Elevation Gain: 1,346m
Total Time: 7 hours 21 minutes
Date: December 11th, 2022
I reached out to my friends Alex and Matt about joining along for a summit in the coming weekend and both were keen to get out. Alex’s brother Trevor would join along too and Jacob was already roped in, so the last thing to sort out was a summit. Avalanche conditions were going to be L/L/L towards Manning Park area with overall good weather, so I started looking in that area. Alex threw out the idea of Thompson Peak, but the distance was going to pose too much of a challenge. Ultimately we decided on Flora Peak in the Chilliwack Valley instead. At 1953m, Flora Peak is hardly the tallest summit in the area, but does boast a unique vantage of Chilliwack Lake. It’s most often done in the summer time due to the avalanche terrain, but it occasionally gets winter ascents as well. Armed with a winter time trip report and a decent avalanche forecast, we felt confident the route would go.
Alex drove all 5 of us out from Vancouver and down the long Chilliwack Valley road and to the gated parking area for Flora Peak. Twice on the way in, we hit ice patches but Alex managed to keep the car on the road. By 8 am we were on the trail where the time passed with a blur of conversations and jokes. We stuck to the main trail for most of the way up, following an existing set of tracks in the soft snow. At around 1170 m of elevation the tracks began to diverge from the summer trail. They appeared to be going in the general direction we wanted, so we just kept following those. Sadly, the tracks reached their terminus at around 1300m and we finally had to resign to trail breaking at last.
We took turns pushing up towards the ridge and as we climbed I noticed a fair bit of instabilities in the snow pack. There were numerous 1ft+ sized pin wheels in the snow and the temperatures were already above freezing at 1400m. This wasn’t boding well for our summit as the winter route appeared to cross underneath a gendarme and onto the broad southern face of Flora. That face is effectively one massive slide path, so we didn’t want to be any near it unless the conditions were bomber. Nonetheless, the ridge we were on was mostly sheltered and a moderate slope, so we figured we’ll get as far as we can and go from there.
Just before noon we finally reached the base of the gendarme. We had completely ruled out traversing across the south face as there was too much wet loose activity and pinwheels. But there did appear to be two back up options. It seemed we could cross to the north western ridge and potentially find a route up there or navigate up a narrow treed section through the gendarme’s bluffs. The latter seemed like it would go and we were already at the base, so Alex started the lead up. Sure enough, it was only 30-40ft of easy scrambling with some vege belay assists to gain the gendarme. From the top of the gendarme we were on easy slopes again and had bypassed the major avalanche hazard altogether.
Now on the broad ridge, we continued to break trail for another ~300m and reached a false summit. A quick ascent up the false summit, down a short notch and back up again finally landed us at the summit. It was about 1pm at this point, but we didn’t rush off our vantage. All told it took us about 5 hours to trail break to the top, which wasn’t bad given the heavy snow pack. We hung out for 20 minutes or so and then finally decided to head down.
Reversing course to the top of the gendarme was easy and we grouped up before making the crux of the descent. Everyone ditched snowshoes and then made ample use of the vege belays to head back down. We regrouped at the bottom and then made plunge steps all the way down the ridge and into the forest. The snow shoes stayed on until the very last 100m in descent and thanks to the easy conditions we arrived an hour before dark.
The snow conditions ended up being much more hazardous than expected, so we were thankful to have found a safe route up to the top. The slide path on the southern face is a scary one, but I think in early season conditions the gendarme bypass is very manageable. In late season, it’s possibly too steep, forcing you out onto the slope. In that case, I could only recommend bomber avalanche conditions before committing to such a route. Super fun day out and as always the Chilliwack Valley’s snow crested peaks put on the best displays.