Hiking High Falls Creek

The Fall hiking season seems to be almost certainly behind us at this point, but Brandon and I were lucky enough to end off the season with a beautiful hike up to High Falls Creek outside Squamish.

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High Falls Creek is one of several trails located along the Squamish River going up the valley. I’ve heard about the river being popular for fishing and camping along the banks, and I once went white water rafting down it with Seth, but otherwise I haven’t explored this area at all. There were a few people still out enjoying the last few nice days of the season, but you do have to be careful camping along the river as it does frequently flood.

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High Falls Creek was basically empty when we arrived though. It’s an extremely steep trail that climbs up the cliffside, providing several glimpses of the waterfall cascading down through the trees. The waterfall is only about 1km in the trail, but it’s so steep that it feels like a lot longer. I’d debating bringing Sadie, but ended up leaving her home because I’d read it isn’t a dog friendly trail. I didn’t regret it because there’s a lot of climbing and rope sections.

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We passed two couples who had gone up to the waterfall, but decided to hike back down rather than do the rest of the trail. I understand why they did this, it’s a 9km loop to do the whole trail, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s a loop trail for a reason and I don’t envy them climbing back down all those rope sections. Otherwise, we didn’t see a single other person on the trail!

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As far as waterfalls go, it’s a bit hard to see this one. There’s no real good viewpoints from the trail, though there is a branch that goes down to the top of the falls, which is pretty neat. But I still loved the trail because it has gorgeous views all along looking out at the surrounding mountains and down into the valley. The trail continues up and up after the falls with a total of 500m of elevation gain in under 3km. It took us about 2.5 hours to do the 3km, but after that you pop out on the forestry road and it’s just a leisurely 6km walk back around to the car.

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We were hoping to catch the end of the leaves changing colour, but sadly we were too late. However, there were a lot of bare trees, so I could see this being a great Fall hike earlier in the season and I’d definitely like to return next year. Even though it’s not as rugged, I liked the forestry road because it still had some awesome views down into the valley.

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The last part of the road goes along the river, so we kept our eyes open for good river camping sites for another year. It was a gorgeous sunny day, but we could tell the area had recently flooded. We continued our tour of the valley when we got back to the car and drove around to check out a few of the rec sites, enjoying the last bit of sun before the rain moved in to stay.

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Brew Lake Backpacking Trip

I had one of the best backpacking trips to close out the season this year. I wanted to try and get one more overnight trip in the fall and planned a mid-September hike with Carolyn and our friend Tiiu, who is looking to get more into backpacking. We bounced around a few ideas for hikes and decided on the Rainbow Lake trail in Whistler. You can’t actually camp at Rainbow Lake because it’s the Whistler water supply, but you can camp a few kilometres further at Hanging Lake, so that was the plan.

This was one of those trips where nothing seemed to go right. It was super, don’t-go-outside-you’ll-kill-your-lungs, smoky in Vancouver the week before the hike from the fires in the States, so we decided not to go. Which we regretted a little because the smoke did end of clearing out the night before we were supposed to go, so we probably could have gone, but it was too late to change plans. So we rescheduled for the first weekend in October.

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Again, the smoke started to come back the week before the hike, but it was much lower on the air quality index than the last time, so we decided to go for it anyways. Otherwise, the forecast was great and it was a cloudless sunny day when we left Vancouver. We got to the trailhead and there was a sign saying that the trail was closed because of a bear, but then underneath the sign it said “trails above flank closed, trails below open”. As non-Whistler locals this had absolutely no meaning to us and we spent forever studying the map trying to find the Flank trail and determine what “above” meant (North? physically above on the map? what?). Eventually we decided that Rainbow Lake was below what looked like a flank trail junction and decided to hike up to the junction and see if there was more clear info.

It was a bit less than a kilometre to the junction, where we found the same sign, which was no more clear than the first. However, in this case, there were two trail branches and it was located closer to the Rainbow branch, so we thought that likely meant it applied to Rainbow as well. We couldn’t get a hold of anyone at Whistler Municipality on the phone (they manage the area), so we decided not to risk it and go back. There was a conservation officer at the car park when we returned and it turns out the trail was closed, so we made the right decision and had a good conversation with her about how the sign could maybe be more clear, so hopefully they improve it for future users. She was very nice and gave us some alternative trails to consider instead.

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It’s not mine and Carolyn’s first time having to make last minute adjustments to our plans (see our first snow camping adventure), so we decided to head south on the Sea to Sky highway while I looked up some other trails. We agreed Brew Lake sounded like a good alternative and made for the trailhead.

Brew Lake is a lower trafficked trail near Callaghan Valley, just across the highway from Brandywine Falls. Information on trail length is a bit confusing. According to AllTrails, it’s a 17km trail that’s partially on forestry road and partially on trail. According to my “105 Hikes” trailbook, it’s an 8km trail at the end of a 2WD service road. After doing a bit more research, I’ve seen it listed as several different lengths, so I think everyone just disagrees on what parts of the service road are really driveable.

