Kayaking Twin Islands

Since we weren’t allowed to travel outside of our health region over the May Long weekend, options for camping were pretty slim in the lower mainland. We’ve been wanting to kayak up Indian Arm since before we bought our own kayaks, and we decided to do a short trip out to Twin Islands on Saturday night.

Carolyn and Steve have a sailboat that they dock at Lonsdale, so the plan was for them to spend the night in Bedford Bay, near Belcarra, we would camp on Twin Islands, and then we could explore around Indian Arm together on the sailboat.

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Me and Seth wanted to leave out of Belcarra, but there’s no overnight parking anywhere in Belcarra (they really need to do something about this, I’m fine to pay for it, but there’s literally no options), so we were forced to leave from Deep Cove instead. Usually we launch from Belcarra around 9am and have no problems with parking, so we figured that would be sufficient for Deep Cove as well. We offloaded the kayaks and all our gear at the main parking lot and then I went in search of street parking while Seth brought everything down to the beach.

I was not prepared for how busy Deep Cove was at 9am. It was completely crawling with other boaters and picnickers. I drove around for ages looking for street parking before finally giving up and parking way up in the bush and walking 15 minutes back to the beach. The boat loading zone has to be one of the worst designed loading zones I’ve ever seen. People were double parked all over the road and the beach in front of the kayak rental shop must have had about 2 dozen paddlers.

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We had offloaded further down the beach, so it was just us and a family of 4 who were loading up their canoe. It was a gorgeous hot, sunny day, so we put on sunscreen before launching into Deep Cove towards Twin Islands. Our plan was to go directly to the island to secure a campsite and then spend the rest of the day around Indian Arm. It was still really calm on the water when we left, so a lot of the paddlers charted a direct course across Indian Arm to Twin Islands. I don’t like paddling in the middle of a huge open body of water for extended periods of time, so we clung to the coast until we were parallel with Raccoon island before crossing Indian Arm.

As the name suggests, Twin Islands comprises two islands located very close together. When the tide is low, you can walk between the two, when the tide is high, you can paddle between them. The tide was pretty high when we arrived, so I paddled around to have a look at the two islands. The North Island has steep cliffs along the exterior and the only way to get on the island is from a dock on the north side. In contrast, there is a small beach on the South Island where you can land, so we decided to land there.

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Seth took a quick run around the island, it’s not very big and there were already several tents set up, but he found a nice spot looking north across the inlet. We dragged all our gear up to the site, but decided to relax and have lunch before setting up. Unfortunately, it was then that Carolyn called to tell us they weren’t going to be able to make it out for the day. They had loaded all their gear onto the sailboat and backed out of the marina, only to discover their throttle was broken. They could reverse, but they couldn’t get the boat to go forward! So they were going to have to commit the day to fixing the problem before they could do any sailing.

After we had lunch I heard some other paddlers talking to the people in the campsite next to us about how camping isn’t actually allowed on the south island and debating whether to camp there or not. This came as a surprise to me because I hadn’t read about it anywhere in my research and couldn’t see any signs. We did some quick research since we still had cell service and I was able to find one line on the parks webpage that says “south island is just for day use”. Then I did a walk around the entire island and did find a single sign in the middle with a no camping symbol. We didn’t notice it when we first came in because it’s not visible from the water and another group had literally set their tent up right in front of it.

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So we had a little bit of a dilemma. I hate breaking rules in the backcountry because they usually exist for a reason. In this case, I suspect it’s because there’s no outhouse on the south island. We had come prepared for this because I actually thought there was no outhouse on either island, but my conscience didn’t feel right to camp on the island once I knew you weren’t supposed to, even though clearly other people we’re doing it. To be frank, the entire island was a bit of a gong show. There were boats everywhere and tons of picnickers and campers.

We had wasted time on the south island offloading and eating our lunch and I knew sites were now going to be slim on the North Island as well. So we debated what to do for a while and eventually decided to pack everything back up and skip camping altogether. The day was mostly supposed to be about spending time with Steve and Carolyn and neither of us was excited about camping on a super crowded island. Instead, we decided to paddle around Indian Arm for the afternoon and then return to Deep Cove before dark. It was a little disappointing, but I know we made the right chose not to camp where it’s not permitted.

