update: I just completed this hike on Sat 13th October 2018. The access information for the mount adder trail is now incorrect due to logging in the area. Lonny mentions to stay right on the logging roads. There is now a new right hand turn which takes you off of the main logging road and sends you into a drainage away from the trailhead.
Summit Ridge looking South
- Distance: From parking lot to summit is about 5km, with 700m of elevation gain
- Difficulty: Moderate trail most of the way to the summit, with a difficult steep climb to gain the summit ridge. Big cornices can block the steep north face leading to the summit ridge in winter and spring.
- Hiking Time: About 2.5-3.5 hours from trailhead to the summit. Giving yourself 8 hours for the round trip should allow lots of time in good conditions.
- How to get there: Follow Highway 4 west of Port Alberni towards Tofino. After passing Sproat Lake and the Taylor River drive up to the top of Sutton Pass. Immediately after the Sutton Pass elevation sign, turn left (south) onto a gravel road. Use 4-wheel drive as the road is steep and there are lots of water bars. Follow the gravel road up the switchbacks. There are not many forks, but in general just stay right and keep following the road uphill until you reach the top. The road ends in a big clearcut at an elevation of about 820m. Look for a “Mt Adder” sign on a stump that marks the trailhead.
- This trail is probably best in late summer and early fall, as Adder gets a lot of snow each winter that doesn’t usually melt until June or July, depending on the snowpack. The route can be taken in winter, but avalanche safety must be considered. There can be huge cornices blocking the route up the north face to the summit in winter or spring. The weather can deteriorate quickly at higher elevations. Always dress appropriately and watch the weather carefully.
- There is no cell service in this area (including at the summit), so make sure you leave a detailed trip report with someone in case you were to get into any trouble.
- Route-finding skills may be required once you are in the alpine, especially with snow cover. There are occasional rock cairns and flagging in summer, but make sure you are comfortable navigating in the alpine without a trail to follow.
- Water is available from the tarns and streams along the route, but you may want to filter it.
- Keep in mind that you will need a 4WD vehicle with pretty good clearance to get to the trailhead. The road may be inaccessible due to snow in winter and spring.
- A backroad mapbook may be helpful to help you get to the trailhead.
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Looming directly above Sutton Pass on Highway 4 to Tofino lies Adder Mountain. The mountain gets its name from the Adder’s Tongue Fern, which grows on the mountains lower slopes. Although driving the highway only provides short glimpses of this 1507m peak, the view from the top gives a great vista of the many mountains that consume the skyline on the road to the coast.
The trail starts off at the edge of a clearcut, and descends down through some magnificent old growth to the bottom of a river valley. The well-worn trail works its way southwest up this valley and through some good stands of Yellow Cedar. In spring and summer there will be a series of braided streams to cross as you move up the valley. After about 20 minutes you start to climb up the right side of the valley and along some small bluffs into a bit of a saddle at the headwater of the valley you just climbed.
From this small saddle, the route heads south as you enter a subalpine plateau with some tarns and get your first look at the summit to the south. There is a big lone tree in the plateau that serves as a good landmark for route finding. Continue heading south and eventually drop down a bit of a ledge, which has a rope for a handhold.
After this, keep heading south and the ground gets progressively rockier with less vegetation. You can basically choose your route up the rock and aim for a steep gully that leads onto the summit ridge. The gully is located on the west end of the north face, and is directly below a dip in the summit ridge (see photo). It is fairly steep and made up of loose scree, so make sure to watch out for rockfall and ascend one at a time. This is the area that is heavily corniced in snow conditions.
Once you gain the ridge, you turn east and follow the ridge to the summit. From the top, you get a great view south; Louise Goetting Lake directly below and the Marion Creek Watershed leading towards Triple Peak, Cats Ears, and 5040. Looking west you get a clear look at Steamboat and Pogo Peak, as well as the Clayquot Plateau. There is a summit register located inside a brass canister in the rock cairn.
When we did this hike in August 2015 there was no snow anywhere due to the extremely low snowpack and hot summer. In “normal” seasons, there would likely be snow persisting well into summer. At the summit, as we were having lunch we had a Black Bear and her two cubs climb up towards us. As soon as they saw us, they ran down the slope towards Louise Goetting Lake.