Posts Tagged With: adventure

Semaphore Lakes Backpacking Trip

I already wrote about my one night backpacking trip to Tenquille Lake, but I also did one night at Semaphore Lakes in the same trip. I decided to split up the trip into 2 blogs though because the two trails are not actually related and writing about them together would make for one really long post. We visited Tenquille Lake and Semaphore Lakes on the Canada Day long weekend in 2016. In hindsight, we easily could have spent 2 days exploring around Tenquille Lake, but instead we hiked out from Tenquille on the second day and did Semaphore for the second night.

The reason we picked Semaphore Lakes for the second night is that it’s super close to the Tenquille Lake trailhead. Instead of having to drive on the 4WD Branch 12 road though, it’s located just off the Hurley Forest Service Road, shortly past where the Branch 12 side road is (see my Tenquille Lake blog for more detailed directions). So you can get to this trailhead with 2WD.

Semaphore Lakes is a much shorter trail, it’s about 5km round trip to the lakes and back, but don’t be deceived because there is still 300 metres in elevation gain in the short 2.5km, so it does make for a pretty steep hike up to the top. With our packs, it probably took us about an hour and a half to reach. We had a bit of a late start hiking in to Semaphore because we had a personal issue come up that required us to drive back to Pemberton between the two trails. Then when we finally got back to the Semaphore Lakes trailhead in the late afternoon (and had all our packs on ready to go), Brandon realized he left his REALLY NICE Nikon DSLR camera on the side of the road at the Tenquille Lake trailhead when we were packing up the car. So we had to drive back up and down the 4WD access road, but fortunately his camera was still sitting there patiently waiting for us!

So I think it was after 5pm by the time we finally started hiking in to Semaphore and it started to rain on us in the last half hour. In my early backpacking days I had a bit of a “rain” phobia because I was terrified of my clothes and sleeping bag getting wet and being stuck freezing cold in the mountains. Actually, this is totally a valid fear and one I go to great lengths to protect myself from. I actually carried an umbrella with me on the entire 50km Juan de Fuca trail because I was afraid of the rain getting my clothes wet on the first day of our 4 day hike. I’ve since chilled out because I’ve acquired some better gear to protect me against these scenarios, but I remember when it started raining on the way to Semaphore I pretty much ran the last 20 mins to the lakes because I was terrified that our tent would get wet because Seth had failed to purchase himself a backpack cover. He thought a garbage bag on top of his pack would work fine – spoiler alert: it didn’t.

Anyways, in retrospect, the rain was a bit of a joke. It was really just sun showers and not a proper downpour, but when we got to the lakes we pretty much threw the tent up as fast as possible and chucked all our gear inside. Me and Seth were still using my parents ancient tent at this point, which is a tee-pee style tent and not very spacious, and I have this really funny memory of the two of us just sitting in the tent staring at each other waiting for the rain to stop because there wasn’t enough room to do anything else.

Brandon travels in style ALL the time, so he and Carolyn were next door happily setting up their mansion while we just stared at each other in angst – me because I was annoyed about the rain and Seth because he never really wanted any part of the trip to begin with. Eventually Carolyn and Brandon got their house all set up and invited us over for dinner, as if we had anything better to do LOL, and we climbed into their nice space and cooked supper poking out through the vestibule. This is like textbook ‘what-not-to-do’ because you don’t want your tent to smell like your dinner and attract bears. I want to say, “but we were rookies and didn’t know any better”, but we did know better, so I really have no excuse. I’ve since purchased a lightweight tarp for future trips, so problem solved next time.

Anyways, the rain did let loose after that. Fortunately we were all set up by that point, so none of our gear got wet, but it did result in a pretty early night. We failed to bring cards, so I ended up reading a bedtime story to everyone instead. I basically yelled at Carolyn and Brandon for 30 mins between the tents so that they could hear me over the sound of the rain, and those kweens just fell asleep on me in like the first 5 minutes, rude.

So our evening at Semaphore left a little to be desired after our awesome night and campfire at Tenquille, but I have no regrets because the rain moved on overnight and the clouds cleared out in the morning. So I woke to the sun shining on me and the most beautiful view of the lake through my tent door. I was afraid of the clouds rolling back in again, so I got up pretty early and me, Carolyn, and Brandon went for a little exploratory morning walk around the area. You could absolutely spend 2 nights at Semaphore Lakes as well because there’s so many other mountains nearby to explore during the day. Since it was only the first weekend in July and we were at a pretty high elevation, there was still a lot of snow around, so we just explored the immediate area, but it had some truly lovely views of the lakes and surrounding mountains.

One of the benefits to Semaphore Lakes was that it has a lot less people. Don’t get me wrong, there were still other campers, but there was a lot less than Tenquille and they were a lot more spread out, so it didn’t feel crowded at all. It also had significantly less mosquitoes than Tenquille Lake, so that was a blessed relief. The clouds did roll in again pretty quickly though, so we didn’t stay too long and packed up our gear after a quick breakfast.

