Hiking Seed Peak

Over the years it’s become a bit of a tradition that me and Brandon always go hiking together on the Thanksgiving long weekend. The forecast was calling for gorgeous weather on Thanksgiving Monday, so we got to planning where we wanted to hit up this year. Brandon had a long list of hikes to try, but once we started doing a bit of research, we found it to be a bit challenging to find a suitable hike for the conditions.

Because I believe in always putting ample research and consideration into every hike you do, I’ll walk your through our process. First we crossed off some of the longer and more strenuous hikes from Brandon’s list. One of the hikes was a whopping 1800m in elevation gain and we were concerned about having enough daylight hours to do such a long hike. Next we took into consideration the weather. It had been uncharacteristically cold the week previous and in true Vancouver fashion, it had rained all week. A bit of research confirmed our suspicion that many of the local peaks were now covered in snow. Brandon was keen to do Tricouni Peak outside of Squamish, but the two routes up to summit involve either fording 2 creeks, or crossing what is described as the “mud gauntlet”. Both of these options sounded like a bad idea given the amount of rain that had fallen earlier that week and the peak was still quite high in elevation (meaning more snow), so eventually we landed on Seed Peak.

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4WD access road to the trailhead (E110)

Seed Peak is a less trafficked trail off of Mamquam FSR in Squamish. It was 300m lower in elevation than Tricouni, and while we knew there would still be snow, we guessed the access road would be snow free and overall make for a shorter, less strenuous hike. After having done the hike, I wouldn’t say it’s not strenuous, but hey, that’s how we ended up giving it a try!

Mamquam FSR is in good condition and any vehicle should be able to make it to the end of the road. AllTrails actually lists this hike as 19.5km starting from the end of Mamquam FSR. Brandon hates hiking on anything he could have driven, so we took his 4runner a fair bit further than that. From the end of Mamquam, you branch off onto E100 and then E110 to get up to the trailhead. E100 is a bit steep at the beginning, but still in pretty good shape, I think most SUV’s and AWD could make it up to the end of E100. We were able to get Brandon’s car all the way to the end of E110, but I would advise hiking up the last little switchback (about 300m). There’s a pullout before a steep rugged section and I didn’t think it was really worth risking the drive up that part.

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Logging at the trailhead

I would only recommend Seed Peak if you have good wayfinding skills. It’s pretty intuitive to know where to go, but there are parts without a well defined trail (and some parts with no trail), so if you’re hopeless with navigation I’d give it a pass. The most confusing bit for us was finding the trailhead. This is an active logging road and there has been some slashing between the road and the trailhead, which run parallel one another for a few hundred metres. I suspect they weren’t supposed to log onto the trail, but it looks like it happened nonetheless. We did some crawling over the logs to try and get to the trail, only to miss it entirely and then hike up the edge of the slash until we found trail markers. My recommendation would be to walk right to the very end of the road, from there you’ll see a trail marker, you may have to climb over a few logs, but you can pick up the trail a lot easier from there rather than trying to cut across all the downfall.

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After that it’s pretty easy to follow the trail markers up about 1km to the sub-alpine. This was the only part of the trail that didn’t have snow on it when we did it. The snowline started around 1400m. The great thing about this hike is that only the first 1km is in the woods, after that you have views for pretty much the entire hike! It was the main reason we picked it, because we figured if the conditions were too bad or snowy to do the whole thing, at least we still had a good chance of seeing some nice views early in.

It is a challenging trail though. It’s not been the easiest hiking season for me as I’m still pretty out of shape from the pandemic with all my normal exercise activities still being cancelled (or high risk). It’s 12km round trip to the top of Seed Peak, but the elevation gain is misleading as there is a lot of up and down and it is quite steep. Fortunately we were prepared with microspikes as we definitely couldn’t have done the trail without them given how steep it is. I was a little bit concerned as we were going up that it would be a struggle to come back down, but it was manageable with the spikes.

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After you pop out of the woods, you immediately start a steep climb up to the first peak. I can’t see a name for this peak on Gaia, but it has great views if you’re looking for a shorter hike. It’s very flat on the top, so we wondered around snapping photos before continuing on. This trail is also known as Pinecone Trail, so you might see it listed as that on some trail apps (Gaia included). The reason it’s called Pinecone Trail is because after the first peak, you cross the border into Pinecone Burke Provincial Park! I was particularly excited about this because I live in Coquitlam and go hiking in Pinecone Burke all the time.

