3 Brothers Mountain Backpacking Trip

The longer I live in Vancouver, the more I start repeating trips. This was my third time hiking to 3 Brothers Mountain (though each trip has been very different), but it was also probably my favourite trip! I’ve had a love affair with Manning Park for a long time. 3 Brothers Mountain was my very first hike in the park back in 2016 and while everyone else has been trying to bag every peak in Garibaldi Park, I’ve been working on bagging every trail in Manning. I day hiked the trail with Emily in 2016 and returned in 2018 with Carolyn to thru hike the Heather Trail over 3 days. On this occasion, I visited with my Girl Guide troop and we set up a base camp at Buckhorn Campsite for 3 days.

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This is my first year with a Trex Unit – which is a special girl guide unit focused entirely on outdoor adventure. For our first year, we decided to do a backpacking series. Our first trip was to Viewpoint Beach in May, which had moderate success due to all the rain, so Trex was very excited about the potential nice weather for this trip!

Unfortunately, with it being summer and people going on holiday, we had a small group, with just 5 girls, but their enthusiasm more than made up for it! They are very keen to hike Panorama Ridge one day, but we decided we needed a bit more practice in the backcountry before we attempted that hike. Which was an excellent decision because with the high snow pack this year, Panorama was still buried when we attempted this hike. In addition, my friends went up to Garibaldi the same weekend and ended up getting evacuated when the water levels rose into the campsite, so all in all, we were thrilled to be at Manning Park instead!

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That said, we were still up against some challenges in Manning Park as well, particularly the heat. After my companion got evacuated from Banff National Park last year with heat stroke, I’ve been very weary about hiking in hot weather. But heat waves are starting to become more and more common around here, so I’ve had a lot of learning about staying hydrated over the past year. It was calling for 28 degree temperatures on the 3 Brothers hike, so we decided to go anyways and packed in a lot of electrolytes with us.

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We gave each member a 1L bottle of gatorade before we left the lower mainland and they were tasked with drinking as much as they could before we started hiking. Traffic was brutal leaving Vancouver on the August long weekend, so they had a lot of time in which to accomplish this task, though it turned them off gatorade in the process. But we were nice and hydrated when we started.

Even so, it was a bit of a slog doing the 4km to the campsite. It was around 1pm when we pulled into the parking lot on Blackwall Road, so we ate our lunch there before starting our hike. Luckily it’s all downhill on the first day, so we took our time since everyone had heavy packs. We weren’t sure if it was going to be too early for the wildflowers with the late snowpack, but fortunately the meadows were in full bloom! We stopped several times in the shade on the way to the campsite, but still made fairly good time.

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When I hiked the Heather Trail, I went the full 13km to Kicking Horse Campsite on my first day, so I’d never stayed at Buckhorn. I thought it was a small site with a few tents pads, but I’d obviously never taken the time to explore it because it is a massive campground with 24 tent pads and a gorgeous sheltered cooking hut! I think it’s probably expanded since I was there in 2018 though because a lot of the tent pads looked very new.

Trex found a few tent pads next to each other that they liked, but they weren’t shaded, so the Guiders set up in a different area. We did some exploring around the campground before settling in the shelter for dinner. There were some mosquitoes around, but definitely not as bad as other campsites I’ve been to this year. For our first meal we had Mexican rice on tortilla, which was a huge hit!

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On Day 2 we packed our bags for a day hike up to the First Brother Mountain. This was the unit’s first major trek and we had a few growing pains at the beginning. The girls were not happy when I insisted that they each had to bring a full 2L of water on the trail. I don’t think they realized the extent of the hike and the term “day hike” had given them the distinct impression that it would be easy. So I think they learned a lot!

We were glad to be doing the climb up to the mountains early in the morning and we were all in awe at the huge fields of wildflowers along the route! It’s pretty route, so we took short breaks in every shady spot and a few longer snack breaks. In addition to gatorade powder, we all had packets of iced tea and pink lemonade to mix into our drinks. This was really helpful in encouraging the girls to drink more as not everyone loves drinking water. Even still, it was very hot and I wasn’t sure if we would want to push all the way to the top of the mountain. We decided to continue trekking to the bottom of the First Brother to assess from there.

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Because I still have some PTSD from the heat stroke incident, I didn’t want to pressure anyone to hike all the way to the top and gave the group lots of opportunities to turn around. But everyone was determined to summit, so we took a break at the base and started hiking up in groups. We stressed the importance of taking lots of breaks and that just because we were going to try for the summit, didn’t mean we couldn’t change our mind at any time. I opted to go last so that I could turn around with anyone who was having reservations (pretty much just me, lol).

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Fortunately everyone did amazing! Iris hiked halfway along the ridge, but opted not to go all the way to the summit because of her fear of heights, but all the Guides went right to the top! There’s not much vegetation up there for shade, so we quickly did our best to get a tarp up with our poles so that we could have a bit of shade to eat our lunch. Even though it was my third trip to the top of the mountain, this occasion was extremely rewarding because I was so proud of the group! They were all thrilled with their success and I loved watching them get that sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes with pushing yourself to achieve something new and scary.

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Just as we’d hiked up in small groups, we returned back down in small groups as well. I came last again and had a good chuckle when I caught up with the group, to find everyone sheltered under the one lonely tree that was providing shade on the ridge! We took a break here before heading back down. The lesson about packing lots of water was learned as everyone expressed their amazement that they had drank so much! We were even starting to run a little low, but we’d seen a few streams on the way up, so we decided to return to those to filter more water.

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There’s a small pond on the way back and we all dipped our hats in the water to cool down. The streams were really just a trickle, but we were able to filter about 5L, which was enough water to see the group back down to the campsite. The girls really powered it on the way back and beat the Guiders by a longshot. We took river baths and had a little nap before heading to the cooking shelter for supper, where we discovered the Guides had already fed themselves and were making dessert for us!

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So overall, I was super impressed with how everyone handled themselves on the hike in the heat. There was no complaining and everyone got up early the next morning so that we could try and beat the heat on the hike back uphill to the parking lot. You can see the First Brother Mountain from the parking lot and there was a real sense of accomplishment that we had hiked all the way there and back! So in conclusion, 3 Brothers Mountain remains one of my favourite hikes – I think it’s a great hike for beginners and it was a real pleasure to share this hike with the Girl Guides!

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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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