Tikwalus Heritage Trail Backpacking Trip

Despite the high levels of snowpack hanging around in the mountains this year, I had a good start to the season and got in a second backpacking trip the first week of June. I find Spring backpacking challenging because of the limited number of trails with campsites that are snow free, so me and Carolyn have been trying to branch out to find new trails. This was made somewhat more challenging because we wanted to bring our dogs with us (and even fewer trails are dog friendly), but fortunately Tikwalus Heritage Trail fit the bill!

Tikwalus is located about a half hour north of Hope on Highway 1, just before you reach Hells Gate. As we were driving up there we realized that neither of us had done any hiking in this area and I couldn’t recall ever driving the highway since I’ve lived in BC (though I did it once as a tourist before I moved here). It’s exceptionally beautiful driving along the steep walls of the Fraser Canyon and it doesn’t seem to get that much hiking traffic. Despite not arriving at the trailhead until noon, we were only the third car in the lot! A very promising sign for me since Sadie can be reactive to people and dogs.  

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At 6.5km to the campsite, it’s not an overly long trail, but it is very steep and you gain almost 800m in the first 4km. We took our time going uphill and the dogs had a blast alternating between playing with one another and guiding us up the trail. Sadie is almost 2.5 years now and is an Australian Shepherd, which is a very high energy dog, so she had no problem with the hike and carries her own food and equipment in her Ruffwear pack. Jasper is still a puppy and less than a year old yet, so he was freeloading off Carolyn until he gets old enough for a pack. He got a bit tired early in the hike from the uphill, but he also has a lot of energy and bounced back very quickly once he got used to the climbing.  

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As the name suggests, Tikwalus is a heritage trail and covers both indigenous and colonial history. The trail has been used for many, many years by the Nlaka’pamux for hunting and gathering and there are several culturally modified cedars along the trail. In later years, the trail was used as a trade route through the Cascades by the Hudson’s Bay Company. There are several placards along the trail providing lots of information about the history of the trail, so it made for an educational hike and a nice respite from the uphill monotony on the way in. About halfway up there’s a beautiful viewpoint looking out on the surrounding mountains.  

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Once you get to the top of the steep section (~4km), you’ve done most of the elevation gain and the trail branches into a loop around the summit. If you do it as a day trip, it’s about 13km round trip. It’s mostly flat around the top, so we decided to take the slightly longer lake route to shorten our journey for the following day. Unfortunately there’s not a ton of views around the lake route, but there is a huge viewpoint on the other route. It was clouded over on day 2, so we never got to take advantage of the viewpoint, but it’s still quite scenic at the campsite, so it wasn’t that big a deal. Just something to note if you’re in a similar position as us with the weather. The viewpoint route does go along a narrow spine though, so if you have any issue with heights, the lake route felt a bit safer.

It took us about 3.5 hours to reach the campsite. We didn’t take any long breaks, though we did stop to get water when we crossed over a fast flowing creek on the way up. This was a really good choice because the water options near the campsite are not ideal. There are two creeks on either side of the campsite. I would say the option on the lake route is the better of the two. It’s closer to the campsite (maybe a 10 minute walk?) and it has a decent flow rate. The placard said there used to be a cabin in this area in the past because it was used as a water source. The second option is on the viewpoint route.

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It’s a bit farther (maybe a 15 minute walk?) and it’s not as fast flowing as the other one. To be honest, neither are great, so make sure you bring a filter, I wouldn’t want to rely only on water tabs. I’ve read in some comments online that people get water from the first lake, but I would definitely avoid – it’s very still and a terrible water source. Just walk a bit further to use either of the creeks.

There were two other groups at the campsite when we arrived, but it’s very large and we had no trouble finding a good spot to pitch our tent away from other people. We were joined later by a few more groups, but at no point did it feel crowded. The trail seems to be used primarily for backpacking. We didn’t see a single person on the way up or down, so it seems like most people who go up there plan to stay the night. It’s a mostly forested trail and campsite, but there are some really nice views looking out over the mountains.

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We had really nice weather on the way up and it threatened rain in the early evening, but mostly held off. Campfires are allowed at this campsite and there were several established rings around, so we collected wood debris from around the site and got a small fire going. I’ve done a whole post on responsible campfires, so make sure to only take dead wood and to avoid harming any natural habitat. Fires aren’t permitted in so much of the backcountry (and even when it is permitted there’s often a ban), so it was really nice to have one! We forgot a firestarter, but Carolyn worked some magic to get one going.  

