Mount Assiniboine Backpacking Trip: Part III

One of the great things about this trip was that after our strenuous 2 day hike to arrive at the campsite (Part I and Part II), we had 3 nights there it which to enjoy it. After the incident on Day 2, it was a relief to know we didn’t have to get up early and carry our big packs anywhere.

We had big plans to sleep in, but it was still the middle of a heat wave and the sun had big plans to cook us. The previous 2 days had been around 32 degrees, but on Days 3 and 4 it went up to a whopping 36 degrees! I can only imagine how hot it must have been in town when it was so hot up in the mountains. I’ve rarely experienced 36 degree temperatures anywhere, and definitely never at elevation.

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So the sun woke us up at 7:30am and there was really no avoiding it. As soon as it hits your tent it totally bakes you. Brandon tried to block it out by putting his sleeping bag over the tent, but we eventually had to admit defeat and got up. We had a lazy breakfast at the cooking shelter and made friends with the other campers. Because of grizzly bears you’re not allowed to do any cooking by your tent at Magog Lake. There’s a large cooking area with lots of picnic tables and a covered shelter, so we did all our cooking in the shade of the shelter and stored our smellies at the bear cache.

The result of this setup is that it forces all the campers into proximity with one another. Not really the best scenario for COVID, but it made for a really great vibe at the campsite. Everyone was super friendly and I loved swapping stories with the other campers and getting advice on the trails everyone had already done. Everyone was suffering from the heat, though people were still doing some pretty big hikes during the day. Brandon and I took it easy all morning and I mostly wrote in my journal and ate snacks. Shortly before noon we finally packed ourselves a day pack and went to do a bit of exploring.

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While other campers were suffering through the heat hiking up to Wonder Pass and the Nub, we decided to have a lake day. There are 4 lakes close to the campsite and I made it my mission to swim in all of them. We started with Sunburst Lake, which we heard was the best swimming lake. Since everyone else was out exploring, we had it to ourselves for a full 2 hours. It has a gorgeous view looking back at Mount Assiniboine and Sunburst Mountain and we went for a swim and then took our thermarests out into the lake to relax. I was a little bit nervous to take my expensive thermarest in the water, but I figured YOLO and it ended up being totally fine!

We wanted to take a nap, but unfortunately it was a bit too buggy for sleeping, so eventually we packed up and continued on. Cerulean Lake was next on the list. It’s bigger than Sunburst and a bit more scenic, but also colder, so we just did a quick dip in and out of that one. Brandon convinced me to go 1km further to Elizabeth Lake – I wasn’t really digging it because it was uphill, but we did it anyways. Elizabeth Lake was also very scenic and sits right at the base of the Nub (the peak everyone hikes up to get the killer view of Assiniboine and Sunburst Mountains). The water at Elizabeth wasn’t the nicest (it looked a little stagnant), but I was on a mission to swim in all the lakes at this point, so I swam in it anyways. It was the warmest of all the lakes, but had a lot of algae, so it was a quick dip. (although it looks awesome in the photo below!)

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After that we went back to the campground to have an early dinner. Brandon was feeling really tired and wanted a power nap, so he went back to the tent for a little while, which got a bit more shady in late afternoon. I did some journaling and chatted with the other campers. I spoke to a group of women that had done a sunset hike up to the Nublet the evening before and decided that would be a good option for us. We really didn’t want to hike up the Nub in the hot weather, so a sunset hike when it was cooler was a good alternative. The Nub has 3 lookouts. The first is called the Niblet, 2nd is the Nublet, and final is the Nub. The women told me the Nub was a lot of work for the same view and that they were just as happy with the scene from the Nublet, so it was an easy decision for us to just skip the Nub given the conditions.

We had dinner and then started our hike around 7pm. It was such a good decision! It was still a bit hot hiking up to the Niblet, but after that it cooled off a lot and there was a really nice breeze going up to the Nublet. It is still a pretty big hike up to the Nublet, there is some scree and scrambling, but it was the first time on the trip I’d felt truly energized! The wind gave me life and it got rid of the mosquitoes, it was the best feeling! Plus a few clouds had moved in and they really set the scene and provided us with hope of cooler weather, or at least some sun shade.

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We got to the Nublet about a half hour before sunset and only had to share the peak with one other group. In general, the lack of people was one of my favourite parts about Assiniboine. The campground was half empty because of the heat and because it’s so hard to get into the park, we had most attractions completely to ourselves. We ran around the Nublet taking photos from every angle before settling in to watch Assiniboine and Sunburst light up red. The sun actually sets on the opposite horizon from these mountains, but the orange glow from the sunset completely illuminates the Sunburst and Assiniboine, it’s magical!

