Mount Hays:

🕔Jul 16, 2009

My leg muscles protest with every step, struggling under the weight of the toddler who lounges comfortably with a smugly satisfied grin in the carrier strapped to my back. These carriers are intended to safely carry children up to four years old, but the designers obviously didn’t take into account the things toddlers tend to do in a confined space: squirm, kick, wiggle and, in this case, blow toy whistles piercingly loud in Daddy’s ears.

But when I eventually regain my hearing and listen instead to the natural sounds around us as we hike the Kiwanis Trail up Mount Hays in Prince Rupert, I almost forget the ever-shifting weight on my back and the impending cramps in my legs. Small birds chatter excitedly in the deciduous trees that grow where a slide once careened down the mountain; our feet make that sublime and subtle sound of boots crunching dirt, eating up the trail; and an eagle calls out as it effortlessly soars up the thermals behind and above us.

Ask anyone in Rupert about Mount Hays, and you’ll quickly find yourself regaled with some engaging story of the iconic Kaien Island peak. Whether it’s about the epic (and tragic) landslide that swept from adjacent Mount Oldfield across Hays’ lower flank in 1957 or just a particularly good day-hike up to the hydro tower, everyone has something to say.

But unlike some of the bigger peaks in the Northwest, Hays is not immediately inspiring. It’s not that big, seriously slouching by mountainous standards, rising from the sea at its base to an elevation of just 708 metres (2325 feet)—and it’s not exceptionally stunning. Don’t get me wrong—it is pretty, but nothing in particular, apart from its prominence, makes it stand out from the surrounding landscape. Regardless, there is something about Mount Hays that speaks to Rupertites; a quality that endears that little hill to the townsfolk that live in its shadow.

Wacky ideas
Personal stories and memories aside, the definitive Rupert landmark has seen its share of wacky ideas. There was a short-lived suggestion to remove the peak of the mountain as a means to redirect some of the infamous wet weather away from the town. (Who knows…it might have actually worked!) Someone proposed an airport atop Hays’ summit. And then there was the ski hill. The latter was more than a plan; in the 1970s and ‘80s Mount Hays boasted a gondola up its steep face, not only for skiing in the winter, but for picnicking and such in the summer.

“There was a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears to turn it into a ski hill,” reflects Judson Rowse, an avid outdoors enthusiast and owner of the local coffee hotspot Cowpuccinos. “I, and countless others, would go skiing every day or even at night,” he says fondly. But after several warm winters it was dismantled, and enthusiasts had to seek out different uses for the hill. Doggedly running or biking up the road and hiking its trails, locals have kept its slopes populated over the years.

What’s in store for Mount Hays? Fair enough, with current climatic trends, it may not be worth reviving the ski hill (although it would’ve been great this past winter), but a decent hiking route to the summit that avoids the litter-strewn road would be nice.

The Kiwanis Trail is the obvious choice. Its trailhead is easily accessible and the trail itself is in relatively decent shape. To cross muskeg, the upper sections need a system of boardwalks, a common feature in all Rupert trails, and while there used to be an extensive system in place, with the wet climate comes rot and, for the most part, what is still there is in pretty rough shape.
“With our muskeg and climate, trails here require a lot of upkeep,” explains Rowse. “Lots of areas need boardwalks or tree bridges so trails can be appreciated rain or shine.”

Near the top of Kiwanis are wild blueberries and, on a clear day, a spectacular view of Rupert, the coastal islands, the Alaskan Panhandle and Haida Gwaii. Whether the sun is shining or not, the view is truly inspirational.

It’s worth keeping then. But restoring a trail isn’t cheap…and that’s where QuickClimb comes in.

Racing in the rain
Last year, the first annual QuickClimb race up Mount Hays was held on August 23 in a torrential downpour. “I woke up early, heard it was raining, and had a little cry,” recalls the event’s organizer Kristina Csondes, manager at Quickload Container Examination Facilities. After months of intensive planning, she worried that the weather would—quite literally—put a damper on the entire day’s proceedings.

Csondes sees the event as not only a race, and the means to raise awareness and funding for trail restoration, but also as a fantastic family event. While it is a timed race with prizes for various speed categories, it’s also just a fun day out. For example, there are also prizes for best spirit, won last year by a family festooned in Flintstones-esque costumes. And there are several other activities, including a dunk tank, a DJ and—weather permitting—various kids’ activities.

Using a standard fundraiser format, runners (and walkers) raised around $25,000 last year. Some of the money went to the World Wildlife Fund, 2008’s charity partner (this year it’s the 2010 Northern BC Winter Games), and the rest to the restoration of the Kiwanis Trail. The Prince Rupert Trails Committee (PRTC), a newly founded non-profit, is managing the effort, and is currently working with local First Nations and the Ministry of Tourism and Parks to ensure the work is done by the book.

It might take time, but ultimately the trail will be restored to its former glory. PRTC hopes to continue the trend, restoring trails throughout the city and on the mountain over the coming years, using donations and money raised by events such as Quickclimb.
In 2008, the entire area where the race registration tents were set up—the parking lot for the old gondola—quickly became a giant puddle in the deluge. But, Csondes says brightly, despite the weather, the event was a success. “I looked around and these kids were playing in the puddle,” she explains. “They were having so much fun, and the volunteers were all chatting and having a great old time. I said to myself, ‘You know what? This is the true Rupert spirit.’”

Part of the climate and culture
And that’s what makes Mount Hays so special: it’s a community icon. Mount Hays is irrevocably part of Prince Rupert culture, and always has been. It’s the reason—or one of them anyway—that Rupert is the rainiest city in Canada. Without all that rain to complain about, would the city really be the same? The absence of skiing on its slopes in the winter is a poignant reminder of the risks facing the world as the global climate changes. The plans to install a small wind farm on the mountain reflect the community’s hopes for a cleaner future, while the bustling port at its base reflects the community’s expectations for a sustainable economy. Everything about the mountain connects to the community below.

Mount Hays is rugged, beautiful, and wild…with a road to the top.

The Mt. Hays QuickClimb
8am – 3pm, Sunday, August 23
Info:, 250-627-5623