Overall, it was a great foray into backcountry camping and though we had some challenges, they were not enough to deter me from wanting to try it again and I ended up doing 2 other backcountry trips that summer! I would definitely love to go back to both of these trails as a more experienced hiker and check out some of the other surrounding trails in the area.

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Categories: Life in British Columbia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tenquille Lake Backpacking Trip

Tenquille Lake is a lesser known trail in southwestern BC, located near Pemberton, but it was the first trail I ever did on an overnight trip! Before my visit to Tenquille lake, I had never been on a backpacking trip before. I’d done lots of camping and hiking growing up, and I even went on a 5 day hiking trip to Machu Picchu in 2013, but it was my first time being wholly self-sufficient and having to carry all of my gear with me (in Peru we had horses to take the bulk of our gear). Well… I mean… I was mostly self-sufficient. I definitely couldn’t have done it without Brandon’s expertise, but I still carried most of the gear I needed for the trip.

3 years later I’ve completely fallen in love with backcountry camping and I have gotten a lot better at it, so don’t be afraid to take that first trip if it’s something you want to try. It’s important to be as prepared as possible, but you can also learn by doing. As long as you practice “leave no trace” camping and take your “10 essentials”, everything else can be learned with time!

The ideal scenario for your first time camping is to have a Brandon, by which I mean, an enthusiastic friend who has more gear and knowledge than you and is willing to help you out while you learn and accumulate your own gear. Gear is a killer when you start off backpacking. It is really expensive and deciding what to purchase is intimidating because there are so many choices and you want to buy the right gear without bankrupting yourself. Fortunately my parents already had some backcountry gear that they loaned me, but it was all really old, so while it saved me a lot of money initially, it also weighed a lot and caused us a lot of grief to carry when we were just getting used to backpacking. So if you can find a friend who’s able to lend you a tent, sleeping pad, or stove, it will definitely alleviate some of the strain of having to buy all your gear at once.

Tenquille Lake is what I would like to credit as the birth of my really close friendship with both Brandon and Carolyn. We’d all hung out together before and gone on the occasional hike or ski trip, but backpacking really cements a friendship and because Seth doesn’t really like carrying a big backpack, I’ve spent most of my backcountry experiences with either Carolyn or Brandon or both. Brandon is a great person to have with you in the backcountry because he brings endless optimism and enthusiasm and he makes the best backcountry thai chicken curry you’ll ever have in your life… actually, forget the “backcountry” part, it’s the best thai chicken curry, period. And me and Carolyn just get each other. We operate on the same schedule, we get what the other likes and dislikes, and I will confide with her about pretty much anything and everything. We’re both on a secret mission to tell every woman about the miracle that is the divacup and how it changed our lives. Plus, she’s obsessed with fresh vegetables and nothing improves a backcountry meal like fresh stuff.

But back to Tenquille Lake. Since this was my first backcountry trip ever, I somehow convinced Seth to join me. I don’t think he had a very good time, but he still came. Brandon was our spirit guide for the trip and even though she hardly knew us, Carolyn was not deterred from joining us on a 3-day trip into the wilderness. I’m pretty sure we ended up at Tenquille Lake because it was one of the first trails listed in my hiking book and I basically looked at the first page and was like, “that looks great, let’s go there!” However, the trail in my hiking book was actually an 18km round trip hike with 1400 metres in elevation gain, which in retrospect, was totally BONKERS for a first hike.

Fortunately, Brandon, in his infinite wisdom, found out that there was a second trail that you could access with 4WD that was only 14km. I still don’t know what the elevation gain was on that trail, but having done a lot of hikes since then, I can guarantee it was WAY LESS than 1400 metres. Brandon lives for any trail with a 4WD access road so that he can play around in his Toyota 4-Runner, so he was thrilled to check out the shorter trail. For those interested in hiking either trail, the 18km trail is accessible by car from Lillooet Forest Service Road and the trailhead is located directly after you cross the Lillooet River. The second, shorter trail (which is the one we did) is located at the end of a 7km long forestry road that definitely requires 4WD. This is known as the Branch 12 entrance. Basically, you continue up Lillooet Forest Service Road and take the right fork up the hill onto Hurley River Forest Service Road until you reach Branch 12 on the right-hand side of the road (after the switchbacks).

We decided to do the trip on the Canada Day long weekend and drove out to Pemberton on Saturday morning with the intention of hiking to Tenquille Lake on Saturday night and Semaphore Lakes on Sunday night (I’ll write a separate post for the Semaphore Trip because otherwise this one will be way too long!). It was probably around 1 or 2pm by the time we reached the trailhead, so make sure you leave early if you’re planning to do this one as a day hike because even though the forestry road is only 7km, it really slows you down. I was rocking a pretty heavy backpack because me and Seth were using my parents old 10lb tent, but Brandon carried the stove and fuel and a fair bit of the food, so it definitely could have been worse. Carolyn was sharing a tent with Brandon, so I’m pretty sure she just had air in her pack because Brandon loves to share gear, but not carrying the weight.

