Life in British Columbia

My life in Vancouver since moving to BC in Jan. 2014

Favourite Hikes in Southwestern BC: Part II

About 2 years ago I compiled a list of my Favourite Hikes in Southwestern BC. At the time I’d hiked about 40 trails and narrowed it down to my top 10 favourite trails. Some of those trails would definitely still be in my top 10 hikes, but since then, I’ve surpassed 100 trails and decided it was time to compile a new list! I haven’t included any of the hikes from the first list, so check out that post if you want to see my original list, but this list features even more awesome trails! All photos taken by yours truly.

#10 Lightning Lakes – I’m a little bit obsessed with EC Manning Provincial Park (as you’ll soon see from this post) and what I love about Lightning Lakes is that it’s got a little bit of something for everyone. The entire Lightning Lakes Chain Trail is actually 24km long and travels through the valley past 4 different lakes, but I’ve actually only done shorter loop around the first two lakes (but I’d love to do the whole trail someday). But I love this trail because it is pretty flat, so it makes for a great beginner trail and because there’s multiple lakes, you can customize it to whatever length you want. It has the most gorgeous views of the blue lakes and the surrounding mountains, as well as it’s a great place to swim and hang out in the summer. Me and my friends go every year to chill and BBQ at the first lake. (24km, no elevation gain, you decide the time and length!)

#9 Dam Mountain and Thunderbird Ridge – Located at the top of Grouse Mountain, I’ve never explored these trails in the summer, but I had a blast when I snowshoed them in the winter. It’s annoying to have to pay the gondola fee to get up Grouse Mountain, but on a clear day with a fresh snowfall, this hike has the most gorgeous views looking out into the Metro Vancouver watershed. It’s an easy enough trail – a lot of people just snowshoe up to Dam Mountain and then turn around, but I’d recommend going the extra 2km along Thunderbird Ridge. I also have to say that I ran into some equipment issues (personal equipment) and the Grouse Mountain staff were so helpful in resolving them! (7km, 250m elevation gain, 3 hours)

#8 Ring Lake – Ring Lake would probably rank even higher on this list had it not been right in the middle of wildfire season when I went there. But even with the insane amount of smoke in the area, I still loved this hike and am now dying to go back at a clearer time of year. Ring Lake is located in the Callaghan Valley and is a very low traffic trail. The gravel road to get to the trailhead is a little dicey (I’d recommend high clearance) and it is in grizzly country, but it’s a great area to explore if you want to escape the crowds. It is a steep trail up to the top because most of the elevation gain is in the second half of the trail, but the views at Ring lake are fantastic. The only issue right now is that one of the bridges is out right before the lake and you can’t cross it in high flows, so I would definitely recommend visiting in August or September. Even if you don’t make it to the top though, it’s worth visiting for the berries and alpine meadows located just past Conflict Lake. (20km, 500m elevation gain, 8 hours)

#7 Flatiron/Needle Peak – Flatiron and Needle Peak share most of the same trail, but split towards the end with Flatiron one way and Needle Peak the other. I think you could easily do them both in a day, but there was snow when I went a few weeks ago (early October). so we decided to skip steep Needle Peak. But this hike still blew me away! It does have significant elevation gain, but I liked it a lot because after an initial push through the forest (45-60 mins), the rest of the hike is along the ridge looking up at Needle Peak. Flatiron continues on to a lake that would probably be great for swimming in the summer and boasts great views looking down on the Coquihalla. Breathtaking on a clear day, but bring a sweater, it’s cold up there! (11km, 800m elevation gain, 6 hours)

#6 Frosty Mountain – The second hike from Manning Park on my list, I did a multi-day trip along the PCT and up Frosty Mountain (but you can do this one in a day). It’s definitely a steep hike, but the views are just amazing! my favourite part is the section running from what I call the “fake summit” to the actual summit, which goes right along the ridge up the peak with 360 degree views. I’ve heard awesome things about this trail in the Fall as well because the larch trees all turn bright yellow and make for some really vibrant pictures! (22km, 1150m elevation gain, 8 hours)

