Comox Glacier (Frog’s Pond Route)

In late September, two of my friends and I backpacked up to Comox Glacier via the Frog’s Pond Route. Comox Glacier is a flat domed glacier that is visible from the Comox Valley and has always intrigued me. I had been trying to get up there for awhile but I kept getting stymied by either a locked gate on a logging road or a bad weather forecast. It was worth the wait as we lucked with perfect conditions; warm and sunny, no bugs and no crowds. When I first looked into hiking across the glacier years ago, I was a bit intimidated about crossing the glacier but due to melting it can now be bypassed by staying on the rocks. We had brought crampons and ice axes and had perfect visibility, so we decided to cross the glacier. There are a few large crevasses but they were completely exposed by that time of year and easily avoided. There is also a large lake of meltwater forming on the ice, so it’s evident that the glacier is melting rapidly which create new hazards. Don’t take the glacier lightly; only cross it if you have the necessary training and equipment and good weather conditions. You can still do the entire hike without crossing the glacier, as it has melted enough to expose a route to the North Summit that stays on the rocks.

SUMMARY

This a challenging hike up through forest to an interesting ridge which leads to some fantastic alpine terrain above the treeline and a fascinating glacier surrounded by spectacular peaks and a panoramic view.

Comox Glacier is one of the largest glaciers on Vancouver Island and a prominent landmark of the Comox Valley. As glaciers go, it’s fairly flat with minimal crevasses, so it’s relatively easy to cross but should only be crossed by those with the appropriate training and safety gear. The weather can change rapidly and a clear day can quickly become a whiteout. The glacier is rapidly melting and changing, so new hazards could present themselves.

If you’re not trained or equipped for glacier travel, it’s still possible to complete the entire hike to the north summit without crossing the glacier. The glacier has melted enough to expose a continuous route of rock along its edge that you can take all the way from the South Summit to the North Summit. If you don’t cross the glacier, you will still see it and the great views of the surrounding area but will only miss out on exploring the glacier itself. The glacier is not the only reason to do this hike; there are also some incredible views of the surrounding mountains, the distant Coast Mountains, an interesting and challenging ridge walk and lots of time above the treeline.

This is a tough trail that is suitable for fit and experienced hikers due to some light scrambling and rough tread, some routefinding, the long distance and high amount of elevation gain and loss. There are some steep gorges and light scrambling on the ridge with a few fixed ropes to aid in the trickiest spots. It is best done as an overnight trip, ideally in 3 days / 2 nights but also possible in 2 days / 1 night if you are willing to put at least one long day. Super fit hikers could do it as a day hike but it would be a very long, hard day with little time to enjoy the sights.

There are several places to wild camp, with the best spot at Frog’s Pond on the ridge. There are no pit toilets or bear caches and no fees.

ACCESS

Accessing the trailhead requires driving on logging roads which are gated near Comox Lake and is often locked for most of the summer, usually July through early September, depending on the wildfire risk. Call Timberwest (250-716-3700) or check their website (www.timberwest.com/community/access.aspx) for updated information. Most of the logging roads are well maintained and suitable for 2WD vehicles in summer conditions but the last few kilometers are unmaintained and have a few deep water bars that are only passable by high clearance 4WD vehicles. 2WD vehicles can park in a pullout and walk about 2 km (about 30-45 minutes) to the trailhead.