For a bit of history, Pinecone Burke was first established in 1995 and has the unfortunate legacy of being one of BC Parks least funded parks. Despite it being a huge park located right in the lower mainland, it receives very little upkeep or promotion. Most of its users access it from Harper Road on Burke Mountain and it’s popular for mountain biking. There are a handful of trails in that area, but otherwise the park is mostly wilderness. It’s sandwiched between the Coquitlam Watershed and Pitt Lake in the south end, and continues north until it intersects with the south end of the much more popular Garibaldi Park. There’s limited access in the north end and Seed Peak is one of the only trails I can find exploring this end of the park, so I was excited to see a completely different side of it.

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After the first peak, the trail has a steep false descent, after which you climb up to a second smaller peak before beginning the real descent. We were one of 4 groups on the trail, so it was very empty. However, we were the last group, so we didn’t have to make tracks and just followed the trail the previous groups had created. This may or may not have been a good thing. Whether or not there is an actual trail in the summer is hard to tell when it’s covered in snow, so we don’t know how much we were actually walking on the real trail and definitely went through some vegetation. The upside is that all the rocks were covered in snow, so we didn’t have to navigate any boulder fields and mostly just cut a path straight down. We were definitely in the vicinity of the intended trail (according to my GPS), but I’m not sure if it would be any easier on a warmer day.

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The descent is a bit of a bummer when you know you have to continue climbing again. As you start to climb up the next peak (also unnamed on my GPS), you do get a few glimpses down to the beautiful jade waters of November Lake. It was a bit of a slog going up, but you’re surrounded by beautiful views on all sides. Unfortunately, there’s still one more peak to go after that. It took us about 2.5 hours to make it to this section, we continued a little bit further to get up to this hump before Seed Peak, but we opted not to go the whole way up Seed Peak. We did have enough time, but we could tell it was still a bit of a slog to get up there and we wanted to conserve some energy for the way down. So instead, we had a nice long lunch break in which to enjoy the view!

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If you do go the whole way, I think you get a view down to Pinecone Lake, which you can’t see from below because there’s a big ridge between Seed Peak and Mount Gillespie that blocks it. But there are still incredibly gorgeous views down into the valley and the snow-covered wilderness. I’d definitely be keen to return in the summer and camp along the ridge, although there’s limited water sources so you would have to come prepared for that.

Either way, we had a great time hanging out and filmed some fun videos to pass the time. It was definitely cold; I had a lot of layers, so my body was warm, but I had worn my hiking boots instead of my winter boots and unfortunately my feet did get wet from the snow getting trapped between the sides of my microspikes.

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We thought it might take us even longer to hike back because really steep sections are often worse on the downhill, but fortunately it wasn’t too bad and we cut about a half hour off our time on the way back. I was exhausted on all the uphill sections though, so I definitely need to start doing a bit more exercise on my non-hiking days. The trickiest part is that there is one rope section on the first peak (early in the hike). It’s even worse going down and we all guided each another on foot placement on the way back. I had been debating bringing Sadie on the hike with me, but I’m glad I didn’t. We read there was one rope section and I was worried about her on that part and with all the snow. I think a dog could get up the rope section, but I honestly don’t know how you would get them down. Overall there’s a lot of narrow edges and cliffs, so I would have been very weary with Sadie. I would likely have to let her off leash for my own safety in sections and I’d be worried about her making a mistake near a cliff edge. Also, we saw a GIANT black bear on the drive in, so they are definitely still active.

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Overall, we were hiking for just shy of 6 hours, so it was a great end-of-season hike. It’s about an hour drive from Squamish and we made it back to town around 5pm. The downside was there was an accident on the Sea-to-Sky. We had dinner at Howe Sound Brewing to try and avoid the traffic back-up, but it had only gotten worse and we ended up sitting at a standstill for 45 minutes. I think it was shortly after 9pm when I finally made it home, making for a bit of a long day! Either way, I’d recommend checking out this hike earlier in the season next year if you have 4WD or high clearance and like a challenge!