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The rain finally moved in around 8pm and we decided to call it an early night. It was really just a bit of drizzle, but neither of us wanted to sleep with 2 wet, stinky dogs. However, it was still light, so it took the dogs a while to settle down and we did some reading before falling asleep early. Unfortunately, the dogs get up with the light, so they had us up and awake at 6am. It rained on and off throughout the night, but was mostly mist when we got up. We had a quick breakfast and then packed everything up and were back on the trail shortly after 8am. Quite early for us!

I thought it was going to be a brutal walk down based on how steep it was, but it ended up not being too bad. We saw nothing but clouds from the viewpoint on the return loop, but they lifted enough for us to get a misty view of the mountains at the halfway viewpoint. We finished the hike around noon and stopped into the General Store on the way back to Hope for lunch.

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Overall, it’s a pretty understated hike. It’s mostly in the trees and it is quite steep, but we really enjoyed it. It’s very green in the Spring and we loved that it wasn’t crowded. The large campsite gave us lots of space and we liked the rare opportunity to have a campfire. It was a great choice for taking the dogs and we loved exploring a new part of the region that we’d never been to before and learning a little bit about the history of the area. Would definitely recommend if you’re looking for an early season hike and don’t mind a climb. It is tiring, but it’s not a technical trail, so I think it would be good for beginners looking to build up their stamina and abilities. It has both an outhouse and a bear cache and you can bring your furry friends!  

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Viewpoint Beach Girl Guides Backpacking Trip

This is my third time writing about Viewpoint Beach in Golden Ears on this blog, but I did this trip with Girl Guides so I wanted to write about it again since I’m coming at it from a different angle. I started volunteering with Girl Guides shortly after I moved to Vancouver and have since done 3 years with a Brownie group (grades 2-3), 3 years with a Pathfinder group (grades 7-9) and most recently, my first year with a Trex unit (grades 7-12). Trex isn’t part of the core Guiding Program, but is a special ops group for members that just want to do adventure activities. Unlike the normal guiding program, which promotes learning and badge-work on everything from arts, to STEM, to activism, to camping; Trex doesn’t have any badges and just meets sporadically to plan adventure activities.

I’ve been wanting to do Trex pretty much since I discovered it existed, but there are limited units. Finally, last year I decided it was time to go for it and opened my own unit based out of New West (which is where I’ve been Guiding the past 7 years). We weren’t sure if we’d get enough members register to go ahead with the unit, but it ended up getting completely filled up and we’ve been working on developing adventure skills all year for when COVID finally died down enough to re-start overnight events. Our group was really keen to develop our backpacking skills this year and were thrilled to plan our first overnight trip for mid-May.

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Our original plan was to hike to Cheakamus Lake, which is a pretty flat trail before Whistler. I’d been once before in mid-May and had a great time and we reserved several campsites. Unfortunately, the weather this Spring has been terrible and the access road to Cheakamus lake was still half inundated with snow, so we decided to change our trip at the last minute to hike to Viewpoint Beach in Golden Ears instead. The goal was to do a shorter hike with only gentle inclines, which the Viewpoint Beach trail definitely delivers.

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t deliver. We met up a few days before the trip to go through everyone’s gear and pack our backpacks. Camping was only permitted with 2 people per tent thanks to COVID, so we had to carry a lot of tents with us. The nice thing about Girl Guides is that we can borrow most of the gear, so we shared around pot sets, tents, backpacks, and sleeping pads. The only thing we couldn’t borrow was sleeping bags, which proved to be a challenge because a lot of our members had older unrated bags and it was hard to tell how warm anyone would be (spoiler, not very warm).

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I’ve spent the last 6 years trying to reduce my pack weight and size by gradually upgrading my gear, so I was a little concerned that everyone was carrying big and heavy packs. What I didn’t take into consideration is that our group is made up of 13-16 years olds who have a lot more energy than their said Guide leaders. The weakest link on the hike in was definitely the adults!

It’s ~4km to the campsite at Viewpoint Beach and the Guides had absolutely no problem hiking there, even with their large packs. They blew through the trail in just an hour and 20 minutes! It’s possible that it was the rain spurring them on though…

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It was raining pretty heavily on our drive to the trailhead, but it stopped by the time we arrived. We got all ready with our backpacks and it started to rain again just as we started. Fortunately we were under the trees, so it wasn’t too bad, but we all layered up with our raincoats and pack covers to protect our gear. We arrived around 12:30pm and our timing was amazing, because it stopped raining long enough for us to put up our tents while it was dry before eating lunch. There was one other group on the beach when we got there, so we set up along the back by the trees and got a few tarps up. One more group showed up after us, but everyone else seemed to be continuing on to Halfmoon Beach instead. I’m not sure if our big group (11 people) was a deterrent, but there were empty sites left overnight, which is more than I can say for the last two times I went with a small group.

