August 7-9, 2015

Welch Peak (8000′+)

——————– Trip Report Summary ——————–

Region: Canadian Cascades

Starting & Ending Point: Williamson Lake Trailhead (Williamson Creek Road)

Way Points: Williamson Creek & Williamson Lake (hike via path)

Campsite: Williamson Lake

Sidetrip: Williamson Couloir (climb)

Summit: Welch Peak (climb via Lower Southeast Face—South Ridge)

Approximate Total Stats for Welch Peak Climb:  6 miles traveled; 4600 feet gained and lost.

——————– Full Trip Report ——————–

I revisited the Cheam Range in British Columbia last weekend with Fay, Eileen, and Stefan.  Since Fay and Eileen had climbed Welch Peak—the highest of the Cheam summits—last summer, they had their sights set on nearby Foley Peak.  And since I had climbed Foley Peak last summer, I had my sights set on Welch Peak.  I brought Stefan along as my “climbing date.”  Naturally, he had his both peaks in his crosshairs.

Day 1 – Trailhead to Williamson Lake:

Fay, Eileen, and I drove up to the town of Chilliwack and continued on back roads to the Chipmunk Rapids – Foley Creek turnoff.  The dirt road going around Foley Lake was as badly potholed as ever but was easily handled by Fay’s Jeep “Trail Hawk” rig.  We crossed over the head of the lake and proceeded up the steadily deteriorating old logging road that switchbacks toward Williamson Creek.  Just before the road got really horrible, Stefan caught up to us in his trusty Honda CRV.  He immediately parked his rig, gave us his backpack, and then pulled out his mountain bike to finish the road climb (he planned to come out earlier than us).

Fay and Eileen and I continued driving up the road and managed to reach the upper parking lot with only a moderate amount of nervous wheel spinning.  From there, things improved greatly.  We were surprised and delighted to find that the climbers path to Williamson Lake had been partially brushed out and re-bedded in the past few months.  Stefan caught up to us near the path’s midpoint, and we finished the hike together.  Attractive little Williamson Lake (1.7 hours from parking lot) was completely snow-free, as was the couloir leading up to the Welch-Foley col.  We set up camp on the heathery lakeshore, just out of view from two other nearby campers.  Welch Peak loomed overhead.

Welch Peak From Williamson Lake Camp

Day 2 – Summit Climb:

The weather forecast called for rain showers to move in around midday, but we awoke early to clear skies.  Stefan and I headed out of camp at 5:30am in hopes of beating the rain.  As we ascended the big talus couloir, morning sun highlighted the spectacular peaks of the Canadian Chilliwack, American Chilliwack, and Nooksack mountain ranges.

Sunrise On Mount Rexford and Mount Slesse
Morning Light On Mount Slesse, American Boarder Peak, and Mount Baker
Morning Light On Mount Redoubt, Mount Lindeman, and Mount Rexford
Heading Up South Couloir

After groveling up loose, rubbly talus for 1000 vertical feet, we started traversing to the left (westward) on steep heather and gravel.  Our traverse took us to the most improbable route feature on Welch Peak:  a narrow ledge that cuts diagonally across the lower south face.  From a distance, this ledge appears to be nothing more than a thin sawcut through the cliff band;  however, I knew from a reconnaissance last year that the improbable ledge actually provides an efficient—albeit exposed—line to the south ridge.  Soon, we arrived at a 7300’ step in the narrow ridge crest (1.6 hours from camp).

Climbing Up To Start Of South Ledge

The lower and middle parts of the south ridge offered up very enjoyable Class 2-3 scrambling on fairly solid rock.  We roped up and belayed at a couple short, steep rock steps, but each of these steps turned out to be no more than Class 3 or 3.5.  Whenever the scrambling got a little more difficult, we merely traversed out to the right (east) on easier ledges, then worked back to the crest.

Scrambling Up Middle South Ridge

The lower and middle parts of the south ridge offered up very enjoyable Class 2-3 scrambling on fairly solid rock.  We roped up and belayed at a couple short, steep rock steps, but each of these steps turned out to be no more than Class 3 or 3.5.  Whenever the scrambling got a little more difficult, we merely traversed out to the right (east) on easier ledges, then worked back to the crest.

True Summit and False Summit From Middle South Ridge

From the false summit, we could look straight across at the Foley Peak.  It seemed so unlikely that there would be a reasonable Class 3-4 route up this incredible spearpoint of rock.  Wow!  We wondered where Fay and Eileen were in their Foley quest.

Foley Peak From Welch Peak

Up close, the true summit of Welch Peak appears as a leaning horn of rock, with steep cliffs on the left and down-sloping slabs on the right.  Fortunately, the ridge crest goes nicely.  We teased out a pleasant Class 3 route the whole way.

True Summit From False Summit
Starting Final Scramble Up Summit Block

We topped out at 8:20am (2.8 hours from camp).  I couldn’t remember whether I had ever summited a peak at such an early time!  Even the normally taciturn Stefan seemed pleased with our progress, and we spent nearly an hour chatting and snacking on the summit.

Stefan On Welch Peak Summit

Clouds and fogged drifted in during our summit stay, gradually obscuring our views of the nearby Cheam peaks.  Thankfully, the forecasted rain never came.

Clouds Over Foley Peak From Welch Peak

We could not find a summit register, but someone had left a horseshoe for good luck.  “On belay?“  “Giddy-up!!”

Summit Horseshoe

An unusual feature of Welch Peak is that you can look down from the summit and see your basecamp tent and approach vehicle lined up perfectly.  I can’t think of any other peaks like this.

Looking Down South Ridge From Summit

Although most of our descent was in thick fog, Stefan had no trouble finding an easy route down.  I always envy climbers who have such a good memory for terrain features.  If left to my own devices, I would probably still be up there scratching my head.

We down-climbed the entire ridge unroped except for the final rock step at 7300’, where I requested a belay.  This put us right on the improbable ledge leading across the south face.  Once back at the talus couloir, Stefan headed up to climb Foley Peak and, perhaps, to hook up with Fay and Eileen.

Stefan Descending South Ledge

After parting company with Stefan, I slowly headed down the talus couloir to Williamson Lake, where I arrived just before noon (2.6 hours from summit).  This was another rare event for me;  I’ve pulled into camp at midnight far more times than at noon!

Williamson Lake From South Ledge

My afternoon was spent relaxing in camp and enjoying the refreshing water of Williamson Lake.  Meanwhile, Fay, Eileen, and Stefan were engaged in a battle with the scrappy east ridge of Foley Peak.  They rolled into camp at 4:30pm, but I’ll let them tell the story of their afternoon adventure.

Campsite At Williamson Lake

Stefan packed up and headed back to his car in the late afternoon.  The rest of us spent another night at Williamson Lake and contemplated our successful Cheam weekend.  We’d each had a different “high” and “low” during the trip, but we all were thankful that we never had to drive up that horrible approach road again!

Day 3 – Williamson Lake to Trailhead:

We had an uneventful hike down to our vehicle, arriving in mid-morning (1.6 hours from camp).

 

——————– Photo Gallery (click to enlarge) ——————–