Mount Urquhart

September 25, 2022


Harrison Lake East, BC

Mt. Urquhart is one of the most significant summits in the “East Harrison” area with its striking profile recognizable from many places in SW BC. This peak was used to be a “classic” with multiple established rock routes but the access had downgraded in the early 2000s. Nowadays even the standard route of Mt. Urquhart is rarely ascended since the access is a pain the ass. There are a few methods/routes that parties had been trying in the recent era, and some were successful but most were not. The sole method I was keen on was to bike the entire Cogburg and Charles Creek FSR systems from the locked gate at the bottom. This meant a sea-level-up ascent with over 2000 m elevation gain and round trip distance close to 50 km, but majority of the distance would be dispatched on a bike. The recent satellite images showed the overgrown spur roads in Charles Creek drainage had been cleared, so I was eager to pull the trigger. Little did I know that they were still actively logging the area. I had been seeing this road’s improvement in the past two years through satellite data but no ascent of Mt. Urquhart had been reported and there had to have some legit reasons.

Matt J. and I had been discussing this objective for at least a year. Matt had some ideas that he wanted to try in the winter, but I wanted to have no snow on the class 3 scrambling section to secure a guaranteed chance of success, so I insisted to bike up Cogburn FSR in late-summer conditions. In retrospect I’m not sure which of the plans would actually give a higher chance of success… When a window lined up Adam Walker and Ben Butca also showed their respective interest but we did not commit until the last minute as we needed all stars to line up perfectly, including weather and smoke situation. Matt’s truck was capable to ferry all four of us plus Twig, as well as four bikes so we made the decision to leave Vancouver at 3 am in the morning for a home-to-home type of push. We really should have camped there the night before and if we did so we would be aware of the active logging and made adjustments to the plan. We arrived at the start of Cogburn FSR at 6 am. The gate was locked as expected, but there’s also a sign with words like “Active heli logging, no public entry”. As usual we decided to ignore the signs, hop the bikes over the gate and proceed onwards. We had never run into problems doing so in the past and we hoped the trend could continue.

Mt. Urquhart via Cogburg/Charles Creek. GPX DL

The 16 km ride up Cogburn FSR was mostly on a gentle uphill incline with a few steeper rises, a few kilometers of flats and two descends that would become annoying at the end of the day. Biking down those two downhill sections with head-lamps on was a little bit interesting as I didn’t feel comfortable to zip too fast. About 5 km into the ride a couple trucks came from behind and warned us that they would indeed be heli-logging the area even on Sunday. This was right around the time that head-lamps were no longer needed. We then biked into a helicopter staging area. The security guard was yelling but but we continued nonetheless. Another kilometer later the pilot drove by and passed on more details about their plan. The logging zone would be on the south side of Cogburn Creek and had we biked another 2-3 km further we would exit their work zone, so we immediately started the race and made sure that we would be on the far side of the zone before the next encounter. Not to our surprise the next person that caught us was the manager and she was extremely pissed, but after about half an hour of negotiating she decided to give us permission to proceed, as to turn around here meant we would be biking back through the work zone when the helicopters were already flying. The deal was that we would have to carry one of her radios to inform them when we’d go back through the work zone later in the day. I’m 100% sure this permission was the one and only that she would pass on to hikers so make sure you do this peak when they aren’t logging the area. I don’t know their contact information nor do I even know which company this was, so do your own research. I do think that they are working 7 days a week even on long weekends.

Ben biking into the work zone…
Matt went to check out the massive ass helicopter and talked to the pilot
Testing out the radio with their manager. She gave us permission to continue.

The next few kilometers were mostly flat so we cruised to Cogburn/Charles Creek junction where the old overgrown FSR had been cleared. In circa 2017 parties had to thrash through 5 km of dense alders on the overgrown Charles Creek FSR but in 2022 all we needed was a bike. The riding wasn’t nearly as smooth as on the mainline as they hadn’t been logging this zone for a while. There were a lot of rocky stretches and also some steep hills. Adam and Ben pushed their bikes most of the way on this spur road. I was able to pedal probably 2/3 of the road while Matt biked the entire way to the end. Matt checked his GPS and the distance clocked to just over 20 km and that was definitely the longest biking approach that Adam, Ben and I have ever done. My ass was already hurting and I was not looking forward to the return ride. We made a mistake by not stopping at one of the two bridge crossings to load up water bottles. Prior to the trip we all made the decision to carry minimal water (mine being two 500ml bottles of Gatorade) due to some river crossings reported by other parties. Apparently the bridges were reconstructed but we didn’t know that the bridges were the only sources of water in this late-summer condition. After missing out the only oppourtunities we had to push through with minimal water. I knew I could do that based on the past experience, but this would not be enjoyable.

We rode into the deep valley of Charles Creek drainage
Adam pushing the bike up. This spur road is steep.
Me, Adam and Ben pedalling up Charles Creek FSR
Matt and Ben just about to enter sunshine.

The road had not been reconstructed to the historical road’s end so we still had about 500 horizontal meters of thrashing on the old, overgrown road to the base of the peak. I was determined to stick to the known and follow Jeff Han’s GPS track like it’s God’s sake but the bushwhacking was horrendous. We made probably 100 m of progress in 10 minutes and we couldn’t even know where the road’s bed was. Matt then immediately pointed that we actually didn’t have to use that track as the mature forest immediately above us would grant an easier passage. I checked the map and agreed, so we bailed the “road” into the forest. About 5 minutes later we merged into the mature forest and that officially marked the end of the bad bushwhacking. We now would ascend the forested flank significantly climber’s right of the known track but the satellite images suggested this forest would be rather consistent, so we should be fine. We did encounter some steep stretches with very slippery ground but never had to do significant amount of route-finding through bluffs. We merged back onto Jeff’s GPS track an hour later after the rib doing a turn to the right (east). The bushwhacking became worse near treeline but wasn’t annoying enough to be worth noting. We were desperate to find water in some of the deep gullies but to no avail, so now we were committed to finish the ascent and the descent with whatever we still had, mine being one 500mL of Gatorate and that’s it. I was fine but we were worrying about Twig.

