| |Central Crags summit from the top of Flower Ridge
A unique aspect of Strathcona Park, Vancouver Island, British Columbia is the way the high alpine ridges interconnect allowing long multi-day tours to be made around the heights of land above numerous separate watersheds, often without the need to leave the open alpine for days on end. One of the better known access routes to the high ridges goes up Flower Ridge from Westmin Road on Buttle Lake in the centre of the park. At the end of Flower Ridge is the distinct summit of Central Crags. The peak makes a fine destination in its own right but for those with solitude and adventure on their minds it also provides the gateway to several long, difficult but very rewarding alpine traverses. From Central Crags you can head east to Mts Harmston, Argus and the Red Pillar as well as the Comox Glacier
and then north over the long ridges to Mt Albert Edward
and its satellites – about one week. Or go west across Price Pass, then north around or (if you’re properly equipped) over the Misthorn/Rousseau/Septimus massif and continue northwest to Cream and Bedwell Lakes – about 3 days. The latter route enables access to the above summits as well as Nine Peaks, Big Interior Mountain and Mt Tom Taylor.
This only touches on the possibilities available. Many more are listed in “Hiking Trails III – Northern Vancouver Island” – see the link below.
Flower Ridge is also a popular winter/spring destination on skis or snowshoes.
The area is of significant historical interest to Island climbers. After enjoying success on the first ascent of Crown Mountain, the 1910 BC Government sponsored expedition to the interior of Vancouver Island carried on south down Buttle Lake, travelled up the Price Creek Valley below Flower Ridge, over Price Pass and thence down to Great Central Lake. From there they were able to arrange transport down the lake to Port Alberni. The success of this expedition led to the establishment one year later of Strathcona Provincial Park, the first such park in Canada. For more information on the 1910 expedition have a look at this excellent account.
Cream Lake with Flower Ridge beyond
Vancouver Island can be reached by air from Vancouver to Victoria, Nanaimo 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.
Access in this case is all on paved roads and, therefore, fine with a normal sedan.
Central Crags (l), Flower Ridge (c) and Mt Septimus (r) on the approach down Buttle Lake.
From Campbell River, at the end of the Inland Island Highway 19, take highway 28 west towards Gold River. After approximately 30km the road meets Upper Campbell Lake with the first views over the mountains and after 47km you will enter Strathcona Park at Elk Portal. Exactly 1km 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). This runs south down the east shore the whole length of the lake and offers ever improving views. At 74.5km pass the entrance to Parks’ Ralph River Campground on the right and 3.7km thereafter pull into the signed parking lot for Flower Ridge on the left.
From the parking lot at ~300m elevation walk 100m south on the road, across the road bridge over Henshaw Creek and find the well marked trail head.
Mts Rousseau and Septimus
Until you reach the alpine water is scarce to non-existent on the trail, so make sure you’re well supplied for the next 4-5 hours or so. The route up to the alpine is well made but steep in places with no appreciable contouring. After 2 hours or so an old burn area offers views west across the head of Buttle Lake to Mount Myra
but for the most part it’s a bit of a head-down grunt. It’s about 1100m of ascent and 5-6km to the open part of the ridge where the first tarns can be found. From this point the trail peters out into a marked route rather than a formed trail. However, you can see Central Crags ahead of you to the south and unless the weather is really bad you can see where you have to go. From the tarns it’s a further 6km to the top of the ridge but only minimal elevation gain is necessary. At the top of Flower Ridge as you look down on Price Pass and Green Lake to the south, turn left (north), find the route up to the summit of the crags and scramble the last 100m of vertical gain on climber’s right of the ridge.
To the east in the distance are Mts Harmston, Argus and the Red Pillar. To the west and no more than 2km away is the imposing Rousseau/Septimus massif. Below Price Pass to the south is Margaret Lake and beyond that in the distance, Great Central Lake. Perhaps the most rewarding view is to the north where you can see almost every step of your upward route from Buttle Lake.
Henshaw Creek valley
Central Crags from ~ 6km
Cream Lake from Flower Ridge
It’s at least 12 km and nearly 1,300m of elevation gain from the trailhead to the head of Flower Ridge and the foot of Central Crags. The whole thing is do-able in a long day by a fast party but I wouldn’t advise it. Plan on at least one overnight to properly enjoy the trip.
From Central Crags:
1. Descend the way you came up. Or
2. Drop down onto Price Pass and turn north down to the glacial lake (Green Lake) you can see below you from Flower Ridge. Prepare yourself for the joys of an intimate encounter with devils club and slide alder prior to a B4 bushwack
down Price Creek to its confluence with Cream Creek. There used to be a well made trail from this point – known locally as “Cream Junction” - back to Westmin Rd but Parks no longer maintain it and it’s fast falling into disrepair. It’s 5km on the road from the old Price Creek trailhead back to your car. Or
3. Carry on east or west on the high ridge tours described in the introduction.
None. You are outside the designated core area of Strathcona Park.
Be aware that BC Parks does not operate an intentions system. Make sure, therefore, that you have left a detailed trip plan with someone responsible. Parks 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.
Excellent camping is available by the tarns on the open ridge after you reach the 1400m level. Camp on already cleared spots and try to make as little impact as possible.
Fires are strictly prohibited, so you must pack a stove. Bear and cougar frequent the mountains and forests of Vancouver Island, so proper back country methods – hanging food bags out of reach, cleaning up all cooking scraps, good toilet practice etc – are essential. Giardia is well documented throughout Strathcona Park, so boil or treat all water.
Additional information and linksStrathcona Provincial Park
Closest point weather forecast
The correct map for this trip is the government topographical map sheet 92 F/12, “Buttle Lake”. Advance copies can be ordered on-line from the on-line map centre.
Copies are usually readily available in good bookstores and outdoor stores throughout the Island.
Beyond Nootka – A Historical Perspective of Vancouver Island Mountains, Lindsay Elms, Misthorn Press, 1996, ISBN 0-919537-29-4 and/or visit
Island 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
An excellent source for descriptions of the many high ridge routes in Strathcona Park can be found in
Hiking Trails III - Northern Vancouver Island
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