Lucifer Peak

When I first visited the Gwillim Lakes basin in British Columbia's Valhalla Provincial Park in 2006, I knew virtually nothing about any of the rugged peaks in this remote park let alone any scrambling routes.  One peak in particular--Lucifer Peak--caught my attention, and though I did not have time to investigate, I was confident that there was a non-technical route up to the summit.  Some trip reports by Sandra McGuinness that I found later on would confirm my suspicions, and I have been keen ever since on returning to scramble up Lucifer Peak.

As things turned out, I did not return to Valhalla Provincial Park until 14 August 2014.  After spending the previous night at the Little Slocan Lake Recreation Site (free campground), I once again drove up Hoder Creek forestry service road (2WD okay, but high clearance vehicle recommended) to the Gwillim Lakes trailhead.  Oddly enough, it took me an hour longer this time to hike to the basin on the well-maintained trail.  An abundance of huckleberries along the trail certainly contributed to my slow progress, and the overcast sky did not exactly motivate me to pick up my pace either.  Shortly before I reached Gwillim Lakes basin, a light rain began to fall steadily.  I could sense that this rain was not going to let up for the rest of the day, but I was also loathe to turn around after making such a huge commitment to get back here.  From the basin, I could still see the top of Lucifer Peak, and despite the likelihood of no summit views, I was determined to finish the climb anyway.

A good trail goes past the backcountry campground's outhouse which resembles a grain elevator (see my 2006 trip report for a photo).  I followed this trail to the base of a talus slope leading to a higher plateau.  Although the trail disappears here, there are plenty of cairns marking the way up.  On the plateau, I picked up a fainter trail which eventually leads to the crest of Lucifer Peak's south ridge.  Continuing up the south ridge was initially quite easy as I followed cairns and a beaten path.  All the while, I was slowly getting soaked by the rain, but I still felt quite comfortable in my damp clothes.  Higher up, steep-angled rocks blocking the ridge crest forced me to traverse across some mildly exposed slabs to climber's left.  Under dry conditions, I would not have thought twice about walking across these slabs, but the rain had made them dangerously slick.  I backed off once before summoning the will and courage to step gingerly across this short but treacherous section.  Some easy scrambling followed before I reached the crux of the ascent--a large chockstone wedged in a rift that cuts across the ridge.  The exposure here is significant, but most worrying to me again was the slickness of the rock.  I took off my wet gloves in order to get a better grip, and with a few awkward moves, I managed to scramble over the chockstone.  Soon after, I was standing on the summit with nothing to see but mist all around.

Less than eight minutes after reaching the summit, I was on my way back down.  Both the chockstone and the exposed slabs proved just as challenging if not more so on descent, but with some care, I was able to get through them safely.  The rest of my long hike out went without a hitch except for the huckleberry bushes which again slowed me down considerably.  After returning to the trailhead, I changed into some dry clothes before driving out the long and bumpy road back to the main highway.  I would eventually check into a motel in the town of Grand Forks to dry out for the night.

In retrospect, this trip was disappointing for me because of the lousy weather and the lack of views from the summit.  On the other hand, the rest of the trip--the scenic approach, the challenging scrambling, and all the huckleberries I could eat--was highly enjoyable.  Though I normally avoid repeat ascents, it would not take much to motivate me to return and climb Lucifer Peak again under more favourable weather conditions.
Yummy! Huckleberries are very abundant along the trail.
Hmmm...not liking the clouds in the sky... Sonny follows the trail across open slopes below the west end of Drinnan Peak.
Eeeeeeeeeeeep!!!! A pika scrutinizes an intruder into its territory.
Looks far away... Lucifer Peak (left) and Trident Peak are reflected in a small pond.
Lotsa superb backcountry campsites here. Drinnan Peak rises up behind an unnamed tarn.
Looks straightforward...I think... Here is a closer look at the upper part of Lucifer Peak including most of the scramble route.
This tarn is reached after losing about 100 metres of elevation. Gregorio Peak towers above another unnamed tarn.
Here comes the rain... Sonny approaches the entrance to the Gwillim Lakes basin.
As long as I can see it, I can climb it! Despite the rain, the top of Lucifer Peak is still visible.  The ascent route goes up the ramp at far right and follows the skyline ridge.
The area is still beautiful in the rain! Rain falls on the Gwillim Lakes basin.  At far left is Gregorio Peak.
Some nasty surprises ahead... This is looking up the south ridge of Lucifer Peak.
Quite scary under wet conditions. About 30 metres below the summit, this chockstone is the crux of the ascent.
Try not to slip down here! An icy ramp drops steeply down the north side of the crux.
Sigh. Was it worth it? Hmmm... Wet but otherwise comfortable, Sonny holds up the register on the 2721-metre summit of Lucifer Peak.
The angle of the photo is a little odd, but make no mistake. It's very exposed! This is looking down at the crux chockstone from above.
Trekking poles are useless here; need good grip on your boots! This photo, taken on descent, shows the slabs that gave Sonny pause because of the wet conditions.
Lucifer Peak 2.0? Trident Peak is barely visible in the mist.
I will likely return in the future...hopefully when the weather is better! Total Distance:  15.9 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  9 hours 41 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  1094 metres

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