Yak Peak

April 2, 2019


Coquihalla Pass, BC

Yak Peak is the icon of Coquihalla Pass with its granite slabs on the south face attracting almost everyone driving by. The south face slabs boast at least a dozen routes with good climbing quality. The north face of Yak Peak is even more impressive – 400 m of vertical granite that’s rumoured to be still unclimbed according the bivouac.com. This peak is however, mellow from the east side and there exists a popular scramble route that takes a mere half-day from the highway. However, what caught my interest was a experimental winter ascent of the scramble route’s variation by accessing from Nak Peak’s south ridge. There weren’t a ton of information online but I knew what exactly to expect based on various mapping sources as well as my own photos.

In the previous few years I’ve ascended Nak Peak and Thar Peak both in winter and that further confirmed my decision to bag Yak Peak in the same way. There’s no need to spend a valuable summer day for an ascent with such an easy access and on top of that, the snow coverage would surely smooth out the terrain and make the ascent more enjoyable. Making a winter ascent of Yak Peak would however require a bomber snowpack as steep slopes up to 35-40 degrees must be traversed or ascended on the upper mountain. I had been waiting for a window and this past weekend saw some stable conditions across the entire western North America. I took advantage of it by making a rare ascent of the SE Gully on Twin Goat Mountain on Saturday but I wanted more. In the last minute Mel and I decided to climb Yak Peak as a “morning exercise” on Tuesday. That was the last day of this window and I had to be back to White Rock by 3 pm for work, but such wouldn’t be the deterring factor with a 3:30 am morning call. Long burly day…

Yak Peak and Nak Peak winter route. GPX DL

My alarm failed but thankfully Mel managed to wake me up on the phone and a few minutes later we rolled out of White Rock cruising eastwards down 16th Ave. An hour or so later we arrived in Hope for breakfast and another hour later we had parked at the small pullout underneath Nak Peak’s forested south ridge. The first section of this route ascends the south ridge of Nak Peak exactly as what I did on that trip three years ago. The GPS technology meant that minimal route-finding was required as we just needed to follow the screen. The difference was however, the amount of snow coverage and the fact we were boot-packing and snowshoeing instead of skiing. The bottom 100 vertical meters involved a lot of bushwhacking but nothing overly burly. We made some quick work onto continuous snow and continued boot-packing for another 500 vertical meters until post-holing took over.

The start wasn’t pleasant…

Alpenglow on Markhor Peak

Starting to merge onto snow, but still fair amount of bushwhacking

It’s sunrise time!

Mel traversing another bushy zone..

Another photo of Markhor Peak. The true summit of it isn’t visible

The travelling gets easier here.

Strapping the snowshoes on we ascended onto the upper mountain and the terrain angle actually mellowed out slightly. At one point, around 1800 m elevation we made the call to start a long diagonal side-hill traverse towards Yak/Nak col and this whole stretch was fast, but painful on our ankles. The snow was firm and snowshoeing was awkward. From Yak/Nak col we picked up a set of snowshoe tracks and followed them over a few steep rolls to the minor bump between the two peaks. This was a natural spot for a gear transition. It seemed like we wouldn’t need snowshoes anymore so we ditched them there and resumed boot-packing.

Our first unobstructed view towards Yak Peak

After a long while is side-hilling we arrived at this alpine bowl under Yak/Nak col

Snowshoeing towards that minor bump between Yak Peak and Nak Peak

Mel snowshoeing up..

Despite what appears from afar there are many wide ledges on this ridge

Yak Peak from the minor bump

There’s about 30 m elevation loss down to the saddle and then we were facing at the final push. The diagonal traverse/ascent onto that high notch on Yak Peak’s south ridge turned out to be easier than I thought but we did have to make a transition to don crampons and ice axes. From the high notch the uppermost south ridge of Yak Peak went at 35-40 degrees but soon enough we arrived at the summit. the ascent time was exactly 2 hours from truck and I have to say that we absolutely crushed it. The view was magnificent but it was too windy and cold to linger long.

