Vancouver Island Visits Shangri-La - Summer Camp
Editor's note: If summer time is the busy season, when our members at our 22 local sections are actively out having adventures and running their summer camps, then the autumn is the season when they get to share those adventures with the rest of our Club's membership across Canada. Enjoy this story, and photography, of the Vancouver Island Section's recent summer camp to the aptly-named Shangri-La Lake.
Big Basalt, Rock Sausages, and Shangri-La on Vancouver Island
Summertime and the livin’ is easy – well, maybe not exactly easy, but certainly fun, exciting, and heart-staggeringly beautiful, especially if you get to spend time with ACC friends in a remote wilderness fly-in mountaineering camp high in the mountains of northwest Vancouver Island.
Picture blue-bird days in a wildflower-studded alpine bowl along the shores of aptly named Shangri-La Lake and you’d have an accurate portrait of this season’s ACC-VI (Vancouver Island) Section Summer Camp. The area, known for some years by the Vancouver Island mountaineering community as the Alava-Bate Sanctuary (or The Sanctuary for short), is located in the mountains north of the road that runs between the towns of Tahsis and Gold River. Mt Alava and Mt. Bate form two of the sentinel peaks in the area – staring at one another over a series of icy alpine lakes.
Worth all the effort
The Sanctuary is remote, rugged, difficult to get to and seldom visited. A botanist’s dream as well as mountaineer’s delight, travel in this area has to be delicate, considered, and low impact – pack it in, pack it out (including offerings from the thunder box) is the order of the day. The VI Section has a lot of experience with mounting these types of volunteer-run camps in delicate areas of outstanding natural beauty and this year my husband Mike and I were lucky enough to get into the first week. Along with thirteen other ACC-VI members, we spent July 23 – 31 gamboling on the ruddy-coloured basalt of Mt. Bate, Thumb Peak, the Thumb, Mt. Alava, Mt. Grattan, Tlupana Ridge, The Spa, and other spots. Okay, perhaps there was a little more huffing and puffing, and carefully selecting foot, hand, and ice-axe placement than “gamboling” would suggest, but the basalt seemed as sticky as Velcro, allowing even a non-technical scrambler like me to imagine myself on a big wall.
The VI Section has been in this area before. In 2010 three one-week camps were held from mid-July to the end of the first week of August. The area was so exceptional our Summer Camp Committee decided it was time to head back for another go. This summer it was just two camps – the last week of July and the first of August.
So much potential, so little time
Our group, ably-herded by Sandy Stewart, camp manager extraordinaire, was first in. This meant selecting spots for our two communal expedition tents, getting the kitchen organized, setting up the toilets, digging a grey-water sump, determining water sources, sorting communal gear, putting up a shower … all the tasks that make a camp a home. It didn’t take long. As soon as the final helicopter load dropped in we were on task and by 1:30pm everyone was ready to go adventuring. A few of us, keeping the important things in mind, explored what would become known as “The Spa” – a place for sunning, swimming, and sliding. Others, looking for a more birds-eye view, booted up the snowfield in the couloir north of camp. This became something of a highway for those looking to get onto the slopes of Mt. Alava. The historic “easy” route across ice-covered Shangri-La Lake to the col above Peter Lake wasn’t available to us this year – not nearly enough ice! And several times rock fall boomed off the northern buttress of Mt. Bate into the lake, causing more than a few heads to poke out of tents looking for a lake-born tidal wave.
Camp life was, well, not to put too fine a point on it – outstanding! Liz, Graham, and I spent so much time at The Spa hauled out on the warm basalt that when Chris, Mike, and Kevin looked down on us from Tlupana Ridge we were dubbed the Rock Sausages. And speaking of food … we were all divided into cooking teams and each night a multi-course epicurean wonder was produced from the cook tent. A few of us (okay, me) did grumble about bugs, but, after the third night when the wind got up, the bugs went down – “alright” said I! Be careful what you wish for – the wind ended up blowing away more than bugs. One morning we had the main cook tent lift off the ground like a hover craft and start heading for the lake. We soon had it pegged out with even more guy lines and hundreds of pounds of rocks around the base.
Reason enough to go back
The wind wasn’t quite through with us just yet: We went to bed on Friday night with the wind banging down off the cliffs and screaming up the lake. No bugs, but a fitful sleep for me, and some nighttime pegging down on the parts of several others. It was just luck that Geoff and Jim’s tent needed work at about 4:00am so they were outside and on hand to save one of the expedition tents from deforming into a lop-sided croissant. Mike and I got up to help only to find that someone’s tent had been completely destroyed. Neil, the tent’s owner, got out to do some peg adjustment and watched as the wind floated his tent up in front of him, then slammed it into the ground and dragged it through a boulder field. His credit card and about $200.00 in cash went with the tent. The card was recovered, but the money was left for the second week’s team to find. I heard they spent several happy evenings looking for tens and twenties. A few bills are still out there for some lucky mountaineer to find.
As well as enjoying an almost decadent amount of time at The Spa, generally exploring the area, doing some bouldering, and setting up a snow school, objectives in the area included Mt. Bate, Little Alava Peak, Mt. Alava, Thumb Peak, Tlupana Ridge, Mt. Grattan, and The Thumb. A number of us got up onto the summit of Thumb Peak, covered Tlupana Ridge, and touched Little Alava, but tagging the summits of the rest wasn’t in the cards – and not for want of trying I can tell you! Only a few metres or lack of time separated a number of parties from many of these objectives.
Words to live by
The Vancouver Island Section of the ACC has a motto:
1. Come back alive;
2. Come back friends;
3. Respect the land;
4. Have fun;
5. Get to the top. (In that order.)
Our group epitomized the Section’s motto. Although I confess to being humbled by the ruggedness of the area, when the end of the week came I think everyone left the shores of Shangri-La deeply satisfied with their efforts and genuinely thankful to have spent time with wonderful people in such a spectacular environment.
Want more information?
Check out the links below for more information on the Vancouver Island Section and the Alava-Bate camp!
Don't miss out on opportunities such as this that our sections across Canada host. Check out the 22 regional sections across Canada and join the one that suits you best. Or simply join for the other awesome benefits such as our national level trips, discounted hut nights, affordable guide books and maps etc. Need we say more?
Great people, great opportunities all lead to great memories. How can you say no?