After lunch it started to genuinely pour, so we had a bit of a rest under the tarps and in tents. Since we had arrived early, we wanted to do a bit of exploring, so when the rain eased up we decided to hike back to the bridge to try and cross over to Hiker’s Beach, which is located just across the river from Viewpoint Beach. I have seen people ford Gold Creek to get to that beach on other trips, but the water is very cold and I definitely wasn’t going to attempt it with a group of teenagers!

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BC Parks has put a lot of effort into upgrading the trail as far as Viewpoint Beach in the past few years. The first time I hiked there was in 2014 and there was barely any infrastructure, since then they’ve added a really nice bridge to connect the East Canyon trail (the official trail name), to the West Canyon trail, which heads up towards Alder Flats and Golden Ears peak. It also connects to Hiker’s Beach to save you from having to ford the river.

We hiked back across the bridge, but unfortunately, there’s a second river crossing just past the junction to Alder Flats that was impassable. We could tell from Viewpoint Beach that the trail entrance to Hiker’s Beach was partially flooded, so we knew it was possible we wouldn’t make it there, but we didn’t realize we also had to worry about crossing Alder Creek. If I’d been on my own or more adventurous, I might have explored around for a way across the creek, but again, with 8 teenagers, none of whom were using hiking poles, I wasn’t willing to risk it. So instead we hiked back to the beach and enjoyed hanging out along the river as the rain had finally stopped. We didn’t see anyone on Hiker’s Beach the whole day, so I guess no one else was willing to chance the crossing either!

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The rain stayed away for the rest of the evening, which made the trip a lot more enjoyable. We were able to spread out to cook dinner rather than to all huddle under the tarps. We did cold soak lunches on the trip and had coconut chickpea curry with rice for supper. It turns out there’s a big difference in how much teenagers can eat – the 16 year olds had no trouble eating their entire meal, but the 13 year olds only ate about half of theirs. We finished the evening with a chocolate pudding for mug-up. One of the Guides convinced me to try my pudding hot, which is how she loves to eat hers, but I will attest that it is not good, haha. Always go for cold pudding my friends, or if you’re lazy like I usually am, a chocolate bar.

So despite the weather, our first day was actually quite successful. Unfortunately, the rain didn’t cut us a break on Day 2. It started raining again in the middle of the night and only increased in intensity throughout the morning. We packed up what we could in our tents and then left the tarps up until the very end to try and stay as dry as possible. Unfortunately I got quite wet taking down the tarps and rolling them up, so it didn’t make for the most enjoyable hike back. Plus I think I was carrying several extra pounds in water weight from the soaked gear!

Despite the weather though, no one complained! One of our Guiders is also in Scouts and she informed us that the Scouts whine a lot more when the weather is bad, so we were really impressed with Trex. We were all satched when we arrived back at the vehicles and quickly stripped off our layers and loaded everyone up with snacks to boost morale. We stopped into Tim’s on the way back to have our lunch and get hot chocolate and donuts. I’m always worried that a bad trip might deter someone new from continuing to adventure, but our group are a real bunch of troopers and I still saw lots of smiles at the Tim’s!

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Hiking The Chief

There are lots of popular hikes in Southwest BC, but I would argue that The Chief in Squamish is one of the most iconic. I had experience hiking before I moved to BC, but my practical knowledge was very limited and has grown enormously since I moved here. The only trail I was aware of before moving across the country was the West Coast Trail and I thought it was similar to the East Coast Trail in that it extended down the entire West Coast and could be day hiked in sections like in Newfoundland. I was obviously very wrong and quickly learned that it is actually a remote hike that requires substantial backpacking skills over 7+ days.

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Similarly, somehow I heard about The Chief soon after moving here and decided it was a great trail on which to start my west coast hiking adventures. So one sunny day in early June 2014 when my Dad was visiting, we drove out to Squamish to tackle the beast. Looking back on the experience now, it’s a bit comical. We left Vancouver late in the morning and were amazed that we couldn’t find anywhere to park (not a problem in Newfoundland). We ended up finding a place at Shannon Falls (this was before the Sea-to-Sky gondola) and decided to hike up to the First Peak from there. It’s easy to judge people that head blindly into the backcountry with no experience, but that was also how I first started adventuring when I moved here, so I can relate. There’s a very different culture on the East Coast, and while I think East Coaster’s could be a little more prepared, the level of risk associated with hiking in the mountains is a great deal higher on the West Coast.

