Around the Horne

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Here’s a slightly longer version of May’s hike feature in the Parksville Qualicum Beach News. We hope you enjoy!

Mount Horne has been a regular venue for me over the last few years. Its steep slopes provide a good test of fitness, the spectacular views provide great experiences for guided hikes and, on a less positive note, its accessibility has led to me attending a number of search callouts as enthusiasts and casual hikers have become disoriented and caught out by darkness. The last time I wrote about Mount Horne, logging had closed off some of the traditional approaches and, unfortunately, an attractive, long standing circular loop has been lost to our community.

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The route I currently favour involves some lengthy stretches of rough gravel road but the elevation gained on this less technical terrain and the fact that it allows makes this curtailed route worthwhile.

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Starting from Cathedral Grove, a walk along Chalet Road is an inadequate warm-up for the steep grades to be faced from the start of the ascent. Turning left opposite the second lakeside chalet, the narrow trail runs straight up to the disused CPR rail line to Port Alberni. What would once have been a left turn to pick up the old trail is now a right turn along the tracks for a mostly out and back route via the saddle that links Mount Wesley, which you’ll see to the East, and Mount Horne.

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There are some nicely made signposts and plenty of flagging, but reliable navigation and some contingency equipment in case of injury or delay should be recognised for any wilderness hike. The trail soon spills out on the gravel road that offers access to the repeater station at the head of Cameron Lake, along which you’ll turn left. On clear days, a glance up to your right gives an intimidating first glimpse of the peak you’re heading to. The switchbacks give occasional views of Cameron Lake, many surrounding mountains and even a peek-a-boo of Hornby Island.

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You’ll pass a well-marked trail on your right which, in a couple of hours, will be your descent from the summit and, shortly after, you’ll arrive at the transmitter tower which offers a couple of great opportunities for viewpoints and a snack break. Consider your comfort level on steep, rocky terrain before continuing from here, as the push to the summit and subsequent descent presents dangers which should intimidate those less experienced or competent in such terrain.

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The gravel road veers approximately North from the tower and undulates for around a kilometre until a left hairpin where you’ll face a treed banking up which a loose, narrow trail ascends. Beware of boundary flagging up here, which signifies future logging operations, but can easily be mistaken for trail markings.

The foliage gradually becomes scrubbier and more representative of the 900 metre elevation you’re approaching, while the rocky nature of the terrain holds enough water to form ponds for a significant proportion of the year. By now, you’ll have worked your way almost right around the summit and one rare North facing lookout affords a panorama including some of Strathcona’s most distinctive peaks, Mount Mark’s rocky face overlooking Horne Lake and even around the corner to the basalt mine on Texada.

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A few metres more takes you to cascades of rock up which you’ll need to scramble to access the summit. As with many mountain tops, the summit cairn here has a visitors’ book secluded in a length of waterproof pipe, so make sure to mark your achievement. The views here reach from Nanoose, Mount Benson, the Arrowsmith Massif and the Alberni Inlet.

Your descent requires a peak over the South-West edge to find flagging that indicates the narrow rock chimney down which you’ll pick your way. A steep mix of rock scrambles and attractive forest trail robs you of elevation remarkably quickly, a fact reinforced whenever you glance back to the summit.

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On re-joining the gravel road, a left turn takes you back down your inward route. Tired legs will struggle with the gradient in many places between here and Chalet Road, so good quality, lugged footwear is essential and a hiking pole is advisable. Although it can be completed quickly by fit hikers who know the route, the steep grades and loose surfaces catch many people out, meaning their hike over-runs and they are caught out by dark. As with any wilderness outing, make sure you can navigate out safely should you lose the trail, prepare for changes in weather and being stopped by injury. Although close to busy roads and well known recreational areas, this mountain and the surrounding gravel roads, have been responsible for many search and rescue callouts, mostly as a result of people relying on cellphone navigation and becoming disoriented and stuck in the dark. Some of these gained significant media attention.