#5 Mount Price – A theme with my favourite hikes is that they tend to be some of the less crowded hikes. I did a 3 night trip through Garibaldi Park back in 2016 and hiked both Panorama Ridge and Black Tusk. My friend hadn’t been and asked me to join her for another 3 nighter, so I decided to switch things up and try out some new hikes while we were up there. While she was climbing Black Tusk (not a favourite of mine), I decided to hike the much less popular Mount Price. What a great decision because this hike is unreal! It’s basically Panorama Ridge, but on the other side of the lake and with hardly any people. It’s not a popular trail, so it’s not well maintained and does include a very dubious and steep hike up the side of Clanker Peak and then Mount Price, but the views from Mount Price are totally unreal! It has a very large summit, so I explored up there for over an hour without getting the least bit bored. It has great views across Garibaldi Lake of Black Tusk and Panorama Ridge, but it also has views looking back at the glacier and Mount Garibaldi. It was a tough hike, but ranks high on my list. (11km roundtrip from Garibaldi Lake, 600m elevation gain, 7 hours)

#4 Heather Trail – This one is a bit of a repeat from my last list since I included the Three Brothers Mountain in Manning Park, which is the first 11km of the Heather Trail. But I loved the Three Brothers hike so much that I had to go back and do the entire Heather Trail, and I definitely don’t regret it. If you love 360 degree views, the Heather Trail has it, but I personally love it for the alpine meadows. I’ve discovered I have a bit of thing for the alpine meadows (especially when wildflowers are in season) and I love hiking through meadow after meadow, there’s just so much open space and they make me feel like I’m living in the Sound of Music. I also really liked Nicomen Lake on this hike, but it was extremely buggy. The Heather Trail can be done as a through hike or return, we did it as a through hike by combining it with Hope Pass Trail from Nicomen Lake (38km through hike, 1000m elevation gain, 2 day hike)

#3 Cheam Peak – This one makes the list as well because of my recent obsession with meadows. It’s located in the Chilliwack Valley and you definitely need 4WD to get to the trailhead. But despite that, it was still a pretty busy trail because it boasts a great view looking out over the Fraser Valley. However, on the day we did it it was super foggy, so we didn’t actually see this view at all. But it really didn’t bother me and it still tops my list because the views looking back at the valley and the alpine meadows were breath-taking. In my opinion the fog made for some super interesting pictures and we had the most wonderful post hike swim in Spoon Lake, so the fog didn’t deter me at all. I felt like I was in middle earth for this hike, so I was content the whole time and would love to go back! (10km, 650m elevation gain, 5 hours)

#2 Juan de Fuca Trail – Okay, I know the Juan de Fuca is a bit of a stretch for this list, but it is still technically “Southwest BC”, it just involves a bit of travel time to get to the island if you live in the lower mainland. But it was seriously one of the highlights of my hiking experience over the past 5 years and I can’t not include it on this list. The Juan de Fuca is a 50km trail along the south-western coast of Vancouver Island and is known as the “West Coast Trail Lite”. I’ve devoted three whole blog posts to my experience on this trail and it was really unlike any other hike I’ve done before. The ocean speaks to that part of my soul that grew up in Newfoundland and this was my first multi-day through hike, so it felt like more of a journey than any other hike I’ve done before. I’d highly recommend this trail, I’d just say not to underestimate it. It is a very strenuous hike and it definitely kicked my ass, but it was the most rewarding hike I’ve ever done. (50km, 4-5 days)

#1 Skyline Trail/Hozameen Ridge – I had to end this list with one more trail from Manning Park. I really do love this park and I spent a lot of time exploring it over the last 2 years, and the Skyline Trail was definitely the highlight. With the exception of the first 5km, the entire hike runs along the “skyline”. You basically hike along the ridge from mountain to mountain with the most amazing views of the alpine meadows, wildflowers, and mountain range. You can do this trip in a single day if you’re ambitious, either as a through hike or return trip (25km), but we did it as a two night trip, base camping at Mowich Camp. On our second day, we day hiked along Hozameen Ridge to the border monument and the most incredible view looking out at the enormous Hozameen Mountain. I loved every second of this 3 day trip and would recommend to everyone. The first 5km are a pretty consistent incline, but after that, it’s not a difficult trail. (40km, 500m elevation gain, multi-day trip)

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Categories: Life in British Columbia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hiking the Juan de Fuca Trail – Part III

I haven’t been blogging here lately because I recently started a book blog and I’ve been doing a lot of blogging at The Paperback Princess instead. But I’m going travelling soon, so I logged back in to this blog to write a post and realized I wrote an entire post about my last day on the Juan de Fuca trail that I never posted. So if you’ve been waiting in anticipation for this for the last year, here’s some closure! I’ll follow up shortly with some information about the next trip I’m taking!

