There are two different way epic can be used when describing a mountain excursion. The trip can BE epic (aka awesome) or be AN epic (aka: things went amazingly wrong). Our climb up Mount MacFarlane definitely was the ladder definition. But lets start from the beginning.

Eric and I planned to spend the 4th of July weekend in Canada where they don’t celebrate Independence Day. Our Itinerary was to climb Mount Macfarlane (5800+ ft gain/ 13 miles) on Friday and then Golden Ears (5000ft gain/ 15 miles) on Saturday. Both are considered “moderate” scrambles. We done long mileage days before and with a light daypack we didn’t expect any issues. Plus the climbs were labeled moderate (our book didn’t give classes). Sunday morning would be spent hanging out at Fraser River before heading back over the border.

We left Thursday evening and crossed the border at Sumas, WA in Abbotsford, BC. It took us a few U-turns to locate the Pierce Lake TH. The turnoff from Chilliwack Lake Rd to the short road to the TH was not on my car navigator and the sign was skinny and small. But it is were the directions described…. just hard to see at night. We went to sleep in my car as usual.

We were on the trail at 5:50am the next day. We followed a blocked gravel road from the parking area a few meters to another slightly overgrown parking area (the former TH lot?). The trail in marked by the skinny brown sign to the right. Pierce Lake Trail is not for the faint hearted. It is STEEP and pretty relentlessly so. We climbed through the forest switchbacking up switchbacks that did little to ease the grade. Luckily the area is completely shaded so it wasn’t so bad. The track is marked by orange refectors on the trees and ribbon (mostly orange but some other colors too). We crossed an open scree field, the remains of a landslide, which granted up some mountain views for the trail led up back into the forest. The trail descends about 100ft from here to the shore of Pierce Creek. The ribbon lead to the shore slightly right, but a bit to the left is a hand line and logs with chicken-wire traction to assist in crossing he deep churning waters. From here the trail go up more steep switchback through the forest that never seem to end. There are quite few downed trees here so be prepared to do some ducking and climbing over the obstacles.

We reached Pierce Lake about 4 hours from the TH. There are a few trails to the shore of the lake heading off to the right of the main trail to good camps. You can see Mount MacFarlane from here. We followed the trail across some grassy slopes and into the very muddy and wet basin filled with streams running over the trail… then into a snow basin. Here the ribbons stopped as well as the trees. Ahead of us was a giant headway with three waterfalls. Upper lake and the route up Mount Macfarlane was at the top of this headwall. Our beta distinctly said in a stressed that route finding may be an issue, but it was important to stay left of the waterfall (which one?). The left side of the headwall looked very steep indeed and trecherous. The right of the right most falls looked lower angle and easier. Ignoring good sense (and the fact that i had just read Peter’s Crofts essay on always following the beta in Trad Climbers Bible) we went right.

At the base of the wet rocks¬† it didn’t look so bad. Just a slabby climb beside the waterfall. There seemed to be good handholds. Maybe class 2/3. We started up… and our troubles began. Several yards up it became clear to me that the rock was steeper than it appeared (class 4 with some debatable class 5 moves), the handholds ripped out of the slabs, the rockfall was severe the route was dirty on top of being wet, footholds were difficult to locate and, most importantly, it was too dangerous to down-climb. The only way was up. I kept things together about 20 minutes, but after one too many terrifying moves that I was certain result in me plummeting to the ground I lost it and began to panic. Luckily, Eric maintained good head space and adrenaline circulated through my body in outstanding amount driving me up the wall. To top off this misadventure, somehow the clip holding my handheld GPS disengaged and the device plunged to the ground far below. Luckily, it was an object and not me.

