This past weekend Sandra and I hiked into Weary Creek Gap and Carnarvon Lake for a little scrambling adventure. Our plan was to ascend Mount McPhail from Weary Creek Gap, backpack up and over Mount Muir to Carnarvon Lake, scramble Mounts Strachan and MacLaren, then head out via Carnarvon Lake. All are easy scrambles and I'll keep the report on them brief here, in part because it's well documented on my website (http://mattclay.zenfolio.com/mcphail_muir_strachan
), but also because I'm going to focus on another point at the end.
Mount McPhail: We followed the easy route detailed in Andrew Nugara's scramble guide. In my opinion, it's a bit harder than its "easy" rating due to the amount of routefinding through small cliff bands and terribly loose rock on the upper mountain. The rubble/scree was TERRIBLE! It would appear to be stable until you were happily standing on it, then suddenly collapse and send you flailing for balance. The summit register has been chewed open by a rodent and the current paper has just one entry, from June 5 of this year.
Mount McPhail from the lower slopes of Mount Muir. The ascent route goes up the right hand side.
Mount Muir: The ascent of Mount Muir is dead easy from the Weary Creek Gap side, even with heavy overnight packs. The register was in fine condition, but there haven't been many ascents of this peak either. A few were from people doing the "Elk Highline" route that runs from Running Rain Lake to Carnarvon Lake. That's one heck of a rugged and advanced backpacking trip! The descent down towards Carnarvon Lake is also easy, but you've got to go down at the right spot or you'll get cliffed out. Routefinding to Carnarvon Lake is easy on the macro scale, but nearing the lake the bush is terrible and if you don't find an animal trail it will be hell.
The ascent route up Mount Muir follows the broad ridge from right to left:
Mount Strachan: Technically easy, but the rubble/scree was horrible! It was the same crap we dealt with on McPhail, and after 3 days of this crap we decided to forgo scrambling up the 700 m of rubble that is the ascent route of Mount MacLaren. I was also surprised at the number of small cliff bands we had to find a way through. It wasn't that difficult, but as we were ascending in the morning the sun was directly in my eyes each time I had to find a route ahead!
Mount Strachan. The ascent route goes up the right hand side:
So up until now everything had been going mostly as expected. After Strachan we packed up and started down the Carnarvon Lake headwall at noon. I'd done a ton of research beforehand, as always, and knew the headwall had chains to help with the ascent/descent, and everyone describes it as easy and fun. Kids even do it, so how hard can it be, right? Well, I'm going on record here to say it is not easy
and is incredibly exposed
and best described as a difficult and exposed scramble
! The presence of chains does not change that. It's still exposed and if you lose your grip on the chain you'll fall to your death as surely and easily as you would have if you lost your grip on rock on any other exposed scramble. If you don't have a tolerance for exposure - and Sandra and I do not - this is no place for you! I suspect many will disagree with this assessment, but to me that means your skill set includes a tolerance for exposure, in which case I can see how it might be easy.
This realization made things "interesting". There was no way we felt we could safely descend the headwall and thus we were in a bit of a bind, stuck near the end of our trip above a cliff we couldn't descend. This was an absolutely terrible feeling and one good planning has always prevented (normally we won't go up unless we're sure we can get down, but in this case we arrived on the top via a different, 2-day trip). After calming down we realized the only way out was the way we came - up and over Mount Muir and out via McPhail Creek. Including our morning ascent of Mount Strachan, this entailed over 24 km of hiking, 1400 m elevation gain, and 1900 m of elevation loss in one day, most of it with heavy packs. We had enough food for another day, but chose to just get the heck out. At least we know we're tough enough to get ourselves out of a difficult situation!