While Mount Arrowsmith dominates Oceanside’s skyline and attracts attention as the highest peak in the Southern part of Vancouver Island, some of its neighbours deliver a real mountain experience to those prepared for a day out in challenging terrain. The most prominent peak visible to the East of the Arrowsmith Massif is the beautiful conical summit of Mount Moriarty. Turning South into Chartwell it sits neatly on the horizon as you look along Chartwell Boulevard, clearly showing patches of snow through most of the year. For me, this beautiful mountain provides rewards that exceed those of any other mountain easily accessed from Parksville or Qualicum Beach.
The hike currently starts from Labor Day Lake, but on-going logging may result in the trail being re-directed in the near future. The walk in to the lake from the gravel road is an attractive start to the hike, and the lake itself offers an opportunity to cool off at the end of the day’s efforts. As with many aspects of life, worthwhile rewards only come with hard work, and the work starts almost as soon as turning uphill. When I’m leading hikes, this initial grind is nicknamed “The Stairmaster”. There is nowhere to hide from a steep, switch-backed gradient like this, and the best policy is to take your time, keep your steps small, rest often and minimise time in the anaerobic “red zone” of puffing and panting. Every additional second that breathing is out of control puts lactic acid into the muscles, and this will lead to fatigue and the likelihood of cramp and falls hours later, when you’ll need your strength for the descent.
The advantage of this grinding ascent is that it gets you to the alpine areas in one hard push. It takes between 45 and 90 minutes to pop out at the top of the trail, and from there you’ll spend around 4 hours hiking on snowfields, across alpine meadows and over bare rocky outcrops. Navigation is tough up here, with trail markings often either damaged or hidden as a result of the mountain’s tendency to hold snow. My recommendation to first timers would be to go with someone with experience of the route to guide you. There are only a few short sections of steeper scrambles, and for the most part you’ll be out in the sunshine with spectacular views that change as your route sweeps East then North. On a clear day, the elevation of the mountain and perspective from the South-West flank allows clear views for hundreds of kilometres down the Washington Coast.
While care should always be taken in mountain terrain, one strong note of caution needs recognised regarding the likelihood of snow cornicing on the North facing lips of the cliffs that you’ll encounter as your route takes you towards the summit. This distinctive clifftop section takes you above one of the few marmot colonies in the area, so binoculars may be a worthwhile addition to your pack.
Relatively featureless snowfields offer a challenge on cloudy days, but a clear day and the mostly treeless nature of the terrain allows the rocky summit peak to draw you like a beacon. On the right day, the summit itself is hard to leave as the panoramic views are magical and allow a full appreciation of the beautiful area in which we live. Particularly noteworthy is the unique perspective of Mount Arrowsmith from a similarly high peak just a few km distant. Once you’ve drunk in the ambience, taken some photos and signed the summit book, the trek back down begins. This is an out and back route so you’ll be re-tracing your tracks all the way back to those steep switchbacks and downward to the refreshing waters of the lake.