I’ll admit, I’m a little foggy on the details of the trail 3 years later, but I do remember a fair bit of uphill through the woods at the start of the hike that eventually transitioned into undulating meadows. We didn’t get great weather on the trip and it was pretty cold at the lake for July, but the rain stayed away, so we really couldn’t complain. It was overcast on our first day, which is probably why it felt so cold. One of the things I do remember though, is the mosquitoes (henceforth known as “skitties”). Oh boy, were they ever bad at Tenquille Lake. It would have been nice to take it easy on our first major backpacking trip, but every time you would stop on the trail, you would be completely swarmed by skitties, so we pretty much would only stop to put on more bug spray. It definitely got better when we made it out of the woods and to slightly higher elevations. I didn’t find it too bad at the lake, but Seth would likely disagree with me. They must not like my blood type that much or something, because they more or less left me alone at the lake, but Seth had no respite and Brandon let him borrow his bug hat to try and keep them away. We don’t know Seth’s blood type, but the skitties love it.

One of my main motivations for picking the trail (besides stumbling upon it and thinking it looked nice), was that I thought it was probably far enough away from Vancouver that there would be less people, and that combined with the 4WD access road, there wouldn’t be very many people camping.

I can really be a dummy sometimes. But hey, it was my first backcountry trip and I’d still only been living in BC for 2 years at this point and I didn’t realize just how crazy everyone is for the outdoors here! There ended up being probably about 60 people in a campsite that’s made for 30 because it was a long weekend and a single Meet-Up group of 30 PEOPLE decided to visit the lake that weekend. It was a little overwhelming for my first time in the backcountry, but because of the overflow of people (and our late start), we ended up getting, what in our opinion was, the best campsite at the lake!

So I don’t condone this now that I’m a little more seasoned. When possible, you really should camp at the campsites or in a location that will cause the least harm to the surrounding area. At Tenquille, you’re not allowed to camp in the meadows because they are extremely sensitive, but because of the surplus of people in the actual campground, we were forced to find some overflow space, and yes, it was in the meadows. We avoided any untouched meadow and stayed only on the trail, but we did find an area that had obviously been used many times before for overflow camping and didn’t have any alpine vegetation anymore, so that’s where we camped. In the pictures it kind of looks like we’re in the middle of the meadow, but there was a trail there and about 4-5 campsites that are hard to see because of the surrounding vegetation. I’ve gotten a lot more sensitive about these things the more I backpack, so I always try and camp where I won’t have an impact on plant habitat.

Despite the shoddy weather though, I absolutely loved Tenquille Lake. I’ve come to appreciate this trail more since I was first there because it really is the perfect mix of alpine lakes and alpine meadows. Alpine meadows have become pretty much my favourite backcountry scene, and Tenquille has both the lake, surrounded by mountains, and the alpine meadows next to the lake. This was also one of the rare backcountry hikes I’ve done since I moved here where we were actually permitted to have a campfire. Most provincial parks prohibit campfires in the wilderness and by early July, we’re usually into full fire ban, but this was one trip where we went early enough to have a campfire. I’m realizing now that Brandon must have carried an axe up there on top of all his other gear, so thanks again Brandon!

We definitely had to layer up at the lake because it was really cold, but I became totally enamoured with getting away from the city, eating with a kick-ass view of the lake, and waking up to see the sun just poking over the top of the mountains. We didn’t see the sun very much on this trip, but it did come out for about an hour both mornings, so I got up pretty early on that trip because I wanted to photograph our surroundings with the brief glimpse of sunshine and blue sky. Both days it clouded in by 9am, but we got a few hours of sunshine before the clouds snuck back into the mountains.

So all in all, it was a wonderful first trip into the wilderness. We did the somewhat strange choice of hiking back to the car and then doing another overnight hike to Semaphore Lakes (instead of just one 2 night hike), but more on that in a later post!

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Snowshoeing Artist Point

The weather has finally started improving over the last few weeks, so I’ve been getting ready to start posting more about Spring and Summer hikes, but I have one last winter-related post to share. After our ski trip to Apex and our snow camping adventure at Keyhole hot spring, I decided it was time to pack away my skis and snowshoes for the season. However, the weather was so nice in mid-march that my friend Lien convinced me to get the snowshoes out for one last spring snowshoe adventure.

