I tried several ways to embed all the photos with my report but failed miserably. Clearly technology is starting to surpass my skills. Oh well....my report is below and all my photos can be found here:
I know that everyone here likes a different style of trip report. Some like route info and no banter, others love a well written, descripted account. *I love this site because it is entertaining but also a wealth of information for someone like me who would spend an eternity in the back country but when it comes down to it struggles to find the time to get out there. I guess you could say I often live vicariously through a lot of you. I also like to write, especially when my life is chaotic around me. My life, I guess like most everyone else, has not been the easiest and mountains have always been the first place I run to when times are tough. So enough about me and on to my experiences on Monday July 13th 2015 on Needle Peak.*
The day was actually therapy for me a week after an extremely emotional breakup with my girlfriend of almost 2 years. I could write a book about us and probably will but that's for a different forum. There is something about mountains that make me forget everything going on in my insignificant life. Something about the fact that they have been here for millions of years before I existed and will be around for about as many after I'm gone. Not to mention their sheer size compared to us. To me they just shrink our problems down to sizes we might handle. As my life is super busy and these days come few and far between I hemmed and hawed about where I could best escape the cloud for my day of hiking and I figured what cloud existed in the Fraser Valley might have been stuffed by the foothills of the North Cascades. Light rain fell as I left Chilliwack and I feared it would follow me into the mountains and started to fret but I quickly realised other people were having a much worse day than me. The lumber truck driver that spilled his load shutting down the trans canada for hours and this guy smoking his way up the smasher were clearly, in the moment, having a far worse day than me. What was I doing while they were in turmoil, belting out Under the Bridge by RHCP over and over again while on my way to the mountains. (There is video I will not share but for some strange reason I felt that had to be documented)
As I stepped out of my jeep at the trailhead into dog crap and then placed my pack in it before realizing it was there (thought 100 miles from civilization would save me small worries like this... i guess not) the rain began to dump. Something was trying to thwart my therapy session. I quickly used the only cleaner I had, Turtle Wax leather protectant and a litre and a half of my 4.5 litres of water to wash the pack off. The shoes I tossed under the Jeep to deal with upon my return. This wasn't going to be enough to wipe my smile in anticipation of the mountain air on my face.
The first 30 minutes was a grunt for sure in the heavy forest. Though despite the rain the trail was dry and well marked. I likened it to the Grind minus the throws of pretentious city folk (I kid , I kid). But seriously whenever I'm talking about hiking and I'm asked if I have ever done the grind I want to smack that person upside the head and immediately take them up Cheam for a dose of really getting lost in the mountains. As I reached the top of the initial slog the trees began to thin and my destination came into view.
Here I passed a group of fathers and their sons destined for the lake below Flat Iron. I carried on along the wide ridge between Needle and Flatiron obviously not paying attention the the distance as it seemed much longer on my way down at dusk than it did going up. I came across another party just before the junction in the trail who stated they had attempted the first little pitch to gain the ridge below the summit but that the wind and clouds scared them off. I carried on and started making my way up. Reading trip reports prepared me to stay away from the promising yet fruitless trail to the right of the first scramble to gain the ridge. Its obvious I am bad at reading directions. Though the views were unreal towards Coquihalla Mtn I found myself in a spot that would require a leap onto a very unfavourable angle of rock completely exposed. Rather than tempt fate I quickly realized I had failed to heed the previous trip reporters advice. I made my way back around and headed straight up the centre of the pitch and voila!!!
The ridge section between the pitches is a freaking boulder lovers dream. I was clearly in my element and could have spent hours just in this little section alone exploring the ridge but with my destination in sight I carried on.
The final scramble was lots of fun and being that I spend a lot of free time in the gym I had no issues with sections that required upper body strength. In fact I think this section has inspired me to pick up my mountaineering book, take some classes, and try some real climbs. Of note the orange paint is super helpful. Props to whoever was up there marking the route. I can certainly see why some people may feel a little exposed but if you are careful the whole trip up is relatively safe....now when wet, I'm not so sure. Thank god that it was dry by the time I got up there.*
The top!! Quite frankly I was surprised at the ease in which I made it up this peak. Past reports online made it seem a little tougher and maybe until you experience it yourself you build it up in your head as what to expect. I will say this...the views were wild, the feeling of being on top of the world without having to go to far from home was exhilarating and the wind and cloud that rolled in and over me and all around coupled with the eagles calling out and circling the valley below me made for a very unique experience that can only be had in the mountains.*
I put my pack down. Broke out my typical day-hike lunch of a super expensive clif bar on steroids and gas station beef jerky, replenished my electrolytes with a little BCAAs and packed back up. The thought was I would head over to the lake below Flat Iron, say hi to the camping party, provide a summit report for them and head home but for some reason I could not leave this spot. For the next 90 minutes I walked back and forth over the boulders at the summit and watched cloud after cloud break over the top of the final pitch. It was only when I realized I could no longer feel my fingers that I decided to depart.