See my first 2 posts about the Juan de Fuca trail here: Part 1, Part 2


Day 3 had me feeling pretty nervous. The Juan de Fuca trail map marks this section as the “most strenuous” section of the trail. Most people do the trail the opposite direction as us to get the hard part out of the way first, but we wanted to get the longer distances done first, which is why we did the trail backwards.

About 20 minutes before we planned to get up we were woken by the pitter patter of rain drops on our tent. I have a good backpack and a good rain cover, but I still have irrational fears about hiking in the rain and having my sleeping bag get wet (even though the rain has never once seeped into my bag). I admit to a moment of weakness when I heard the rain on our tent. We had no way of knowing how long the rain would last and the idea of hiking through the “most strenuous” part of the trail in the rain was not appealing. I am now embarrassed to admit that I did float the idea of turning around and hiking back to Sombrio Beach to bail instead of finishing the 21km left of our journey.

We took our time getting ready in the morning – we boiled water for our oatmeal through the tent flap and tried to pack up everything inside the tent to keep our things from getting wet. While we packed we debated. Admittedly, the first two days of the trip had had some extremely challenging times and I struggled with the idea of two more days of wet and exhaustion. But I struggled more with the idea of giving up. I knew that if I gave up on the trail I would never come back and do it again.

Fortunately, the weather came back on our side and the rain started to clear out just when we got out of the tent to take it down. By the time we got the tent packed away, it had dissipated entirely and we decided to continue on our journey. I am so glad of that decision because it really was upwards from that point forward for the rest of the trip and we had a great time on the last 2 days of the trail!

It was definitely a wet start after the rain and we struggled to hoist ourselves up onto the rock at the end of the beach to get back on the trail. I believe we had to take our backpacks off 3 times in the first km to manoeuver around and over trees and boulders, but things shaped up after that.

It was still pretty muddy along the trail, but nothing we weren’t used to. The trail markers pretty much disappeared along this section, so we had no idea how far we’d gone, but we felt like we’d been making good time. We heard from other hikers that we would see a trail marker after 6km, which was our halfway point, so we made it our lunch goal again.

Day 3 was the first day where we finally actually made it to our lunch goal, which was huge cause for celebration! There was still some challenging, muddy sections along the way, but there were a lot of people passing us in the opposite direction and we were reassured by how remarkably clean they all were. We didn’t want to get our hopes up, but we were optimistic that the mud must clear up based on the state of everyone we passed.

Fortunately, it did about 5 km in, and though there were a lot of up and downs along this section, it was easily our best day on the trail to date! The hilly nature of this section is what gives it a “strenuous” rating, but me and Emily will take the hills over the mud any day! After the 5 km mark the mud all but disappeared, the sun came out, and we had a pretty great day ambling along the trail and silently mocking all the people we passed who were still trying to stay clean and avoid the mud. We knew they were in for a treat.

In retrospect, I’m even more glad we did the trail backwards because the last 15-ish km had pretty much no mud. I can’t imagine starting on the easy trail without mud and then having to deal with the trail getting progressively worse as we went (as well as the distance). So we were very assured in our decision to do the trail backwards and really enjoyed the last two days.

That’s not to say there weren’t still some challenging sections. There was a particularly awful river crossing where we had to haul ourselves up using a rope, but overall our spirits were much higher! We reached Bear Beach in record time for us, hitting the first campsite at about 4pm. Bear Beach is 2km long and has 3 campsites spread out along it. The first one didn’t look that great and we figured the furthest one would be filled with hikers who had been coming from the opposite direction, so we decided to head for the middle campsite.