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At least we hadn’t set up any gear, so it didn’t take too long to repack the kayaks. A dozen people had abandoned their boats on the small beach and neglected to give any thought to the rising tide, so Seth rescued 2 kayaks and a canoe that had started to float away because they hadn’t been tied on. We were both incredulous at such a level of negligence that we weren’t sad to leave Twin Islands behind. I would have liked to check out the North Island at least, but the dock makes it very difficult because you have to carry your kayaks up the gangway and store them on the island, which neither of us wanted to do with fully loaded boats.

We had the current with us, so we decided to paddle up Indian Arm a little way to see the old Buntzen Lake powerhouse. It was a quick paddle along the coast to get to the powerhouse, but the water was getting pretty choppy so I was a little nervous. I read that Indian Arm is best paddled in the early morning or in the evening and that the wind tends to come up in the afternoon. This was our first time paddling in the afternoon and it definitely wasn’t the best conditions. There’s no where to land by the powerhouse so we decided to make our crossing and head over to Thwaytes Landing, a small section of beach that has been designated as a Regional Park.

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It was an uncomfortable paddle, especially when any motorized boats would pass us, throwing their wake up over the tops of our kayaks. Normally I don’t have a problem with power boats, but these were not being considerate of paddlers and would speed by very close to us. I know they have the right of way, but they’re a lot faster than me and if they decide to pass right next to me, there’s really nothing I can do about it. It was a choppy landing at Thwaytes, but we had the beach to ourselves. There’s no facilities and it’s one of the stranger regional parks I’ve visited, but it’s great that it exists because there aren’t many rest points for paddlers along the arm.

The waves did die down a little bit while we hung out on the beach, so we decided to re-launch while things were a bit calmer. We didn’t want to go any further up the arm, so we started back the same direction we’d come. The waves had gone down a little, but there was still a pretty strong headwind to paddle against. We definitely got a good work-out and took another break at Brighton Beach, which is across from Twin Islands. It’s not a public beach, but we figured we could break at the end because generally you can’t own the beach below the high tide line (although Seth did some research and there are homeowners that own the beach because they bought the land before this rule came into effect). Unlike the camping rules though, I don’t care so much about this one!

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We were interested in going back to Twin Islands to go for a swim, but we didn’t want to cross the arm again, so we decided to head back to Deep Cove instead. It was tiring and took longer than anticipated, but we managed okay and finally paddled into the cove around 5pm. The water was surprisingly warm, so I decided to go for a quick swim in Deep Cove. Pre-Covid I would always go on a May Long weekend camping trip with my friends and me and Carolyn would go swimming, so I always swim at the end of May and all I can say is the ocean is definitely warmer than the alpine lakes!

I hiked back up to the car and we re-loaded the kayaks and all our gear. I texted Carolyn to let her know we were back and she quickly gave me a call to see if we wanted to come join them for supper since we were still in North Van. So we ended up picking up take-away and eating our dinner on the sailboat sitting in the marina! Not quite the meal we’d planned for the day, but we laughed that at least we finally got to hang out on the boat! We’ll definitely try the trip again in the future, but next time we’ll try to paddle out Friday night instead of Saturday morning to hopefully beat some of the crowds. Or potentially even go on a weeknight because it’s just so busy on the weekends, it does take away from the experience.

So overall, not the trip we planned, but we made the best of it and had some lessons learned about paddling in Indian Arm. Fortunately, since we don’t have to rent kayaks, it’s relatively easy to try the trip again soon.

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Zoa Peak Snow Camping

It hasn’t been the best year for winter activities. Between the pandemic restrictions and the avalanche ratings, it’s been hard to get out and enjoy the snow. We went snow camping at Lightning Lakes in late January and we’ve been trying to fit in a second trip ever since. The avalanche ratings have been pretty consistently at ‘Considerable’ and ‘High’ throughout the last month and we ended up cancelling our trip twice. But we finally got decent conditions this past weekend and decided to go for it as one last snow activity to close out the season.

