Hut Lake Backpacking Trip

Please excuse the late post for this week – I have been having so many great adventures this summer that it’s been a struggle to find the time to write about them all!

As a result, I have a bit of a backlog of trips to write about, the first of which is Hut Lake, which I visited in early July. Vancouver had a really terrible Spring this year – it was very rainy and cold – and as a result, the snowpack in the mountains was extremely slow melting. I was planning to do an alpine hike in Pemberton, but it still had snow AND avalanche risk, so I had to come up with a back-up plan on short notice.

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So many of the hikes I want to do have a short season because of the snow, so we really had to rack our brains to find something that was both low elevation and dog friendly. In search of a trail, I took to my regular hobby of just scrolling around the GaiaGPS app and seeing what I could find. I focused on the Squamish area and discovered a few lakes that I had no idea existed.

The first is Levette Lake, which is very well known by the locals. When the road is freshly graded, anyone can drive all the way up to the lake, though later in the season I’m told the road conditions can become variable for lower clearance. There is a rec site at Levette, so you can pay to camp there, but we were looking for something a bit more remote and I noticed that the trail continues up past Levette to Hut Lake, where there is a free rec site. With no better ideas, we figured it was as good an idea as any.

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We ended up having a great time! It’s not the most scenic trail, but since it was threatening rain, it was totally empty. Unfortunately, when we arrived we noticed that Levette Lake was closed due to a human-habituated bear. This seems to become more and more common lately – Cheakamus Lake, Helm Creek, Golden Ears, and Rainbow Lake have all been having issues with aggressive bears and several of the sites were closed this year and sadly the bears were killed. A good reminder that all of our actions have consequences and that everyone needs to do their absolute best to leave no trace so as not to attract bears.

Fortunately, we weren’t going to Levette Lake, so we opted to park at the bottom of the road and walk past towards Hut Lake. Our party consisted of me and Brandon, and Carolyn and Steve with their dog Jasper. I wanted to bring Sadie, but with Seth not coming and the weather rainy, I decided she was too much to handle on her own. We kept Jasper close the whole trip to avoid any potentially negative bear encounters.

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It’s a steady uphill, but easy 3.5km hike along the road up to Levette Lake – a quick peak up the road revealed an outhouse, a bear cache, and several campsites, but a lot of garbage. Which is ridiculous because there are garbage facilities PROVIDED at the site! We did a quick clean up of the cans to deter the bears and then continued on towards Hut Lake.

If you’re into the 4×4 off-roading community, you might be familiar with this trail as it seems to primarily be used for off-roading. The road is still pretty easy going for the next 2km, but once you reach the 5.5km mark, there’s a very steep dip and it becomes more trail than road. It rained for most of our hike up, but it’s more shaded along this section of the trail, which slowed down the rain and we followed the fairly easy trail another 2.5km to the Hut Lake Rec Site. There’s not much to see on the trail besides the forest, which was prefect on a rainy day.

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We didn’t see anyone on the trail and we were the only people at the lake too. Like the road, it seems to be tailored to off-roading rather than backpackers. There are a few picnic tables, which is lovely, but they are located on most of the limited flat ground, so it was a bit of work to find a good spot to pitch the tents without being on the road. After we set up though, we discovered that there are a few more sites at the back of the lake (where there’s another trail that goes to some smaller lakes).

Fortunately it stopped raining when we got to the campsite, so we had a good time setting up and the sun even started to burn off some of the clouds! I was sweaty from the hike and decided to go for a swim before I cooled off and the whole group joined me, except for Jasper, who was very distraught about this new activity. I guess it’s easy for off-roaders to bring supplies up to the site and someone had constructed a huge floating raft that was tied to the shore. There was one tiny paddle, which was hilarious because the raft was much too large to paddle anywhere, but we left it tied on and pushed it out into the lake so that we could swim off it.

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Alpine lakes are really some of the most scenic lakes in the world, but there’s definitely something to be said for low elevation lakes! In Newfoundland we would definitely call this one a pond (it’s not very large), but it was very warm! Alpine lakes are always freezing because they’re comprised of glacier and snow melt, but Hut Lake was the perfect temperature for swimming and we easily hung out in the water for a half hour.

