Coquihalla Mountain (Traverse)

September 4, 2019


Tulameen FSR / Coquihalla Pass, BC

Coquihalla Mtn. is a lonely and prominent massif, highest summit of Bedded Range south-east of the headwaters of Coquihalla River. This peak locates in the broad vicinity of Coquihalla Pass, but the rock formation is completely different than the typical Coquihalla granite spire. The origin of the rocks on Coquihalla Mtn. is actually volcanic and much similar to peaks further south in the North Cascades. This peak is highly visible and the access is “easy” by BC standard via logging roads in Tulameen River drainage. There are two commonly used routes and both are “scrambles”. The easiest but more roundabout route goes around and up the southern flanks while the more direct option traverses over a series of subsidiary summits via the NE/E Ridge (Class 3+). An ascent of this peak via the traverse along with the nearby Jim Kelly Peak and Illal Mountain had been on my radar for a couple years but because the access would never fall apart I didn’t want to prioritize this trip.

The original plan of this Wednesday was Mt. Urquhart in “East Harrison” area because I thought the gate of the access road was open somehow, and because of that I easily convinced Adam, Frances, Connor and Vlad to join. However, I soon realized the beta was incorrect and we quickly came up with the “plan B”, a traverse of Coquihalla Mountain. We drove over Coquihalla Pass and then onto the gravel, but smooth Tulameen FSR for less than 20 km distance. I had driven this way earlier in the year for Mt. Britton so I knew where exactly was that spur road in Illal Creek drainage. The 3 km up this spur road was narrow, overgrown and rough with lots of big ditches. Thankfully the Tacoma was equipped for that and we managed to drive to the actual trail-head. We weren’t doing too good on time.

Coquihalla Mtn. Traverse, Jim Kelly and Illal Mtn. scramble route. GPX DL

The trail-head gearing up didn’t take too much time because of the late start but at least we didn’t have to walk extra distance on the road. The trail to Illal Meadows was unofficial, but appeared to be nicely maintained. The first hour or so was spent in mature forest with not much to see, and once reaching the meadows we could at least see the three objectives that we were going to ascend. The view from Illal Meadows was pretty averaged in my opinion, partly because of the cloudiness. The weather forecast was calling “clearing up” in the morning and we hoped it was correct.. The trail became indistinct at places once the trees thinned out but we still had no problem following the path to the three-way junction among Coquihalla Mtn., Jim Kelly Peak and Illal Mountain.

The start of the trail.

The trail crosses this slope of talus.

“Spiral Peak” is just another unofficially named bump in Bedded Range

Our gang marching up.

Jim Kelly Peak ahead. Note the overcast sky

Arriving at Illal Meadows, looking towards “Spiral Peak” in the distance

It really didn’t matter which of the three peaks to do first, but because we all came here for Coquihalla Mtn. we decided to bag the main prize first. Adam and Frances wanted to stick to the “standard route” down and around to the south side but Vlad, Connor and I were determined to try the direct traverse, which we thought was the more efficient way to reach the summit. The crux of this traverse was to gain the first (NE) summit because of complication with route-finding. We ascended a pile of scree and then up climber’s right onto some chimneys and ledges. The easiest line wasn’t very obvious that we ended up climbing a couple moves of 4th class on questionable rocks. Once the initial buttress was over the rest of the scramble onto the first summit was mostly just “class 2”.

Vlad on the typical loose terrain on the lower NE Ridge

Me picking my way up with Illal Mountain behind. Photo by Connor M.

Vlad and Connor scrambling the lower NE Ridge

Looking back towards Jim Kelly Peak

From there the route had become very obvious – following the ridge over two subsidiary summits to the west (highest) peak. I really enjoyed the class-3 knife edges at times, which was fun but not sketchy. The crux came at the notch immediately before the true summit. The direct down-climb was definitely 5th class while we could also see an easier bypass with a bit of detouring on the south side. Connor went for the down-climb and Vlad decided to fully bypass. I opted for a “in-between” line that turned out to be the slowest route. The rest of the ascent onto the true summit was exposed 3rd class and very enjoyable. Not sure where Adam and Frances were the three of us decided to wait on the summit. As time passed we started to wonder what if they had beaten us to get here and already gone down but such was very unlikely. The original plan was to reverse the traverse back to Coquihalla/Jim Kelly col but if we couldn’t see Adam and Frances we had to descend the south slopes. Just as we were discussing the two of them showed up and gave a “poor quality” rating of their route, not to our surprise.

Vlad scrambling along the east ridge now

Me and Vlad and the long summit ridge. Photo by Connor M.

Connor scrambling across the first exposed notch

Vlad on the typical scrambling terrain with exposure

Vlad and the summit ridge.

This is the final section to the true summit. Follow the spine up

Vlad about to down-climb into the notch

Me down-climbing 4th class crux into the notch. Photo by Connor M.

This is a view from the crux notch

Vlad scrambling the long, exposed 3rd class terrain towards the summit

Connor on a western sub-summit

Me on the summit of Coquihalla Mountain

Another photo of me on the summit of Coquihalla Mountain

Partial Summit Panorama from Coquihalla Mountain. Click to view large size.

Partial Summit Panorama from Coquihalla Mountain. Click to view large size.

Carry Peak to the south-west

Illal Mountain in the foreground. Mt. Thynne in the background

This is zooming-in back towards Jim Kelly Peak

Frances approaching the summit via the south side route

Frances happy to make the summit of Coquihalla Mtn.

Our group shot on the summit of Coquihalla Mtn.

This further solidified the decision to reverse the traverse. Connor and I wanted to bag all three peaks so the three of us didn’t linger much longer on the summit but immediately went back across the ridge. The up-climb out of the notch felt easier than down-climbing and in another while we were back to the far NE summit. I had decided to avoid that 4th class step on the lower NE Ridge so went to explore farther down-climber’s left side. The route I took was 3rd class but very loose. Vlad and Connor was faster by retracing our ascent line and in another short while we were all back to the low saddle between Coquihalla Mtn. and Jim Kelly Peak.

Vlad and Connor down-climbing immediately below the summit

Connor finishing the long 3rd class ridge below the summit

Vlad followed me up the 4th class crux out of the notch

Jim Kelly Peak is looking big again

This is looking across Coquihalla River towards Needle Peak

Vlad starting down the steep stretch on lower NE Ridge

Connor on the NE Ridge

Vlad trying to pick a better line on descent

Connor finishing the scrambling section.

Vlad had already done Jim Kelly Peak but needed Illal Mountain, so that’s our next objective in this day. Speaking the ascent of Coquihalla Mtn. I would definitely recommend taking the NE/E Ridge (Traverse) for those capable scrambling “class 3+” on not-so-great rocks. It’s not only more fun, but more direct and efficient so why not…