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Mamquam Lake Backpacking Trip

I’m starting to lose count of the number of times I’ve been up the Elfin Lakes trail, but every time has been a very different experience so I keep going back! I’ve day hiked it to the Gargoyles, backpacked up to Opal Cone, snow camped, and taken a group of girl guides up there in very marginal conditions. On the occasion I hiked up to Opal Cone, we’d actually been aiming for Mamquam Lake, but abandoned our pursuit because it was too hot, so I was really keen to make another attempt to get to Mamquam on this trip.

Karen and Grant planned this trip for mid August and invited me to accompany them. An overnight camping pass is required for one of the 35 tent pads, so I quickly booked up one for myself and easily convinced Brandon to join me. He’d been with me on the first failed trip, so it was only fitting. Me, Karen, and Grant took Friday off to hike up and Brandon joined us later in the evening after he got off work. Not something I’d recommend, but he’s very familiar with the trail and he’s a fast hiker.

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I met Karen and Grant downtown and we drove together to the trailhead outside of Squamish. You only need 2WD to get up the road in the summer, but I was a bit surprised at the condition for such a popular hike – it’s seems to have deteriorated quite a bit in the last few years. Parks staff met us on the road on the way up to check our passes and warned us there were a lot of black bear sightings and even one grizzly sighting. There’s a lot of berries on the trail, so make sure to bring spray and a horn if you visit (not bangers though as they present a fire risk).

It was a really dicey forecast for the weekend, so we weren’t really sure what to expect. It had rained on and off on the drive up and it was looking pretty grey when we arrived. We made good time on the old road up to Red Heather hut, but it did start raining pretty early into the hike. It rained solid for about 15 minutes, but then fortunately it slowed down and mostly just drizzled on and off after that.

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We stopped briefly at the hut for a snack and I picked a handful of blueberries before continuing on. The rain had mostly stopped, but the clouds were super low and we knew we weren’t going to get any view, so we took the bike path up. I thought the bike path was in better condition than the hiking path, which often gets muddy, but I learned on the way down it’s been completely redone with crushed rock, so I definitely recommend the hiking path!

We dried off pretty fast after that and made a good pace to the campsite, but unfortunately we didn’t see any views at all. We were clearly right in the cloud and it was super foggy, so there wasn’t much to take photos of on the way in. We didn’t mind though because we were just so happy to be able to put our tents up in dry weather! I had taken my new Gossamer Gear tent for the trip and thanks to Carolyn, executed what is quite possibly her best idea ever and most brilliant tent pad hack! Since my tent is only set up with hiking poles and relies on tension to keep it upright, it’s hard to set up on wooden pads because it relies on being staked. The solution was a pack of 8 tiny wood screws that you could hand screw right into the tent pad! It worked so great and I was thrilled with how easy it was to set up!

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Side note: for those of you who care, I’m still testing out my Gossamer Gear tent and assessing whether the single-walled design and subsequent condensation build-up on the inside are something I can deal with. On the first morning the tent was absolutely drenched, but so was Karen and Grant’s normal tent, whereas the second night it held up very well in the wind and rain and had minimal condensation in the morning. So I guess it is super dependent on weather conditions and I’m slowly learning how to deal with it.

Overall it took us just over 3 hours to do the 11km hike up to the hut. It was after 5pm when we arrived so we went to the cookhut to make dinner after setting up our bedrolls. Because of the extreme high risk of wildfires, BC Parks is requiring all cooking to be done in the shelter. While I agree this is prudent, I’m a little annoyed that they closed the sleeping hut for the season because of covid. I get you don’t want people sleeping there, but eliminating access to it and then forcing everyone to cook inside one tiny cook hut while it is still a pandemic seems counterproductive. Anyways, how busy the hut was varied and fortunately it wasn’t busy on Friday night. Despite all the tent pads being sold out, only about half were actually in use, so I think BC Parks booking system and cancellation policy could use a little updating too.

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Anyways, that’s my rant for this post. We had a real treat during dinner when the clouds finally started to break up and give us a view! At first we’d just get the odd glimpse of a mountain through a hole in the clouds, but eventually they broke up completely and we got the most beautiful cloud inversion down into the valley! We hung out and watched the sun set over the mountains before returning to Karen and Grant’s tent for a few rounds of cards while waiting for Brandon to show up. Fortunately he arrived shortly before 10pm and we quickly hit the sack in preparation for an early rise the next morning.