We had started making supper when we heard the low roar of a vehicle coming up the road. A small, but extremely lifted, jeep pulled in and we were weary about what kind of visitors we were about to get, but it ended up being a dad and his 2 kids out exploring for the day. Because the rec site is on crown land and there was no fire ban, you can have fires and the family asked to join us and got a fire started up! We had a nice chat with them about all the 4×4 roads in the area and learned about some other trails to check out. We had a good laugh though because the family was from Squamish and assumed we were too. The dad started ranting about the backpackers who come up from Vancouver just to party at the site, and then kind of paused as he was talking and noticed us smirking, to say “… you guys are from Vancouver aren’t you?” Fortunately he gave us a pass because “we look like we know what we’re doing and are properly outfitted”. Not sure if it’s a compliment, but I’ll take it because I like to rant about the partiers too.

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After a while they took off and left us a lovely fire to enjoy! Me, Carolyn, and Brandon went exploring around the edge of the lake while Steve and Jasper manned the fire. Our new friends had told us that there’s a great view of the Tantalus Range on the other side of the lake. We tried to find the trail he described and ended up bushwacking our way into the lake from the other side – but he was correct and even though we didn’t find the trail, we did find a gorgeous view of the Tantalus mountains!

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I was trying out my new bearproof sack on this trip, but everyone else needed to do a bear hang, so I watched Carolyn and Brandon struggle at that for the better part of 30 minutes. Their aim is not great and Carolyn hucked a doozy of a rock up at the tree only to have it fall down and land directly on my bear bag and break my stove, so I left them to it. The effort was worth it though and they produced one of the best bear hangs I think I’ve ever seen, so well done.

After that misadventure it started to rain again, so we decided it was time to hit the sack! It rained most of the night, but it was only drizzling when we woke up and we were able to make breakfast and take down camp without getting wet. We had a totally dry hike out and did the whole 8km return in 2 hours. It’s not a hike I’d recommend in the dead of summer because it’s not the most scenic, but I would definitely recommend it in the off season. The lack of crowds made for a very enjoyable experience, as did the swim in hut lake. There’s no outhouse or bear cache, so be prepared for that, otherwise we had a great time and I’m keen to return again sometime in the future!

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The Secret to Easy Dehydrated Meals

Figuring out what to eat in the backcountry is one of the more intimidating parts of backpacking when you first start. Pre-packaged dehydrated meals are expensive and still quite bulky, so it can be a little overwhelming to figure out what to eat. I assumed dehydrators were really expensive, and some of them are, but there are a lot of cheaper ones on the market and my life got so much easier when I finally bought one! I currently use one of these “cheaper” dehydrators, from Hamilton Beach. It has increased in price since I bought it, but it is still relatively affordable and often goes on sale, so I’ve found it to work great for the price, especially if you’re just starting out and aren’t sure you’ll use it much.

Unfortunately, purchasing a dehydrator was only have the battle and I still found it a little bit overwhelming finding good recipes after I got it. There are lots of resources out there, but they are often still a lot of work – involving either specialty items or a lot of steps. I toyed around with lot of different recipes and tried creating some of my own, but I have one big secret when it comes to easy dehydrated meals. Here’s what I think most people miss out on when dehydrating:

Stop trying to reinvent the wheel and start dehydrating all your favourite every day dishes.

Instead of dehydrating all your veggie and protein sources separately and then combining ingredients and spices, just make your favourite chili or rice dish and pop the entire thing in the dehydrator. Making a stew or pasta? Have leftovers from your favourite mexican or curry restaurant? Just put the whole thing in the dehydrator. You don’t even have to pack the pasta or rice separate, just dehydrate the sauce and pasta together and then you don’t even have to mess around with cooking 2 separate ingredients at camp!

Once I figured this out, I stopped using recipes for dehydrated meals altogether. Instead, I look for easy to cook meals that I like to eat at home and then just dehydrate those. You just need to try and stick to one-pot type meals and things that will dehydrate well. For me, that mostly means avoiding things with a lot of oil (as this won’t dehydrate) and good protein sources (you can dehydrate chicken, but it’s tricky and ground meats and beans will dehydrate better). When I find a good dish, my practice is to cook a double batch, share it with Seth for dinner and then dehydrate the rest. That way I know if it tastes good and I can piggyback off a meal I’m already cooking anyways.

The benefit to dehydrating the rice or pasta along with the dish is that it will save you time and fuel later. Pretty much any dehydrated meal will rehydrate with cold water. So if you let it soak for a few hours, the entire meal will be edible already and only require re-heating rather than cooking. This means you don’t have to boil your pasta for 10 minutes or cook your chili – as long as you soak, you can just quickly heat it and eat it right away. Plus then you don’t need to bring a second pot to cook the rice or pasta separately! It’s also great for quick lunches. I will often add a bit of cold water to my lunch at breakfast, let it soak while I hike, and then eat it cold for lunch (as long it’s a meal you don’t mind eating cold, like a pasta or quinoa salad). It involves no cooking or prep, but tastes a lot better then sliced salami on tortilla.

