Distance: 15 km
Elevation gain: 1280 m View map Download GPS track
Andrew Nugara describes Mount Livingstone as the easiest ascent in his entire scrambling guidebook and perhaps for this reason most scramblers combine it with one or more other ascents in the area. A popular option involves ascending Mount Livingstone at its southern end and continuing to Windy Peak, tagging Saddle Mountain and Mount Hornecker along the way, but this traverse requires two vehicles. I had only one today and so decided to hike a loop by ascending the northern end of Mount Livingstone, then continuing to Mount Hornecker via Saddle Mountain.
I parked by the side of the forestry trunk road a few hundred meters south of the winter closure gate located near the north end of Mount Livingstone. A logging road headed east from this point and I followed it past a hunter’s camper and into a clearcut before making my way down to Mean Creek. It took me a few minutes to find a good place to cross the creek without getting my feet wet, after which I started up the northwest end of Mount Livingstone. The ascent was steep, but the forest was open and I was able to follow faint animal and people trails at times.
I reached the level plateau of the northwest ridge about 45 minutes after crossing Mean Creek. I had thought travel along this plateau would be easy, but the forest was thick and a few inches of crusty snow slowed me down quite a bit. A kilometer later I reached treeline and was greeted by a cold wind, and a further 200 m ascent brought me to the summit plateau and a much colder and stronger wind. A huge cairn at the northern end of the plateau suggested I was at the summit, but the southern end was clearly higher and so I walked quickly over to it to snap some photos.
After returning to the northern highpoint of the plateau I continued north along the ridge, hunting for a route down to Saddle Mountain once the forest was mostly level with the ridge. While in summer conditions this would have been quite easy, a cornice and steep snow complicated matters a bit today and it took a few minutes for me to find a safe way down. Unfortunately I didn’t find a trail on the descent, the forest was quite thick, and the footing was variably icy and slushy. On the plus side this slope was completely sheltered from the wind and I was able to have lunch in the sun in a tiny grassy area.
As I continued towards Saddle Mountain I started to get quite tired as I ascended and descended several short bumps, then more tired as I picked my way up loose boulders on the south peak of Saddle Mountain. After a short stay I headed over to the slightly higher north peak, again picking my way up unstable and often slippery boulders. The view from both peaks was nice, but as was the case for the rest of the trip too I found the scenery to be far less inspiring than I thought it would be and this certainly didn’t help my energy level.
Unfortunately my disappointment continued as I descended from Saddle Mountain on crappy boulders, then made my way towards Hornecker over more uninspiring terrain. My mood certainly wasn’t helped by the fact that I had to descend nearly 200 m before regaining the same amount to reach the summit of Mount Hornecker. In theory I could’ve avoided the ascent entirely, but I wasn’t sure of the route around the mountain and I decided the lesser of the two evils would be to bite the bullet and ascend the mountain and descend via my planned route on its western slope.
Thankfully the ascent, while steep and snowy, went by more easily than I thought and I soon found myself standing atop my third summit of the day. The views were again nice, but not stellar, and after a short stay I started down the easy western ridge. The forest was open, the descent was gentle, and the temperature was perfect along this section. While views were completely absent this was perhaps one of the nicer parts of the day. It was just easy relaxed hiking and perhaps that’s what I’d needed the whole day.
The descent ended at the confluence of two creeks, and after crossing each a few times (easy) I followed an old grassy road back out to the clearcut where I started the day. It wasn’t exactly the nicest of hikes and my energy level was far below what it should have been, but to tag three peaks in one day at this time of year was still quite nice.