Contributed by Hans Roemer,& Rick Avis
Location: Vancouver Island
Round trip: 4-8km
Start elevation: 1,040m
Final Elevation: 1,500m +/-
Maps: NTS 1:50,000 92F/02
Access from Highway 4
on Vancouver Island. See detailed description below.
Check the road status before you leave.
Once you leave the Highway 4, access to the trail head is via gravel logging road, through private land owned by Island Timberlands. Be aware that road conditions can vary and you may encounter logging trucks, particularly on week days. The road may also be closed during periods of high fire risk or to accommodate logging operations.
Island Timberlands maintains a blog with current access information; it is recommended to check ahead of time to make sure the road is open.
From the east side of Vancouver Island to the Arrowsmith Turn-off
Follow Highway 4 west to Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park. Set your odometer at the parking lot in the park, then continue west for 8.7 km to just beyond the summit where a logging road crosses the highway. There is a yellow “truck crossing” sign immediately before the turn-off. Turn left on to the logging road (Summit Main) and follow the directions below under “Arrowsmith Access”.
From Port Alberni to the Arrowsmith Turn-off
Set your odometer at the Tourist Information Centre and follow Highway 4 east out of town for 5.5 km to where a logging road crosses the highway. There is a yellow “truck crossing” sign immediately before the turn-off. Turn right on to the logging road (Summit Main) and follow the directions below under “Arrowsmith Access”.
After turning off the highway, follow Summit Main in a southerly direction for 2.7 km to the junction with Cameron Main. Turn left on Cameron Main and drive 7.7 km to the Pass Main junction on the left, then follow Pass Main for a further 7.3 km to the trailhead. The Pass Main road first ascends gradually along the slope, then through several steep switchbacks. The trail head is at a hairpin bend in the road immediately before a bridge where the road crosses a major creek bed.
Look for the trail on the south side of the creek. It starts through alder along a former road bed. Approximately 0.5 km from the start, the trail crosses a creek bed and forks. Keep to the right. From this point a 1.5 hour climb in an easterly direction will get you to the saddle between Mount Cokely and Mount Arrowsmith.
At 1800 m, Mount Arrowsmith is the highest summit on the southern one-third of Vancouver Island. To ascend the actual peak is a very steep scramble and requires some mountaineering skills. Our area of interest is not the summit, but the vicinity of the saddle at the foot of Mt Cokely and the north-facing benches below the base of the sheer, rocky summit towers of the Mt Arrowsmith massif.
The Saddle and Mt Arrowsmith Massif
The saddle is a relatively flat area bounded by Mt. Cokley on the north side and the Mt. Arrowsmith massif on the south. It offers beautiful views across the Salish Sea to the southeast and over the Alberni Valley on the northwest.
The Saddle Trail
Approximately 0.5km from the start, where the trail crosses the described creek bed, you can often find alpine plants such as Romanzoffia sitchensis and Epilobium latifolium well below their normal elevation. Throughout the summer the montane and subalpine forests that are traversed on the climb further up the mountain offer attractive flowers such as Cornus canadensis, Linnaea borealis, Clintonia uniflora and variety of interesting plants in the Pyrolaceae and Orchidaceae families. At approximately
1220 m you reach a series of mossy rock outcrops that harbour Lewisia columbiana, Allium crenulatum, Phlox diffusa and Penstemon davidsonii. At about 1420 m the forest opens out and there are several small meadows with Erythronium grandiflorum early in the season and Erigeron – Lupinus – Arnica later in the summer. The trail also crosses seepage habitats along the way. Beyond the meadows, the forest gives way to a dry rocky habitat featuring plants such as Phlox diffusa, Erysimum arenicola, Aquilegia formosa, Carex spectablis, and stands of Heracleum maximum.
The south facing dry flanks of Mt. Cokely are home to drought resistant plants such as Oxytropsis campestris, Aster paucicapitatus and both Phacelia leptosepala and Phacelia sericea. The trail to Mt Arrowsmith begins immediately on the right (south side) of the saddle. As you walk across towards the massif, you will see Jewel Lake below to your left. It is possible to descend to the lake with a bit of a scramble, but in this case our goal is the flanks of Mt Arrowsmith. This area is reached via a smaller trail which branches off to the left from the main saddle route just before it starts to ascend to one of the lower peaks of Arrowsmith. This route takes you to the lower flanks of Arrowsmith above Jewel Lake. Here long-lasting snow and several melt water streams create favourable conditions for a variety of alpine plants at relatively low elevation. Epilobium anagallidifolium, Erythranthe caespitosa, Erythranthe lewisii and Micranthes tolmiei can be seen in profusion along the meltwater streams coming from the massif.
Pojar, J. and A. MacKinnon 2013. Alpine Plants of British Columbia, Alberta and Northwest North America. Lone Pine Publishing. 527 p.
Roemer, H., K. Wong, R. Avis and J. Holm. 2010. Alpine Flowers of Vancouver Island. Fold-out pamphlet on water-proof paper featuring colour images of 87 alpine flowers. (see also www.islandalpineflowers.ca)
MOUNT ARROWSMITH GALLERY.
Click the arrows to start the slideshow or click on an image to expand.
The photographs were taken on a variety of dates over several summers and not all pictured plants may be encountered on a single date. On average, the second half of July is the best time to see most of them. In years with large snow packs the north-facing slopes below the summit towers sometimes retain their alpine flowers into late August.
Alpine & Subalpine Plants
PARTIAL SPECIES LIST ON & AROUND MOUNT ARROWSMITH
Trees and shrubs:
Alnus viridis ssp. sinuata
Herbaceous plants and dwarf shrubs:
Arnica lanceolata ssp. prima
Lewisia columbiana var. rupicola
Micranthes nelsoniana ssp. cascadensis
Penstemon davidsonii var. menziesii
Saxifraga bronchialis ssp. austromontana