I’ve been experimenting with hydrated meals a lot this year and plan to share some of my recipes (or links to favourite recipes) as a series later in the year, but for now I just wanted to talk about how one-pot meals made dehydrating so much easier for me. It removed a lot of the stress about serving sizes and taste because I could eat some first and then dehydrate the same amount, rather than having to worry about dehydrating everything separately, assembling, and then hoping I got the level of spices right. So if you backpack a lot, I think getting a dehydrator is a great alterative to the expensive freeze dried meals and it didn’t take me too long to see a lot of value from my dehydrator. Plus I love how lightweight my food bag is as a result.

Bon Appetit!

A Day in Portland

After a great day at Cannon Beach we made our way to Portland. We didn’t have a lot on our agenda except for a bit of shopping, but it ended up taking up the entire day. We started with brunch at Mother’s Bistro, which was both fancy and delicious, before spending 2 hours a piece at Powell’s Bookstore and REI. I’m a huge bookworm (I actually have a second blog where I write book review if you want to check it out – The Paperback Princess), so I was super enthused to visit Powell’s. It was my second time and if possible, it was even bigger than I remembered. I spent the bulk of my time in the front of the store where all the sales and featured books were, and a little bit of time browsing the used books. I never even made it to the third floor.

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The two things I love most about bookstores are learning about new reads that I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise, and browsing used books for good deals. I got to do both at Powell’s! I made a few impulses purchases of books that I thought sounded good or were featured, and found a few used books that I’ve been looking for. I don’t think I actually paid full price for anything and walked away with 6 books.

As for REI, it is a very popular outdoor store, basically the US version of MEC. Despite how popular it is, I’d actually never been, so I was excited to finally visit, especially since they had lots of 4th of July deals on. Unfortunately I didn’t really find any deals, but I did get a cute fanny pack and a new pair of shorts that I really like. Lien and Brandon got a few knick knacks as well and the afternoon pretty much got away from us and we finally checked into our hotel.

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The bulk of our evening was dedicated to going on a little bit of a brewery crawl, which I love doing in Vancouver and most recently did in Calgary. We hit up a few popular breweries (Deschutes and Von Ebert’s), but the beer went to my head pretty fast. Well, at the time I blamed the beer for a bit of a headache, but I later learned it was the first symptom of covid presenting (boo!). So we cut the tour a little short and went in search of some sweet treats instead, with me and Lien getting cookies and Brandon, ice cream.

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The real highlight of the trip though was a ghost tour that Brandon had found and signed us up for! It went around old town Portland and introduced us to its very sordid history. Due to its location near the Pacific and its status as a “port city”, Portland was a hotbed for human trafficking. The city has a very extensive tunnel system that runs throughout the entire old town and was used to smuggle men in and out of the town into a life of slavery aboard the ships running to China. They would be lured into the bars and once they were drunk, dropped into the tunnels and forced servitude. As a result, Portland has gained a new status as one of the most haunted cities in the world.

The tour was fascinating. We had a great tour guide and I loved that we learned so much actual history on top of the ghost stories. I did a walking tour when I visited Portland back in 2014, but it was entirely above-ground and focused on Portland’s more reputable history. I liked the ghost tour because I learned about whole other side of Portland that I knew nothing about.

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The following day we had to head back to Vancouver, but first we decided to check out some of Portland’s most reputable waterfalls: Moltnomah and Wahkeena Falls. If you live in the PNW, you’ve probably already seen them both on instagram and I’m embarrassed to say, I was yet another tourist adding to the masses. My problem was that I didn’t do my research, something rare for me. We drove out the Columbia River only to discover that you need a day pass to visit the falls. The park rangers advised us we could visit Bridal Veil Falls instead, and not wanting the drive to be a total waste, we decided to do that.

Fortunately, Bridal Veil Falls was lovely and I really don’t feel like I missed out on anything. It’s a short walk to the waterfall and there’s a side walk with gorgeous views of Columbia gorge. We had stopped by a pastry shop on the way out of town for breakfast and picked up some delicious treats, which we ate while enjoying the view. It was a quick stop, but it was perfect for us because we still had 5 hours of driving to get back home.

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Unfortunately for us, we had quite a long wait at the border and Brandon cursed both me and Lien for not having Nexus. In fact, the wait was so long that I had enough time to apply for Nexus while waiting. But overall, it was a really fun trip across the border. Portland is a bit of a far drive with the border crossing, but I was glad to finally visit after 8 years of hoping to return!