There were only 3 other people at the campsite, so again, we had tons of space to ourselves and found a nice place to set up our tent. Since we’d arrived at camp 2.5 hours earlier than the other 2 days, we had more time to relax and we played a few games of cards. It was a little windier on Bear Beach, but we had a great view of the ocean and the clouds had cleared off entirely during the day, so we stayed up watching the tide slowly moves its way up the beach all evening.

Day 4, our final day on the trail, was easily the nicest. The sun came up early and there were blue skies all day. I’d been worried about Day 3 because Emily, who’s done more extended hiking than me, warned that from her experience Day 3 was the hardest on your body. Day 4 ended up being the toughest for me though. Fortunately, it was the easiest day on the trail by far (no mud and limited ups and downs), but without obstacles to distract me, my aching back was the only thing I could focus on. My body was definitely tired of carrying a pack and while it didn’t really slow down our pace, it was pretty uncomfortable.

The views along the trail were amazing though. We hiked mostly along the bluffs and with the clear skies, the ocean was the most fantastic shade of dark blue. We had 10km left to go on the final day, but we didn’t have a lunch packed, so we decided to push forward through 8km to Mystic Beach for our lunch stop. We snacked on the way there and planned to eat our way through all our remaining food for lunch when we reached Mystic Beach (for me this mostly consisted of the last of my jerky and trail mix and a mars bar).

We stopped for a few short breaks, but we made great time, arriving at Mystic Beach around 2pm. Mystic Beach was definitely one of the more beautiful beaches along the trail, mostly because it’s the only sandy beach. It was a bit jarring when we popped out on the beach though because it was like an immediate entry back into civilization.

Mystic Beach is only 2km from the trailhead, so it’s a popular destination for locals and tourists and was reasonably crowded with day-trippers. I was sad to leave the remoteness of the trail. When you’re on the trail, it’s just you and the trail and it’s easy to forget about the outside world. The trail feels like this living, breathing thing – it’s always changing, but you can’t change it. You can only adapt to it and push through. Sometimes it will reward you and sometimes it won’t. The trail really tested us throughout our trek, but I also feel like I learned from it and grew with it. It was my first through-trek, so it’s kind of hard to describe, but it felt so much more special to me, like I could now claim a piece of this trail for myself.

I know I don’t actually hold any claim to the trail, but I really felt like I could appreciate it more. Mystic Beach is beautiful and I understand why people flock to it – it’s a gorgeous place to spend the day and take pictures for your Instagram to make everyone else jealous. But it’s only a piece of the trail, arguably the most beautiful piece, but for me it made me appreciate all those other parts of the trail and the more subtle beauty. The rainy, rocky outcropping and tide-pools where we started our journey, the wet bridge crossing the river and falls at Payzant, when you first break through the forest onto the beach at Sombrio, rejoicing along the logging road, ambling up and down over the hills and through the sparse trees, the mink we saw running across the rocks on Bear Beach.

The trail really was more than the sum of its parts. Seth read my first blog and told me my account really didn’t make him want to do the trail. Yes, it was definitely a challenge, but I definitely don’t regret it. Through hiking is quite different from setting up a base camp and day-hiking, mostly it’s harder, but there’s the reward of really feeling like you’ve gone somewhere and accomplished something, physically and emotionally.

Arriving at Mystic Beach also felt very liberating. There were a ton of teenagers doing the whole dog and pony show in their little bikinis, running around the beach, posing under the waterfall, and playing in the water with their inflatables. So it was kind of freeing to walk onto the beach smelling and looking like actual death and just not giving a shit about any of it. You don’t care what you look like in the woods and when you’re on the trail your only concerns are your immediate needs. You eat when you’re hungry, you sleep when you’re tired – it’s simplistic. In that moment we wanted to lie on the beach and gorge ourselves on jerky and mars bars, so that’s what we did. We dumped our bags and kicked off our boots and didn’t care a bit what anyone else thought of us.

We lounged on the beach for quite a while – our reward at the end of the trail – before backing up our bags again for the final 2 km. We had a quite a laugh on the way out because the trail is, of course, pristine for the last 2 km. It’s all brand new fancy boardwalks, stairs, and bridges over the tiniest trickle of water or mud. So we were a little peeved all our trail fees were likely going into maintaining a 2 km section of trail for day-hikers who pay nothing, but hey, I’m glad it’s there for everyone to enjoy and I’m more often in the position of the day-hikers than the trekker.

