OverviewMt. Alpha Centauri is a 10,177-foot peak sitting at the head of the Welsh Lakes Basin in the Purcell Mountains of British Columbia. It is part of a rather complicated collection of peaks known as the Starbird Ridge. One may think of Mt. Alpha Centauri as one of the summits of a massif that also includes North Star Peak - a peak of nearly equal height that rises about 500 feet above a col separating the two. Alpha Centauri and North Star Peak are so named because, like their namesake stars, they lie on on a somewhat north-south axis (in reality it is more like southeast-northwest).
Mt. Alpha Centauri is enveloped by two glaciers - the diminutive Centaurus Glacier below its steep eastern flank, and the larger North Star Glacier on the north. The latter extends almost to the summit of the mountain on its northern flank, though the very top is bare rock. The largest amount of relief is to the south, where the mountain drops nearly 6,000 feet in about 1.5 miles to the valley of Stockdale Creek. Less massive but more precipitous, the east face rises about 1500 almost vertically above the Centaurus Glacier. Three ridges extend approximately northwest, northeast, and southeast from the summit, with the first connecting with North Star Peak, and the second with Carmarthen Peak. To the east, a large, boulder-strewn and relatively flat pass lies between Alpha Centauri and its dramatic neighbor, Galway Peak. This pass, which contains several small lakes, can be reached via rough, but non-technical cross-country hiking from the end of the Welsh Lakes trail (extensive boulder-hopping and occasional snowfields are to be expected).
A number of routes of roughly equal difficulty can be used to reach the summit of Mt. Alpha Centauri. The first ascent was made via the Southeast Ridge in 1969 (source: http://bivouac.com/MtnPg.asp?MtnId=2566). This ridge is gained from the pass mentioned in the preceding paragraph, but it is not entirely trivial, and involves a number of pinnacles that require creative routefinding to bypass. A possibly more straightforward variation involves crossing the upper part of the Centarus Glacier and ascending steep snow slopes (45-50 degs.) to gain the upper part of the southeast ridge. Perhaps the easiest, though longer, option is to ascend from the north,up the North Star Glacier to the AC-North Star col, starting from the Olive Hut near Thunderwater Lake. Finally, the mountain has also been climbed via the col between it and Carmarthen (1972, see http://bivouac.com/MtnPg.asp?MtnId=2566). In the opinion of the author of this page, this last option involves sections that are dangerously exposed to rockfall, and is not recommended.
Getting ThereTwo base camp options exist for Mt. Alpha Centauri: the Welsh Lakes if ascending via the SE or NE ridges, or the Olive Hut if ascending via the North Star Glacier. To access either one, drive to Radium Hot Springs and then take the Horsethief Creek forest service road west for about 12 km, then turn right onto the Forester Creek road. Both are dirt roads of varying quality, but generally accessible by two-wheel-drive vehicles. Near the 36-km sign, look for a left turn onto a 1.5-km long, high-clearance, 4x4 road (we were able to make it in a Subaru Forester, but it felt like the very upper limit of what a car like that can handle). From the parking lot at the end of this road, a decent hiking trail gets you to the first of the Welsh Lakes in approximately 3 miles and 1700 feet of elevation gain. The official trail ends here; another hour or so of game trails and occasional bushwhacking will get you to the second lake - a good base camp location for an Alpha Centauri attempt.
Alternatively, drive to the end of the Forester Creek road and look for signs for Thunderwater Lake. About halfway to the lake, a climber's access trail leads left to the Olive Hut. The hut sleeps about 8 people, and must be reserved in advance through the Canadian Alpine Club. In addition to Alpha Centauri, numerous other summits can be accessed via the Catamount and North Star glaciers from this location.
CampingThe first and second Welsh Lakes offer scenic, comfortable and relatively sheltered campsites that are below treeline. Please try to camp in previously used sites. Fires are not forbidden to by knowledge, but should be used with care, as this is a fragile, subalpine environment. Camping is also possible higher up the Welsh Creek basin, on the terminal moraine of the Centaurus Glacier, but would likely be a much more exposed, windy and uncomfortable experience.
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