Half Moon Beach Backpacking Trip

Is anyone else getting Deju Vu this year? I got my first dose of Pfizer in mid-May, so the year is definitely going better than last year, but in a lot of ways I feel like I am just living the same year over again. In May and June of 2020 I was waiting anxiously to see if the province was going to open up and whether I’d be able to go on the backpacking trip I’d planned to Assiniboine in early July. In 2020, my trip got cancelled and I ended up doing the North Coast Trail instead. This year I planned the same trip for the same time and fortunately it’s looking like my plans will pan out this time, so stayed tuned to hear about Assiniboine soon! In the meantime, please enjoy post that I wrote about my 1 night backpacking trip in Golden Ears Park back in early June.

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Last year me and Emily did a 1-night backpacking trip to Viewpoint Beach during the first weekend in June. Since I’m basically living the same year over, I returned to Viewpoint Beach again this year during the exact same weekend, only this time I took more people with me! It was an easy sell for Carolyn and Brandon, but we also convinced Seth to come with us and our friends Karen and Grant! Karen and Grant aren’t big backpackers, but they did once accompany me to Elfin Lakes and are looking to get more into backpacking, so I was thrilled to have them join us for a weekend in Golden Ears.

We were all stoked for the trip, the only problem was the weather was looking really dicey. I was convinced someone was going to cancel, but I think it’s a testament to how fed up we all were about being stuck at home all the time that we decided to go anyways. It wasn’t calling for rain until overnight on Friday, so we figured as long as we got set up before the rain hit, we would be okay.

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We took off early from work on Friday to try and beat the traffic, we failed, but still managed to get to the trailhead for 5pm. Carolyn was ahead of the rest of us, so she decided to hike in on her own to secure a campsite. Me, Seth, Karen, and Grant followed about an hour behind her. The official trail name is East Canyon Trail and you can hike out to Viewpoint Beach either along the Gold Creek trail or the East Canyon trail. We opted for East Canyon because it is faster. It’s only about 4km to Viewpoint Beach and it’s a forgiving trail. It’s wide and a gradual uphill for the first 3km, then it switches to downhill for the remaining 1km.

You can camp on either side of Gold Creek, just cross the bridge in advance of arriving at Viewpoint Beach if you want to camp on the far side, which is known as Hiker’s Beach. I was keen to check out Hiker’s Beach because I’d camped at Viewpoint last year, but we opted for Viewpoint again since there’s both an outhouse and bear cache on that side. The water level was also very high when we visited and it did look like Hiker’s Beach may have been a bit flooded.

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Despite the poor forecast, there were still quite a few other campers at the beach. Carolyn had set up under the trees and the rest of us set up our tents on the beach. We did our best to get a tarp up so that we could have a dry breakfast the next day, but it was somewhat challenging with the limited number of trees, so we managed mostly with hiking poles.

There was a very short spurt of rain while we were getting set up, but it only lasted a few minutes, so it wasn’t a big deal. Brandon was pretty far behind us, but he rolled into the campsite a few hours later to set up his tent as well. Because of COVID we were playing it safe, so we all had our own tent, which ended up being quite luxurious. Carolyn and Brandon were both in 2p tents, and the rest of us were in 3p tents, so we had lots of room to spare. I think me and Seth had it the worst though because we had to share our space with a neurotic, wet dog.

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We heated up some water for boozy hot drinks and Brandon debuted his newest fad, the hand sanitizer stove. I’ve done this one with girl guides in the past, but basically he had a little pop-can stove that he filled with liquid hand sanitizer as fuel. He had a small bottle that burned for about 20 minutes. Not the most inspiring campfire, but there are no fires allowed in the Golden Ears backcountry, so it was a nice little alterative and we all got a kick out of it! Our neighbours were all having real campfires though, so a reminder to please respect the rules and the environment when you camp. Fire bans in parks exist for a reason, usually because people pillage the area for firewood and it’s not good for the ecosystem.

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After that it did start to rain in earnest, so we dropped off our smellies in the bear cache and called it a night! When I wrote about Viewpoint Beach last year I said there was no bear cache, but I think I just never discovered it. Carolyn found it right at the back of the beach. There’s no sign, but if you follow the trail into the woods, you will find a bear cache hidden back there. Easy to find in the day, but I do wish they would add some signs because it’s definitely not easy to find in the dark.

