ECT Series: Cape Broyle Head Path

I’ve been trying to do an overnight hike on the ECT for a few years now and I finally succeeded with Cape Broyle Head. Emily’s done more of the ECT than me and this was the only section with a campsite she hadn’t done, so we went for it in early August of 2021. In total, there’s only 5 official campsites on the entirety of the ECT, but you can generally free camp along other parts of the trail if you can find a good spot for it.

The campsites are located on longer sections of trail, which Cape Broyle Head is at 18km. It’s listed on the ECT website as difficult to strenuous. It’s a bit of a drive from St. John’s and at the time my family was all sharing one car, so Mom and Dad decided to drive out with us on Saturday, hike a few kilometres, and then turn around and return the next day to pick us up on the other end. The trail runs from Cape Broyle to Calvert. We didn’t put too much thought into direction – the campsite is located 7km from Cape Broyle, so we decided to start in Calvert to get the longer distance (11km) done on the first day.

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There’s a nice view out towards Ferryland as you leave Calvert. On this particular day it was extremely windy, but there’s a viewpoint located approximately 1km past the trailhead, which we made a visit to. After that you climb up and over the headland. It’s a bit of a slog uphill, but honestly it’s not that bad and we didn’t really think much of it. Probably about 15 minutes in total. Mom and Dad hiked over with us in hopes of another viewpoint. Sadly though, after the headland it’s a pretty steady hike through the forest with no viewpoints, so we stopped in the woods and had lunch and then Mom and Dad turned around to go back to Calvert.

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This section is pretty flat and easy and continued to the 4km mark, where you can descend off the trail to a nice viewpoint. It might have made for a nicer lunch stop, but there’s not much room there, so I’d recommend continuing on and we only stopped briefly. The weather was pretty good for hiking, it was overcast and calling for rain later in the evening, but it hadn’t yet made an appearance. The trail continues to meander up and down around Church Cove, Shag Rock Cove, and Shipwreck Point. It’s a bit of a slog though – you get a few viewpoints down to each cove, but for the most part it’s in the trees. But we did make a lovely discovery at the top of Church Cove! There is a picnic table in this location, so it makes for a really nice rest point or lunch break. I can’t recall seeing many picnic tables along other sections of the ECT, so it was a nice surprise.

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Just before you hit the 10km mark, you get a beautiful view down into Lance Cove. It was a pretty calm day on the water and there were a few boats that had pulled ashore with some families hanging out along the beach. Despite glimpsing lots of beaches on the ECT, often they’re not accessible from the trail. We assumed this to be the case for Lance Cove because it looked pretty sheltered, but we were thrilled to find a steep staircase heading down to the beach right at the 10km mark! We continued down the trail and found a nice place along the beach to drop our packs and go for a quick dip in the ocean. It was pretty cold, but it’s always nice on your tired muscles after a day of backpacking.

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By this time, it was getting later in the day, about 5 or 6pm, so we packed up to hike the last kilometer to the campsite. The campsite is located at Freshwater Point which looks down to Lance Cove from the other side of the bluff. There’s an outhouse and it’s just a short walk down to the river to get water. I can’t remember exactly how many tent pads there were, but I want to say about 5. They’re all in the trees and there’s not really enough space to free camp on the ground anywhere, so we had to stay on one of the pads. Unfortunately the tent pads are kind of in rough shape, with missing boards and loose nails, but we were able to find enough space to set up the tent. There was one other woman camping overnight and she had set up on another pad and gone down to Lance Cove for supper.

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There’s not a great view from the campsite, but you can peak down to Lance Cove through the trees. In this case, there was a storm coming in that night, so we were happy to be sheltered in the trees. We did also run into another couple while we were getting water and they told us they had happened upon a small cabin on the way in and decided to stay there. We passed it the next day and it had a couple of bunks, but I’m not sure the history of it or whether it’s supposed to be accessible. But it turns out, of everyone else we encountered on the trail, we were the only ones going from Calvert to Cape Broyle. Apparently the headland has a bit of a reputation from the Calvert side and the other campers were impressed we had hiked up over it. We were impressed they were saving the longer distance for Day 2 considering there was a fair bit of rain in the forecast for Sunday, but some of them were just turning around and going the same way back after Lance Cove.

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We had a nice supper and hot chocolate before getting ready for bed. There’s no bear cache at the campsite, but there are bears in Newfoundland, so we decided to hang our food. It’s pretty rare to encounter bears, so I don’t really know anyone in Newfoundland who practices bear safety. I always like practicing my bear caching skills, so we went for it. I didn’t have the best luck though, I ended up with too strong a throw that wrapped itself around the branch twice and it took me a while to get it down again to hang it properly. Then in the morning, one of our carabiners had become stuck on a branch overnight and we ended up having to get a really long stick to poke our food out of the tree, so not the best bear cache I’ve ever made.

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Unfortunately the rain moved in overnight and it was pretty wet when we got up the next morning. We did a tent breakfast before packing up to hike out in the rain. It did stop raining not too far into our hike, but there’s a lot of vegetation and mud along the trail and we still got soaking wet from rubbing against all the plants on the way out. We only had to hike 7km, but it resulted in a much slower pace than the previous day and we knew Mom was probably going to be waiting a little while for us on the other end.

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Overall it was a bit of a miserable hike out. Aside from Lance Cove and the view right out of Calvert, there’s not really a lot to see on this long trail. It’s almost entirely forested and didn’t make for the most inspiring day. I did really love Lance Cove, but I think if I was ever to return, I’d probably just hike out to Lance Cove and back from Cape Broyle since that’s the only real highlight on the trail.

Eventually we stumbled into Mom on the trail, she’d decided to hike in and meet us and we hiked the last 1 or 2 kilometres out together. There is a nice beach right at the end of the trail, but if you’re coming from Cape Broyle, you don’t really have to hike far to get to it. We had a good time because we love hiking and camping and the two of us don’t really get to do it together very much anymore, but I wouldn’t rank it as one of my favourite sections of the ECT. Best done as an overnight.

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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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