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It was close to solstice, so we had long sunsets and long daylight hours. We stuck around almost until 10pm before deciding to head back down. We had lots of light in which to do the scramble and even the forested section was still pretty illuminated. I don’t love hiking at this time of day though because it makes me nervous of bears, so I sang most of the way down. Fortunately we only needed to use our headlamps for the last 10 minutes of the hike and got back to our tent just before 11pm.

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The next day the clouds had entirely disappeared and we had another slow, hot day. We got started a bit earlier in the morning and went for a walk up to the lodge. This proved very hot, so we took a break at a little waterfall that had a small breeze coming off it. Unfortunately, the hotter it got, the worse the mosquitoes got. I’m decent at just ignoring them, but they were driving Brandon absolutely nuts. We continued down to Magog Lake hoping there would be a good breeze since it’s the largest lake and has all the glaciers feeding it.

There was a really nice breeze down there, so blessedly no bugs, but also absolutely no shade. Fortunately I still had the tarp, so we set it up along the shore and enjoyed a few hours resting away from the bugs and sun. I thought Magog Lake would be really cold, but it actually wasn’t that bad and even Brandon went for a swim in the lake. One of the other campers had told us there was a small sandy part of beach at the opposite end of the lake, so eventually we packed up and headed that way.

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A lot of the campers that had been at Magog when we arrived were starting to move out and new campers were arriving, so we got some word of the outside world. Apparently the lodge had noted our heat stroke incident in its trail report, so hopefully other people learned from our mistakes. We found the sandy part of the beach. It’s not a fine sand, more a coarse rocky grain, but definitely more comfortable than the large jagged rocks in other areas. The only downside was there wasn’t as much of a breeze. We set the tarp up again, but the bugs had returned, so we made several forays in and out of the water to try and avoid them.

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We planned for an early night since we had to start backpacking again the next day, but it was too early for bed when we finished our dinner, so we scoured the GPS for a good after-dinner walk. We found one that hikes out around the far edge of Magog Lake. It’s the start of the wilderness route to Hinde Hut and has a ton of signs warning about the difficulty of the route, but if you just follow the first kilometre, it’s really nice. It takes you right to the back of Assiniboine Lake and gives you a close-up view of the mountain and glaciers. We couldn’t figure out how anyone could possibly continue up to the hut from that angle though and we figured it must be a rock climbing route because it looked very intense!

We went to bed before the sun had even set because we planned to get up at 5am the next day to avoid the heat. Reports from the outside were that it was supposed to start cooling down, but it would still be low 30’s the following day. We crossed our fingers for some rain or clouds and went to sleep. Here’s a few other photo highlights! Click for Part IV.

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Half Moon Beach Backpacking Trip

Is anyone else getting Deju Vu this year? I got my first dose of Pfizer in mid-May, so the year is definitely going better than last year, but in a lot of ways I feel like I am just living the same year over again. In May and June of 2020 I was waiting anxiously to see if the province was going to open up and whether I’d be able to go on the backpacking trip I’d planned to Assiniboine in early July. In 2020, my trip got cancelled and I ended up doing the North Coast Trail instead. This year I planned the same trip for the same time and fortunately it’s looking like my plans will pan out this time, so stayed tuned to hear about Assiniboine soon! In the meantime, please enjoy post that I wrote about my 1 night backpacking trip in Golden Ears Park back in early June.

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Last year me and Emily did a 1-night backpacking trip to Viewpoint Beach during the first weekend in June. Since I’m basically living the same year over, I returned to Viewpoint Beach again this year during the exact same weekend, only this time I took more people with me! It was an easy sell for Carolyn and Brandon, but we also convinced Seth to come with us and our friends Karen and Grant! Karen and Grant aren’t big backpackers, but they did once accompany me to Elfin Lakes and are looking to get more into backpacking, so I was thrilled to have them join us for a weekend in Golden Ears.

We were all stoked for the trip, the only problem was the weather was looking really dicey. I was convinced someone was going to cancel, but I think it’s a testament to how fed up we all were about being stuck at home all the time that we decided to go anyways. It wasn’t calling for rain until overnight on Friday, so we figured as long as we got set up before the rain hit, we would be okay.

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We took off early from work on Friday to try and beat the traffic, we failed, but still managed to get to the trailhead for 5pm. Carolyn was ahead of the rest of us, so she decided to hike in on her own to secure a campsite. Me, Seth, Karen, and Grant followed about an hour behind her. The official trail name is East Canyon Trail and you can hike out to Viewpoint Beach either along the Gold Creek trail or the East Canyon trail. We opted for East Canyon because it is faster. It’s only about 4km to Viewpoint Beach and it’s a forgiving trail. It’s wide and a gradual uphill for the first 3km, then it switches to downhill for the remaining 1km.