It’s always a handful to take Sadie camping, but she did reasonably well on Friday. Carolyn is the dog whisperer and there were no other dogs camping on the beach, so she handled herself well. She gets really excited when you first get in the tent, which makes it challenging to get into pyjamas, but once you turn off your headlamp she settles down pretty fast. It rained on and off through the night, but she slept well until 7am. Usually she lets us sleep later than that, but she wanted out, so I got up at 7am with her and let Seth sleep a bit longer.

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Fortunately the rain had cleared off in the morning and we were able to enjoy our breakfast in the dry! Pretty much everyone was up by 8am and we had a nice lazy morning. Our goal for the day was to hike 6km further along the trail to Half Moon Beach. One day I’d like to camp there, but our plan was just to check it out as a day hike and have lunch. There was a quick downpour just before we left at 10am, so we huddled under the tarp before setting out for the day.

It stayed dry for most of the hike out to Half Moon. The trail starts super easy, but it deteriorates the farther you go. I’ve heard the trail to Hector Fergusson Lake (which is past Half Moon Beach) is notoriously bad, but this section of the trail is pretty reasonable. There’s definitely some obstacles, but overall, not too bad. There’s just one confusing spot about 2.5km in where the trail markers seemingly go in multiple directions. Most of us followed the route on my GPS, which I think is the official route, but it was very muddy and wet, so I suspect the other routes exist as a bypass when the river is high. Carolyn and Brandon took that route and we were all reminded how easy it is to get separated when you split up, even if only for a short time.

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Eventually we met up again on the trail, but for a short period of time we did lose voice contact with each other because the trails diverged. We were all on marked trails, so everyone was reluctant to leave the trail they were on and eventually they did catch up. In our case, both me and Carolyn had inreach and GPS, so I wasn’t overly concerned, but I did mark the location where our paths diverged just in case.

Even in the drizzle, it’s a lovely trail! Golden Ears is so green and though you’re in the canopy for most of the trail, it follows Gold Creek and has some gorgeous views looking up the valley. Eventually we arrived at Half Moon Beach and happily set up by the river to enjoy our lunch. But we had about 3 minutes to enjoy it before the clouds finally opened rain on us. It poured and we hastily ran back to the cover of the trees. We hadn’t brought the tarp, so we huddled until the canopy while we ate our lunch.

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The tree cover didn’t really help us and we still got pretty wet. We hung around for a little bit in case it did clear up, but it didn’t really seem like it was going to stop, so we decided to head back. It did rain for the remainder of the hike and it took us about 2 hours each way. The trail accumulates water fast, so it was generally a lot wetter on the way back and by the time we finally strolled into camp, my pants were soaked through and my feet we were wet.

We’d anticipated this, so we decided to just pack up and abandon our plans to stay a second night (we’d been hopeful, but kind of knew from the start we would likely only stay 1 night). Honestly, if it wasn’t for Sadie, I might have been willing to stay, but camping with a wet dog isn’t really the most appealing. Once we stopped hiking she got really cold from the rain; plus our new neighbours both had dogs and Sadie is not friendly to stranger dogs.

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Unfortunately, it rained the entire time we took down camp, but we all changed into dry clothes first anyways. We took the tent down in the pouring rain, but left the tarp up until the last minute to provide some shelter. Once all our bags were packed, we hastily pulled the tarp down. But of course, the second we took the tarp down the rain slowed and I kid you not, the sun came out just as we were hiking out from the beach. It was still raining, but the sun brightened up the whole scene and all our neighbours emerged jubilantly from their tents. We snapped a few photos, but knew the rain would be back and continued on.

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It did thunder on the trek back to the car, but the rain slowed considerably to the point where my second set of clothing fortunately didn’t get wet. With the 12km day hike and the return trip, it ended up being 16km of hiking, which was a considerable day for all of us and Sadie. We arrived at the parking lot around 5pm, ending exactly 24 hours in the park. Somehow it felt like so much longer!

The weather continued to improve as we approached the city and I wondered if maybe we could have stayed, but then in poured all day Sunday, so in the end I didn’t regret it when I woke up in my cozy bed after having slept for 11 hours! Despite the rain, we all agreed that we still had a great time! I wouldn’t go back in the rain, but I am still keen to return again one day in the sun and this time camp at Half Moon Beach!

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