Under the glacier behind Century Sam Lake

Participants: Cathy Lin, Joanna Gower, Tom Curran, Cassandra Elphinstone, Kevin Lam, Shu Yu Fan, Rob Cieniawski, Elaine Zhou

I remember when you could get a Seaburger Platter on the ferry for $6.50. That is because I am old and mouldy. Things have never been the same since they brought the White Spot in. The one menu item where you can still get good value is the soft-serve ice cream, because you’re only charged based on the size of the cup, not how much ice cream you manage to balance on top of it. The procedure is to start jamming the ice cream hard into the small cup, so that it’s in there solid, and then build the ice cream Christmas tree on top of a tiny stump of a cup. From there you shamelessly walk to the cash register, tilting the cup as needed to keep the tree upright, fumble your wallet out with one hand, pay and get eating as quickly as possible to avoid collapse. Kevin’s failure to execute this was multi-faceted and profound.

Before getting into the fiasco at the soft-serve machine, I should say something about the rest of the trip. Just past Century Sam Lake, there is a small glacier, at just under 1000 m. This is a ridiculously low elevation for a glacier, especially on Vancouver Island. It exists because avalanches off Comox Glacier dump lots of snow on top of it. In the summer, meltwater from Comox Glacier meets the glacier in three places and flows underneath, melting out cavernous tunnels, which converge under the glacier and flow together out the bottom.

Access is a bit tricky. Mosaic, the forestry company that owns the roads, opens them up most weekends, but they only update the status on Thursdays, so planning is hard. Google tells you that you can drive right up Comox Lake Main, but that’s only true if you’ve got access to Mosaic’s yard. Civilians need to go up into Cumberland, past the dump, and join Comox Lake Main at about 3 km, followed by about 30 km of good logging road and another 2 km of deactivated road.

Hikers crossing a creek via a snow-covered log
Crossing the creek, right by the trailhead

The hike is normally a piece of cake, with less than 400 m elevation gain, but there had been a cold snap with some snow, and there are two alder patches. The trail itself is mostly easy to follow with a foot of snow on top, but there are two alder patches. When there isn’t snow on the ground, the good work by the Comox District Mountaineering Club keeps the alder clipped back from the trail. Normally, you walk though without having to touch the alder on either side, and the stuff overhead is only slightly problematic if you’re carrying skis. The snow had flattened the alder to the point that it was a toss-up between crawling under the alder and slithering over the top.

Woman poking head up while crawiling through snow-covered alder
Shu Yu finds a place where she can get her head up during the alder crawl

A column of VOCers disappears under the alder
A column of VOCers disappears under the alder

Hikers going up snow-covered open slopes
Nearing Century Sam Lake

I should say something about Sid Williams. He was a local comedian, actor and volunteer, who received the Order of Canada. To honour him they named the lake Century Sam Lake, because in 1958, during Cumberland’s celebration of BC’s centennial, Sid played an old prospector named Century Sam. One could imagine it being called Sid Williams Lake, as per standard practice, but they felt that something much more oblique was better, so the lake is called Century Sam Lake.

Plaque explaining how Century Sam Lake was named in honour of Sid Williams
Egon Spengler Lake was named in honour of Harold Ramis, because Harold Ramis played Egon in Ghostbusters. Rick Moranis was pretty good in that film too.

Frozen lake under blue sky
Century Sam Lake with a thin layer of ice on top

I’d told people to leave their crampons in the car, because there was going to be plenty of snow on the glacier. That was a mistake; there was plenty of snow on the glacier, but there were areas where the rocks underneath the glacier were covered in verglass. Two people turned around because it was a bit too sketchy for them, but everyone got their fill of hanging out under the glacier.

Huge opening under the glacier with some hikers standing in it
Entrance to the tunnel under the glacier

Just inside the glacier tunnel
Joanna and the tunnel

Hikers navigating icy rocks in the tunnel under the glacier
Tom giving some assistance on the icy rocks

Hikers climbing up towards the light at the end of the tunnel
Climbing up to the top of the glacier

Looking down from the tunnel exit, with people climbing up to the top
Final climb out of the tunnel

Cavernous glacier tunnel exit, with hikers navigating the slippery rock
Exiting the tunnel

Hikers coming up between a snowy cliff and the glacier
Elaine, Shu Yu and Tom getting on top of the glacier

Back on the ferry, Kevin was wanting ice cream but thought that it was a lot of money for such a little cup of ice cream. I told him how to do it properly, and he was all gung-ho. He gave a tentative pull on the lever for the swirl, and it blorped out some mostly melted goo from the nozzle. I guess in winter the machine doesn’t get used that often. Kevin claimed that he was out of luck. I was disgusted and took the cup. Soon I had a glorious kilogram of ice cream on top of the cup. That melted goo that was in the nozzle was squeezing out of the cup on running down my hand, but that was fine. Shamelessly paying for the ice cream is all done with the hand not holding the cream, so I handed it to Kevin, who froze. “It’s melting!” I told him to just go and pay. “But it’s tipping over!” I told him to tilt it the other way and to hurry up and pay, but he just stood there, ice cream flowing down his forearm, listing to starboard. I decided that this was past the point of me salvaging it and it was now pure entertainment, so I went to the other side of the till and watched.

Before things capsized entirely, a BC Ferries staff member came up and asked, “Are you making a mess?” in the same kind of voice you’d use for a preschooler trying to carry more crayons than was realistic and dribbling them onto the floor. She grabbed a tray and a soup bowl and flipped the ice cream into the bowl. The diameter of the ice cream tower matched the bowl well, so the ice cream came straight up from the edges. The small ice cream cup was now near the top, sticking off at about 30 degrees, like a too-small hat about to fall off.

Kevin gets full points for not being pissed off with me and for finishing all the ice cream.

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4 Responses to Under the glacier behind Century Sam Lake

  1. Roland Burton says:

    Jeff does good trips and good trip reports.

  2. Birgit Rogalla says:

    Sounds like fun. Vincent enjoys the ferry ice cream game too: https://photos.app.goo.gl/Xtbdg8MZh4Gk4FcM6 Last time the staff at checkout clapped.

  3. Alex Barth says:

    Actually, the best value food item you can get on the ferry is the milk from the milk dispenser in the cafe, because it is free

  4. Kevin (KF) Lam says:

    Just saw this TR… I’ll get my revenge on the BC Ferries ice cream machine one day! It will be glorious and wonderful and no one will ask me if I’m making a mess… hopefully…

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