Apparently Lien’s exhausted everything within 2 hours driving distance of Vancouver, so he’s started exploring south of the border to get his mountain fix. We’d both seen a few posts throughout the winter of people snowshoeing at Artist Point, near the Mount Baker ski resort, and it looked like it had the most picturesque views, so we decided to check in out. We did our first Washington State hike a few months earlier (before the snow), in late October, and had a blast, so we were optimistic about Artist Point. My sister Emily moved to Vancouver in January of this year, so she decided to join us for the adventure.

You never know how long it’s going to take crossing the border, but we crossed in Abbotsford, so it didn’t take long at all. Artist Point is located right at the Mount Baker ski lodge, so it was about a 2 hour drive in total from my house in New Westminster. Like I said, we’ve only just started exploring the North Cascades region over the past few months, but it is incredibly gorgeous and I expect we’ll be spending more time there in the future!

Artist Point was a little overwhelming at first. Follow the main highway out to Baker and then continue past the first ski lodge up to the second parking lot. Again, continue through this parking lot and you’ll come to another parking lot in the recreation area (outside the paid ski hill). I say it was overwhelming because there were just so many people there! I was expecting it to be busy at the ski resort, but it was just as busy in the rec area. Artist Point is popular among both snowshoers and backcountry skiers as there’s a lot to explore in the area. I’ve never really been interested in backcountry skiing or ski touring because it seems like a lot of work and a bit intimidating. Whenever I’ve seen skiers while snowshoeing, I haven’t thought it looked any more fun than snowshoeing. But Artist Point was one trail where it was sorely tempting to take up backcountry skiing!

The trail is both straightforward and somewhat confusing. I say that because it appears that there are a ton of different trails going in every direction, but most of them end up at the same place, they just take different routes of varying difficulty to get there. The only thing to avoid is to make sure you don’t hike into the big ski bowl at the very beginning. Follow the trail up along the edge of the ski slope and you’ll be fine. It’s marked with boundary markers for the skiers at Baker and you can just follow along the side. Some skiers were skiing in the bowl, but it is higher avalanche risk in there, so if you want to explore, make sure you have your AST training and the proper gear.

Since we had neither of those things, we stuck to the marked trail. The rest of the trail is fairly low avalanche risk, but again, make sure to check the level online before you go hiking. Also, a friendly reminder to always give someone your trip plan, especially if you’re crossing the border. But I would definitely highly recommend the Artist Point Trail! I think it’s actually a great trail for beginners because it’s not very long, only about 6km in total, and the elevation gain is reasonable at about 300m. Plus the payoff for level of effort expended is unbelievable! Even the views hiking up the edge of the ski slope are great, but once you reach the top of the plateau, it’s a 360 degree panoramic view!

I thought we were looking at Baker as we were walking up because it’s where the ski resort is, but I learned on this trip that the Mount Baker ski resort isn’t actually on Mount Baker, it’s on Mount Shuksan. Logically this makes sense because Mount Baker is really too large and inhospitable an environment to have a ski resort, but I guess I never really thought about it before. Once we reached the top of the plateau, I realized we hadn’t been looking at Mount Baker on the way up because Mount Baker was actually located on the other side of the ridge. From the top of Artist Point, you can see the jagged peaks of Shuksan on one side and the flat volcanic top of Baker on the other.

We ate lunch as soon as we hit the ridge because we were pretty hungry and then we did some more exploring afterwards. When you hit the ridge, you’ll be able to see Table Mountain on the right and then another hill on the left. The hill of the left is actually Artist’s Point and this is where I’d recommend exploring. There’s a ton of great views up there and it’s a great place to start your ski back down. There were some people snowshoeing Table Mountain, but it’s a very steep ascent to the top and it has a higher risk of avalanches, so we opted to skip it. In the summer you can actually drive right up to the top of the ridge, so we may have to come back in warmer weather to explore further!

There was a crazy amount of people exploring around Artist Point, but it is a wide open area, so it never felt too crowded. It was busy, but not so crowded on the peaks that you couldn’t get nice photos. I find it’s always hard to know whether or not to wear snowshoes or spikes on heavily crowded trails, but this is one trail where I would recommend snowshoes, even with the heavily packed trail start. Emily and Lien wore snowshoes, but I decided to take the risk of wearing spikes. It made for a much more enjoyable ascent, but when it opens up at the top, snowshoes are definitely better because there’s still a lot of fresh powder up there. I managed with the spikes, but snowshoes would give you a bit more freedom.

Overall we really lucked out on this hike. It was around mid march when we did it and we got clear blue skies. It was about 10 degrees on the mountain but it felt quite hot with he sun constantly bearing down on you. There’s no shade anywhere, so bring sun protection no matter one time of year you go. There wasn’t a lick of wind when we visited, but in different conditions it could be pretty rough up on the ridge with blowing snow. I’m going to have to add it to my list of places I want to snow camp though because there is so much wide open space up there and such amazing views, it would be incredible to sleep up there and get to watch the sun set and rise over the mountains.

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