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Day 2 was pretty unreal. Karen and Grant woke up at 6am and the sky was completely void of clouds and they were all sitting down in the valley. But when I got up at 7am the entire campsite was shrouded in fog. It cleared out again during our breakfast, but by the time we departed the campsite, it had rolled it once more. So we figured it was just going to be one of those days where you never know what you’re going to get and just have to hope for the best. At least we didn’t have to battle the heat!

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Like I said, this was my second time on the trail to Opal Cone. Overall the entire trail from the parking lot to Mamquam isn’t particularly difficult. It’s not technical at all, but the trail has a lot of cobble sized rocks, so it does get tiring on the ankles and feet after a while. The trail meanders up and down for the first couple kilometres and then it drops down to the river at the base of Mount Garibaldi before climbing slowly back up the side of Opal Cone. There’s a lot of ascent, but it’s very gradual, so it’s not a bad trail for newer hikers. We couldn’t see Mount Garibaldi or Opal Cone on this hike, but we worked our way up the side of the mountain until we eventually reached the trail branch for the Opal Cone summit.

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We’d planned to go up to the cone, but it was still very foggy and we could tell based on the elevation of the clouds that it would be cloudy at the top, so we decided to continue on and hope for the best on the way back. Karen and Grant had initially been thinking they might only go as far as Opal Cone (which is 6.5km one way), but everyone was feeling good, so we continued down into the glacial flat as a group. I don’t know if glacial flat is the correct term, but that’s what it looks like to me. There’s a big glacier behind Opal Cone that melts into a lake surrounded by rocky moraines from the historical glaciers. The whole area is really one big volcanic desert, with lots of dust and little vegetation, it can be brutal on a hot day.

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The other side of the glacial lake was as far as Brandon and I made it on our last trip, so we were now moving into new territory. It was almost as if the weather knew it and as soon as we started making our way into the next valley, the clouds lifted and a few streaks of sun shone through. It never lifted off completely, but we were rewarded with some beautiful dusty views looking down the valley. There were several wash outs along the trail, 2 were before Opal Cone, but the most difficult one is on the way to Rampart Ponds (pictured below), which is the next campsite on the trail, located between Opal and Mamquam Lake.

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My favourite part of this valley was the river that runs through the center. When you cross over it, the bridge is actually located at the merging of two rivers. The main river is incredibly chalky and silty, while the other is beautiful clear freshwater. So we stopped here to replenish our water bladders before climbing the last pass up to the campsite. You arrive at the campsite pretty much as soon as you crest the pass and there are several tent pads and ponds. I figured this would be my last trip to Elfin if I made it to Mamquam, but now me and Brandon are determined to return once more and stay at Rampart Ponds! Although I’d caution against it on a particularly hot day since there’s absolutely zero shade to be found.

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From Rampart Ponds, you continue up another few minutes to the top of the pass, where you have the most incredible 360 degree view of Opal Cone and Mount Garibaldi on one side (on a clear day) and a view down to Mamquam Lake on the other. Rampart Ponds is 3.5km from Opal Cone and it’s a final 1.5km to Mamquam. The only problem is it’s a pretty big descent to get down to Mamquam, so even though it sounds short, it’s a big climb on the return trip.

Either way, we were so close we were determined to get there for lunch. We trundled on and I really enjoyed this section of the trail. It was still cloudy, but they had lifted up a bit and me and Karen both loved the terrain. Everything we’d hiked that morning had been desert, but the hike down to Mamquam is proper alpine greenery and meadows, so it made for a nice change of pace. We arrived shortly after 1pm to grumbling tummies.

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As much as I wanted to eat my lunch, I’d been struck by the urge to swim and knew if I didn’t do it right away, I wouldn’t do it at all. It was not a warm day. I hiked in pants all day and while I only wore a t-shirt, it was chilly when you weren’t moving. So I stripped down to my swimsuit and went in. It’s a beautiful large lake with sloping mountain walls, but it’s very shallow at the foot of the lake. Fortunately, it’s also pretty sandy, so even though I had to walk out a fair way without shoes, it wasn’t painful. At first it felt cold, but I warmed up really quick because the water was actually warmer than the air. I convinced Grant and Brandon to join me and I ended up swimming for the better part of 15-20 minutes, which is substantially longer than I can usually stand to swim in alpine lakes. After I got out I got cold fast though. So I quickly bundled up in my puffy. Surprisingly the guys never got cold and it made for a funny contrast with me in my puffy while they ate their lunches shirtless.

