Hiking Watersprite Lake

Since my last post was about mine and Brandon’s First Annual Thanksgiving weekend hike, I decided to continue the trend and write about our other hikes. Watersprite Lake is another hike that is not really a Fall hike, but that I tend to think of as a good hike for Fall since that’s when I first visited it.

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Watersprite Lake is one of the newer trails in Southwestern BC and was developed by the BC Mountaineering Club, who have a hut that they maintain at the lake. It’s since blown up on social media and unfortunately it saw way too much traffic this year with the pandemic and I heard it’s been trashed. This makes me so sad to hear because it is really a beautiful trail and nothing makes me more mad then seeing the wilderness disrespected. Always practice leave no trace principles, proper backcountry bathroom etiquette, and generally leave places better then you found them.

The Watersprite facebook group has actually asked that people stay away from this hike for a little while to give the wilderness some time to recover, so maybe consider saving this hike for another year (also it’s a bit too late in the season for it now).

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I’ve only been to Watersprite Lake the one time and it was shortly after it was constructed in October 2017. Brandon had a premonition this hike was going to get really popular, so we drove out on a cold Thanksgiving weekend to check it out. I believe you can get to the trailhead with 2WD, but I’m glad we had Brandon’s 4×4. There’s a few sketchy sections where I think high clearance would definitely be preferred.

We debated where to start the hike for a while on the way out. Brandon had visited the area in the winter and taken a completely different trail to the lake and was keen to follow that, but I convinced him winter trails weren’t always accessible in the summer (which was the right choice) and we did the new trail. There were actually some club members out doing maintenance at the time we visited, which we really appreciated.

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Otherwise, it wasn’t too busy. There was a handful of people at the lake, but almost no one along the rest of trail. In total it’s a 17km trail with about 650m in elevation gain. The trail starts in the woods and then winds along the hillside and then up a final steeper forested section to the lake. Because it was October when we visited the weather was right on the cusp of turning from Fall to Winter (the season timing is different in the mountains). It was an overcast day and we weren’t sure if it was going to rain on us, so we came prepared with rain jackets, but not quite prepared for how cold it was going to be.

It wasn’t too bad hiking up to the lake because we were moving, but just before we hit the lake, it started snowing! There was no snow on the ground yet, but it started to accumulate fast over the shrubs. Despite the less than ideal weather conditions, it was still very beautiful at the lake. It was foggy and hard to see the mountains, but something about the snow was really beautiful.

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Unfortunately, we were freezing. We set up on the little lake peninsula for lunch – thankfully I had my sit-upon to keep my bum warm, but I only had a fleece and my rain jacket, when I was really in need of a puffy. We scarfed down our lunch and didn’t hang around too long because we wanted to keep moving to stay warm. So it was a pretty quick visit at the top, but we did take the time to check out the hut, which had a few people camping in it.

Shortly after leaving the lake the snow switched to rain for a short while, but then thankfully it stopped altogether, as if the adverse weather conditions were reserved only for the very top. Once we warmed up, we had a lot of fun on the way down, stopping to take some pictures with some cool rocks (one of my fav things) and looking down into the valley, which is totally open from along the trail.

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Despite the conditions, I still had a great time on this trail and I would like to go back some day, but I’m not really in a rush with so much traffic. If you want to visit, I’d suggest checking it out in the off season, like we did, or going up on a week day when it’s likely to be less busy. We finished the day off with a very non-traditional, but delicious, thanksgiving meal at Mags99!

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Flatiron and Needle Peak Backpacking Trip

My scheduled post for this week was supposed to be about Frosty Mountain, a popular Fall hike I did at the end of September. However, the top of the mountain is now under several feet of snow and hiker Jordan Naterer went missing on this trail on October 10, 2020. If you were hiking on the trail on Thanksgiving weekend and saw Jordan, please contact police. If you’re thinking about doing Frosty Mountain yourself, I’d recommend waiting until next year as the season for doing this hike has now passed. In light of this tragedy I’ve decided to postpone that post for another time and write instead about a backpacking trip I went on back in July.

