Mount Willson

July 18, 2020


Elaho River / Clendinning Area, BC

I’ve ascended three peaks officially-named “Wilson” but this one spells a little bit differently if you pay attention to the details. This one is in the heart of southern Coast Mountains on the divide between Sims Creek and Clendinning Creek and next to Elaho River valley. The access of this area had downgraded over the years. This peak had been done by a bushwhack from Sims Creek when the logging roads were still in good conditions but nowadays this area rarely sees traffic anymore. Alex, Vlad and I had been planning a traverse across the headwaters of Sims Creek into the heart of Clendinning Range in the past few months. This was Alex’s 3rd or 4th year in a roll planning on this traverse all with different partners and groups. In the spring of 2017 he had attempted the reverse order from Ashlu-Elaho Divide but bailed at Limelight Creek. The rest of the plans were all in summer conditions on foot, but to pull the trigger one needs the perfect alignment of weather, conditions and partners and such luxury sometime ends up being a couple years’ waiting. There finally came the summer of 2020. We had done our fair share of homework “behind the scene” with me focusing on mapping the satellite images and Alex talking to legends such as John Baldwin who had ventured into this area 30 years ago. Much of the route would be unknown with zero information on the internet, but we were semi-confident that the route would go and in a few questionable spots we had alternative route options.

The plan was to place a food drop north of Mt. John Clarke and then fly to the summit of Mt. Willson carrying 9 days worth of food, tagging as many summits as we humanly could including the main prizes of Mt. Boardman and Mt. Tinniswood, and then carry 5 more days of food traversing southwards towards Ashlu Mountain for as far as we could/wanted to go. Alex and Vlad had done similar type of traverses in the past few years and comparing to them I’m a newbie into this game. This would be my first big expedition in the Coast Mountains and I was excited but also a bit anxious about it. I did have done three longer trips in the past but those were in different styles. The 8-day Lizzie Creek peak-bagging slam only required us to carry heavy loads for one day; the ascent of Mercedario (10 days) felt more like an alpine camping trip that we hardly moved more than 4 hours each day, and the Mt. Caubvick to Koroc River descent (12 days) was more of a packraft expedition. I had little idea how much food I should carry and in the end I just opted for whatever that counted 900 grams per day for the first 9 days. We placed a loads of luxurious food at the food cache and I would not worry much about the section beyond until we got there.

The first day – Mt. Willson to Mt. Oswald.

The first summit would be a mechanical ascent with taking a helicopter to within 15 minutes of walking to the summit. My pack weighted 24 kg at the start and the plan of our first day was to plod past Mt. Oswald to Oswald/Vanstone col (26 km and 1500 m gain) so we arranged our flight for as early as possible. The three of us grouped at Alex’s home at 3:30 am and in under 2 hours we were at the Squamish airport taking to our pilot. We flew up beside Tantalus Range, over the entire course of Ashlu-Elaho divide towards Princess Louisa Inlet at sunrise time. We briefly landed at Mt. John Clarke and scouted out a 5-star food drop spot and then took off again to the north side of Sims Creek. We landed as close to the summit as possible leaving only 15 minutes of leisure walk to our first peak of the expedition.

Above the low clouds with Mt. Tantalus behind

The massif of Chimai Mountain seen from Ashlu-Elaho Divide

Flying high above Ashlu Creek now looking at Mt. Crerar

Flying right beside Ponor Peak

Jervis Inlet seen from the air. We would have a better view of it later in this trip.

The massif of Mt. Albert

The chopper left us behind.

Partial Summit Panorama from Mt. Willson. Click to view large size.

Partial Summit Panorama from Mt. Willson. Click to view large size.

The lesser known side of Ashlu-Elaho Divide

We could even see Mt. Garibaldi

The double summits of Mt. John Clarke (Sun Peak)

Mt. Perkins, Mt. Oswald and Mt. Pollock

Mt. Ralph, our next objective

A closer look at Mt. Tinniswood, our main objective in this trip

Me on the summit of Mt. Willson

Alex on the summit with Ashlu-Elaho Divide behind

Our group shot on the summit of Mt. Willson

Another photo of me on the summit, at 6 am in the morning…

After taking some obligatory photos we soon descended and shouldered our ridiculously heavy packs. The snow was a bit icy in the morning adding to the challenge too but thankfully the terrain wasn’t steep enough to warrant the use of crampons. The plod wasn’t as easy as I was hoping for, up and over the subsidiary summit 4 km west of Mt. Willson with considerable amount of up-and-downs but at least the views were really nice up there with unobstructed sight into the deep Sims Creek valley.

Time to get moving. Mt. Tinniswood ahead

Alex and Vlad plodding back to our heavy packs

Me plodding ahead. Photo by Alex R.

Me heading down one of the many downhill stretches. Photo by Alex R.

Mt. John Clarke with Mt. Churchill behind in Jervis Inlet

Looking back at one of the steeper descents

Another photo of Mt. John Clarke above the low clouds

A closer look at Mt. Vanstone, one of the few that we skipped in this trip

Mt. Tinniswood from a slightly different vantage point

Mt. Albert from the subsidiary summit 4km west of Mt. Willson

An unobstructed view into upper Sims Creek valley

We took our first long break on the top of that bump and then resumed the plod towards the next one, which was about 2 km south of Mt. Pollock. The ascent was again, a slow show thank to the heavy pack, but at least we did manage to move steadily. Our next stop would be the slope under Mt. Pollock but we would do a side trip to Mt. Ralph first.

Me descending from that subsidiary summit. Photo by Alex R.

Very happy to take the pack off for a bit. Photo by Alex R.

This is looking down a steep side creek into Elaho River valley in the distance

Plodding towards Mt. Ralph, a long ass ways away…