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We really enjoyed the lake, especially because we were the only people there. In general, we didn’t see a lot of people while hiking and Rampart Ponds had actually been completely empty when we hiked through. The slog back up out of the valley wasn’t as bad as I anticipated. The forest was filled will blueberries, so we all did some picking and snacking on the way up.

After that though it was a pretty long slog back. I didn’t mind the hike back to Opal Cone too much, me and Brandon mostly fantasized about where we would explore on our next trip, but the section from Opal back to Elfin was brutal. Opal was clouded in again on our return, so we skipped it, which I don’t regret. My feet were pounding by the time we got there, so we just did our best to get to Elfin. In total it was 22km of hiking, which is a lot to do in one day and the most I’ve done this season. We were all starving when we got back and happily settled in to have our supper.

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We crammed ourselves into Karen and Grant’s tent for a few games of cards before bed, but we were all exhausted, so we called it shortly before 10pm. Unfortunately, it started pouring just as we finished. We didn’t know how long it would last, so we all ran around like banshees trying to do our nightly routines and get in our tents… only for the rain to stop about 10 minutes after we were done. If only we’d played one more round of cards we would have missed it.

Everything was wet in the morning, but the tents actually dried out pretty good before we packed them and nothing was too wet when we took down camp. It was a brisk morning and we all kept our rain jackets on for the return hike. In general the clouds were higher on the way back than the way in and we did catch a glimpse of some views. There’s more uphill on the way back than I remember, but nothing too bad. Once we reached the Red Heather Hut we totally powered down the last 5km and back to the car. We finished with pizza and beer at Backcountry Brewing, which is quickly becoming our new tradition!

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Hanging Lake Backpacking Trip

Apparently Mount Assiniboine wasn’t quite enough adventure for me and I decided to go to Hanging Lake near Whistler just one week later. Honestly, it was a pre-planned trip that I probably would have preferred to skip after the drama of Assiniboine, but I had planned it with Carolyn and because of our schedules, it was the only weekend we both had available until late September (we went in mid July), so I didn’t want to miss out on that time with her.

There were a few other people going on the trip, but I was still really anxious hiking with people I didn’t know that well after my experience at Assiniboine, so Carolyn and I did most of the hike on our own. It ended up working well because I wanted to go slow after the heat wave, and Carolyn was tired from recently travelling, so it was definitely one of our slower hikes. It wasn’t anywhere near as hot as Assiniboine, but it was still high 20’s, so not a walk in the park either. We left around 8am to drive out to Whistler and parked her car overnight at the Rainbow Lake trailhead.

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Rainbow Lake is a pretty popular hike – it climbs up 800m of elevation over 8km to Rainbow Lake, which is the Whistler municipality’s watershed. Because of this, we found it to be a pretty well maintained and easy trail. There are lots of fancy new bridges and outhouses because it’s essential not to pee or poo in the watershed. Despite the substantial elevation gain, it’s a pretty gradual incline for most of the hike and just gets a bit steeper towards the end. It’s not a bad hike for a hot day because most of it is in the trees, but it is incredibly disappointing not to be able to swim in the lake at the end, so take that into consideration.

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The Metro Vancouver watershed is entirely closed to the public, so it’s pretty unique that we can still hike in the Whistler watershed and we should do everything we can to protect it when visiting. They’ve outfitted the lake with a really nice trail and lots of benches and picnic tables, so it makes for a great lunch stop, which is what we did. Carolyn and I have both been experimenting with cold soak lunches lately and used this trip to try some of them out. Cold soaking is basically choosing foods that will rehydrate just by soaking in cold water for a few hours. Lots of people soak their dehydrated meals pre-cooking, but cold soaking doesn’t involve any heat.

I have two recipes that have been working out well for me, one is instant rice with dehydrated veggies and taco seasoning and nutritional yeast (cheese flavour). The other is a dehydrated pasta salad that I cold soak and add a small bit of salad dressing and fresh cheese. Carolyn’s been experimenting with some couscous and quinoa recipes. They’ve been working out great for me and I enjoy them a lot more than eating cheese and salami on tortilla day after day after day.