I think it must have taken about three hours of very careful climbing to finally make it to some lower angle, slabs and scree. I refused to take a break for fear my adrenaline would vanish. We began traversing left… I dislodge two boulders bigger than my head at one point and watched them crash down the slope. We finally made it to the upper snowfield… add snow, where i feel safe regardless of the angle. We kept traversing left and finally reached Upper Lake

Upper Lake was forzen, surreounded by snow and gorgeous. The mountain ranges surrounded up in every direction and the edges of the lake that were melted shimmered turquoise. It was a beautiful sight and even more beaiful that we survived. As expected my adrenaline gave out. I was exhausted and couldn’t think very straight and though I felt physically fine I was still exhausted. It was 3:00pm. We sat there for a bit discussing out options. The ridge leading to the summit of Mount MacFarlane was directly to our right. We could see the top. It didn’t look like more than a 30 minute push. It appeared that it would be slow going on the way down… obviously we had to find the correct route which might take some time. And the hike out was going to take several hours. In order to climb Golden Ears the following day were had to be at that parking lot before 11pm when the gates closed. We doubted we’d be able to make the drive on time… plus we were here, finally at upper lake. Eric had summit fever and proposed we just go for the top and maybe even try Pierce Mountain too afterward. Then we could hike out late. I was too tired to argue.

We began to climb the ridge. It’s in good condition. It is mostly snow at this point with some exposed rock requiring some class three moves. However, two things occurred as we climbed. One: heavy mist flowed into the valley and basin completely concealing what would be our route down the head wall. Two: the summit were were looking at was a false summit. The real summit was much further off. At that point we decided to retreat.

Back at the Upper Lake, the mist was still heavy. It was 5:00pm now. We decided that a bivy was pretty inevitable. However, the question was where. If we found our way down the headwall, we could camp at Pierce Lake at lower elevation and be snow-free. However, I brought up that were woul dbe attempting to find the correct route down in low visibility on dicey terrain. We could got cliffed or have other routefinding issues. There was no way to bivy on the head-wall with such a steep angle. I tought it would be better to stay at Upper Lake. We decided to traverse to the other side upper basin to where we thought the route down began and see if the mist cleared and if we could find any snow fee areas for a bivy.

The mist never cleared… in fact in began to lightly rain (not in the forecast last we checked!). However, I found a stange of shrubby pines with branches growing so thickly over a hollow, snow free area it created a cave. This became our bivy site. We crawled through the branches, put on all our clothes and slithered into our bivy sacks. We knew it would be an uncomfortable night, but it could be worse. Rain dripped through the branches, but ti was better than being fully exposed. We too turned putting out legs on top of each other to get relief from the uninsulated ground (our upper bodies had more layers). Ans we kept waking each other up to make sure we didn’t get hypothermia… we didn’t.

We were out of the bivys and walking at about 5:30am the next day. The most was gone, though it was still very cloudy. We rationed out our meager food remains. I had two hand fulls of seeds and Eric some sausage. Then we headed to the very edge of the basin beside Pierce Mountain and headed down. We plunged stepped down several snowfields and cut through some trees before stumbling across some ribbons marking an actual trail. Figures. We followed this well marked path switchbacking down snow, bare trail and scree back to the lower basin. Back on familiar ground we crossed a few creeks and followed the trail back to Pierce Lake… and down. The switchbacks seemed even more relentless and unending…. we stopped and finished our tiny amount of food at the Pierce Creek Crossing and split of Cliff Shot. We pressed on.

I was unsoeakablely happy to finally get within sight of my car. We ripped off our boot and peeled off our soaked socks alloing our shriveled feet to breath. Then we prompted put away a whole bunch of food before sitting in my car and starring into space exhausted as rain began to fall from the sky… again not in the last forecast.

After over an hour of being unable to move, we decided to drive down the road to Chilliwack Lake. We hung out here for about an hour trying to decide what to do and asking people what the forecast for Sunday was.About half the folks said rain and the other said clear. My scramble book noted at 5mile scramble up Mount McGuire along off Chilliwack.¬† Road. In mentioned that the FS road required a 4WD vehicle however. I had AWD so we decided to see how far we could make it up the road. The answer was about .75 miles. The left fork we were supposed to take was blocked by a huge pile of logs. A man heading up on an ATV informed us that he had walked to the TH… it took him three hours. He now takes his ATV. Disheartened we ended up driving back across the border than night… we did find some awesome ice cream in Yarrow, BC though and the Pierce Lake trail did afford us was splendid views…. and a few hard lessons learned.