Mount Assiniboine Backpacking Trip: Part IV

On Day 5 we got up at 5am to try and beat the heat for the day (Part I, Part II, Part III for reference). We had to backpack 15km to the next campsite, but fortunately our packs were lighter and the day was pretty much going to be entirely downhill. We packed up everything and were off at 7am.

We hiked back towards the lodge and then took the trail branching off to Og Lake. This was the route most people had entered by and our final destination was Sunshine Village. After leaving the lodge it’s about 5.5km to Og Lake and the trail leaves the woods almost immediately. It’s a very exposed trail and it would have been exhausting late in the day in the open sun. Fortunately there was still a nice breeze so I actually really enjoyed the first half of the walk across the plain.

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There’s a lone boulder about halfway across the plain, so we stopped there for a quick shady break, but the mosquitoes quickly ruined our solitude and we were forced to go on. After that the trail was entirely inundated with mosquitoes. Seriously, I’ve never seen so many of them. It’s a boggy area around the trail and I guess they’ve just been breeding like crazy in the heat, there were literally thousands of them flying around everywhere. It was a nightmare. You couldn’t stop moving for 2 seconds or they would swarm you. I hiked in my bug hat and left full length pants on despite the heat. I couldn’t bear to cover my arms, so I used fly dope to keep them away. All I can say is thank goodness it wasn’t also hot at this point in the day.

We arrived at Og Lake around 9am to find it totally deserted. There are 10 tent pads by Og Lake, but there is absolutely no shade to be found anywhere and the mosquitoes are awful, so I think everyone either got up early or bypassed it altogether. Magog Lake was buggy, but it definitely didn’t have anything on Og. I’d seen on the internet that a lot of people actually prefer Og Lake and think the campground itself is more scenic than Magog Campground. I could see how it would be nice on a cooler day, but on this particular trip I’ve never been so happy to skip a campsite.

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We did stop briefly to go for a swim because I was still determined to swim in every lake. The water was a little cool because it was morning, but I could see it being so nice in the heat of the day. The big thing about this section of the trail is you need to make sure to fill up your water bladders between Og Lake and Porcupine Camp. There’s no water for the first 6km to Porcupine and while there are two small lakes in the last 3km, they’re not great water sources because they are stagnant, so we avoided them. We’d been carrying 3L of water with us where ever we went, so it wasn’t really a problem for us.

The 9km between Og Lake and Porcupine Camp are a bit of a bummer though. The area is known as the Valley of the Rocks and it’s basically a semi forested area with lots of big glacial till. It is a really interesting topography because you can tell it was once super barren and that the entire valley would have been glacier covered, but now a lot of vegetation has grown on the top of the rocks. But after 9km it gets pretty boring. The only saving grace was the mosquitoes were a lot less and it was semi shaded.

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We trudged along taking a break every 3km. We stopped at km 6 to have lunch on a windy rocky ledge and we were getting pretty tired. The final 3km were brutal. There’s a junction and if you don’t need to stop at Porcupine Camp, you can avoid 200m of elevation gain by taking the other trail, but we had to stay at the campsite, so there was no avoiding it for us. Our part of the trail was very meandering, with several steep uphill sections and a whole lot of downhill (that we would have to undo the following day). The steep sections were filled with that slippery cobble sized gravel that’s a pain in the ass to walk on and I had several close calls and 1-2 falls.

But eventually the trail flattened out and we finally hit Porcupine Camp. It’s a first come-first serve camp and since it was only 2pm, we were the second group to arrive. The other group was a couple there that were bushwacking their way across the park and having their afternoon siesta. Fortunately the mosquitoes weren’t bad and we had a nice nap in the shade before taking a little river bath. I heard a lot of the other hikers complaining at Magog about how it’s not a nice campsite, but I actually didn’t mind it at all. It had a nice cool creek and it was quiet and shaded, I actually found it quite relaxing! I had some journaling time and befriended the new hikers as they arrived from the other direction.

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The bushwackers had come from the same direction as us and were debating whether to bushwack out along the Simpson River Trail the next day (they didn’t), while the other 2 groups that showed up were on their way to Magog Lake. One couple arrived at 5pm and were debating continuing to Og Lake, but I convinced them to stay. I was like, “Og Lake is one big mosquito orgy. It’s all uphill, has no shade, and it took us 5 hours to get there from here”. Needless to say they were easily convinced considering they’d already done almost 20km in the heat that day. (PSA, don’t try and go from Sunshine Village to Og Lake in one day with the gondola out, it’s too much).

It’d still been a pretty hot day and we were thrilled to see more clouds rolling in. Brandon was convinced it would rain overnight, but I wasn’t optimistic. We enjoyed our final dinner on the trail and went to bed early to prepare for another early rise.

Us and the bushwackers were up again at 5am, but everyone else was still asleep when we hauled out at 7am. The location of Porcupine Camp was perfect for us because we had to start the day with a huge climb up Citadel Pass. We had to go up 500m of elevation in just 3km and then another 100m in the last km. I was dreading it after Wonder Pass, but it ended up not being that bad! I was surprised that on the final day I was actually feeling pretty good. Day 5 had been a bit of a slog and I felt like I’d been battling dehydration since Day 2, but on Day 6 I actually started to feel a bit rejuvenated.

