The spire sits right above Wheaton Lake and the Wheaton Hut and looks pretty imposing from this eastern aspect. Happily, its bark is far worse than its bite and Morrison turns out to be a brief and easy scramble from the more benign west side.
Situated 8 km as the crow flies to the northwest of the mouth of Phillips Creek on Buttle Lake, Morrison lies above the Wolf and North Phillips Creek drainages close to the beginning of a high alpine ridge that has its origin on Mt McBride and which ultimately runs south to a junction with Greig Ridge and then west to another junction with Phillips Ridge. This ridge system forms the basis of the eastern approach for those aiming to climb The Golden Hinde, the highest peak on Vancouver Island.
Initial access is by boat since there are no roads on the west side of Buttle Lake. Once across the lake, however, access is easy enough via Parks’ engineered and graded Marble Meadows Trail and it’s also an easy summit day from pretty well any of the standard places to stay on the plateau.
The rewards are superb for such a mellow objective. If the weather is fine, almost the whole of Strathcona is visible from the summit in one stunning 360° panorama. This is the closest of the three plateau summits to the Golden Hinde – just 6 km away in a visually uninterrupted straight line – and because Morrison is the most southerly of the group it offers the best views of the mountains in the south central area of the park as well as a nice overview of the south approach to the Hinde.
Once on the ridge system described above, all the really big peaks on the Island: the Hinde, Rambler, Colonel Foster, Elkhorn, Kings Peak and even the distant Victoria and Warden Peaks, come into view and remain that way.
The origin of the mountain’s name eludes me as it does many others. I would like to think that since it’s situated at the gateway to the Golden Hinde so to speak, that the door motif is echoed in a name from a famous rock group. However, I’m assured that the spire has been known by this name since long before Jim arrived on this planet never mind before he left it (always supposing that he really has left it).
Getting ThereDetails regarding the initial approach are exactly as for those to Marble Meadows and for the east approach to The Golden Hinde.
Vancouver Island can be reached by air from Toronto, Vancouver, Seattle, Calgary and Edmonton to Victoria, Nanaimo, Comox or Campbell River and by ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria on The Coho and on BC Ferries from Vancouver to Victoria or Nanaimo. Public transport on the Island is notoriously poor and anyone arriving by air would be advised to rent a car. Road access involves driving only on paved roads, so a normal 2WD sedan is fine.
From Campbell River, at the end of the freeway section of the Inland Island Highway 19, take highway 28 west towards Gold River. After approximately 30 km the road meets Upper Campbell Lake and after 47 km you will enter Strathcona Park at Elk Portal. Exactly 1 km further on, highway 28 makes a right turn over the bridge at Buttle Narrows. Ignore the turn and carry straight on down the paved Buttle Lake Parkway (also known as Westmin Mine Road). 21 Km after passing the turn-off for Gold River, park at the Augerpoint day use area if you are using a canoe or kayak. If you’re using a power boat it can be launched from Karst Creek a few kilometres beyond Augerpoint or simply launch it from Parks’ campground at Buttle Narrows – just across the bridge to Gold River – and motor 15-20 minutes down the lake.
Cross the lake to the outlet of Phillips Creek, where there is a marine campsite with facilities. Avoid a late afternoon crossing in a small craft. Winds funneling up the valley can make the lake very rough.
From Phillips Creek, Parks’ excellent, switchback trail takes you in about 4 hours up to the plateau crest. Make your base camp by any of the stunning lakes west of here or proceed to the A-frame Wheaton Hut – the only such hut in Strathcona Park – with Wheaton Lake nearby. Well cairned and booted-in paths follow the north side of Limestone Lake and traverse both sides of Globeflower and Marblerock Lakes to the Wheaton Hut in 1-2 hours from the crest.
Final approach and summit route
Ascend on the left of the crest aiming for the waterfall coming off the ridge that connects Morrison Spire and Mt McBride. Climb up to the ridge on the right of the waterfall on snow or loose rock to the neighbourhood of N49° 41.792 W125° 39.823
Once on the ridge crest turn left and ascend the gentle slope to the south. The route eventually contours the west side of the spire. In the neighbourhood of N49° 41.335 W125° 40.094 find a boot path off to the left and make a very easy scramble to the summit in 5 minutes.
Morrison is less than an hour return from the point at which you crest the ridge. If you’re doing McBride, check your watch as you arrive back at this point. Having advance knowledge of the time required will enable you to decide if you can’t bag both peaks in a single trip.
The summit has a cairn and a new (2005) register provided by the local section of the Alpine Club of Canada.
CampingAnywhere you like in Marble Meadows or save yourself the extra weight of a tent and stay at the Wheaton Hut. But please respect this beautiful and delicate place. Stay on trails even near campsites, hang food bags out of reach (even in the hut), clean up all cooking scraps, practice good toilet discipline etc.
Giardia is well documented throughout Strathcona Park, so boil or treat all water.
Fires are strictly prohibited, so you must pack a stove.
Bear and cougar frequent the mountains and forests of Vancouver Island, so hang or otherwise isolate all food at night.
Red TapeNone. You’re outside the Strathcona core area where camping fees are due.
Additional InformationBe aware that BC Parks does not operate an intentions system. Make sure, therefore, that you have left a detailed trip plan with someone responsible. The RCMP and the appropriate SAR agency will respond in an emergency but it is up to you to have the mechanism in place that will initiate the call-out process if it becomes necessary.
There is no cellular service from anywhere on the route described above.
Map required for this trip is the government 1:50 000 topographical map sheet 92F/12, “Buttle Lake.” Advance copies can be ordered at BC Government Maps on-line. Copies are usually readily available in good bookstores and outdoor stores throughout the Island.
Suggested ReadingIsland Alpine – A Guide to The Mountains of Strathcona Park and Vancouver Island, Philip Stone, Wild Isle Publications, 2003, ISBN 0-9680766-5-3 and/or visit Island Alpine Climbing Guide
Beyond Nootka – A Historical Perspective of Vancouver Island Mountains, Lindsay Elms, Misthorn Press, 1996, ISBN 0-919537-29-4 and/or visit Beyond Nootka