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Zoa is popular among backcountry skiers because it’s a relatively easy hike up an old forestry road and thanks to the low incline, most of the hike is in simple terrain. Interestingly, the first time Carolyn and I ever snow camped was at the base of the Zoa Peak trail. We’d intended to go to Manning, but a wrong turn on the highway landed us in the Coquihalla Rec Area and we decided to snowshoe 1km in to the Zoa Peak/Falls Lake trailhead and camp on the summer parking lot (which isn’t plowed in the winter). So we felt like we’d come full circle by returning to this area and hiking up to Zoa.

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It was a busy day on the trail with both skiers and snowshoers, but we were the only ones staying overnight and the crowds quickly thinned out when we reached the top. However, it was a very challenging hike up the mountain. Because it was mid-March, it wasn’t really ideal snow conditions for any kind of activity. We debated for ages whether we should wear snowshoes or spikes and ended up with me and Brandon hiking in spikes and Carolyn and Steve in snowshoes. There was really no right answer, but in retrospect, I think snowshoes were overall the better choice.

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The first kilometre along the access road was very well packed and I had no problem in spikes, but once we started climbing up the old forestry road, snowshoes were preferable. It was really sunny, so the snow became a bit slushy and while we weren’t punching through the snow with spikes, it was a bit like walking on sand and made for a very draining hike up. Most of the elevation gain is done on the forestry road and with the sun beating down on us and reflecting off the snow, it ate up a lot of our energy. We all wore sunscreen on our faces, but I ended up getting burned on the underside of my chin from the reflection off the snow!

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After about 2.5km, you need to exit the road and hike into the woods. The summer trail exits the road earlier, but in the winter it’s better to continue further up since the grade is lower there. There is some pink flagging tape to mark the turn-off, but it’s easy to miss so I recommend being on the lookout and using a GPS. From there you hike up through the woods until you reach the ridge. It’s still steep, but the trail is more packed through the trees, so my spikes worked better here. It can be a bit confusing because the skiers take all kinds of different paths down through the trees, but as long as you keep going up, you really can’t go wrong and will eventually reach the ridge.

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Snowshoeing along the ridge up to the sub-peak is gorgeous! I did part of Zoa in the fall once, but it’s much more scenic in the winter because the snow lifts you up higher among the trees, resulting in a better view and not confining you to a single area. In the summer, the brush makes it impossible to travel along the entire ridge and the trees limit a lot of the view, so I much preferred the winter views.

In total, it’s about 5km from the highway to Zoa Peak. We decided from the beginning that we would cut off a kilometre and only hike as far as the sub-peak. This is because after the sub-peak the trail gets steeper and the avalanche terrain changes from ‘simple’ to ‘challenging’. The avalanche risk on the day we went was ‘moderate’ in the treeline and ‘considerable’ in the alpine. Zoa seems to be kind of on the cusp between treeline and alpine, so we decided to play it safe and camp at the sub-peak.

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By the time we reached the ridgeline, we were all exhausted, so we decided to camp just below the sub-peak. It was calling for a bit of wind overnight and we wanted to be sheltered, plus the views are gorgeous all along the ridge. So we found a good looking spot and got right to work on setting up camp. Unfortunately, stopping triggered a few issues for me and after a few minutes of shoveling I found myself getting really lightheaded. I think I was dehydrated, so I took a break and tried to re-hydrate with some electrolytes. We all suffered some mild dehydration throughout the hike, so it was a good reminder to drink lots of water prior to a hike as well. Fortunately we had lots of electrolytes and were all able to recover.

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So Brandon did a lot of the shoveling for our set up and eventually I got to work on a snow kitchen. The snow was really sticky so it was good for setting up a kitchen and we didn’t have to pack it down too much. There were 4 of us, so Brandon and I shared one tent and Carolyn and Steve shared another. We had a great view of what I think was Thar, Nak, and the back of Yak Peak and enjoyed hanging out watching the mountains. One of the benefits of going so late in the season was that we had a bit more daylight in which to enjoy the view.