From Victoria, drive north along Trans-Canada Hwy/BC-1 N and BC-19 N towards Courtenay.  Take exit 117 from BC-19 N onto Comox Valley Parkway N. Turn left onto Cumberland Rd. Turn left onto Marsden Rd. Turn left onto Lake Trail Rd. Turn left onto Comox Lake Rd, which soon becomes a well maintained gravel road suitable for all vehicles. Follow this road until you reach Comox Lake and cross over a bridge near a fish hatchery. Zero your odometer at the bridge. Soon after the bridge you will encounter Timberwest’s gate. Continue along the main logging road, which follows the shore of Comox Lake.  If you are driving up at night, there are several camping sites along this stretch. After about 14 km, cross a high bridge over the Cruickshank River and turn right onto Cruickshank Main (14.3km). After another 3 km, turn left at the T-junction onto South Main. Follow it for 6.5 km to an unmarked junction and take the right fork (there may be a sign saying “Glacier Trail”). Continue for another 2.7 km until you reach a 3 way junction with three options, and take the road to the far right (there should be a sign saying “Glacier Trail”), which is the only road not going uphill. This road is unmaintained and rough, with many water bars, and will require a high clearance vehicle, preferably with 4WD. Follow it for ~ 5 km to the trailhead, where there is ample parking. If your vehicle can’t handle the water bars, go as far as you can, park without blocking the narrow road, and walk the rest of the way to the trailhead parking lot.

TRAIL

No convenient water sources on the climb up to the ridge (first 2 hours) but many tarns on the ridge until Frog’s Pond campsite. No water between Frog’s Pond and Lone Tree Pass. Best to fill up your water bottle at Frog’s Pond. There is lots of water between the southeast summit and the north summit. This hike is sweaty work, so refill your water bottle often.

From the trailhead parking lot, follow the short path down to Comox Creek and cross it on a narrow log bridge. Soon after entering forest, there is some confusing signage and flagging to a side trail to Century Sam Lake. Ignore the side trail on the right signed to Century Sam Lake, stay left and continue uphill. The trail soon steepens and begins the long, grinding ascent up to the ridge. After about 1:45-2:00 hours, reach the start of a ridge. The trees begin to thin out and soon after gaining the ridge is a view of the edge of Comox Glacier spilling over the mountainside. The southeast summit is visible just to the left of the glacier. There are many tarns available for drinking water. Follow the trail along the ridge, passing several tarns. After about 10-15 minutes, a side trail leading downhill to the left to some larger tarns with a few spots suitable for wild camping (Frog’s Pond campsite is far superior and is about 45 mins farther). If you are not camping here, ignore the side trail and continue along the main trail. After 15-20 minutes from the start of the ridge, arrive at a steep gully with a fixed rope. This is the beginning of the difficult section of the trail, where there is a lot of elevation gain and loss in a short distance. Drop about 50 meters into the gully, ascend the other side and soon arrive at Frog’s Pond campsite (1374m, 3:00 hours from trailhead), with a large tarn and decent views. The bugs can be ferocious here, so it might be best to plan your trip for September.

From the campsite, you will soon descend about 90 meters into a narrow saddle, where there are some more fixed ropes to help with a bit of scrambling. Ascend back up to the ridge only to once again drop into another gully at the base of Black Cat Mountain.  Your destination is Lone Tree Pass, the saddle between Black Cat Mountain and the SE Summit. To reach the pass, scramble up and over the base of Black Cat Mountain and carefully pick your way down the rocks to the pass. This section is more of a route than a trail, so just head for the pass.

From the pass, follow the cairns and intermittent trail towards the Southeast Summit until you reach a relatively large tarn. From the tarn, go left and contour below the Southeast Summit until you reach a narrow gully rising up on the left side of the summit. Ascend up this gully and reach a rocky, bare ridge on the edge of Comox Glacier, with the North Summit visible in the distance. From here, you can cross the glacier directly to the North Summit. Some people do not rope up to cross the glacier but conditions on the glacier are changing rapidly, so it is advisable to take all necessary precautions.  It is also possible to reach the North Summit without crossing the glacier, just go left, stay on the rocks and follow the edge of the glacier. From the North Summit (11km, 1966m, 6:00 from trailhead), there is an amazing view looking west into Strathcona Park, including Milla Lake. Try to arrive here before the late afternoon, or you will be looking directly into the sun. Retrace your steps back to your campsite and the trailhead.

 

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