With the possible exception of The Golden Hinde, Mt Arrowsmith is likely the best known mountain on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. This is hardly surprising given the fact that it presents an eye-catching spectacle from the main Island thoroughfare, Highway 19, all the way from Nanoose Bay to Qualicum when driving north or from as far away as Courtenay when heading south.
Arrowsmith is situated just east of the head of the Alberni Inlet between the Englishman and Cameron River watersheds in a region where the distance from tidewater on the Pacific to that on the Strait of Georgia at Parksville is a mere 40km. Unsurprisingly the mountain makes its own weather and, in winter in particular, enjoys a reputation for “Scottish” conditions. Although not as high as some of the Island mountains to the north, “Arrysmith” has been and continues to be venerated by generations of Island climbers as a training ground, for its abundance of sporting bluffs and gullies and for its history. Just about every route on the mountain can be undertaken as a day trip from cars.
Claims regarding the first ascent are ambiguous and could be ascribed to the Macoun party of 1887 or to that of Fletcher et al in 1901. There is even a claim that it is due to Edward Whymper (of Matterhorn fame) in 1905. In any event, the mountain, probably because of its visibility, attracted the attention of even the earliest visitors to the Island to the point, in fact, when in 1910 the CPR considered it worthwhile to build a tourist chalet at Cameron Lake and organise guided trips up the mountain by pack horse to an overnight hut at 4,200 feet on the slopes of the neighbouring Mt Cokely. The original CPR pack trail is still in use over 100 years later. Perhaps the most famous of the early ascents came in June 1925 when, although they didn't reach the summit that day, Phyllis Munday handed her husband Don a pair of field glasses and “pointed to a tall mountain due North through a cloud rift." This was the Munday’s first sight of what they called the "Unknown Mountain". It was, in fact, Mount Waddington, the elusive summit that was to preoccupy them for the next eight years of their incredible climbing careers.
The formal status of the Arrowsmith massif and the surrounding area has always been ambiguous. The availability of valuable timber has meant that successive governments have leased rights to a number of companies, not all of who have been overly concerned with protecting either the locale or recreational access to it. Several commercial ski operations have been attempted on Mt Cokely but all have been short lived. For the recreationist, of course, all this has had the happy consequence of improved access and for many years climbers, hikers, skiers, botanists etc enjoyed convenient access to what had become a de facto park. Although designated a UN Biosphere Reserve in 2000 the region still had no formal protection from commercial exploitation. This has continued to the present and recently has resulted in road closures and even the threat to log one of the most popular routes on the mountain, the Judges Route.
In order to obviate this and all future threat, the Vancouver Island section of the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC), as part of its centennial project, and the Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC made it their goal to obtain official park status for the Arrowsmith massif in 2006. These things always take longer than anticipated to achieve of course. Nevertheless, on November 26, 2008 the status of Regional Park under the aegis of the Regional District of Nanaimo was conferred upon the Arrowsmith massif. The permanent protection of this important and historical resource would seem, therefore, to be assured.
Vancouver Island can be reached by air from Vancouver 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 relatively poor and anyone arriving by air would be advised to rent a car. Access in this case requires the use of gravel logging roads. Whilst these are often negotiable in a normal 2WD sedan, some sections are rough and in winter, of course, all bets are off. If you have access to a high-clearance 4WD, bring it along.
|Judges Route.||Class 3. The easiest summit route and the only route on Arrowsmith when a rope need not be carried – not to mention used – by most parties.|
|The Saddle/Bumps/Nose Route.||Class 4. 2 Pitches each of about 30m. The first is Class 3/4 and slabby with little if anything in the way of protection. Many folk solo this. The second is (very) low 5th and, again, is often soloed. There are bolted belay/rap stations in place.|
|Lost Gully Route.||Class 4. AI2 in winter conditions. Ascends two gullies separated by a short rock/ice step to Arrowsmith's south summit. The gullies vary from 25-55°. Ascent of the gullies is usually followed by a traverse across the gentle ridge to the main summit. Descend the Judge's Route.|
|Main/Snow Gully Route||Class 4. AI1-2 in winter conditions. A 45° gully on climber's right of the "Nose". Tops out ~ 100m northwest of the main summit.|
|Awaiting photo||West Ridge||AI2. From the last switchback on Pass Main climb through the forest to the ridge crest. Bypass difficulties by traversing south then back to the crest. Joins the Judges Route to the summit.|
|Awaiting photo||Un-Judges Route||Class 4. Goes up a ridge to the right of the Judges Route. Bluffy and exposed high up. Tops out to the west of the south summit.|
|The Newman/Foweraker Route||AI3, 150m. Goes to the summit of Arrowsmith's West Buttress. Same approach as the Main/Snow Gully but not as often climbed. Gear placements and belays reported as tricky with at least 40ft run-outs in places. The angle is vertical only for short sections (~3 to 5m) and is generally about 45°|