Mount Cartier
One of several prominent landmarks visible from the town of Revelstoke, British Columbia, Mount Cartier first caught my attention during an ascent of Mount Begbie in 2017, and after doing a quick search on the Internet, I was surprised to learn that there was a good trail running all the way to the summit.  From Ben Wilkey's online description, I got the impression that the trail is quite popular with mountain bikers and that there are no technical difficulties to reach the summit.  In reality, it is a grueling ascent with well over 2300 metres of cumulative elevation gain and a round-trip distance of almost 32 kilometres, and the final climb up the summit block is not for those prone to vertigo.  With a favourable weather forecast for the area on 29 September 2018, Zosia Zgolak and I left Calgary, Alberta very early that morning and drove to the trailhead south of Revelstoke with intentions of climbing Mount Cartier in a single long day.

From Revelstoke, drive south along Fourth Street E which becomes Airport Way after crossing the bridge over Illecillewaet River.  Continue south beyond the bridge for 9.4 kilometres to a pullout on the east side of the highway.  A sign board at the south end of the pullout marks the start of the trail.

Knowing that we had a long day ahead of us, Zosia and I quickly settled into a comfortable but steady pace as we followed the well-maintained trail into the forest.  The trail initially rises through a couple of switchbacks before leveling out and making an inexplicable and annoying dip as it runs parallel to the highway for a couple of kilometres.  About 2.5 kilometres from the start, the trail drops into a gorge to cross a bridge over an unnamed creek, and from there, it begins to climb up the mountain in earnest.
The elevation here is only about 457 metres above sea level! At the trailhead, Zosia is ready for a long day of hiking.
No peeing allowed here! The trail crosses a creek that is apparently used by locals as a source for drinking water.
It's great to see a smoke-free blue sky again! A break in the trees grants this view to the west of Mount Begbie (left) and Mount Macpherson (right) across Upper Arrow Lake (Columbia River).
Good place to call it a day if you don't feel like climbing over 2000 metres! A spur trail about 2.4 kilometres from the trailhead leads to this comfortable hammock on a small knoll in the forest.
Buck up...this is where the real climbing begins... A short distance beyond the hammock, Zosia crosses an unnamed creek on a good bridge.
Although the grade is never too steep, the trail climbs through a lot of unremarkable forest with little to see.  About a thousand metres above the bridge, Zosia and I reached an old cabin which, though structurally sound, did not look too appealing as an overnight shelter.  We took a short lunch break in a clearing behind the cabin before resuming our ascent.

About a kilometre beyond the cabin, the forest begins to thin out, and we finally got our first glimpse of Mount Cartier's summit block.  We still had a lot of elevation gain left, but most worrisome was the abundance of snow on the upper mountain.  We continued hiking up several unusually long switchbacks, and I surmised that the trail was designed as such to accommodate mountain bikers.  While the switchbacks were easy enough to walk up, gaining elevation here was excruciatingly slow.
Probably only suitable as an emergency shelter. A dusty old cabin sits along the trail about halfway up the mountain.
This would make a much better bivy site than the cabin! Zosia takes a break at a clearing near the cabin.
Still have a lot of climbing left... The summit block of Mount Cartier comes into view as trees begin to thin out higher up the trail.
Too bad the fruits aren't really palatable. The fruits of a mountain ash match the colour of its leaves at this time of year.
These switchbacks were designed to suit mountain bikes more than hikers. The trail makes several long, sweeping switchbacks at this point and gains elevation rather slowly.
As Zosia and I climbed higher, we began encountering more and more snow, and at one point, we even crossed the remnants of a recent avalanche.  Eventually, the trail was completely covered with snow, but we benefited from some recent footprints and even mountain bike tire tracks which we could follow until they petered out higher up.  Presumably, the previous hiker or biker had abandoned the snow-covered trail and simply went straight up the slope.  Despite the snow coverage, we could still discern where the trail went and followed it all the way to the crest of Mount Cartier's south ridge.  Breaking trail was not too bad; the snow was crusty but generally only ankle-deep.
Summer went straight into winter up here, I think! Zosia begins to encounter more snow higher up.
Can you spot the lookout building near the top? The northwest aspect of Mount Cartier looks rather daunting as Zosia continues along the trail.
It's either a wildfire or the world's biggest doobie! Mysterious smoke can be seen rising in the distance (right of centre).
I've looked at clouds from both sides now... Clouds are reflected in Upper Arrow Lake.
This is starting to get serious... Zosia crosses the remnants of an early-season avalanche.

