Elevation Gain: 1516m
Total Time: 8 hours 35 minutes
Date: October 22nd, 2023
Mount Seton is the tallest summit in the Cayoosh Range and generally a straightforward hike/scramble to the top. However, since 2021 it’s been marred by access issues as the first bridge on Downton Creek FSR was condemned by district officials. This also happened to be around the time that I was really making trips to the mountains a focal point of my time off. I had read numerous trip reports on Seton and looked on in envy as it seemed the “era” for accessing this peak was over. That’s often how it goes in B.C. though. Consider that: a decade ago one could simply drive to the end of Ashlu Main and do an easy day trip to the Ashlu Mountain. Now, only 10 years later the road has degraded beyond imagination and it’s at least 50km on foot to reach the summit. So, it was to my great surprise when I started to see reports trickle in this summer around the Downton Creek FSR. Someone had shifted the barricades before the bridge and repaired the tank trap intended to stop would-be crossers. There’s no doubt the bridge is still condemned for a reason, but with so many vehicles going in and out I did start to wonder if it might be worth getting in a trip before its too late.
Andrea and I had just finished Torrent Peak earlier in the evening and were originally planning to do Sun God and Seven O’clock Mountain with Trevor, Ashley and Jacob. However, at the last minute Trevor threw out Mount Seton as an alternative. I was a bit hesitant about driving the bridge, but ultimately the desire to get into that area won me over. Both Andrea and I were camping over night in Pemberton so we planned to meet up at 8:15am at Mount Currie Coffee co. and then I could take us from there in my truck.
After a bit of last minute gear shuffling in the morning, all 5 of us were on our way up the Duffey and heading towards the Downton Creek turn off. It was a relatively short drive for Andrea and I and we were soon pulling left towards the bridge. Sure enough, the barricades still rested off to the side, with about 6″ to spare on each side of my truck. I drove through without issue and then continued on across the bridge. The remainder of the road beyond was in great shape, although I wonder for how long now.
We found the pull out for Mount Seton after a few false starts and started our way up through the cut block. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky nor a single dusting of snow to be found, save for the highest north faces far above us. Despite that, there was a clear crisp temperature delineation between the shadows and the sun and it was great to finally reach the suns warm embrace part way up the cut block. At the end of the logged forest we ran into a massive section of deadfall right off the bat. Trevor lead us up climber’s left and we had to weave through endless dead trees for a few hundred meters. Finally the original trail revealed itself and we were able to resume our pace.
The rest of the route through the forest was fairly pleasant as it gradually thinned out and opened up. At ~2000m the forest abruptly ended and gave way to a short meadow and a steep hill, almost 200m above us. Directly down the center was a long gully and our route up. It looked like a bit of scree treadmill, but there’s nothing left to except find out. Trevor took the lead and we zig-zagged our way up, finding mostly solid ground. It was a steep grunt, but the grade eventually tapered off towards the top. As we crested the final section of the hill we were met with a massive cirque covered in a field of tall grass at the base of Trilateral, Seton and Saddlebag Mountain. Travelling a bit further in revealed the shimmer blue of Saddlebag Lakes at the base of the cirque. A perfect lunch spot!
Once we were refueled we were ready for the final charge up the long scree slopes to Seton. It’s over 600m from the lake to the summit, so we had a good push ahead of us. Andrea started up first while we finished packing and then we all headed up. At the base of the slopes were some bluffy sections that offered more solid ground, but we were eventually forced out onto the loose slope where a scree treadmill awaited us. Thankfully, it was not a long affair and we found more solid sections of rock throughout the slope. At the top of this long slope the grade eased to a very straightforward grade on solid ground and it was a simple hike from here to the summit.
From the summit I had a nice look down the precipitous north face, layered in steep icy snow. All around us massive barren summits drove out from the valley floor many of which I had the luck of reaching in recent years. I certainly wasn’t expecting views like this! We hung out as long as possible but the chilled October air, bolstered by the soon to be setting son, eventually motivated us off the summit and back towards the lakes far below.
Thankfully, the loose terrain we had to treadmill up on the ascent now made for a super fun and fast boot ski down. I avoided the rocky outcroppings we had relied on for the way up and weaved through areas of the small scree for a faster descent. 30 minutes after leaving the summit we were back at the lakes and making our way towards the forest. The steep gully before the lakes was actually quite easy to descend as well and before we knew it we were in the cooling air of the trees. Our route back was easy enough until we reached the major section of deadfall. This time, I watched the trail more closely and noticed fresh cuts in the wood further skiers left. I followed the faint path all the way to the cutblock without hitting any major deadfall. Looking back from the cutblock I could see why we had missed the turn off as it’s well obscured.
From the cutblock we had a short descent back to the car and then our drive out and back across the bridge went unimpeded. Andrea and I stopped in Whistler for some Avalanche Pizza and reached home at a nice reasonable hour.
It’s a shame access has been so tricky in this area. It’s a truly amazing part of the range and I sincerely hope they find a way to keep it open for the future. I have many more peaks I’d like to check out in the area, but I’m thankful to have at least hike up the tallest one in the mean time!