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post #1 of (permalink) Old 08-11-2015, 10:58 PM Thread Starter
Off the Beaten Path
 
Join Date: Jul 2010
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Default Mounts McPhail, Muir, and Strachan

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!
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post #2 of (permalink) Old 08-12-2015, 09:19 AM
Hittin' the Trails
 
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Awesome! Been meaning to tackle some of these Highwood objectives for a while now. Thanks for additional info to go along with Nugara's book.
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post #3 of (permalink) Old 08-13-2015, 12:22 AM
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The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

The mountains will sometimes present us with nasty choices. You were right in following your gut instinct. Pressing the boundaries of your comfort zone is good, but if you are way outside the zone and you have another option (even though unpleasant) that is the proper choice.
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post #4 of (permalink) Old 08-13-2015, 11:24 AM
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Join Date: Apr 2015
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Great report and I couldn't agree with you more about Mt.McPhail.I found it more moderate then easy.(mind you I'm fairly new to the sport of scrambling)
I rode in last Sunday to within 1.5k or so of the head wall.
Once on top I went too far west and had a not so fun scramble up very loose rock and seemingly never ending series of cliff bands.
They views from the top were great,but once again didn't enjoy the direct way down very much either.
A highlight of the trip was definitely the mountain bike ride back out which took us just one hour vs the two hour ride in.

Did Loomis and Carnarvon Lakes last year and looking forward to doing more in the area before the snow fly's!

I've attached a photo of Mt McPhail taken from Lineham Ridge the week before.
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Last edited by CalatravaCross; 08-13-2015 at 11:27 AM.
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post #5 of (permalink) Old 08-13-2015, 12:14 PM Thread Starter
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CalatravaCross - Were you part of a group of 4-5 that met a tired-looking couple near the tarn above the headwall around 4:30 pm that day? If so, that was us! We talked to a few from the group near the lake while everyone regrouped east of the tarn (but they were women, so not you). You might have heard us yelling "hey bear" as well. (We do it all the time, but we met another group on the trail that had encountered a stubborn grizzly the day before so were particularly loud that day!). The group then followed us down the headwall and along a trail for a ways. Small world!
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post #6 of (permalink) Old 08-13-2015, 12:33 PM
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Too funny...but yes..that was us!
I was still working my way down from the top and met up with the rest of our group at the tarn.
I did see you two but didn't get a chance to say hi..so Hi!

Where are you heading to this weekend?

One from our group.my girlfriend and and I plan on biking and hiking Romulus...the rest of the group are still recovering!
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post #7 of (permalink) Old 08-13-2015, 12:55 PM Thread Starter
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It looks like this weekend is going to be a relaxing one for us. We've been going pretty hard this summer and after last weekend I promised myself I'd take it easy for a weekend! Funny thing is, I'm already itching to get out again....

If you do make it up Romulus, I'd love to see a trip report!
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post #8 of (permalink) Old 08-13-2015, 01:05 PM
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I was wondering about the trail up to Romulus..but then I saw a report on here that answered that concern

I'm the same way...time seems to airbrush just about everything!
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post #9 of (permalink) Old 08-16-2015, 02:30 PM
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Hmmm. Interesting point about the chains. Would it make it easier to up them first? Personally I always find it easier to ascend technical terrain before descending it. But you raise a good point, ratings can be tricky. Any place where a slip would injure or kill should be rated 4th or 5th class though. In this case it sounds like a 4th class rating with a note about the chains is a good idea. Any pics of that terrain?

Vern Dewit
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post #10 of (permalink) Old 08-16-2015, 03:39 PM Thread Starter
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Unfortunately I didn't get any photos of the chains - I was hanging on way too tight to reach for the camera! Photos on the web seem to make it look much easier (usually I find photos exaggerate steepness, but in this case they seem to lessen it). The top chained part wasn't too bad with places for feet and a chain for hands, but the middle section that stopped me was one giant slab (seemed 5-10 m high) with only a narrow ledge at the bottom, then more down. The only way I could see to do it was by hanging outwards while holding onto the chain and walking down backwards, sort of like a rappel. But I've never done anything like that before and with a heavy pack it was an "easy" decision to abort. Had I been able to practice at the bottom, however, it might have made it easier, at least in terms of establishing a technique without exposure before heading higher up. I also find it much easier to ascend than descend, so have always been sure I can get down what I go up!

I find ones experience on terrain like this is quite subjective, but I'd say this pretty much requires the use of the chain, even for experienced folk, so that's Class IV. We talked to a few campers who descended before us who figured it was dead easy and I know school groups go up there too, but anyone with a fear or desire to avoid exposure should avoid this headwall or be prepared to turn back.
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post #11 of (permalink) Old 08-17-2015, 11:08 AM
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Last year my girlfriend and I rode into Carnarvon and found it to be one of the most beautiful lakes that we have ever seen!
We went up and down the opposite side(to the left of the water fall) from where the chains were.
We took our time and didn't find it too bad...a little trickier the going up but still manageable.

Hope to get back there this year to add on Mt Strachan...maybe run into you again on another trail!
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post #12 of (permalink) Old 08-17-2015, 07:49 PM
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Interesting perspective. I've taken my kids up there when they were teenagers and never considered it to be all that exposed or difficult. Approaching from the top without benefit of knowing what to expect puts a different spin on it I suppose. Well done regrouping and retracing your steps though. I've been wanting to get back in that general area again but just haven't made it click yet.
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