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There were a fair number of people hanging out at Rainbow Lake, but it never felt particularly crowded and we didn’t see many people on the actual trail. Most people just hike up to Rainbow Lake as a day hike as there’s no camping allowed, so we had decided to continue on another 2km to Hanging Lake. The trail continues along the back of the lake and I recommend doing this part of the trail even if you’re just day hiking. The trail starts to climb up over a pass at the back of the lake and in my opinion, was where you could get the best views of Rainbow Lake! After you hit the top of the pass, you’re out of the Whistler watershed and can descend down to Hanging Lake, where camping is permitted.

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It’s a bit steep going down to Hanging Lake, but short, so not a big deal. There’s space for 10 tents at Hanging Lake and it has some really nice new facilities, including an outhouse and bear cache. Tiiu and Spencer were already at the lake when we got there and we were joined a bit later by some more of their friends. We were surprised to find the campsite almost entirely empty! Aside from our group, there was only one more tent there, otherwise it was completely empty. Based on how busy everything has been during the pandemic, I really didn’t expect that on a Saturday night. We’re not sure if the lack of people is just because the trail isn’t actually that popular, or if it’s because travel had recently re-opened and a lot of the locals had cleared out of the province (or the region) for a holiday. Either way, it was great for us!

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It was around 3pm when we arrived and we hung out at the lake for the rest of the day. Everyone went for a swim, but the water was freezing and not very deep. We later realized we were super lucky as there was a nice breeze that kept all the bugs away. The breeze dropped down while we were eating supper and the mosquitoes came out with a vengeance, sending us all to bed by 9pm.

Instead of coordinating, we decided to be totally self sufficient on this hike. Carolyn and I have been working on upgrading some of our gear to try and be more lightweight. We had both purchased non freestanding tents in the last year that weigh only 2lbs, so we opted to each bring our own tent, stove, and food. I actually really enjoyed it and couldn’t believe that my bag was only 28lbs with all my gear and 2L of water. It’s mostly due to only having to bring 1 day of food, but it was nice to have a lighter pack and still have all my own gear. I’m hoping to upgrade a bit further over the next year or so to get it even lighter.

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My new tent is a Gossamer Gear tent called The Two. It sleeps 2 people, but it doesn’t have any poles (instead you set it up with your hiking poles) and it’s only a 1 layer tent, which makes it a lot lighter. I’m still testing it and haven’t quite figured out how I feel about it. It’s super easy to set up and I love that it’s lightweight. It’s also quite large and has giant vestibules. The only thing I’m still assessing is the 1 layer set-up. It has mesh sides, but the main body of the tent is just 1 layer, which means that the top of the tent will collect condensation and there’s nothing separating you or your gear from that layer of condensation. I knew this would probably be slightly annoying, but am willing to try and deal with it in the interest of saving some weight.

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I’m not sure if it was just the weather conditions on this trip, but it did get A LOT of condensation inside the tent, like I was shocked by how much collected. So I had to be careful not to touch the walls with my bag or it would also get wet. I was a little disappointed with how wet it got on the inside (it took me a while to dry it out the next morning), but I have since tested it in the rain (and wind) as well and it held up remarkably well. It was really humid the second time I used it and the inside didn’t get any condensation and when it rained, it actually still stayed dry on the inside wall as well and kept the rain off no problem. I thought it might be dicey in the wind, but it held up well against that as well. So I’m not ready to make my verdict on the tent yet and am looking forward to trying it out more.

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Unfortunately it was still buggy the next morning, so we had a quick breakfast and packed everything up. Carolyn wanted to go for another swim before we left, so we went for a quick dip in our birthday suits before starting the climb back up to the pass. The rest of the group wanted to check out a side trail for Ninja Lakes, so we said goodbye and planned to meet up for beers in Squamish. It was a faster hike out, though hard on the knees with all the downhill. We hit up Backcountry Brewing on the way home, which is one of our favourite places to stop (honestly, the beer is just okay imo, but the pizza’s are amazing!). We had to wait forever to get in, but the pizza was worth it!

So overall, a pretty lowkey, but fun hike up to the lake. We’d tried to do this one last fall and it had been closed due to a bear, so it was nice to return and cross it off my bucket list!

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