There’s so much exploring to do in the summer, I’m always behind on writing about my adventures, but this summer I had an amazing experience stargazing at Flatiron. I’ve been getting into star photography over the past few years, but Brandon is the real night sky enthusiast of the group. He tries to catch the Perseid meteor shower every year and this year he was really stoked about the Neowise Comet. We decided to make an attempt at stargazing and spent forever trying to come up with a good place to go looking for it. You can’t be too close to the city because there’s so much ambient light, and we wanted to be sure we’d have a good view from our campsite, meaning we needed an unobstructed view looking Northwest. We floated around a few campsites we’d been to before, but nothing was really quite right. Then I remembered Flatiron, which me and Brandon had day hiked in the fall of 2018, and we thought we had a good chance of clear views from the top.

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Since we were camping overnight, we didn’t have the earliest start. Flatiron is located in the Coquihalla Summit Rec Area, so it’s a little over 2 hours from my house with no traffic. It was around 1pm when we pulled into the parking lot – we figured we were going to have a hard time parking, but because we arrived later in the day, lots of people were finishing their day hikes, so we managed to snag a spot no problem. We ate lunch in the parking lot and then started hiking sometime around 1:30pm. Our group consisted of our North Coast Trail crew since we’re all in the same bubble and have gotten pretty good at camping together.

Flatiron isn’t the longest trail, only 11km round trip, but it is definitely a steep one. We’d day hiked Mount Cheam the previous week and I’d had a really hard go of it for some reason (just a bad day I guess), but I was feeling pretty good on Flatiron. Lien was having a hard time with all the elevation gain, but we plugged along, taking short, frequent breaks. The more challenging part was the heat. The summer started off slow, but overall, it ended up being a really hot one. I find it’s usually hot in Vancouver throughout the summer, but then I always end up going to the mountains where it’s a lot cooler. This year I found the mountains felt just as hot, so we were really sweating buckets as we climbed up.

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After about an hour you come out of the woods and start hiking up over the rocks towards Needle Peak. Flatiron and Needle Peak are two separate hikes, but they share much of the same trail. Eventually you reach the junction and you can either start the steep ascent up to Needle Peak, or you can continue on to Flatiron. I would say Flatiron is slightly less impressive than Needle Peak, but a much nicer hike, so I’d recommend Flatiron, but many people do both in the same trip. We wanted to do Needle Peak as well since Brandon and I had already done Flatiron once, so we decided we’d make an attempt at it the next day on our way down. There were a lot of people on the trail and we heard that someone had actually gotten married at Needle Peak that day, so it was super crowded at the summit. There were also a lot of backpackers, most of whom were ahead of us on the trail. I usually like to make an earlier start for this reason, but there’s tons of camping space up at Flatiron, so we weren’t worried about it.

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From the junction, the trail continues down and back up to a glacial lake at the foot of Flatiron. Flatiron is so named because it’s basically a mountain with a huge flat top. The lake is located just under the Flatiron and it’s where all of the backpackers were camping. It makes sense seeing as that’s where the water source is, but because we wanted an unimpeded view, we’d decided to camp on top of the Flatiron. From the lake it’s another 20-30 min climb up to the top. It’s not too challenging, but it is steep. When we got to the top, there were lots of day hikers around, but no other campers.

Despite all the space, we did have to walk around for a while to find a good spot for the tent. A lot of the top is just rock, which we could set up on, but obviously isn’t super comfortable, and we were going out of our way to avoid trampling any sensitive areas. There’s a lot of wildflowers up there and we didn’t want to destroy anything. Eventually Brandon found a nice little flat spot that was mostly free of vegetation, so we set the tents up there. We had a perfect view looking west and knew we’d be able to catch both the comet and the sunset from that location.

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After setting up the tents and having a snack, we decided to head down to the lake again to get drinking water and have dinner. It was somewhere around 4:30-5ish and me and Emily wanted to go for a swim while the sun was still up above the mountains. We hiked back down and set up on a little peninsula in the middle of the lake. It feels somewhat like two lakes with rivers flowing between them. It’s not the biggest lake, so we were cognizant to make sure we same in the downstream section. Our effort was wasted really as we later saw people swimming upstream as well, so something to keep in mind when you’re in the wilderness. Sometimes, depending on the source, it’s best not to swim at all (if it’s a really small source or there’s no river), in this case we got our water upstream where it was flowing heavier. Overall it’s probably not the end of the world where people were swimming because there were several flowing sections to get your water, but be as considerate as possible.

