Coquihalla, Jim Kelly, and Illal

Trip Date: August 5-6

Participants: Max Bitel, Brittany Zenger, Ed Zenger, Geoff Zenger

Difficulty: 1 (Illal), 2 (Coquihalla), 3 (Jim Kelly)

Report: A long debate between the four participants over what an acceptable destination would be for everybody eventually led us to the idea of doing an overnight trip to Coquihalla Mountain.  Other than Ed, who climbed Coquihalla back in 1992, none of us had been to the area and we had heard that Illal Meadows was a great place to camp.

We didn’t leave Vancouver until early in the afternoon, and it wasn’t until 4:30 that we parked Ed’s X-Trail 1.5km up the Illal Creek road (out of a maximum of 3km) due to extreme bush.  Despite being late in the afternoon, the temperature was hovering around 30 degrees, and to avoid overheating, we moved slowly as we made our way up to Illal Meadows. The directions in 103 hikes are accurate and easy to follow, and we were up in the meadows by 6:30.  We bumped into two women camping low in the meadows, and they informed us that another party was camping at the tarn directly below Jim Kelly Peak, and so we elected to camp at a flat spot next to a creek along the east edge of the meadows.  A powerful warm wind blew over us all evening that kept the bugs away, and after a relaxing evening near the camp, settled in for a warm night under an incredibly bright moon.

We woke up Monday morning just after 6 and after breakfast, headed out for Coquihalla Mountain.  Ed had previously climbed the NE ridge, but as this was intended to be an easy hiking trip, without any major scrambling, we decided to head for the mellow South ridge of Coquihalla.  One major mix up had us bushwack through steep dense bush down from the ridge below Jim Kelly to the col between Jim Kelly and Coquihalla, only to realize at the bottom that there’s a well trod trail in good condition all the way down from the low point on the ridge between Jim Kelly and Illal down to the Coquihalla-Jim Kelly col.  Oh well.

Traversing around the east side of Coquihalla was straightforward, a mix of grass, talus, and occasionally patch of snow, and it didn’t take us long to find ourselves south of the main peak of Coquihalla, where we started ascending the obvious rib, occasionally finding bits of ribbon but never needing to think too hard about the route.  High up on the ridge, there is a short rubbly scrambling section if you go straight up the centre of the gully, but this can be avoided by ascending larger boulders to either the left or right of the gully.  Both Max and Ed’s watch altimeters indicated that we had about 500ft left before the summit, but at the top of the gully we found ourselves unexpectedly on the summit!  It was only around 10 o’clock, and we took our time to enjoy the warm air and clear views all around.

We all departed the summit around 11, and worked our way back towards Illal Meadows.  Max and I decided to head up Jim Kelly while Ed and Brittany went over to Illal Mountain.  From below, Jim Kelly looks like quite a formidable rubbly scramble, but as we made our way up it, we found that by moving left and right, we were able to avoid most of the rubble and never encountered any major difficulties.  It only took around 20 minutes to scramble up to the summit of Jim Kelly from the bench below the summit.  On the summit there is a massive fallen down cross, and we had our first glimpse of a dark thunderstorm to the south east of us, over in the direction of Manning Park.

Max and I were back down on the bench below Jim Kelly at 1:30, and I decided to make a quick solo trip over to Illal before the thunderstorms hit.  The round trip time from the bench to the summit of Illal, then down to our campsite was only 50 minutes, and as the storm was clearly approaching rapidly, we packed up camp quickly and began heading down around 3.

Not long after leaving camp, the unexpected storm hit, and we were drenched as we worked our way back to the car.  The descent took around an hour and a half, and we were all extremely grateful to have packed a change of clothes as we were all completely soaked!  Nonetheless, the trip itself was an absolute success, and can be highly recommended as a moderate trip off the beaten track.

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