The descent was as much fun as the climb up and I decided to spend a little more time in the ridge between the two pitches. The time was about 3pm. I quickly made my way over to the lake while the sun skirted in and out of the clouds. I met up with the camping party who pointed me in the direction of the trail up Flatiron. They pointed out the rocky ramp on the east side of the ridge and suggested I climb up there cross the small snow field and then circle back around to the trail near the outflow of the lake as they had done. I figured why not. It was hilarious when one of them said they debated whether they had spotted me up top of Needle but then figured I was a tree because surely I wasn't going to stand around on the summit for 90 minutes plus.
The top of Flatiron is such a contrast to Needle Peak. It was almost like I was on a completely different hike on the same day. I wandered about carefully trying to stay off of the sub alpine brush. I came across a little tarn right at the cliff and quickly found a small flock of grouse. It struck me as dumb luck because Mtn Chickens as my ex and I called them were actually a long standing inside joke between us from some Manning Park adventures and her claims that she was attacked by one during a complete Mt. Cheam attempt and failure (Jeep broke down a mile from the trailhead). At any rate I used the 4 bars of 4G wireless I had on the mtn to quickly send her a picture. I know, I am weak...what can i say...i love her. Whatever...she laughed.*
I carried on around the perimeter of the plateau until I was looking back down on the highway. The cliff walk was amazing. I skirted as close to it as I could. Something about heights just fills me full of wonder. I circled back to the original trail that was pointed out to me and made my way down to the lake. Surely I had gotten my fill of the mountains for the time being and would make my way back to my car. I bid the camping party adieu and started jogging the trail back to the first ridge. As I was jogging along a marmot jumped out of the bush and screeched throwing me completely off thinking maybe I had came across a bear or worse. I had never seen a marmot on all my hikes and they are strange little creatures. I snapped a few pictures as he jumped off the rock he was perched on and screeched his way down the valley. I carried on...
As I reached the junction something in me told me to head to the summit again. I was tired and I wasn't to keen on hiking down in the dark but I just knew I had to summit the Needle again. As I looked west the sun began to shine through the clouds highlighting small spots beyond Flatiron. I wondered if I was in store for something special up top. I practically ran the ridge between the two pitches and when I got to the second scramble I dropped the pack, took a sip of water, threw my phone in my pocket and darted up to the peak.
The moment I reached the summit I was given the answer to my question. I don't even know what happened. The sky broke, the sun shone down on the clouds which I sat eye level with. Whiffs of cloud blew past me on all sides of the peak. The wind howled but I wasn't cold despite being in a sleeveless shirt, an attempt to eradicate my extremely obvious farmers tan. I looked over towards Coquihalla Mtn and my shadow in the mist created a rainbow shrouded silhouette half the size of the mountain it's self. As the mist blew in an out over the shining sun the entire area was painted bright gold. It was all too much. I broke down and cried. I can't explain what happened but it was an experience I will never forget for the rest of my life. After I sat down and began to breathe again I felt at ease. Did God put his hand on my shoulder and tell me that everything was going to be alright? This is the second time this had happened in the mountains. The first was with my girlfriend by my side in Manning park.
I hung around the peak for another 30 minutes taking it all in as the sun dipped closer and closer to the horizon. Finally I figured that while the lower ridge walk and decent in the forest with a headlamp was fine I didn't want to climb down the pitches in the dark. I started making my way down the peak. Once down the first pitch I started to jog realizing that I was still a good 4kms from my Jeep and that surely I'd be slogging down the forest in the dark. I wasn't really paying attention because I rounded a corner before the final pitch and almost fell on my ass, startled by a dried out dead branch in the shape of a small person appearing to gaze over the valley to the east. I had a laugh, took a picture and slowed my stride a bit.*
I met the ridge between Needle and Flatiron some time after 9 pm and began to hoof it while I could see the trail clearly marked in the sparse sub-alpine forest. The sky had grown a beautiful pink and the birds came alive, their chirping and calling becoming louder and louder the faster night fell. I again broke into a jog realizing that light was fading fast. Almost as planned I reached the thick forest and steep decent as all available light was gone. I didn't want to take my pack off again to fish out my headlamp and instead turned my cell phone flashlight app on and started trudging downhill. After the hearing the second break of branches from behind me I started making the most god awful noise to warn aware any wiry bears that may have had less than friendly intentions for me. I figure I'll hike aware and quiet in the light and if I come upon on I'll watch these admirable creatures from a distance but I didn't feel like high fiving one this evening. I walked out of the bush sometime after 10 pm, stripped my pack, collected my dog crap encrusted shoes and immediately started belting out RHCPs make you feel better while driving back to the valley. My final stop was a limp into the Abbotsford BP for a beer and reflection over a plate of Bacon wrapped steak bites.*
34 years in my life and mountains have never disappointed me.
Distance: 16.24 Kms
Elevation Gain: 1139m
Animals: Pikas, eagles, creepy marmot and mtn chickens.
What I didn't see: Narry a mosquito, blackfly, or noseeum to be seen.
Out of body experiences: I think so.*
I will be back.