Ascent of Upper Saddle Mountain on 2010-08-23

Climber: Edward Earl

Date:Monday, August 23, 2010
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Hi-Clearance Vehicle
Peak:Upper Saddle Mountain
    Location:Canada-British Columbia
    Elevation:7644 ft / 2329 m

Ascent Trip Report

From BC-6, about 13 miles SW of Nakusp, I took the signed turnoff to the Arrow Park Ferry. After 0.3 miles I arrived at the ferry itself, which is free and crosses whenever needed, so there is rarely a wait. Call the point at which you drive off the ferry mile 0.0. The road beyond the ferry is graded gravel. At 0.1 mile I turned R at a major intersection. At 0.2 mile I went straight ahead through a 4-way intersection. Except for a couple of sudden unexpected dips and chuckholes, the road is fine and any street legal vehicle should have no problem. At 6.0 miles, I turned L on a narrow two-track that was inconspicuously signed as the way to the Saddle Lookout Trail, 8 km. The road is rough and a vehicle without high clearance will probably have trouble. The road climbs steeply and is often so narrow that visibility around the many switchbacks is restricted to the point that it would be dangerous if an oncoming vehicle appeared. 5.0 miles up this road, the Saddle Mountain Lookout TH is reached at 4700'. The trail is identified with a brand new sign. Just before the trail itself is a pullout with space for ~3 cars. It is impossible to miss the TH entirely, because just beyond it the road suddenly becomes even narrower than it already is due to overhanging brush encroaching from both sides.

I hiked up the trail, which is in good condition. A short distance after the start is a register book where one can sign in and leave comments. The trail climbs uphill through the forest. At ~6600', I passed a crumbling shack. At ~6800', the forest begins to thin out and the trail makes a couple of close approaches to "The Rim", which I now describe.

Saddle Mtn is laid out as follows. It is a high N-S ridge, whose 7637' HP, called Upper Saddle Mtn, is near the N end. At the S end of the ridge is the 7500'+ subpeak, called Saddle Mtn, with the LO. The LO is perched on a rock outcrop with an unclimbable N face that drops steeply down 700' to the notch between Saddle Mtn and the continuation of the ridge to Upper Saddle Mtn. A long ridge runs E from the LO, and the steep N side of this ridge is riddled with cliffs that all but preclude any way to reach the notch from the E side of the LO. It is crest of the steep dropoff on the N side of this ridge that I call "The Rim".

I tried to find a way directly down to the notch from the Rim, but I soon realized that if there were one, it would be impossible to find it from above, since one cannot see where one could descend the cliffs below. My only choice was to continue farther up the trail and try to descend to the notch on the W side of the LO. The NRCAN topo map incorrectly shows that the trail climbs to the LO directly up the crest of the E ridge. In truth, the trail gains the saddle just S of the LO, then makes its final approach to the LO from there. I took the trail to this saddle, from which I began my descent to the notch.

The route was arduous because of thick krumholtz on the very steep slope. Actually, it was worse than arduous; it was dangerous because I usually couldn't see where I had to step, and there was a high risk of breaking a leg or twisting an ankle. After ~20 minutes of hell in which I travelled only a couple hundred yards, I finally reached a talus slope where the going eased. Within a few more minutes I completed my descent to the notch, but not without a final obstacle: the last 100' of the descent are a steep 3rd class downclimb occasionally hindered by vegetation.

During my descent to the notch, I kept an eye on the steep slope N of the notch for possible routes to climb up out of the notch. The best choice is to traverse R a short distance across a talus field, then gradually climb up and R across a grassy slope and up into a broad, shallow gully that eventually reaches a shoulder on the E ridge of the first peak N of the notch. At times I found it easier to climb 3rd class on the rocky rib on the R side of the gully, rather than deal with the less consolidated surface in the gully itself. Eventually I topped out on a small flat spot on a ridge. This picture by John Stolk shows the view N from the LO. My route traversed the lower R side of the grassy slope on the face of the nearest peak.

The climb to the first peak N of the notch was a steep but straightforward climb up grass and tundra, and the footing was not too bad. I was now only ~1km S of the main peak, and the way to it followed a ridge, but there were still two 100-200' deep notches in that ridge. It was mostly 2nd class with occasional 3rd class step-ups and step-downs, but it was easier than some other places I had already encountered on this climb. I reached the summit of Upper Saddle Mtn ~4½ hours after leaving my truck.

While on the slope N of the notch (on both the ascending and descending legs of the climb), I saw a possible route through the cliffs between the Rim and the notch, which I could not possibly have seen from the Rim above. A tree-filled gully that runs diagonally from upper L to lower R creates a breach in the otherwise unclimbable cliffs below the Rim.

On my return leg, I climbed partway up the ridge S of the notch until reaching the elevation of the base of the gully that provided a route back up to the Rim. I then traversed L across the basin between the notch and the base of the cliffs below the rim. The slope was steep but usually anchored by grass, so the footing was not bad. I reached the base of the gully and climbed it, ~10-15 minutes, ~200' EG. It was mostly stable talus, and worked well. I found myself on top of the Rim, at a point no more than 100 yards from the trail. I recorded a GPS location for the point where I reached the Rim so that future climbers can find the gully from above (which is otherwise impossible).

Total time for my climb was 8 hours RT, with 4500' elevation gain.


The climb is mostly straightforward, except for finding a route down from the LO, across the notch, and up to the summit ridge of the main peak. The krumholtz-laden W side of the LO summit block is arduous and dangerous. I strongly recommend using the gully that provides good passage down the cliffs below the Rim (on the E side of the LO). The only problem is finding the top of the gully on the Rim. The location of the top of the gully is 50.1570N, 117.8930W, 7205'. Future climbers on Upper Saddle Mtn can define this as a waypoint, then when the trail gets close, strike off the trail and cross the easy grass slope to the waypoint.

For the climb up out of the N side of the notch, the broad grass gully on the E side of the S face of the first peak N of the notch works well, and I recommend it.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4544 ft / 1384 m
    Total Elevation Loss:4544 ft / 1384 m
    Round-Trip Distance:10 mi / 16.1 km
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:3844 ft / 1171 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 2944 ft / 897 m; Extra: 900 ft / 274m
    Loss on way in:900 ft / 274 m
    Distance:5 mi / 8.1 km
    Route:Saddle LO Trail, S Ridge
    Start Trailhead:Saddle LO TH  4700 ft / 1432 m
    Time:4 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:3644 ft / 1110 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 2944 ft / 897 m; Extra: 700 ft / 213m
    Gain on way out:700 ft / 213 m
    Distance:5 mi / 8.1 km
    Route:Saddle LO Trail, S Ridge
    End Trailhead:Saddle LO TH  4700 ft / 1432 m
    Time:3 Hours 

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