As expected, the water was absolutely freezing. There was still snow all up along the slope melting into the lake, so we knew it was pretty much all snow melt. We ran into the water as fast as we could and then ran out again, but it felt really good on the muscles! After our quick dip we set into our normal routines, with Brandon and Emily getting drinking water and me and Lien making dinner. Our North Coast Trail trip had been cut short by one evening, so me and Lien both had meals already prepared, so I made a rice dish for me and Emily and Lien made ramen for him and Brandon. The rice dish was a new one for me and it wasn’t my favourite, but it was definitely filling! Then we all had tarts for dessert, which Lien has surprised us with, lugging them all the way up to the top!

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After we’d had our fill, we made our way back up to the top for one of my favourite evenings in the backcountry. Brandon and I get a bit giddy sometimes when we hike together, and we were each making good progress on our flask of fireball, so we decided to have a little dance party up on the mountain. First Emily led us in yoga stretches, and then brandon played music from his speaker while we all danced around waiting for the sun to set. Since the trip was all about stargazing, Brandon and I both lugged up our tripods and set them up for later, with Brandon doing a timelapse on his.

Eventually all the campers from the lake made their way up to the top for sunset as well, but save for one other group of 2, we were the only ones camping at the top. I’m still a bit amazed at how lucky we got with the weather. I feel like it’s easy to plan these idyllic trips, picturing cloudless skies and millions of stars, but they so rarely work out like you intended. But this trip actually did. There were absolutely no clouds and we had a perfect 360 degree from which to watch the sun go down over the mountain and the stars come out.

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The challenging part about stargazing of course is staying up late enough for it. We’d read the best time to see the comet was just after sunset, but we didn’t see any sign of it. However, as it got darker, the milky way became more and more impressive. Brandon and Emily were working on tracking down the comet, but in the meantime, I had a nice little photoshoot with the milky way and got some pictures that I’m pretty proud of. I don’t really know what I’m doing, but the conditions were good for messing around. No ambient light, so the stars were showing up really well. Eventually Emily spotted something moving that she thought might be the comet and her and Brandon spent ages debating whether it was or not. Eventually I came over and was like, ‘well why don’t you shoot it and see how it comes out in the photo…’ to which they were like, ‘oh right, that’s what we came to do lol’. We’re no astrophotographers, but it was obvious from the photo that it was indeed the comet. Photo credit to Brandon for this one:

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The comet is one of those things where skilled photographers have made it look a lot different than it does to the naked eye. We thought we’d be able to see somewhat of a trail behind it with the naked eye, but this is not the case, the trail only shows up on photos, at least from where we were watching anyways. It was still cool to see and Lien and Brandon spent a lot of time photographing the comet. It was definitely harder because it was in the Northwest and so because the sun sets west, it look a lot longer to get dark in that direction. Plus the moon was up and pretty bright, so that made it more challenging to shoot as well. I look a few photos and I’m glad I got to see it, but if I’m being honest, I was a lot more enthralled with the milky way. Saturn and Jupiter were both visible on the evening we were out and I managed to capture both in my photo with the milky way!

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Sometime before midnight we gave up and went to bed. Despite how hot it had been in the day, it was pretty cool overnight. Not surprising as we were very exposed and in the mountains. We’d hoped to sleep with the fly off, but it was too dewy, so we popped it back on for the night. Emily had a hard time sleeping and ended up being pretty cold overnight, but I think the rest of us slept okay. Fortunately the sun came up again pretty early and warmed us up. I got to take down a dry tent, which is pretty much one of the best things ever.