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The clouds hadn’t amounted to anything and we’d woken to blue sky again, but it was definitely a bit cooler. It took us about an hour and 15mins to ascend the 3km and another 45minutes to the top of the pass. Citadel Pass is absolutely beautiful! It’s filled with meadows and mountain peaks on all sides, I actually really enjoyed our hike through the pass.

After that we descended for most of the rest of the day. A lot of the trail was exposed, but it was so scenic and there were so many wildflowers, I loved it and it ended up being my second favourite day on the trail after our sunset hike up the Nublet. Unfortunately Brandon didn’t have the same boost of energy I had and was still not feeling great. I don’t know if it’s actually related, but I drank 1L of electrolytes every day throughout the trip (500mL with breakfast and 500mL with dinner); Brandon didn’t drink any electrolytes, only water, so I wonder if that’s why I recovered faster. Could also be age since Brandon has a decade on me 😛 But I’ll stop rubbing it in because usually Brandon outpaces me on every hike, this just wasn’t his day.

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We hit Howard Douglas Lake at about the 8km mark and stopped for a break and a swim. It was my last lake. It wasn’t my favourite, but it was still very beautiful and quite warm since it wasn’t very large. Unfortunately there was a final push uphill after that to the top of Windy Ridge – it wasn’t very long, but it was steep and hot, so it took us a little while. But again, from the top of the ridge there were absolutely gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains! Plus there was a nice breeze on the top so I felt good again. The only downside is from the top you can see the rest of the trail as it meanders through meadow after meadow all the way to the ski resort, and it looks far.

We continued down from the ridge and the trail was still partially shaded along this stretch. The trail went in and out of the meadows and it was very hot crossing them, but we decided we’d push until the end of the last treed section and then take a break for lunch before crossing the last meadow. The last meadow is Sunshine Meadow, which is super popular among tourists when the gondola is running. We had the unique experience of visiting when it was totally empty, but it’s exposed for about 3km, so we weren’t looking forward to crossing it.

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We stopped for lunch in the trees before pushing through the final stretch. As we were sitting we saw more and more clouds moving in. Just as we were packing up to head back to the meadows, a miracle occurred and the clouds moved to actually block the sun! We were so thrilled, we cheered and quickly started crossing the meadow to try and beat the sun. We encountered two groups heading in the other direction while we were crossing the meadow and they were the first people we’d encountered that day, save for one couple at Howard Douglas Lake. There was a nice breeze going through the meadow and I still felt great as we crossed.

Once we finally hit the ski resort though I started to lose my motivation. The trail continues down to the gondola and then it’s a brutal 6km walk along the road that goes under the gondola. It was interesting seeing the ski village empty and in the summer, but we were both ready to be done so we blew through quick. The sun had poked out from the clouds again and it was exhausting as it beat down our backs on the descent. It was around 1:30pm, so there was no shade to be found and the road was that awful gravel that’s great for rolling an ankle, so it was hard to go too fast.

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About halfway down some dark rainclouds moved in and blocked out the sun again. We could hear a thunderstorm brewing from the neighbouring mountains and we figured we’d better haul ass. Honestly I would have welcomed a bit of rain, but a full fledged thunderstorm was probably more than we needed. We felt a few drops on the way down, but it never amounted to more than that while we were on the trail. The last few kilometers were brutal on the feet. We hiked almost 20km, which was our longest day, so my feet were throbbing and so desperate to be done.

Finally we hit the parking lot and I kid you not, 5 minutes later the clouds completely let loose a torrential downpour on us. We felt sorry for everyone on their way into Porcupine, but were thrilled to be back in our air conditioned vehicle. We no longer had to pick up Lien’s car from Mount Shark, so we went straight to Canmore to check into our hotel for the night. I finally got to talk to Seth and my Mom about what had happened and we showered before going out for a celebratory dinner. We each had 1 beer and we were toast, so we did some more walking (I know right?) and shopping along the pedestrian road to sober up. It ended up actually being a really nice evening!

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There’s not much to report on the drive home the next day. We learned the intense heat wave had unfortunately caught half of the province on fire and the air quality was atrocious driving through Kamloops from the smoke. Surprisingly though, I didn’t feel sore after the hike and the drive. I usually find nothing makes you more stiff than getting in a car after a hike, but I didn’t get the post hike stiffness this time. I had a stiff shoulder early in the hike, but otherwise I did a good job keeping my pack light on this trip! I started with a 38lb pack and I weighed it at 30lbs on the final day of the trip. Not the lightest, but pretty good for 6 days!

So overall, it was not the trip we anticipated. We faced a lot more challenges on this trail than I expected, but I did still find the experience rewarding. I would like to re-visit Assiniboine some day, but in future I would definitely do things differently. But really, that’s what all treks are about – bettering yourself. We learned some hard lessons on this trip, but I also learned that the effort I regularly put into preparedness actually really matters. Never underestimate the trail and bring your essentials every single time. The time and money put into courses like wilderness first aid and invested in gear like an inreach can quite literally save your life. Invest in yourself. It’s worth it.

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One thought on “Mount Assiniboine Backpacking Trip: Part IV

  1. Pingback: Mount Assiniboine Backpacking Trip: Part III | The Road Goes Ever On

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