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Saddle Trail [near Mount Arrowsmith] Guide by Lonny Barr
- Distance: From parking lot to summit is about 2km, with ~400m of elevation gain
- Difficulty: Moderate - Difficult, somewhat steep trail. In summer is much less of a challenge than winter when it’s snowy and/or icy.
- Hiking Time: About 1-2 hours one-way from parking lot to saddle ridge. Makes a great day hike.
- How to get there: Follow Highway 4 east of Port Alberni up the hump and turn right on the logging road that is marked “Arrowsmith Ski Area” (Loon Lake Main). After a couple kms you will come to a junction, turn left onto Cameron Main. Follow this logging road for about 10km, cross over Cameron River, then take a left up a branch that says “Mt. Arrowsmith” that leads up to the old ski hill area. This logging road leads up the mountain at a good grade. After all of the switchbacks, you will come to one last sharp left hand turn (around 7km up), with a steep dropoff on your left hand side and plenty of room to park on the right hand side of the road. You should see an old logging spur heading up the hill, which is the trailhead.
- This trail is great all year around. In the summer the trail is nice and there are lots of alpine flowers in the higher elevations. The route can also be taken in winter with good snowshoes or crampons, but the trail is harder to follow and avalanche safety must always be considered. The weather can deteriorate quickly at higher elevations. Always dress appropriately and watch the weather carefully.
- This can be a busy trail in the summer, be aware of the potential for rocks/debris coming down some of the steep/exposed sections if people are above or below you.
- Pack your own water as there is limited access to creeks on this trail
- The gates leading into this area are sometimes locked in the summer if the risk of forest fires is high
- There are no fires permitted on Mt. Arrowsmith
Alpine Flower Meadow
Arguably Vancouver Island’s most well known mountain, Mt. Arrowsmith has a wide variety of trails making it very accessible. The Saddle route is the most popular of the trails on the mountain, and leads you up to the Saddle, which is the ridge connecting Mt. Arrowsmith and Mt. Cokley.
The trail starts by following the old logging road branch near the parking area for about 10 minutes. This road is getting more and more grown over by alders, but is not too steep and gives you a nice warm-up before the actual trail. Stay right on the old road until you get to the tree line and then look for the trailhead on your right.
The trail immediately starts heading up some steep slopes. As you follow the trail up through the forest, follow the trail and flagging. You will head up the right hand side of a rock bluff, and then soon come to a part where the trail will cross over a river. The trail stays along the left hand side of the river for a time before crossing over again near the top of the tree line, where there are some nice viewpoints.
Alberni Valley Below
Lonny at the top
Soon you will start heading up the face of the saddle, which is a steep, open face with very few trees. In the summer, there are lots of wildflowers in these meadows. In winter, this is the place at highest risk of avalanches, and a scary place to go for a slide if it is icy.
I once hiked the saddle in the winter with my buddy Troy while it was extremely icy. Neither of us were using crampons or ice axes, all we had at the time were snowshoes. I ended up losing my grip on one of the steeper pitches and started sliding down the face towards Troy. He had no time to get out of the way, and we both ended up sliding a few hundred meters down the saddle. We ended up making it to the top, but we were a lot more careful after that close call.
Troy Jumping the River
The top of the saddle gives you some great views of Mt. Arrowsmith, Mt. Cokley, and Jewel Lake, which is just on the other side of the ridge. You can follow the saddle south towards Mt. Arrowsmith to gain a bit more elevation and improve your view of the Alberni Valley. Climbing Arrowsmith from this approach would be very difficult and should involve climbing gear/ropes. However, from the top of the Saddle trail you can head north to the summit of Mt. Cokley.
Saddle Trail Map