May 7, 2005
an enjoyable scramble up Table Mountain two weeks ago, we returned
to the Castle Crown area to climb Loaf Mountain. We
planned to follow the Skionkop Creek Trail that leads to a col between
Loaf Mountain and Skionkop Ridge. From there it appeared possible to
hike up the ridge to the summit of Loaf Mountain.
Unfortunately, a few unpleasant surprises lay ahead of us. First
we discovered that the trailhead had been moved forward 4.6
km. My information,
obviously outdated, indicated we could drive up a road to the trailhead
but when we got there we found that road was locked and gated due
to environmental concerns. Despite the added distance, we set
(Next time, we’ll do the approach on mountain bikes!)
Joining Dinah and I were Andrew Nugara and Linda Breton from the
Rocky Mountain Books Forum on the internet. For months we had followed
other’s scrambles on the forum and occasionally exchanged emails.
This, however, would be the first time we’d meet. It was great
to have them along as their delightful company kept us in good cheer
on an otherwise dreary day.
The hike up the road went quickly and we soon arrived at the end
of the road and the start of the trail, actually a 4WD road although
had deteriorated in some sections. The sky was overcast and the clouds
extended nearly to the base of the mountains so there was little
to see. Soon after starting out, it began to rain lightly, worsening
the day went on. The large lens of my camera collected rain like
an inverted umbrella. Despite constantly wiping the lens, the unrelenting
rain would ruin most of my photos.
Two hours after starting out, it was obvious we had to abandon our
original plans. The end of the valley where the trail continued was
choked with snow and the col lay over two kilometres away. Another
problem was that the waypoint I had set for Loaf Mountain fluctuated
for some reason: I wasn’t sure exactly where it was. It was
a moot point however. If we wanted to climb there was only one break
in the nearby cliffs. Even so, the low cloud ceiling complicated
we had no idea what was higher up. I think though we were all glad
to leave the trail and start climbing. When we came to a small bowl
we found cliffs on our right, a shallow gully full of snow ahead
and a steep slope of snow and rock and our left.
Up until this point I had been leading, but now Andrew took over
and headed up the left slope. He was in his element and quickly outdistanced
us. After easily negotiating a couple of small cliff bands we headed
up a long, steep, snow-covered slope. The snow was soft and we kick-stepped
to ascend. As we climbed, the fog closed in. Looking back, Andrew
that the slope we came up looked “spooky.” Indeed it
did. A slip here and you'd be sliding into a wall of fog.
Eventually we were able to leave the snow and set foot on solid rock.
However, the rock was steep and wet. While the three of us hung back,
Andrew continued on for a short ways seeking a way up.
It didn’t look promising, however, so we decided to turn back.
By this time, our boots were soaked and everyone, I suspect, was
getting cold feet.
I started down but found I wasn’t digging into the snow very
much and I didn’t put much faith in my ice axe to stop me if
I were to start sliding. I turned my back to the sky, or rather the
fog, and started kick-stepping down backward on all fours. Dinah
and Linda had no trouble following in my steps as if walking down
Andrew, like me, descended backward, making his own tracks. I think
he was an old hand at this as he soon passed me.
Once we were off the steep snow slope traveling was much easier and
we were soon back on the trail. Despite the long hike back, time
passed quickly as we chatted and laughed all the way to the car.