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The entrance to the forestry road is right next to the Whistler RV park, it’s so narrow we legitimately didn’t see it on our first drive by, so we decided to just park there and walk it. We figured we’d had enough setbacks for one day and didn’t want to get Carolyn’s SUV stuck down there. Having now walked it, I’d say that about 3km are drivable and after that you can make a decision about how far you’re willing to take your vehicle. We passed about 5 other cars at various intervals of the trail, so that seemed to be the common approach.

After an easy 5km along the road, we reached the forest trailhead. It was a very hot day, though still a little smoky. The only people we saw on the road were a family of ATVers, so it seemed that the trail wouldn’t be too busy. Since we’d had a late start from Rainbow Lake, we decided to have lunch soon after we reached the forest. We just picked a little rocky outcropping and settled in for a break.

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Because we’d followed the AllTrails route, we had about 17km of hiking and 1000 metres of elevation gain, however, our GPS clocked it at 18km and 950m, so somewhere around there. We’d done 5km in just over an hour, but only 200m in elevation gain, so we figured we had a pretty steep hike ahead of us. The next 2 kilometres meanders through some really interesting topography in the woods. It’s quite unlike any other hikes I’ve done in the area and reminded us a bit of hiking on Vancouver Island because it was all through the woods with lots of small hills and valleys. But it still wasn’t that steep and we were wondering when we would finally hit the major elevation gain.

Turns out most of the elevation gain is in the last 2 kilometres. You hit a giant boulder field that proved to be a bit confusing. The whole trail is pretty well marked, but you definitely have to watch for the markers because the trail itself is not super obvious. We got a little off course in the boulder field – we missed the marker that indicated the trail goes up the edge of the field and instead started hiking up into it. The boulders are REALLY large, so it’s not conducive to hiking over it. Eventually we found our way back to the trail along the edge and went from there.

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Around this section we passed a few day hikers on their way down. They (mistakenly) told us once we finished the boulder field we were pretty much done, so we were very excited. It’s definitely steep though and after you finally get across it, there’s an even steeper rope section up a hill side that we had to take one at a time. After that we figured we should be almost there based on what the other hikers had said, but it really didn’t look that way on my GPS and we had to trundle along through several more uphill sections after that, much to our disappointment.

Because of the trail mix-up, it was turning into a pretty long day and we were all ready to get to the campsite. It was around 4pm and we thought we’d finally reached the last peak, only to crest it and see another peak we’d have to climb before maybe reaching the end. I was starting to get a little discouraged at this point, but the moment we finally crested the last peak and the view opened up, all the other thoughts melted away and I was super pumped to be there.

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The trail is really all in the forest, so it’s a little weird when you finally pop out of the woods to this completely open alpine lake, surrounded by meadows and low mountain peaks. From the lake you can continue up to Brew Mountain, where there’s a hut, but fortunately our plan was to end at the lake.

I LOVE swimming and I’d really been hoping to go for a swim in the lake, but I didn’t dare voice the desire out loud for fear it would be too late or too cold when we arrived. But it had been a super hot day and the sun was still up over the lake when we arrived, so it took barely more than a look between me and Carolyn to agree we were going in the water (she loves swimming just as much). We could tell the sun was soon going to dip below the mountains, so we didn’t waste any time in setting up camp or anything first. When you swim so late in the season you really have to do it right away, before your body adjusts to the temperature and cools off. So we stripped down and were in the water within minutes. We had the real privilege of having the lake completely to ourselves, so we decided to enjoy it in our birthday suits, an rare opportunity in BC, where the backcountry is usually so busy.

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After that we made camp pretty fast. Daylight is so much more limited in October, so we got the tents up and then I started making dinner while Carolyn and Tiiu got to work on a bear cache. We were alone in grizzly bear country, so it was pretty important, though a real challenge with not that many trees around. They were successful, but I am starting to think it may soon be time to invest in a bear canister.

We had my dehydrated chickpea curry for dinner and Tiiu had some chocolates and rye to share, while Carolyn had brought a little dessert surprise. It was a freeze dried ice cream sandwich! I’m not sure where she got it, but it was definitely one of the more bizarre treats I’d had on a camping trip. The whole thing becomes this kind of brittle, almost spongey-chalky type texture, but once you chew it, it really does have all the flavours of an ice-cream sandwich. I don’t know how astronauts stand eating so much of that stuff, but it made for a fun experiment for us.