Down to the col now, upwards towards Yak Peak

Gorgeous setting around here. Would have been prime ski terrain

Mel heading for the distant notch on Yak’s south ridge

Looking back at Nak Peak – our secondary objective

Getting closer to the high notch here. We had to don crampons

Mel posing on the notch on Yak Peak’s upper south ridge

Heading for the summit. Here has some alpine feel

The upper ridge was steep at places. Mel kicking steps

Summit Panorama from Yak Peak. Click to view large size.

Needle Peak and Markhor Peak to the south

That long ridge is Alpaca Peak with Llama Peak on the shoulder

Vicuna Peak and Guanaco Peak to the north

Zum Peak in foreground; July Mountain in the background

A close look at the spires in Anderson River Group

Way in the distance on the horizon is The Old Settler

Bombtram Mountain in the foreground

Mt. Baker and Cheam Range poke behind The Flatiron

A closer look at Needle Peak

Jim Kelly Peak

This is Coquihalla Mountain

A closer look at Vicuna Peak. This one has a very similar profile as Yak Peak

Me on the summit of Yak Peak

Mel on the summit of Yak Peak

Mel and I on the summit of Yak Peak

After snapping enough photos we soon turned our attention to the descent. Going down the uppermost south ridge required some caution and then we decided to check out that minor bump on the south ridge. That was actually the top of the south-face granite slabs that one sees from the highway. The rest of the descent to Yak/Nak col was uneventful but now we had to make a decision. I was not particularly keen on repeating an ascent but three years ago I did Nak Peak in a blizzard with nothing to see. This time the weather was on our side and we had a ton of extra time to kill and the summit was right there, so why not. I let Mel to decide and of course she said yes, and another 30 minutes or so later we were celebrating on the summit of Nak Peak, the second objective of the day.

Time to head down. Descending the uppermost south ridge of Yak Peak

Me descending. Photo by Mel O.

Mel took a cool shot of our crampons.

From the southern sub-summit, looking back

A look down into Coquihalla Canyon

The Zopkios Rest Area on the pass. So many trucks…

Mel having fun mixed climbing a granite slab on crampons

Back to the bump between Yak and Nak, looking back at Yak Peak

This is that steep north face of Yak Peak

Down-climbing a steeper roll

Going for Nak Peak. Mel leading the way

Higher up on Nak Peak. It’s mostly just a plod

Summit Panorama from Nak Peak. Click to view large size.

The lowly Thar Peak from Nak Peak

Mel and I on the summit of Nak Peak

Me on the summit of Nak Peak, with views this time..

Fortunate for us the wind had mostly died down and we enjoyed a much longer summit stay on Nak Peak before committing to the descent. I led us following the GPS track down Nak Peak’s uppermost south ridge to intersect our own ascent line. Once the tracks were picked up the rest was mostly no-brainer sans the occasional deep post-holing. The snowpack was losing its integrity in the rapidly warming air and we were too lazy to don snowshoes. The result was at least a couple hundred knee-deep post-holes but given the downhill direction we wouldn’t complain. The bottom part was the worst and I sank to waist deep several times, but pressed on nonetheless.

Can’t stop shooting towards Needle Peak

Mel down-climbing a steeper roll off Nak Peak

This is the typical terrain to descend

Me picking the way down. Photo by Mel O.

Into the lower zone now. A lot of post-holing

And, bushwhacking…

This step was awkward..

More bushwhacking awaits…

Finally back to the road. Almost done.

Back to the truck our round trip time was under 4.5 hours and that was a tad more efficient than I thought. Mel volunteered to drive the truck back home in order to give me a bit more time to rest and I greatly appreciated that, and that concluded this awesome trip. Oh there went the afternoon/evening work routine – 6 hours of mentally exhausting fest from 3:30 to 9:30 pm and that was as “fun” as it sounds.