You can camp on either side of Gold Creek, just cross the bridge in advance of arriving at Viewpoint Beach if you want to camp on the far side, which is known as Hiker’s Beach. I was keen to check out Hiker’s Beach because I’d camped at Viewpoint last year, but we opted for Viewpoint again since there’s both an outhouse and bear cache on that side. The water level was also very high when we visited and it did look like Hiker’s Beach may have been a bit flooded.

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Despite the poor forecast, there were still quite a few other campers at the beach. Carolyn had set up under the trees and the rest of us set up our tents on the beach. We did our best to get a tarp up so that we could have a dry breakfast the next day, but it was somewhat challenging with the limited number of trees, so we managed mostly with hiking poles.

There was a very short spurt of rain while we were getting set up, but it only lasted a few minutes, so it wasn’t a big deal. Brandon was pretty far behind us, but he rolled into the campsite a few hours later to set up his tent as well. Because of COVID we were playing it safe, so we all had our own tent, which ended up being quite luxurious. Carolyn and Brandon were both in 2p tents, and the rest of us were in 3p tents, so we had lots of room to spare. I think me and Seth had it the worst though because we had to share our space with a neurotic, wet dog.

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We heated up some water for boozy hot drinks and Brandon debuted his newest fad, the hand sanitizer stove. I’ve done this one with girl guides in the past, but basically he had a little pop-can stove that he filled with liquid hand sanitizer as fuel. He had a small bottle that burned for about 20 minutes. Not the most inspiring campfire, but there are no fires allowed in the Golden Ears backcountry, so it was a nice little alterative and we all got a kick out of it! Our neighbours were all having real campfires though, so a reminder to please respect the rules and the environment when you camp. Fire bans in parks exist for a reason, usually because people pillage the area for firewood and it’s not good for the ecosystem.

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After that it did start to rain in earnest, so we dropped off our smellies in the bear cache and called it a night! When I wrote about Viewpoint Beach last year I said there was no bear cache, but I think I just never discovered it. Carolyn found it right at the back of the beach. There’s no sign, but if you follow the trail into the woods, you will find a bear cache hidden back there. Easy to find in the day, but I do wish they would add some signs because it’s definitely not easy to find in the dark.

It’s always a handful to take Sadie camping, but she did reasonably well on Friday. Carolyn is the dog whisperer and there were no other dogs camping on the beach, so she handled herself well. She gets really excited when you first get in the tent, which makes it challenging to get into pyjamas, but once you turn off your headlamp she settles down pretty fast. It rained on and off through the night, but she slept well until 7am. Usually she lets us sleep later than that, but she wanted out, so I got up at 7am with her and let Seth sleep a bit longer.

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Fortunately the rain had cleared off in the morning and we were able to enjoy our breakfast in the dry! Pretty much everyone was up by 8am and we had a nice lazy morning. Our goal for the day was to hike 6km further along the trail to Half Moon Beach. One day I’d like to camp there, but our plan was just to check it out as a day hike and have lunch. There was a quick downpour just before we left at 10am, so we huddled under the tarp before setting out for the day.

It stayed dry for most of the hike out to Half Moon. The trail starts super easy, but it deteriorates the farther you go. I’ve heard the trail to Hector Fergusson Lake (which is past Half Moon Beach) is notoriously bad, but this section of the trail is pretty reasonable. There’s definitely some obstacles, but overall, not too bad. There’s just one confusing spot about 2.5km in where the trail markers seemingly go in multiple directions. Most of us followed the route on my GPS, which I think is the official route, but it was very muddy and wet, so I suspect the other routes exist as a bypass when the river is high. Carolyn and Brandon took that route and we were all reminded how easy it is to get separated when you split up, even if only for a short time.

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Eventually we met up again on the trail, but for a short period of time we did lose voice contact with each other because the trails diverged. We were all on marked trails, so everyone was reluctant to leave the trail they were on and eventually they did catch up. In our case, both me and Carolyn had inreach and GPS, so I wasn’t overly concerned, but I did mark the location where our paths diverged just in case.

Even in the drizzle, it’s a lovely trail! Golden Ears is so green and though you’re in the canopy for most of the trail, it follows Gold Creek and has some gorgeous views looking up the valley. Eventually we arrived at Half Moon Beach and happily set up by the river to enjoy our lunch. But we had about 3 minutes to enjoy it before the clouds finally opened rain on us. It poured and we hastily ran back to the cover of the trees. We hadn’t brought the tarp, so we huddled until the canopy while we ate our lunch.

