basin in which Peter and Alava Lakes nestled. All over the snow were
small flying ants, and little gray-crowned finches flitting here and
there making small chirping noises of delight as they came across
some special breakfast morsel.
we topped out at the col which led onto Mount Bate and had a chance
to inspect our hoped-for route up the south side. We were doomed to
instant discouragement for what we saw was vertical and overhanging
with no obvious way even to traverse the face. The northwest flank
began to look more attractive. We climbed the west ridge passing directly
over a 200' gendarme, roping for the exposed slab at the top. It was
composed of very rotten rock and could probably be passed by a system
of ledges leading around its northwest side from the col. Up the ridge
we soon stood at the foot of the west arete leading directly to the
west summit. It looked exposed and difficult in a few places.
come this far we decided to examine the northwest flank. By-passing
the west buttress we angled onto the northwest side below the snowfield.
Although it was icy, the edges consisted of hard snow and we made
our way up the right edge by kicking steps, till three quarters of
the way we got past the bergschrund and onto the sloping rock. This
we climbed with ice overhanging on our left and the west buttress
towering on the right till we came to the corner where the 150' rock
band intersected the west buttress and the snowfield ended. Standing
in the chill of the deep moat, we roped and started to climb a flaw
at the corner, heading toward the sky above the overhanging ice. A
full 150' of mid class 5 led us onto the upper snowfield. We were
now past two of the mountain's defenses, three if you count the bushwhack.
our backs on the easy west peak we traversed and climbed up toward
the main summit block. When we arrived at the base we found a gully
splitting its west side and leading to a small notch perhaps 100'
up. This we scrambled up, abandoning our axes. At the notch we noticed
a small ledge leading around to the north side. Occasionally a mountain
can give a pleasant surprise and here was one of the first order.
We followed the ledge to a corner where it seemed to disappear in
space, but we could step around to the north side where the mountain
lay back at an angle suitable for class 3 scrambling.
attained the summit ridge and crossed again to the northwest side.
The ridge itself was considerably broken up, one piece looking like
a bergschrund in stone. But there was one last challenge left for
us. The actual summit was a wedge-shaped tooth with an unprotectable
thirty foot slab that could be climbed from the north. We gingerly
edged up on thin holds and felt greatly elated as we reached the summit;
it was like the thin edge of the wedge, about one or two feet wide
by thirty long.
building a cairn (we could only find a few rocks and not much space
for them) we descended the rock band at the same point we'd climbed
since a half-rope rappel would fall pitifully short of a decent stance.
We opted for the centre of the rock band where we had noted a broken
section from a distance and hoped to find some way across the bergschrund.
Sure enough a class 4 scramble got us down to the snow and by using
two axes and a belay we were able to surmount the gap between snow
and rock. A 400' traverse across the top of the ice brought us back
to our original route up. We had one bad moment on the way down when,
due to sloppy rope management, we hooked the trailing loops over an
ice horn below us. We freed the rope by climbing a short distance
and applying a few curses. After that we retraced our steps back to
the tent. For our victory dinner we waded out to a small rock island
which was relatively bug-free and sat soaking up the last rays of
the sun, watching the canyon walls turn a golden red.
morning Macdonald and Erickson packed up and decided to try the old route
out via the Perry River Canyon. The descended down to Alava Lake and crossed
the waist-deep outlet just above where it descends into the lower valley.
At first they attempted going high to escape bushwhacking but were foiled
by huge overhanging bluffs. In a state of exhaustion and depression they
backtracked and dropped down the Perry River to the gorge. This time they
found a game trail which by-passed the hair-raiser they had fought through
last time, however, it was still a good nine hour thrash by the time they
got to their vehicle.
stated that Mount Bate was the most enjoyable and challenging climb he
had experienced on the island, even more so when he considered that he
took what was probably the easiest route. He also mentioned that it wasn't
likely he would return to this area if he had to bushwhack. However, with
time one soon forgets the hardships but remembers the excitement of the
climb. Nine years were to pass before Macdonald realized that the sanctuary
wasn't finished with him yet as he still had some unfinished business
to attend to.
In late June
1991, Macdonald visited the Sebalhall Creek with several friends but rain
washed the trip out so in early October he decided to return to the sanctuary
with Julie Henderson, Rick Eppler and Paul Erickson again. On the night
of October 4, they drove up to the Perry Creek and camped as they had
done on previous trips. However, this time instead of contending with
the horrendous bushwhack they were airlifted from the outlet of Perry
all the feelings rushed back like it was yesterday.
There were those fantastic red walls surrounding Peter Lake; the lake
itself glowed like sapphire and we were once again in this little sanctuary
which is so different and yet so classically Vancouver Island."
up camp they decided to proceed on the slabs around the north end of the
lake to go after the pyramid shaped peak (Mount Grattan). They split up
into two parties going up a wide talus and gully system leading to the
ridge. Along the way they encountered some interesting climbing but nothing
difficult and both parties reached the col to the west of the peak. In
"The Alava-Bate Sanctuary Revisited" for the Island Bushwhacker
Vol. 19:4 Macdonald wrote:
headed straight over to the intimidating seven hundred foot summit
block, traversed rightward on slabs and under overhangs until we reached
the right hand side of this face. At that point, we climbed up through
blocks and slabs (cl 3-4) on really nice rock. You can't go wrong
here as any desire to traverse further is stopped by a very precipitous
drop-off. So on we continued upward in almost-too-hot sun, each of
us climbing in his own world. Rick and I found a difficult way to
get onto the upper west face, while Paul found a straightforward method.
Julie sat down and waited to see who would prevail. After a pitch
of class 3ing up a corner, Rick and I regained the face to see Paul
way above us and cruising. We dropped back to Julie's perch and followed
on - his way.
traverse over the ridge atop the west face led to a false summit and
with a pleasant scramble we all gained the peak at about 2:00 P.M..
it blew hard at times and when dawn arrived everything was socked in,
however, they decided to return to the summit of Mount Alava which they
had climbed ten years previously. Climbing over familiar territory they
soon reached the cairn they had built in 1980 and found it still intact.
To the southeast of Alava stood a slightly lower subsidiary summit that
they decided to have a go at. They descended to a col they called "weird-rock
gap" and climbed the northwest ridge of this unnamed peak. Well satisfied
with the days climbing they returned to camp content with the knowledge
that they had climbed what they had set out to achieve.
day they trekked down to Alava Lake and descended the now familiar game
trail down the Perry River Canyon to the logging roads which had been
pushed even further up the valley. As Macdonald and Erickson walked out
they wondered if they would ever return again. They had learned not to
say never again. For them, they had made first ascents of all the major
peaks in the sanctuary, but they knew from their first-hand knowledge
that there were untold challenging ridges and faces still to be climbed.
and Alava Sanctuary still rarely sees climbers visiting this spectacular
arena, however, it has become another one of those magical areas that
many talk about and say that one day they must visit. Unfortunately, it
is the report of horrendous bushwhacks that tend to turn many off but
this leaves this mountain shangri-la for those who are willing to receive
a "good-old bush thrashing."