Known by local First Nations people as “Kuth-Kah-Chulth,” or, “that which has sharp pointed faces,” Mount Arrowsmith is known for its dramatic rocky outcroppings and snowy peaks that stand out impressively against the landscape it dominates. The mountain offers awe-inspiring views of the surrounding forests, lakes, and islands, towering above the lower topography and looking out over the Strait of Georgia. For those willing to undertake the arduous climb to the mountain’s summit, its rocky peaks offer panoramic views of the surrounding terrain that are well worth the struggle to arrive there. The mountain makes up an important part of the Mount Arrowsmith Massif Regional Park, a park covering 1,300 hectares of land and including both Mount Arrowsmith and Mount Cokely.
Standing at 5961 feet, or 1817 meters, Mount Arrowsmith is the tallest mountain on southern Vancouver Island, and its trails are now popular amongst hikers. The mountain takes its English name from two English cartographers who worked in the area in the mid 1800s, Aaron Arrowsmith and his nephew, John Arrowsmith. Named in 1853, the mountain gained considerable attention by hikers during the 1800s. During that time, Canadian Pacific Railway built a chalet at nearby Cameron Lake, with organized overnight trips to Mount Cokely. Mount Cokely was also home to a ski resort, which is now a popular stop for hikers in the area. It wasn’t until the latter part of the nineteenth century, however, that anyone would be recorded as having reached Arrowsmith’s highest heights. In 1887, botanist John Macoun would be the first recorded hiker to reach the mountain’s magnificent summit.
More recently, Mount Arrowsmith has played an important part in a global movement aiming to balance the use of natural resources and the protection of biodiversity. In the year 2000, the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region was named a UNESCO biosphere reserve––one of two UNESCO biosphere reserves in British Columbia (both of which are on Vancouver Island) and eighteen total in Canada. This UNESCO biosphere region also comprises the Little Qualicum and Englishman River watersheds.
Mount Arrowsmith is now a popular place to hike, but the climb is not for the faint of heart, or for those alone or unfamiliar with the area. The hikes are rated from medium to difficult, involving many steep passages, and they take between one and several hours one way, depending on the route. The most popular hiking routes are the Saddle and the Judges Route, and another trail, the Arrowsmith Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) trail, runs from the Cameron Lake to a lookout and the old ski hill.
In spring and summer, Arrowsmith’s higher regions offer a beautiful array of wildflowers scattered across the mountain’s slopes and inner valleys. The area is also home to bears, wolves, cougars, and other wildlife, so hikers should take precautions. Winter hiking is undertaken by experienced mountaineers familiar with the area, but as the region is remote and the climbs can be difficult, hikers should be sure they are prepared and alert.