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We didn’t stay up too late, but since the sun sets a lot earlier now I did stay up and take a few star photos, not my best photos, but still fun to play around with the camera. It was no where near as cold as I was anticipating and I was quite comfortable hanging around outside. I had hiked Frosty Mountain the week before and it had been FREEZING, so I’d come a little over prepared for Brew Lake since we were having much nicer weather. I never bothered with my sleeping bag liner that I’d brought and Carolyn had just bought a new -18 degree bag, so we were toasty warm in her tent. However we forgot to open the vents and I’ve never seen a tent so covered in dew in the morning. Although to be fair, everything was covered in a crazy amount of dew. Must be the season.

Unfortunately, it clouded over in the night and it did drizzle on us a little when we were making breakfast, but not enough to really cause any trouble and the sun did eventually poke through the clouds. It felt mystical with the fog clinging to the tops of the surrounding mountains, but it was clear near the lake.

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We took down our tents and said goodbye to Brew Lake, which had been extremely good to us considering the circumstances. As soon as we left the lake though we descended straight into the fog and didn’t catch anymore views the rest of the trip. It was a cooler day than the previous day, but still super humid, so even though it was all downhill, we were sweating a lot. Brew Lake is definitely one of those trails that’s harder on the downhill, so we were pretty cautious as we came back down the boulder field. Always leave space between yourselves on scree as its easy to knock rocks down on your friends.

We finally popped back out of the woods and then had a long walk back along the forestry road. It drizzled on and off, but not enough to warrant digging out our rain coats. Finally we made it back to the car and as soon as we got back on the highway, the rain started for real, so we were pleased with our timing! We decided to finish off the weekend with a trip to the new cider place in Squamish, Geo Cider, where we each enjoyed a flight and some pizzas!

So overall, it was not at all the weekend we’d planned, but I wouldn’t change anything about it because we had such a great time!

Hiking Flatiron

For mine and Brandon’s third annual Thanksgiving weekend hike, we did Flatiron for the first time in 2018. Now while I think Elfin Lakes and Watersprite were a bit of a stretch to be considered “Fall hikes”, I thought that Flatiron was a great Fall hike, but not in the traditional sense.

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We’d intended to do the Needle Peak trail, which shares the same trailhead as Flatiron, but once we got up to the branch and saw the layer of snow sitting atop this steep climb, we decided to leave it for another day and do the Flatiron trail instead. Flatiron continues on past the Needle Peak branch and hikes down through a pass and back up again to a small glacial lake. I’ve since learned this a popular location for camping in the summer, but in October it was pretty empty.

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The lake is what I think makes this a great non-traditional Fall hike. The trail continues over a steep slope to the top, which is a giant flat plateau (hence the name Flatiron). At just the right time of year, all the shrubbery against the slope turns this beautiful shade of deep red. Pair it with a fresh coat of snow, which is how it looked when we visited, and it really gives you lots of changing season vibes. I think your timing probably does have to be just right, but even if you missed it, it’s still a great hike.

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There were very people on the trail when we visited and most of them seemed to be attempting Needle Peak. There were just two other guys going the same way as us. We passed them on the way up because they had big backpacks on. We asked if they were planning to camp and they informed us they were actually hoping to fly down!

This was my first experience with paragliding and I have to say it’s a hard pass from me. Even Brandon, who is much more adventurous than me said you’d never get him paragliding. We were pretty much the only two groups on top of the Flatiron, so we watched them setting up their flight suits as we ate our lunch. I admit we definitely lingered over our lunch because we really wanted to watch them fly off.

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From the start, it was clear one guy was more experienced than the other and they chatted a lot as they got set up. Eventually, after much checking, they finally got ready to take a run. The more experienced guy had no problem and the wind caught him and took him right off the side and up. We watched as he sailed off and circled up and up in the wind currents for about 20 minutes before finally landing back at the car park.

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Unfortunately the second guy didn’t have quite as much luck. He took off just after the first guy, but he terrified me and Brandon with a fall right at the start. It almost looked like he was going to get up, but the wind took his chute funny and he ended up crashing to the ground. It wasn’t a far fall, but it didn’t look comfy and it made us really nervous to watch him. I can see why Flatiron is a great place to practice though, there’s lot of wide open space in which to run from and relative safety from which to fall until you head out over the edge.

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We watched him make 2 more unsuccessful attempts and then Brandon decided it was time to get out of there or we were going to be watching this guy fall to his death. After that he decided to give up and ended up packing up and hiking back down to meet his friend at the car. So fortunately no one was injured, though I’m sure he was disappointed.

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As usual, it was freezing at the top of the trail for October, but this time we’d come prepared with warm jackets so that we could stay out and watch the view. Unlike our other two trips though, this year we got clear blue skies and lots of sun, so it made for an incredibly scenic trip! It’s a steep trail, with 800m of elevation gain spread over 11km round trip, but so worth it for the 360 degree views at the top!

If you’d like to hear more about Flatiron or see more photos, I have published another blog post on an overnight trip I took in July 2020.