A climb of a lifetime

A ‘one of these days” wish turned into an all-day adventure for a group of friends from Agassiz and Hope.

Monique Gratrix of Agassiz and Metro Hucolak always wanted to climb Mount Cheam. On BC Day they finally reached the summit.

Barry Stewart

Black Press

A ‘one of these days” wish turned into an all-day adventure for a group of friends from Agassiz and Hope.

Coquihalla Elementary School principal, Monique Gratrix, lives in Agassiz and has a great view of Mount Cheam that she was admiring with her fiancée, Metro Hucolak.

“We were looking at Cheam from the back deck and Metro said, ‘I’d like to climb that one day,’ so I said ‘Let’s do it!’” recalled Gratrix, Monday.

They gathered up a group of dragon-boating friends and two 4×4 trucks and picked a gorgeous day for their climb, which happened to be BC Day.

A forest service road on the back side of the mountain takes a lot of work out of the ascent, leaving the hiking for the open vista of the upper third of the 2,112-metre mountain.

Though $30,000 is spent on maintenance per year, according to Sam Waddington of Mt. Waddington’s Outdoors shop in Chilliwack, it’s not an easy road.

“You’ll see Honda Civics in the parking lot at the top,” he said, Monday, with a mix of grin and grimace on his face. “There’s what you can drive up there — and what you should drive up there.”

Potholes, cross-ditches, boulders and steep inclines make it a tough go for vehicles with small tires and low ground clearance.

“Man, that’s a rough road!” said Gratrix. “Some of the potholes are incredible. It’s pretty slow-going, so it took us an hour to an hour-and-a-half to get to the parking lot, from the bottom.”

At the parking lot is the only outhouse on the mountain. You won’t be back for another four hours.

“Some of us had walking sticks and others didn’t,” added Gratrix. “I’d recommend them, as there is some loose shale to deal with.

“On the way up, we came across people with backpacks, who had stayed overnight and there were others swimming in a pond.

“It’s a well-marked trail,” she said. “We went to the very top and did several poses. It’s a great view… of my goodness! We could see Chilliwack, Harrison, Kilby and Jones Lake. You can very clearly see Mount Baker, Manning Park and Mount Slesse.”

For those who don’t wish to climb the final five to ten minutes to the peak, there’s a bench to rest on, while the rest of your group carry on.

“The dogs loved the snow banks,” added Hucolak — as did two members of their group. “They slid a good 150 to 200 feet, for sure.”

“Take some insect repellant,” advises Gratrix. “The black flies and horseflies were terrible in the afternoon. Patsy (Campbell, from Hope) didn’t think she had any repellant but she found it when we were almost back to the parking lot.”

“When we came back down, there were at least 40 vehicles parked,” said Hucolak. “There were lots of Europeans hiking, too.”

“The total trip was about eight hours,” Gratrix figured. “We came home and licked our wounds and talked about our aches and pains.”

If you don’t have the right vehicle, or just want to leave the dirt and dings to someone else, for 90 bucks you can take a guided tour with Waddington’s in a 15-passenger 4×4 Ford van that’s designed to float through the potholes and cross-ditches. They take three or four trips per week and provide a lunch.

“We leave at about 8 or 9 in the morning and we’re back by about 6 pm,” said Waddington. “We make stops in the Chilliwack Valley along the way, looking at spawning salmon and waterfalls and picking some blueberries. We’ll pull out some binoculars and look at bears in adjacent meadows.

“We’re not hiking in snow now, though it was late to leave the trail this year. Even in July, we were cutting steps in the snow.”

Waddington said the mountain is getting quite a reputation for the amazing views it offers beginning-to-intermediate hikers.

“There are very few places in the world where you get a 2000-metre vertical from the surrounding area. Other mountains are higher elevation — but so is their surrounding area.

“On Cheam, you’re looking at the ocean in one direction and glaciers in the other. It’s beautiful. There’s also no place on the trail, where if you slipped you would fall. No place where a trip would be fatal.” (Though straying from the trail could be dangerous, near the peak.)

“We certainly see lots of kids up there,” said Waddington. “Last year, we took a guy up there who was 91 years old and he made it to the top. He was an avid hiker — and Swiss, so that counts for something.”