This page describes the scramble ascent of the west ridge of Marble Peak, a mountain in Strathcona Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada. I climbed Marble Peak as part of a larger visit to Vancouver Island in the summer of 2015. You can read about that entire trip by following this link
, if you wish.
Marble Peak rises to a height of 5778 ft (1761m), it is a moderately high peak (in the context of Strathcona Provincial Park). It is a highpoint situated on the northeastern corner of Marble Meadows, itself a 5000-foot (1524m) plateau. The plateau, composed of limestone and dotted with many lakes, is a beautiful place to visit, and its undulating meadow-and-lake topography - as well as its geology - makes for excellent wildflower viewing, backcountry camping, and fossil hunting. Ironically, the actual top of Marble Peak is composed of volcanic rock, and not limestone (or its derivative, marble).
The climb to Marble Peak along the west ridge is a scramble - mostly 3rd-class scrambling with a touch of 4th-class in one or two spots. The scrambling is not continuous, but is confined to fix or six short stretches. In between these stretches, it is either simple hiking or class-2 clambering. The overall distance from col to summit is not long - just over one kilometer (0.6 miles) in each direction, and the total elevation gain from the col is a modest 750 feet (225m). However, the routefinding and scrambling can slow things down.
Pristine Marble Meadows
The approach to Marble Peak's west ridge is either (1) long or (2) not straightforward, depending on which you choose. If the shortest approach is desired, then a boat crossing of Buttle Lake from the Augerpoint day area along the Buttle Lake road is required. One then hikes up the Marble Meadows trail to the edge of the Marble Meadows Plateau, then continues over a reasonable herdpath on the plateau to a point at the base of Marble Peak's west ridge. A longer land-only approach (likely requiring a multi-day backpack) is to approach from the south, via the trail to Arnica lake and a cross-country route up Phillips Ridge (and connecting ridges) to reach Marble Meadows. The trailhead to Arnica Lake is on the Westmin Mine property, way at the south end of the Buttle Lake Road.
Marble Peak, West Ridge, and col
The start point of the west ridge climb is via a low point - a col - between the to neighboring lakes - Marblerock Lake and Globe Flower Lake. The west ridge of Marble Peak also slopes down into this col, and this is the point to which you must get before starting your climb. The main herdpath that traverses across Marble Meadows reaches this col (but does not cross over it - instead, it makes a right-angle turn at the col).
Marble Peak from due west
Marblerock-Globe Flower col
From the col, look east. A faint but discernable herdpath leads up along the edge of the trees for a short way, then turns right and begins climbing up semi-open meadowy slopes on the lower part of the west ridge. The herdpath is not always clear - if you lose it, simply continue upwards, following the west ridge.
After about 500 metres (500 yards) of distance, you will have climbed up about 500 feet (150m). The west ridge narrows here, and there are excellent views off of both sides - north towards Mount McBride, and south over the expanse of Marble Meadows, with its lakes gleaming like turquoise jewels. Ahead on the ridge is a very prominent, overhanging promontory that blocks any further progress up the crest. The scrambling portion of the climb starts here.
Reaching the first big bump
As I mentioned earlier, the first major bump on the west ridge in insurmountable without doing a serious rock climb. The scramble route turns south here (that is, to the right). It heads down a gully that is somewhat gravelly (and you'll see evidence of foot traffic in this gravel). The descent is not long, maybe only 20 or 30 feet - just enough to begin traversing horizontally, working your way around below the big overhanging hump. There is some steep terrain below you here, but good solid rock soon becomes available for you to scramble across on.
The scrambling soon ends on a fairly big ledge that permits eastward travel. There is grass, trees, and a footpath along this ledge.
Finishing first scramble stretch
After walking along the nice, big ledge for a minute or two, it narrows, soon petering out into steep slabby terrain, preventing further eastward progress. At this point you must turn left and climb up a shallow chimney that feels slightly exposed. The rock is very solid and there are good hand and footholds. The shallow chimney leads up to a much narrower ledge that continues east (see picture). This ledge is exposed, but again there are good handholds along the wall to help reassure you.
Andrew scrambling on Marble Peak
You proceed eastward along the narrow ledge for at most 20 or 30 feet (10 metres) until you reach a gravelly, sheltered gully. Looking up this gully, you'll see that it narrows to a very narrow chimney - almost a wide crack in the rock, a bit more than body width. You must scramble up the gully (which is a bit loose in its lower section) and into this chimney (where the rock is more solid). Above the chimney, you pop out into non-technical terrain, and the ridgecrest is just above you.
Above the chimney, walk up to the ridge crest and continue east. It appears as if the black knob of the summit is easily within reach, and no apparent obstacles are in your way along the ridgecrest. If you continue along the ridge, however (as I did), you soon find that several notches bar the way. The first is actually manageable, but the second is harder and more exposed.
Scrambling through a notch
So, in summary, do not attempt to negotiate either notch. Instead, slightly before you reach the first notch along the ridge, it is time to descend right once again. Veer off to the right, looking for foot traffic in gravel that leads downwards, eventually traversing horizontally across a steepish loose slope towards the start of another ledge (the ledge has some trees on it). At the end of the loose material, a bit of blocky scrambling gains you access to the ledge.
Walk along the ledge for perhaps 20 feet (7m). The ledge narrows, and there is a bushy juniper tree blocking your path. Squeeze behind the tree (between it and the wall). Immediately on the other side of the tree is a steep gully with gravel and some loose rock in it. Carefully climb up this gully a bit. You will notice it splits into two. you can climb either gully, but the left one is easier and more enclosed. Once you finish climbing at the top, you will be on the ridgecrest once again.
You are now very close to the blackened summit bump - perhaps only 70 metres, but alas - it is not directly reachable without doing something beyond scrambling. So - you guessed it - you have to downclimb to the right, down, along, and back up.
A shallow gully with fairly obvious wear marks from travel (see photo) is your line of descent. A short step across some gravel at the bottom leads to a fairly exposed bit of scrambling around a shoulder that leads to a ledge. The rock here is very blocky and positive, so as long as you are decent with a bit of heights, it is no problem to negotiate.
Looking back down ridgeline
Downclimbing into final gully
Once beyond the blocky scrambling, you are finally home-free: a walk/clamber up through some chunky blocky boulders brings you to the base of the summit bump, easily reachable by walking around to the right (east). Take in the awesome summit view - you have earned it.