I definitely was challenged by the experience, but I also learned from it. I’m a little addicted to backpacking now and I’m sure this will only lead to more and more adventures!

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Hiking the Juan de Fuca Trail – Part II

As you may have gathered from my previous blog, we had a bit of a rough start to the Juan de Fuca trail. However, Day 1 was our longest day, so we were optimistic about Day 2. We aren’t the swiftest moving people in the morning, but we had everything packed up and ready to go by 10:30am the following morning and hit the trail. It wasn’t much improved over the day before and still had some pretty muddy sections, but we were well beyond caring and they didn’t slow us down too much.

We were excited to reach our first suspension bridge, which saved us from a long hike back across the river. There’s a few suspension bridges on the trail and they’re all quite large and impressive. We joked that the trail was so crappy and muddy because the park spends all the camping fees on really nice suspension bridges and boardwalks at the beaches for day users!

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First suspension bridge of the day!

After about 3km on the trail we finally hit the coast. We stayed pretty close to the coast on Day 1, but there were no long beach sections. Sometimes we’d pop out on the beach for a minute, but the trail would always head back into the trees. So we were very excited to finally reach our first real beach stretch. The rocks and cobble are still hard on the feet and aren’t that easy to walk on, but we were definitely happy to have a break from the mud.

It’s not too far from Little Kuitshe to Sombrio Beach, which is the second and final bail out point on the trail. We walked along the beach for about a km before reaching the main part of Sombrio Beach where there is a parking lot and a campsite. It is a little disappointing to hike 18 km to a beautiful beach and then see day users who drove there. It takes away from the wildness of the trail and the feeling that you’ve reached a reward after a long day of hiking. But I suppose it’s also nice that everyone gets to enjoy such a beautiful place.

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First beach section

We crossed our second suspension bridge over Sombrio River and then continued further up the beach to stop for lunch around the 5 km mark. We had 12 km to hike on Day 2 – we were hoping to make it halfway before lunch again – but it was so nice on Sombrio Beach that we figured it was a good stopping point.

We experimented with some dehydrated dips from MEC for our lunches. I had a spicy southwest hummus and a three cheese bean dip that we just had to mix with water. While not the lightest, we’d brought pita to eat it with. I was impressed with the dips considering they were just powder and water. The hummus dip was actually the consistency of hummus, which I had been dubious about, and the bean dip had a nice flavor. Unfortunately, I don’t do great with spices and both of these dips were pretty spicy, so I won’t be buying them again, but I would recommend if you’ve got a better spice tolerance than me (which most people do). Emily’s opinion was that without the spice they probably wouldn’t taste like much of anything.

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Sombrio Beach – we hiked that whole coast!

We hit the trail again around 2pm with 7 km left to do after lunch. It still wasn’t the best time, but we hoped we could keep up a 2km/hour pace for the rest of the day. Up until Sombio, the trail had been marked as “moderate” on our map. The 7 km section from Sombrio to our destination at Chin Beach was marked as “difficult”, so we weren’t really sure what to expect.

Unfortunately for us, this section did prove even more difficult than the previous day because it was not only muddy, but steep and muddy. We went back into the woods at the end of Sombrio Beach and were afforded some of the best views on the trail up to that point. We had a great view looking back up the beach and along the wooded coast. It was a bit surreal because we could see the entire way back to Port Renfrew and it was pretty impressive to realize we’d actually hiked the entire coastline. There’s a nice waterfall at the end of Sombrio Beach that we hiked completely around, including over the top of it, so it really added to the photos.

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Waterfall at the end of Sombrio

The first 2 km out of Sombrio Beach were killer though. It started off with a small climbing section to get back into the woods. It was very steep and we had to take our packs off and hoist them up in order to climb up. It was just as muddy as the rest of the trail, but much steeper. There were several old boardwalk and stair sections, but they were almost completely deteriorated from use and made the trail even more difficult to navigate. Fortunately, it wasn’t raining, but there were some pretty sheer uphill sections covered in slippery mud, as well as some deep watery mud sections. Needless to say, we were soon covered in mud again and huffing and puffing as we (literally) pulled ourselves up the slope using tree branches, roots, and rocks.