We took down camp and set off again, but the day was far from over. Usually we don’t linger too long on the last day, but I was determined to do Needle Peak. The first time I’d hiked Flatiron, we’d actually intended to do Needle Peak, but it was October and there was ice on Needle Peak, so we’d done Flatiron instead. I couldn’t come back twice and not do it, so we planned to drop our bags near the junction and hike up to the top.┬áLien was feeling pretty tired and decided not to join us, so we did our best to find a shady spot for him and left him with our fly dope. Fortunately it hadn’t been buggy at the top of Flatiron, but it was extremely buggy along the rest of the trail, so I didn’t really envy him hanging out with the mosquitoes.

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Needle Peak is a challenging hike. It starts off with a steep climb up to the ridgeline. Climb is definitely the best word to describe it and there’s one bottleneck rope section that is particularly challenging. While we were doing that part I was kind of wondering if it was really worth it, but it ended up being one of the most challenging parts and it did get easier after that. I believe it’s only about a kilometre, to the top, so we made pretty good time, but it is somewhat slow going. The ridge has beautiful views looking down both sides and the hike ends with one last scramble up the “needle” part of Needle Peak. We decided not to push all the way to the very top. There were a lot of people and you basically have to climb up this rock seam, so we knew it would take a while because of people bottlenecking at tricky locations. Instead we found a nice rock to sit on while we had lunch and we still had an amazing view looking out over the Coquihalla. One hiker, who we’d been passing back and forth was surprised that we weren’t going to finish the hike, “but you’re so close, you can do it!”, to which I wanted to respond that I knew I can do it, but that I am already satisfied with what I have accomplished this weekend. Sometimes I have a bit of an obsessive personality with wanting to see things through and push farther, but I think this year I’ve been getting better at setting limits. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, it kind of sounds like I’m saying it’s okay not to push myself, but that’s never really been my challenge, so I think learning to set boundaries sometimes is just as important.

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Anyways, we had a good hike and I’m glad I can finally say I did it, but I don’t think I’ll be in a rush to go back to Needle Peak. It’s a tougher hike than I think a lot of people realize and I didn’t feel that safe with so many people on the trail. So we hiked back down, getting bottlenecked again at the rope section. As tough as that section had been on the way up, it was soooo much worse on the way down. We took our time and eventually we were reunited with Lien again.

As usual, the downhill back to the car was a real B for me and Emily. We don’t have the best knees and the last section through the trees is super steep. Plus it was even hotter than the previous day, so again we were all a sweaty mess. Finally we reached the car and I gave my feet and face a nice wash in the river before we headed back into town. So overall it was a really successful trip and probably one of my favourite overnights of the whole summer. The only disclaimer I’ll leave if you’re thinking of doing this trip is that there are no facilities at the top, so come prepared for no outhouse or bear cache facilities. Otherwise, this makes for a great trek!

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Hiking Elk and Thurston Mountains

Since it’s Fall, I thought it would be a good time to go back and write about some of my favourite Fall hikes over the years! I grew up on the East Coast, where Fall is easily the nicest season and all of the leaves turn beautiful, vibrant colours. The West Coast is really not the same. Yes, the golden larch trees are beautiful and there are trails where you can find some nice changing foliage, but trust me, as lovely as it is, it’s a different scale than other parts of the country. I spent my first few years here being disappointed by every Fall hike I tried; I’ve since learned to get over it and appreciate what BC does have to offer. You can still find beautiful colours all through the Fall, even if not in the same abundance.

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One of my favourite Fall hikes is Elk/Thurston Mountain in Chilliwack. It’s a popular one for Fall, so aim for an earlier departure, but it’s easy to get to and doesn’t require driving down Chilliwack Lake Road or any off-roading. It’s a 9km round trip hike up to Elk Mountain, but in that distance you climb over 800 metres in elevation gain, so it’s definitely a work out. It’s a steady climb the entire hike, but the first section is definitely the easier part. The trail winds through the woods and it’s a great time to keep your eyes open for changing leaves. There’s one viewpoint looking out through the trees about half way up to the top and after that the trail gets steeper and a little more challenging. It continues switchbacking through the woods until you pop out on a steep ridge. It’s pretty narrow, so take your time, but when you get up to the ridge you are rewarded with an amazing view of Mount Baker! It’s a great place to catch your breath and have a little snack before finishing the last section.