Brandon made us miso soup to help with rehydrating and then we all got to work on melting snow for dinner. I shared Brandon’s classic thai curry chicken, which is my absolute favourite backcountry meal! My parents had sent me some chocolate from Newfoundland Chocolate Company, which we enjoyed as a treat for dessert.

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Usually when we go snow camping, we go to bed super early because it gets so cold and dark, but it was a warmer evening and the clouds had completely cleared out, leaving a beautiful view of the stars! So we stayed up much later than we usually do and I took star photos while Steve messed around with his radio to get us some tunes. Two night hikers passed us right after it got dark, but otherwise we were the only ones around and enjoyed a beautiful sunset. It ended up being 9:45pm by the time I finally crawled into the tent for bed, which is by far the latest I’ve ever stayed up snow camping!

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I didn’t get the best night’s sleep as the wind picked up overnight and shook us around a bit. Nothing to be concerned about, but it did make it a little harder to sleep. I made an egg and bacon hash for breakfast and then Brandon and I hiked the last few metres up to the sub-peak to check out the view. Otherwise we just took down camp and packed up again to head home. It was a lot easier on the second day because the sun stayed behind the clouds, meaning the slush had become more solid and was easier to hike out in spikes. We didn’t see as much traffic and powered down the trail in just an hour and a half (versus the 3 hours it took us to hike up).

So overall it was definitely one of the more challenging hikes, but the weather and views from the top were amazing and we ended up having a great time!

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Snowshoeing Lightning Lakes

After Shadow Lake, Lightning Lakes is one of my favourite places to snowshoe in Manning Park. Unlike Shadow Lake, this trail is outside of the resort managed trails and is free to snowshoe, so subsequently is attracts more traffic. The Lightning Lakes Trail is part of a 24km trail network that goes around both of the Lightning Lakes and then continues on to 3 other lakes. However, in the winter I recommend you just stick to the first two lakes as there’s low avalanche risk on this trail.

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Usually you can park right at the lake day-use area, but pending whether it’s recently snowed and how far into the season it is, they don’t always plow the road to the parking lot, in which case you can park along the main road and snowshoe in. The trail goes around first and second Lightning Lake, which are connected by a small river that runs between the two. There’s a beautiful bridge constructed over the two lakes and you can customize your trip to do either lake (or both). The second lake is my favourite (with the view from the bridge being the highlight), so I usually head clockwise around the first lake, which is the shorter route, to get to the second lake much faster.

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In the winter, the lake usually completely freezes over and most people will snowshoe right across the lake. Be careful if you opt for this route – check the weather the week before visiting to ensure it’s below freezing all week and make sure it’s not too early in the season to cross. I prefer only to cross in January or February. If in doubt, make sure to check the depth of the ice before crossing or just plan to stick to the trail in the trees. Also note that the river between the two lakes rarely ever freezes, even in the middle of the season, so always plan to go back to the summer trail in the trees before getting to the river.

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If you decide to go the long way around both lakes on the summer trail, the distance will be about 8.5km. If you just do the second lake using the summer trail, it’s about 7km. And if you cut across the lake and head to the back of the second lake, it’s about 6km, so there’s lots of room to customize your trail. My preference is usually to walk the summer trail to the back of the second lake and then come back along the edge of the lake (I’m too chicken to go across the middle of the lake, so I’ll walk on it, but stick close to the treeline). I’ve never done the entire first lake in the winter, only in the summer.

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To date, I’ve now snowshoed the lake twice. The first time was a real treat because my parents had come to visit and it was the first year I got to spend Family Day doing an activity with my actual family. We snowshoed to the back of the second lake, had lunch and made some hot chocolate, and then snowshoed back. More recently, I returned and went snow camping in the woods at the back of the second lake, but more on that later because I can definitely write a whole post on that adventure!

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