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So I don’t think tackling The Chief as my very first hike was a great idea, but fortunately we didn’t get into any trouble on this hike, or any future hikes, while I was building up my safety and adventure smart knowledge. I remember the hike being very strenuous and it taking us a long time to hike up all the stairs to the top. I remember the rope and chain sections, but I don’t remember ever feeling unsafe on the trail. I bring this up because I recently re-visited this trail in May (8 years after my first visit) to hike to the Second Peak and it brought back a lot of memories that caused me to reflect on this trail and my journey since that very first hike.

The Chief is a hard trail. As my knowledge has grown and I’ve had experiences that required better trip preparedness and wilderness first aid, I’ve become both more safety conscious and risk adverse. It’s easy to walk blindly into situations that we are unprepared for in the wilderness and I’m not surprised to find that The Chief is one of the most visited places by BC Search and Rescue. I can’t quite trust my memory, so perhaps the First Peak is easier than the Second Peak, but returning there this year I felt quite astounded at how challenging The Chief is for how many visitors it receives.

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There are many rope climbs, narrow sections with steep drops, a ladder, and steep scrambles over slippery rock. The challenges are exacerbated by the crowds, which create bottlenecks at critical junctions. I’m sure this creates a sense of impatience among hikers that could result in mistakes at challenging locations if people are trying to hurry. I felt like it would be hard to lose the trail (though this does happen), but easy to get an injury. We were able to mostly avoid this with a very early hiking start, but it did make for a slower hike back down on the way out.

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So I definitely don’t recommend this hike for everyone. I’d like to return some day for the Third Peak, but after my last visit I can’t say I’m in a huge rush to do it again. Like I said, I’m reluctant to trust my memory, but given my recent experience with the Second Peak, I’m inclined to say that it’s a bit easier going up the First Peak (which I have done twice in the past). All 3 trails start at the same trailhead and it’s an easy flat walk through the walk-in campsites before you hit the stairs. Once you hit the stairs, it’s all uphill for the rest of the hike. It starts with constructed wooden staircase (which on its own is even challenging because the steps are very shallow and steep), but it quickly transitions to stone steps for the rest of the hike.

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Approximately 1.1km into the trail, there is a right branch that you can take to get onto the Sea to Sky trail or the branch to Third Peak. I’ve also done the Sea to Sky trail which climbs up to the gondola (you take the gondola down). It’s a very steep trail, but doesn’t feel as perilous as The Chief. I haven’t taken the branch to the Third Peak, but you can access it either through here or continuing on from the Second Peak. The topography looks a bit gentler than the trails to First and Second Peak, so if I do return for this peak, I’ll take that trail instead.

If you continue on past this branch, you’ll hit the second branch to the First and Second Peaks around 1.8km. It’s a shorter hike up to the First Peak – some apps show a trail connected the First Peak to the Second Peak trail, but it’s a climbing route, so do not attempt! In terms of views, both the First and Second Peaks have incredible views. The First Peak is the closest to Howe Sound, so if you want to snag some photos of the vibrant blue water, I’d pick this one. The Second Peak is higher and looks down on the First Peak and provides more of a bird’s eye view of Squamish.

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My visit to the Second Peak was a little sentimental because I hiked with Karen and Grant. Karen is my oldest friend (27 years and counting) and they recently moved back to Newfoundland after also spending the last 8 years in Vancouver. The Chief was my first ever hike here and also the last one that I did with Karen and Grant. We’ve all grown a lot since then and even though the climb is still strenuous, the stairs didn’t have us as breathless and panting as they did when we first moved here.

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The Second Peak is quite exposed for the last section – there’s no marked trail, you just scramble up the rock until there’s no where higher to go. We had the summit mostly to ourselves due to our early start and we stayed up there for a while snacking and taking some photos before hiking back down to get beers and pizza at Backcountry Brewing. The climb is tiring, but I always find the hike down worse. Take your time and do the rope and ladder sections backwards. There’s one particularly challenging part before the ladder that me and Karen both struggled on because we are shorter. There were more people on the trail on the way back, which slowed us down, but we made sure not to rush on the top section and talked each other through it on the way back. My biggest word of advice would definitely be not to do this hike if it’s rainy as the rock will become a big slip’n’slide.

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So that is my assessment of The Chief. I feel really different about it now than I did 8 years ago and I think that comes from better understanding the risks. Sometimes a little knowledge is almost worse than no knowledge because you don’t understand the depth of your unknowns. If you’re new to hiking, I’d recommend taking the Sea-to-Sky gondola instead of hiking The Chief. It has just as incredible (if not better) views as The Chief, but has much easier and well-maintained trails. There’s no shame in doing the easier hike. I just want to present a bit of a different perspective on The Chief because I don’t want people to blindly walk into it the way that I did when I first moved here. I still think it’s a great hike, but something to work your way up to.