Mt Alava is one of the two signature summits of the Alava Bate Sanctuary, a little known and even less visited alpine paradise in west central Vancouver Island, British Columbia. After rumours of the existence of the Sanctuary turned to reality with the first explorations of 1979 and 1980, Alava was the first of the local summits to receive a visit from climbers. It was from there that the unique beauty of the area was perceived for the first time.
The mountain is found in the southwest sector of the Sanctuary, above and to the south of Peter Lake and is most conveniently climbed from there. For those based at Shangri La Lake, it’s a longer trip over the Peter/Shangri La pass and adds about 2-3 hours to the day, the most tedious aspect of which is the 250 metres plod back up to the pass after climbing the mountain.
Mt Alava northeast aspect from Mt Grattan
The usual route to the summit is via the broad north east ridge which has its origins close to the west (outlet) end of Peter Lake. Easy snow slopes and rocky ridges of red/brown abrasive karmutzen pillow lava lead to the east side of the mountain from where the summit may be accessed via a Class 4 scramble.
As with every high point in the Sanctuary, summit views both within the area and beyond to the Island ranges are stunning.
Although unknown to climbers until relatively recently, the Sanctuary and other nearby coastal ranges have long been used as navigation aids. Several local names reflect the significant history, maritime and otherwise, of the west coast of the Island.
Mt Alava is named for Brigadier-General Don Jose Manuel de Alava, the last commander of the briefly lived Spanish settlement on Nootka Sound. Brig. Alava it was who presided over the formal abandonment of the Spanish stronghold in March 1795 as required by the Nootka Convention. The political vacuum created by the Convention set the final stage in the contest for control of the Pacific northwest between the fledgling USA and the British Crown.
FRA: P Erickson and R Mcdonald, July 1980
Mt Bate morning shadow on Mt Alava
Vancouver Island can be reached directly by air from Toronto, Vancouver, Seattle, Calgary, Edmonton and recently San Francisco to Victoria 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 to the main points of entry to the Sanctuary involves logging road travel but on main lines. A 2WD vehicle would normally be expected to suffice.
Although the Sanctuary has been approached from the north via Sebalhall Creek, the main points of access are off the Gold River/Tahsis Road and only these will be dealt with here.
From any point on southern Vancouver Island, drive north on the Island Highway 19 to Campbell River. From Campbell River take highway 28 west through
Strathcona Provincial Park and onwards to Gold River. Just before entering the town of Gold River, watch for a right turn signed for Tahsis. It’s immediately after the tourist information office. Proceed 2 km on this road and across the bridge over the Gold River. Here the road splits. Right to Woss and left to Tahsis. Note this point on your odometer and turn left onto “Head Bay Road”. The pavement ends almost immediately, but this is good sealed or gravel road.
Drive about 27 km from the Gold River bridge and find Conuma Main on the right just after crossing the Conuma River. Drive this good main line about 11.5 km, passing the C15 access for Conuma Peak
after 3.5 km and park at about N49 52.403 W126 24.954. The route to Shangri La Lake via the Conuma River approach starts here. Mt Bate towers above you to the northwest.
For the Perry Creek access to Alava and Peter Lakes continue 22 km past the Conuma/Head Bay junction and find Perry River branch road P15 on the right. Drive the road right to the back of the valley to where the creek crosses the road.
Both approaches described below involve heavy bush and difficult travel particularly via the Perry River. These difficulties are in no small measure responsible for the few visitors that the Sanctuary has seen over the years.
From the start point travel west and then follow the river north up the steep sided canyon. The route has been recently (July 2010) flagged. Beware of a dangerous river crossing at N49 52.753 W126 26.725. A ramp at N49 53.766 W126 27.450 is used to bypass a waterfall about half way up the canyon. Travel time to Shangri La 6-8 hours.
Follow the creek through dense bush into a steep sided canyon. The route makes its way up rock slabs before reaching Alava Lake. Continue up to Peter Lake on the opposite side of the river. This route has been included in the list of top ten bushwhacks on Vancouver Island, which is saying something. Don’t say you haven’t been warned!
The Airborne Alternative
Over the years a number of visitors have accessed the area via helicopter. The local ecosystems in the Sanctuary are delicate and fragile and, in this case, an air assist might just be the least invasive way to reach and stay there. See the “Camping” section below.
Alava summit from the base of the main gully
Approaching from Shangri La, travel west on the north side of the lake and up to the low pass ahead. Continue south down the snow slopes ahead and drop 250 metres elevation to the south shore of Peter Lake. Walk around the lake until you can look up the obvious major snow gully and right up to the summit of Mt Alava framed against the skyline. You have two choices from this point.
1.Head directly up the gully whose headwall pretty well butts into the Little Alava/Alava col. The gully is steep at the top, is subject to avalanche danger (one was apparent 2 days after we went this way) and icy cornices at the top may pose exit problems.
2.Climb the gully for about a quarter of its length until a rocky shelf exits on the right. A ~250 metres northwesterly traverse on snow and rock ledges leads to the northeast ridge proper. Turn left (southwest) here and climb easy snow and rock slabs to the Little Alava/Alava col ahead, a distance of about 600 metres.
From the outlet of Peter Lake, climb the northwest ridge directly to the col.