We tried to follow the old road but it’s rough…
There were very nasty stuffs immediately after the end of the new road
After a while of thrashing we entered the mature forest
Matt leading the way up the climber’s right side of this forested rib
Twig finding a way for us. We had some steep zones
The ground was extremely slippery with the pine needles
The terrain opened up eventually.
Matt ascending into the treeline zone with the summit ahead
Looking back towards some unnamed peaks on Cogburn-Urquhart Divide

The next stage was a long diagonal leftwards traverse/ascent across some slabs and heather slopes to the base of Mt. Urquhart’s west ridge. The start of this stretch was rather steep with some class 3 scrambling but we might not have picked the easiest line. We then ascended closer to the rock face and magically found two puddles of stagnant water. Those two puddles were big enough to solve Twig’s problem, but not enough for us humans to replenish so we continued. The west ridge was aesthetic but not as difficult as expected with only a few spots of class 3 and minimal exposure. The crux was a steep wall with a few solid moves. I led a line more-or-less straight up the wall but the others found an easier variation on the descent. There’s one more piece of slabs higher up that involved some exposure but the rest of the route to the summit was mostly just walking. Matt and I even walked passed the summit to the edge of the east face cliffs for better photos. The GPS devices had clocked to 25 km at this point. We caught some weak cell services, made some updates on our socials and now we had to plod all the way out.

A probably-optional 3rd class step to break through a rock band
Above that 3rd class slabby section, looking back
Adam plodding upwards onto the long and diagonal heather/slab traverse
Adam and Twig now on the slabs. Twig soon found some water puddles
Ben with the Fraser Valley skyline (and the smoke) behind
Twig in front of the SW Face of Mt. Urquhart
While the others taking a break I ate as many blueberries as I humanly could
Ben slogging up the heather slopes
Matt traversing onto the weak spot on the west ridge
It was a hot ass grunt in the heat
The west ridge of Mt. Urquhart would be our final obstacle to tackle
Ben and Adam gaining the ridge
Me and Twig starting up the west ridge
Adam on the lower parts of the west ridge
Matt and Twig leading ahead for a while
Matt giving Twig a boost up the crux step
Matt sending the crux
Twig happy to be above the crux now
Adam starting the crux sequence
Ben posing in front of Harrison Lake where we started the day from…
Ben and Twig tackling the next harder spot on this ridge
Adam negotiating a very brief section of knife-edge
Adam and Matt then scrambling up the 3rd class slabs
Matt and Twig taking a break on the summit trying to tumble a massive rock
Summit Panorama from Mt. Urquhart. Click to view large size.
The forested ridge in foreground is Mt. Fagervik
Mt. Breakenridge and Traverse Peak on skyline with “Hornet Peak” in foreground
Scuzzy Mountain and The Nipple on the horizon
This is the spires on Anderson River Group
Mt. Judge Howay poking behind Mt. Clarke and Nursery Peak
A zoomed-in view of Traverse Peak
Me on the summit of Mt. Urquhart
Another photo of me on the summit, now with Twig
Ben posing on the summit of Mt. Urquhart
Adam’s selfie shot of us on the summit of Mt. Urquhart

After carefully making our way down the west ridge I led us back across the traverse sticking as close to the track as possible. My hope was that two puddles of water would be refilled and I was actually correct. Twig drank one puddle and us humans shared the other puddle. I got about 200 ml of fluid, drank them all immediately and committed to the 1000 m descent with not a single drop of water in the bottles. I would not be able to get any water until riding down to the Charles Creek bridges. The forested descent was actually not too bad and we took turn leading to give each other some mental breaks. Lower down Matt led us through the bushy section by staying far to the left. We still had to thrash through some nasty stuffs but that was under 5 minutes long. Wasting no time at the bike I took off ahead for the bridges. Matt and Ben caught up to me a few minutes later and Adam caught up to us almost half an hour later at the bridge. We all took a very long break at the water source before committing to the rest of the ride. We informed the lady at km-12 mark and she granted us permission to ride back through the work zone. We then dropped off the radio to the security guard. The two major uphill sections near the end were killing my legs but I managed to power it through using whatever energy I still had. Our round trip time was under 12 hours and that was pretty much as expected. We then drove back into Harrison Hot Springs for dinner and then got back home at a reasonable time.

Starting the descent after about half an hour on the summit
Matt playing with Twig on the narrow ridge
Twig and I already down while the others descending the west ridge
Matt then led us down into the blueberry slopes
Me and Ben descending in front of Mt. Urquhart’s west ridge
The typical terrain in this stretch of traversing
There was fair amount of bushwhacking at treeline but nothing too bad
The lower forest was very slippery and we all took glissades (involuntary)
Ben carefully negotiating the forest
Matt led us back through the dense bushes at the bottom
There were some nasty stuffs that you only encounter in BC…
Ben back onto the old, overgrown “road”
Back to the new built road now. Matt biked passed me
Taking a needed break at the first bridge crossing Charles Creek
Twig cooling down in the water
Matt radioing the lady again on the way out to make sure the work zone’s clear
Ben and Twig waiting for the response
Ben checking out the heli-logging. They were still operating but on the other side.
Matt zipping past the work zone
Twig ran…
We biked…
Bikes are definitely the solution to the gates.