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From there, it’s about another half hour to the top. The trail gets a little confusing and you can either climb up a pretty sketchy rock section, or you can follow the trail up through the woods (I usually take the woods). Shortly after, the wooded trail will reunite with the rock trail and you keep climbing up to the top. Once you hit the top, there’s a few campsites in the woods and lots of room to spread out. I find people tend to congregate at the first grassy section when you crest the mountain, but if you continue on a bit, there are lots more grassy slopes to relax on, all with amazing views of the Fraser Valley.

On my first visit to Elk Mountain in 2018, I went with Lien, Brandon, and Kerrina. We spent a lot of time hanging out at the top and taking fun pictures of ourselves with the beautiful view. I loved the view from the ridgeline and we could see the trail continuing on along the ridge to Mount Thurston. I really wanted to continue on along the trail, but we hadn’t really left early enough or come prepared for a longer hike, so we decided not to push on farther. So the next year, I was keen to go back and push all the way to Thurston. That time I went with Lien and Seth and we made good time pushing up to Elk. We decided to have lunch at Elk before continuing on and I had one of my most random lunches ever in the backcountry. Lien’s family are crab fishermen and he’d just gotten back from a trip out to Tofino, bringing with him about 20lbs of crab for me and Seth! We’d cooked it all up the previous evening and I had made crab cakes, but there was still a lot of crab left over, so we just took crab legs with us to eat for lunch! It was Fall, so they stayed pretty cold in my pack, but it made a huge mess sucking the meat out of the legs and we had a good laugh.

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Hiking all the way to Thurston was an interesting experience. I liked the first part of the trail – you hike the ridge for a little while and then head back into the woods. Eventually you pop out again to crest another small peak, before continuing on to Thurston Peak. To be honest, I found Thurston Peak a little confusing. It’s a forested peak and when you reach the top, you can’t really tell you finished the hike except that there’s a trail branch heading into two narrow wooded trails. So we ended up backtracking a bit until we found a view and then took another break for some more crab legs. As far as summits go, it was a little anticlimactic and I think I’d just recommended ending your journey at the previous peak. There’s a nice view from there and I don’t think we saw anything else particularly notable after that.

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It was a really nice hike back though. We took our time coming down and saw some great wildlife on the way back, most notable of which was a little owl! Seth’s a biologist, so he was thrilled and we hung out watching it for a bit. Elk Mountain gets pretty busy in the Fall, but we barely saw anyone on the Thurston Trail, so it is a good way to escape the crowds. All in all, Thurston is 16km long with about 1050 metres in elevation gain – not too bad an extension considering over 800 of those metres are on the Elk Mountain Trail.

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When we got back to Elk Mountain the sun wasn’t quite setting yet, but it was getting pretty low in the sky and casting a gorgeous orange glow over everything. We decided to hang out for a bit and enjoy it, heading back down to the first viewpoint when you pop out of the woods. We stayed until the sun sunk below the mountains before taking off again, but I wish we’d stayed a little later because it ended up being a really gorgeous night, with the setting sun filling the sky with pinks and oranges.

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We’d brought headlamps with us in the event we had to hike out in the dark, but it was a good lesson for me in double checking your preparedness. I had brought 2 headlamps for me and Seth, but mine was running super low and even though I thought I’d packed extra batteries, it turns out I hadn’t. Seth’s was a new headlamp and we thought it seemed fine when we checked it, it was nice and bright, but apparently it has a weird quirk where it only has one level of brightness, but when the batteries are low it will shut off after 10 seconds. So even though I’d checked it, it died soon after Seth started using it. So between the 3 of us, Lien was really the only one with a proper working headlamp. So he went in the front and we followed with our phone flashlights. Fortunately we still had that option, but it certainly would have been safer with a headlamp. So it was a good reminder for me that even when you think you’re being prepared, you still need to double check.

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But I love this hike and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for fall leaves, a nice view of Mount Baker, and gorgeous views of the Fraser Valley. It’s also a great location for sunset, just be prepared!

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