Hellooooooo, Revelstoke!

The town of Revelstoke is visible behind Zosia as she trudges up the snow-covered trail.


Best view of the day! Upper Arrow Lake stretches away into the distance as Zosia gains the south ridge of Mount Cartier.
At the base of the summit block, Zosia and I traversed around the west side to reach a weakness in the cliffs.  Ascending this weakness is probably difficult enough in dry conditions, and fixed ropes here attest to the steepness of the terrain.  On this day, the abundance of snow made this a mountaineering ascent with much more serious consequences in case of a slip.  Already well beyond her comfort zone, Zosia decided to stay put and wait for me about 20 metres below the summit.

The crux is an exposed traverse across the upper west face of the summit block.  There is a metal cable handrail and another fixed rope here, but because both were partially buried by snow on this day, I had to rely on my ice axe for security while crossing a couple of short but unnerving sections.  As I rounded a corner, I could see an old fire lookout building which sits on a ledge just below the summit.  Since Zosia was waiting for me, I decided to forego visiting the lookout building and simply scrambled up the final 10 metres of steep snow and rock (more fixed rope here) to the summit.

It might be possible to scramble directly up here.

Sonny heads past the south end of the summit block.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak


I guess this is aid-climbing?

With the aid of a fixed rope, Sonny climbs up a weakness in the cliffs guarding the summit block.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Zosia is definitely outside of her comfort zone here... Zosia climbs up increasingly steep terrain.
Maybe a good place to bivy for the night... An old fire lookout building is perched on a ledge just below the summit.
Cheers to Zosia for willing to stop short of the summit! Sonny kneels on the summit of Mount Cartier (2603 metres).
Mount Mckenzie is next on my to-do list in the area! The view to the north includes the town of Revelstoke (bottom left) and Mount Mckenzie (right).
In shadow at centre is Ghost Peak, another future climbing objective... A plethora of snowy peaks span the northeastern horizon.
That mysterious smoke is still going! Beyond the lookout building, Upper Arrow Lake commands all the attention to the south.
After snapping a few requisite photos at the summit, I promptly descended the way I came up.  The crux traverse was just as unnerving the second time around, and I was very relieved to clear this section without mishap and rejoin Zosia just below.  Together, we carefully retraced our steps down the weakness and back to the south ridge.  Although we took a couple of short cuts on the upper mountain to save a little distance, we stuck to the trail for the most part to keep things simple and to avoid any potentially nasty surprises.

Back in the forest, we had a close encounter with a big porcupine which gave us a bit of a scare since it resembled a small bear in the growing darkness.  We actually followed the porcupine for quite a distance down the trail before it finally disappeared into the undergrowth.

The rest of our descent was numbingly long and uneventful.  The thousand-metre drop between the cabin and the bridge seemed especially interminable and monotonous.  The descent was so sustained and hard on our legs and feet that it actually felt good to climb uphill again just beyond the bridge and closer to the trailhead.

Upon returning to the trailhead, we drove back to Revelstoke and checked into a cheap hotel for the night.  A hot shower and a comfortable bed did wonders for our recovery after a brutally long day.
Not for the faint of heart. Sonny carefully makes his way back along an exposed traverse on the summit block.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Full-on mountaineering here! Zosia carefully descends the steep terrain just below the crux traverse.

Wow. Simply, wow.

Here is another view of Mount Cartier's south ridge and Upper Arrow Lake.


Wish I had my skis though! Zosia has her ice axe ready as the snow slope is steep enough for an involuntary slide.

Beautiful mountain!

Late day sunshine illuminates the top of Mount Cartier.


We still have a long night ahead of us descending in the dark... The sun sets to the west behind Mount Begbie.
In terms of elevation gain and distance, it's comparable to climbing Mount Whitney. Total Distance:  31.9 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  13 hours 53 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  2146 metres

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