Mount Northgraves is one of the Chilliwack Valley peaks that has eluded me for reasons mostly to do with access. Some 10 years ago my friend Simon was able to pull off a successful ascent via the Williams Ridge trail – see report here:
Without doubt, the best way to approach the mountain is from Cantelon Creek, particularly in Spring when snow slopes cover the terrain at the head of the South branch. Since I’m a slow learner, it wasn’t until investing some serious effort in another route that I figured this out. There is a good older TR on the Cantelon line by Dru, and a more recent one from this year by Samsquantch.
A few years back in July 2016, I was able to convince Bob and my wife Mary that if we were to open up the Goetz trail from Foley Creek, it would be possible to intersect Simon’s track to Northgraves and bring it within range. One flaw with this plan was the FSR wasn’t drivable for more than a kilometer past Foley Lake before we ended up on foot. Undiscouraged, we set loose upon the old Goetz road sawing and chopping feverishly for 6 hours, truly it was somewhat insane. Reaching the forest, it was possible to travel without cutting up to the alpine, where we left Mary to have a nap on a heathery bench while making a quick jaunt to the summit. Unfortunately, the experience triggered my annual migraines, delaying our attempt until September.
Without reliable snow patches, we chose to weigh ourselves down with water and beer for an overnight stay on Goetz. Things went well all the way up to the old cutblock, when Bob walked into a Bald-Faced hornet nest, getting one of the worst sting jobs I’ve witnessed. Gaining the shoulder of Goetz requires going almost straight up the old growth forested slopes, then similarly steep heather ramps. With heavy packs it took over 4 hours to reach our campsite, and some serious doubt began to creep in. There was a nice incline down to start the traverse below, which quickly put us on Simon’s course. However, some poor choices I made while in the lead had us contouring around the bluffs at the North end of our mountain. Cliffed out, we were forced to scramble up the shitty steep flank towards the crest. No sooner had I heard the call “Rock!”, when a medium sized stone hurtled down in front of me, took a deflection then bounced off my shin. Not seriously injured but cut deeply, I pulled myself up to the top where it was obvious the day was done. On the bright side, this was the beginning of a most enjoyable evening. Instead of being depressed we passed the time drinking our beer, making a deluxe camping dinner, and taking the short stroll to the top of Goetz. I’m adding some pictures from that trip below, with sunset on Northgraves, Bob’s bivy, and Williams sunset and rise.
This Summer, I’ve been doing some hikes with another local, who has a penchant for long trips. My new associate has been knocking off some impressive multi-peak days, and always wants to go a bit further to fill the entire day with hiking. When given the option to repeat Simon’s route to Northgraves, I accepted with the thought I could turn back if it came down to it.
Meeting early in Sardis, a short drive down to the Williams trailhead had us underway just after 7am. Along the short section of road to the trail we found a pair of mini-gaiters, then a padded bra, obviously a mix of hikers and partyers use the area. Gaining the top of Williams Ridge requires a 900m ascent over a short distance, though it wasn’t a grind this time, more like the first step. Heavy rain the day before had soaked the blueberry bushes along the ridge, both of us had heavy boots by the time we reached the end of the trail. My partner excels at rock hopping, so I had to focus on the boulder fields while keeping pace on the bypass of Williams Peak. Looking back, the saddle on the left was crossed.
Next was some easy scrambling up a minor bump along the ridgeline, which when gained showed there was some serious distance to cover down to a low point, then back up to a spot where we could drop off. In this photo, Goetz is at left, Northgraves in the distance, and the point to leave the ridge at the grey bluffs with two small snow patches below.
This was one of the more agreeable sections, with solid rock formations mixed with open heather slopes. After reaching the low point and climbing back up a few levels, an easy ramp led us down to begin the tedious traverse through the rock fields below Goetz. After the experience a few years ago, the tempting side slopes were avoided, instead choosing to ascend the small bumps directly. A few notches had to be crossed, at one I dislodged a tennis ball sized rock which tumbled down, then through a window under a leaning slab directly at my partner’s head – who luckily heard the warning and ducked. Now at the tip of the dreaded knoll, we faithfully followed Simon’s advice and crawled down into the trees. This was a super-sketchy spot with no apparent way to go, my colleague almost reached bottom on the East side but came to an impasse. With no other choices I cut left across a small ledge back into the trees and was rewarded with some sensible terrain down to the toe of the slope. Finally free, we hiked up a pleasant hill to look back at Williams and Goetz. It had taken 5 hours to reach this point.
Looking ahead to Northgraves, it was obvious there was still some work to do.
Descending some hillside, then further down more rock fields, my friend decided it might make sense not lose too much elevation and climb up the slopes on our right. This turned out to be quite an arduous task involving pulling oneself up the mountainside from tree to tree, the entanglement was severe. In retrospect this wasn’t really a poor choice of direction since we stayed high and did eventually gain the ridge. Now on a line of passage, our travels brought us to the top of the steep chockstone gully. Easily avoiding the brink of that some better scrambling presented itself, though as always, stunted trees got in the way of any sort of continuous pathway. Finally, the summit area was reached, and despite the ominous looking notch and ramps on the East side, further exploration brought us to some decent scrambling and the satisfying high point. Checking the trip log, I was a little shocked to see it had taken over 8 hours to reach the top. Then again, the view back showed Williams Ridge as a small bump in the distance to the right of Goetz.
Over towards the Silver-Skagit, things looked almost closer than from where we’d come. In any case it was a beautiful spot and we both soaked in the views, then had some good laughs over the randomness of it all.
After signing into the register left behind by Samsquantch, it was time to begin the process of heading home. Both of us were in high spirits, with many comical topics helping to pass the time. A decision was made to try to follow open slopes and ramps down just past the chockstone gully, this all went well except where I slipped and bounced my shin off a small tree, or maybe it was when my partner said “You always pick the worst possible way.” Eventually we dropped all the elevation down to a nice creek, then had to re-climb all the way back up to the pleasant hill. By now it was getting a little later in the day, making some good lighting for taking a few more pictures.
Re-climbing the nasty knoll wasn’t too bad, though by now I was starting to hate krummholz in all its manifestations. Back on to the side sloping rock fields of Goetz I noticed it was taking more effort to keep the pace, as my partner was keen to beat the darkness. Throughout the day we’d kept up an interesting conversation which really was helpful, because it was a nice distraction from how far our travels were taking us. Passing over the large boulders at the base of Williams, it was more than a welcome sight to get back on a real trail, though now the sun was setting.
Cruising along the ridge in the twilight went very well, despite the long day there was a never-ending supply of random topics for entertainment. Almost fully dark at the top of the ascent trail, lights went on and the punishing plunge down to the valley began. My friend was still going at a fast clip, which made it a struggle to keep up, and in fact I couldn’t. This was the worst part of the day for me, although I made good time, the pounding on my quads and knees took its toll. Reaching the flat ground was almost worth a cheer, though some people were camping on the road, so I kept it low key back to the car. After our round trip of 15 hours 15 minutes, I was a little spaced out, though still enjoyed the drive back to town. There were a few words I couldn’t pronounce, also I forgot to turn my headlights on until half- way home, but aside from that felt like a million bucks. My youngest daughter had dinner ready for me when I got there, sitting together until well after midnight, a fine ending to a perfect day.
The overall distance covered was just over 30km, with a cumulative elevation gain of 3350m - both the time taken and vertical distance being high marks for me personally. My friend has done a few bigger hikes than that this season, so I did appreciate the invite and patience required to make this happen for me.