Mount Arrowsmith and its backyard neighbor Mt. Cokely are 2 very popular places for day hikes on Vancouver Island. There are a variety of routes up both mountains. I have hiked on the old ski hill up Mt. Cokely many times and stood on the top gazing down on the beautiful Jewel lake surrounded on 3 sides by Mt Arrowsmith wondering if a hiking route into the lake existed.
I recently had the opportunity to explore such a route to the lake as we hiked the Saddle Trail. This trail starts on the logging road below Mt. Cokely and takes a steep and direct route up a narrow valley up to the saddle between Mt Arrowsmith and Mt Cokely. The start of the trail follows an Alder overgrown road.
At the end of the old road the steep uphill starts.
Before long the steep rocky section gives way to some more open forest and some meadows.
As you hike further the gully begins to open up.
Before long you get glimpses of the top of the saddle.
We hiked up near the end of July and the wild flowers were in bloom.
When you arrive on the saddle you are treated to views of Mt. Cokely on the left and Mt. Arrowsmith on the right. Walking straight ahead you get a fantastic view East down the other side of the saddle.
From the saddle a number of routes are possible. Turning left you can scramble up some rocks (warning: there is some exposure on this route) and either head back down the ridge to the logging road via the Rousseau Trail to the left or up to the summit of Mt. Cokely to the right. If you head right from the saddle you will start heading up Mt Arrowsmith. Note that rock climbing equipment and experience is needed to reach the summit of Mt Arrowsmith from this direction.
Instead of heading up Mt Arrowsmith we descended to Jewel Lake (also known as Emerald Lake). There was no obvious trail down until we got closer to the lake. We just chose what looked to be a reasonable way down the steep rock. The route down (and coming back up) was fairly strenuous, steep and had some sketchy footing in some sections and lots of sharp scree (collection of broken rock fragments). Good hiking boots are recommended. It took about 1/2 an hour to descend down to the lake.
Once at Jewel Lake it was difficult to know which way to look. Beauty abounds in whatever direction you turn.
Four legged companions and those with a high tolerance for cold may enjoy a dip in the lake.
There are lots of pretty little areas to explore around the lake most of which have some pretty spectacular views.
The outlet of the lake is nice area and has views out over the Coastal Mountains.
The lake is a great place for lunch or just a snooze in the sun.
After reveling in the beauty of the lake there is a price to be paid in the form of a steep and slippery ascent back up the loose scree.
The descent back down from the saddle affords great views of Port Alberni and the surrounding area as well as some nice wild flowers if you time your visit right.
Getting there: From the Island Highway 19 near Qualicum or Parksville, take Highway 4 west towards Port Alberni. Drive along the south shore of Cameron Lake, through Cathedral Grove Provincial Park and over the low pass, Alberni Summit. Just west of Alberni Summit watch for a left turn onto gravel and signed “The Connector”. Set your odometer to 0 here. You are on Summit Main. Drive down Summit approximately 2.5 km to its junction with Cameron Main and turn left. Proceed along Cameron until it crosses the Cameron River. 10.5 Km from highway 4 turn left onto Pass Main at its junction with Cameron Main. The road ascends quite steeply and is much narrower and rougher than the valley main line.
Proceed uphill on Pass Main and at 15.9 km from Highway 4 you reach the top of the last of a series of switchbacks. Beyond the switchbacks is a straightaway that leads to a hairpin bend protected by concrete crash barriers at km 17.8. Park here for access to the Arrowsmith/Cokely Saddle route. This spot is known as “The Cut”.
It takes about 1.5 hours from Nanaimo to the trailhead. The logging road in from the highway is generally good. Although a little rough in some sections its drivable by any 2 wheel drive vehicle (except when blocked by snow).
The Trail: It’s about 1.8km (450 elevation gain) from the trail head to the top of saddle. It took us about 2 hours but we had some serious photographers along and we spent quite a bit of time shooting various locations. Without stops it’s probably about 1-1.5 hours up. From the top of the saddle down to Jewel Lake is about 1/2 hour (.5km, 150m elevation).
Starting Elevation: 1050 m
Max Elevation (at the Saddle): 1500 m
Trail Difficulty: Moderate. The route is well marked and fairly obvious from the trail head to the saddle. The route down to Jewel Lake from the Saddle is less obvious and takes a bit of route finding.
Suggestions: Bring a camera! What’s the point of all that pain if you can’t show your friends the beauty you’ve seen? Hiking poles help a great deal with all the uphill on this trail. Good hiking boots are a plus on the trail down to Jewel Lake as protection from the scree.