We’d consulted our trail notes before heading into the woods and had been promised a flat logging road section in the middle. I’m pretty sure this was the only thing keeping us going because those first 2-2.5 km’s were just awful. I don’t think I’ve ever been as relieved as I was to finally see the logging road after hours of climbing. It was a little piece of heaven on the trail for us and it really did a lot to lift our spirits.

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Still technical…

The logging road was pretty cool. Since it was a road (and not a trail), it had decent drainage and we didn’t encounter any mud along it. The trees are of course all super tall around the road, so it had a bit of a romantic feel at times and a creepy feel at other times. But it was long; it extended for the better part of 2 hours in long, straight sections. Around every turn we’d be praying it would continue and then we’d be so relieved to turn the corner and see it stretching ahead of us for another several hundred metres. I can’t recall what kind of pace we kept on the uphill section, but I know it was pretty terrible and the 2 km on the logging road definitely did a lot to improve our time.

But all good things must come to an end, which eventually our logging road did. Unlike the previous day, or even that morning, it was totally empty on the trail. We hadn’t passed a single person since we’d left Sombrio Beach and by the end of the day we would only pass one group of 2 guys. The trail was kinder to us after the logging road though and had a lot of gentle ups and downs along a much less muddy trail. The only downside was that the trail makers that had been consistently located at every km disappeared along this section of the trail. We’d gotten used to the presence of the trail markers, so it was very discouraging not to see any and we had been worried we were making exceptionally poor time.

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Logging Road!

Eventually we reached our third suspension bridge of the day (which was on the map and finally gave us an indication of where we were). Around this point I consulted the tide maps and started getting a little concerned. There’s several “tide cut-off” points located along the trail that you need to monitor because once the tides reach a certain height, the beach becomes impassable and you have the wait for the tide to go back down.

I had consulted the tide tables prior to the trip, but I wasn’t too concerned because they would only be impassable in the evenings and I’d been sure we’d be to the campsites long before it became a problem. There was one tide cut-off point right before our destination at Chin Beach that would be impassable after 7:30pm. We hadn’t been making the best time, but we were hoping to make it to camp by 6:30pm. This would give us enough time, but I’m a notorious worrier about this kind of stuff and since my tide tables were for Port Renfrew, I was concerned it might be slightly different at Chin Beach and I was terrified we would get cut off from the campsite and be stuck there until midnight when the tides went down.

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Tide cut-off

Unlike me, Emily is not a worrier (or the biggest empathizer) and tried to tell me to get over myself, but I got quite the adrenaline boost in the last hour and pushed us along to our destination. At least it took my mind off my aching back and feet I guess.

We did make it to the cut off in time, but even Emily had to admit that it was pretty close. There’s sheer rock along the edge and we could see how far the tide was going to come up against the rock and it was getting pretty close to the rock when we arrived. But we had enough time and it was just a short 300 metre walk across the beach to the campsite.

Chin Beach was a much improved campsite over Little Kuitshe and had the benefit of being almost totally empty. We were the last (and only people) to enter the campsite from our direction, and there were 3 other groups up at the other end of the beach who were hiking the trail from the opposite direction. Since we were the only ones at our end, we found a truly amazing campsite and used 3 for ourselves. It had a beautiful beach view, a benched cooking area, firepit, and a nice sheltered area to pitch our tent.

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Campsite at Chin Beach

Thai sweet chili pasta was on the menu for supper and we enjoyed hot chocolate with a shot of fireball to warm us up as the sun went down (thanks Carolyn for this excellent idea!). We tried to get a fire going – actually we did succeed – but the wood was still too wet from rain the day before and we couldn’t get more than a smoke fire going. We enjoyed hanging out on the beach and watching the tide come up. We spotted several seals hanging out just off the shoreline and watched them for a while before hitting the sack to rest our weary feet!

Overall it was another challenging day, but it was also a much more rewarding day. The views were a lot better along the trail in this section and it was nice to camp on the beach and go to sleep to the sound of the waves against the rocks.

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