The Climbing Club

Nusatsum Alps, Bella Coola BC
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Author:  Kevin Steffa [ Sun Nov 29, 2009 4:15 pm ]
Post subject:  Nusatsum Alps, Bella Coola BC

A week spent bushwhacking up in the Coast Range of BC is starting to become annual tradition for Jon Jantz and myself... I love the freedom of venturing off the beaten trail, the joy of discovering new routes by following the subtlest of cues. The irony, is of course, that I have never really been on a full-on bushwhack in the BC coast before, and in fact, I loathe brush like a cat to water! In all our previous outings to the coast range, We had have sought the refuge of the trail network -- in this case, the Ape Lake trail, off the Nusatsum road, out of Bella Coola. While this trail is the tiniest of fragile threads to interface the green jungle and alp country, it has served us well, delivering a great regional position within an easy afternoon's walk.

2008 Trip (polar bear peak):

2003 Trip (ape lake):

This year would be quite different - we had a spell of good weather on our side, an all to uncommon phenomena for the region. We thus set our eyes on something a little more ambitious, a healthy sea-level to alpine push. This time, 5k vertical up through forest with no trail, and unknown conditions on the log-road. The route we were attempting to take was the Mosquito Pass alpine approach route, from the East Fork Nusatsum Road. This route is described in several places, from John Baldwin's 'exploring the coast mountains on skiis', to, and even mentioned in the old 'bc backroads mapbook' as 'Frank Cook's Trail'.


Fortunately, while our Jetta is log-road-gimped, the approach road is only ~5k from the Nusatsum bridge on highway 20. We were able to drive to a stream crossing ~3k in (high clearance needed to cross it). The main log road bed itself is in great condition, with the exception of the first 500 meters right off the highway, where it is a little more eroded on the initial hillclimb. However, all the spur roads which we encountered were pretty much overgrown, and one might hardly notice them from dense second growth tangle if not for the flagging.

A bit of map-gazing reveals that there is a prominent drainage coming down from Mosquito Pass. On either side of this drainage, there are continuous blocks of old-growth that make possible ascent lines. The creek itself is deeply incised and nearly impossible to cross higher up, so one must choose a side - south block or north block. While it seems that the original Cook's trail might have used the more direct south block, we could find no sign from the main log road of any trail marker or flagging to use. In addition, with the spur overgrown and the first 1000' of the south block now dense second-growth, this did not look tempting. The north block, however, has a patch of old growth extending right down to the main road. This made for pleasant walking - a carpet of moss amongst stately timber, with no blowdown tangle or underbrush.


About 15 minutes up the slope, we encounter the edge of another cutblock. This we push through quickly, and in another 15 minutes, we are back on a rib of old-growth again. At this point we are too high to transition across the creek to the south block (we would have had to cross it below the old growth and ascend more second growth on the other side). We continue climbing up past more bits of flagging. Presumably, even this area was to be another cut-block, for there is spur road nearby, however, the rush to cut this area appears to have stopped sometime in the 90's. Whether due to economics, environmental protest, or protest by the Nuxalk Nation, it is currently uncut, and thus, remains a viable route! Bushwhacking up through this open-mossy oldgrowth is fairly pleasant. A few stretches of old fire evidence, a cliff band to navigate here and there, are the only speedbumps, and we have a good rhythm to our climb with brush remarkably absent.


At some point, though as we near the subalpine, we realize that it is not going to be easy to contour over to Mosquito Pass. This was somewhat anticipated due to the deep incision of the creek, however, we have another problem -- we are almost out of water! Yes, here in Bella Coola, we are having a hard time finding water - it has been a dry enough summer to spark some of the largest wildfires yet in the region, and the afternoon sun is starting to beat down. To complicate things, the subalpine is starting to feel like a real 'shwack' - as the trees thin out, other brush, huckleberry, willow, krumholz, etc... start to fill in, slowing down our travel. We continue the push, at this point fueled by the tasty (and moist) huckleberries, and emerge into an open alpine basin leading up to the shoulder of Nusatsum Peak. With a remnant snowpatch the only water source we could find, we strike a ridgetop camp with a view of saltwater, and enjoy a calm starry night.


Since we were about 1000' higher already than Mosquito Pass, we spend the morning scrambling around the shoulder of Nusatsum. This is a large bulky massif, a landmark in the Bella Coola Valley. While the side we sit on is a broad shoulder, the true summit is an imposing spire, a sharper version of Mt. Triumph in the North Cascades. Our location looks out across a forest of rock spires - Space Point, Mad Dog, Orbit, Matterhorn, Arjuna - perhaps the densest collection of craggy summit spires on the coast range! We also look out across the peaks on the Monarch Icefield that we previously had ventured through on the Ape Lake trail - from granitic Saugstad and Desire, to the icy crenelations of Purgatory, Snowsside, and Iroquios Ridge.


Alas, time is short on our weather window, and even though we already had put in the legwork to climb up here, we cannot stay to ramble the alpine basins and climb the peaks. A tiny alpine weasel comes up to say greetings, a little curious, but shy enough -- the only snaffle we would see up here. By afternoon, a blanket of cloud rolls in, and we retreat back down to the valley, then out east to the Chilcotin for Part II of the trip.


More Photos:

- Kevin

Author:  Brian Doehle [ Mon Nov 30, 2009 10:06 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Nusatsum Alps, Bella Coola BC

Looks like good times and some fantastic photos!

Author:  Lisa Toner [ Mon Nov 30, 2009 10:09 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Nusatsum Alps, Bella Coola BC

beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!

Love the pics. Looks like a great adventure.

Author:  Evan Jewett [ Tue Dec 01, 2009 1:05 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Nusatsum Alps, Bella Coola BC

Kevin, you might consider a career change with photos like that!

Author:  Obadiah Reid [ Sat Dec 05, 2009 2:32 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Nusatsum Alps, Bella Coola BC


looks like a super-classic line on this peak:

Up the ice ramps to the left and then back right on the ice arete and up the ridge. If the rock turned out to be decent that would be an incredible mountaineering route!

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