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The tree cover didn’t really help us and we still got pretty wet. We hung around for a little bit in case it did clear up, but it didn’t really seem like it was going to stop, so we decided to head back. It did rain for the remainder of the hike and it took us about 2 hours each way. The trail accumulates water fast, so it was generally a lot wetter on the way back and by the time we finally strolled into camp, my pants were soaked through and my feet we were wet.

We’d anticipated this, so we decided to just pack up and abandon our plans to stay a second night (we’d been hopeful, but kind of knew from the start we would likely only stay 1 night). Honestly, if it wasn’t for Sadie, I might have been willing to stay, but camping with a wet dog isn’t really the most appealing. Once we stopped hiking she got really cold from the rain; plus our new neighbours both had dogs and Sadie is not friendly to stranger dogs.

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Unfortunately, it rained the entire time we took down camp, but we all changed into dry clothes first anyways. We took the tent down in the pouring rain, but left the tarp up until the last minute to provide some shelter. Once all our bags were packed, we hastily pulled the tarp down. But of course, the second we took the tarp down the rain slowed and I kid you not, the sun came out just as we were hiking out from the beach. It was still raining, but the sun brightened up the whole scene and all our neighbours emerged jubilantly from their tents. We snapped a few photos, but knew the rain would be back and continued on.

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It did thunder on the trek back to the car, but the rain slowed considerably to the point where my second set of clothing fortunately didn’t get wet. With the 12km day hike and the return trip, it ended up being 16km of hiking, which was a considerable day for all of us and Sadie. We arrived at the parking lot around 5pm, ending exactly 24 hours in the park. Somehow it felt like so much longer!

The weather continued to improve as we approached the city and I wondered if maybe we could have stayed, but then in poured all day Sunday, so in the end I didn’t regret it when I woke up in my cozy bed after having slept for 11 hours! Despite the rain, we all agreed that we still had a great time! I wouldn’t go back in the rain, but I am still keen to return again one day in the sun and this time camp at Half Moon Beach!

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Lightning Lakes Snow Camp

I know I said I was done with writing about Manning Park, but in addition to doing day snowshoe trips in the park, I have also snow camped there, so I want to share about that adventure too!

It’s been a challenging year for everyone with COVID-19 and our limited ability to travel and see friends. Fortunately the outdoors is a relatively safe space to spend time with friends, so we decided to go on our annual snow camping adventure. We made some notable changes – we all drove separately, prepared our own meals, and brought multiple tents. It wasn’t ideal because Brandon is the only one who owns a winter tent, but Carolyn decided to make do with her 3-season tent and we convinced Steve to join us this year! Steve did avalanche safety training with us this year, so he was interested in expanding his horizons.

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Originally we wanted to do Zoa Peak, but the avalanche risk was particularly high the weekend we went, so we decided to do Lightning Lakes instead since there is very little avalanche terrain there. To be on the safe side, we still rented avalanche gear and practiced finding each other’s beacons to get more familiar and comfortable with the gear.

I won’t spend too much time on trail details as I just wrote a separate post about the Lightning Lakes trail. It was possible to hike on the lake, so we crossed once on the first lake and then followed the trail along the edge of the second lake to the back. I’ve never gone beyond the edge of the second lake, but it’s not too far to snowshoe to the next lake, which is Flash Lake, so we decided to check it out. We weren’t keen on camping on Lightning Lake since there’s a lot of foot traffic and we thought Flash Lake might be more secluded.

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We didn’t see anyone along the Flash Lake trail, but the creek between the two lakes was not frozen and the head of the lake looked very sketchy. If we’d continued further, it likely would have improved, but we decided to turn around and instead found a nice clearing in the woods between the two lakes to set up camp.

Surprisingly there wasn’t actually a huge base of snow at Manning this year, so we didn’t have to dig too deep. In other years we’ve shared shovels, which made digging a bit slower, but this year we each had our own shovel, so even though we had multiple tents to dig out holes for, it ended up being a bit quicker than normal (or maybe we’re just getting better at it?). We dug deeper for Carolyn’s tent since it’s not a winter tent and we made sure to pack in a lot of snow around the edges for extra insulation. Fortunately it was only about -7 degrees overnight and with two people in the tent, they didn’t have any trouble staying warm.

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We all upgraded some of our gear this year, so Steve inherited some of Carolyn’s old snow camping gear and I got to test out my new -30 degree rated sleeping bag. It took me a bit longer than I anticipated to warm up in the bag (you’re only as warm as the heat you bring in with you), but after about an hour I finally got toasty and after that, quite warm. I ended up having to unzip a little bit and slept most of the night with one arm out of the bag, so I’m optimistic it will hold up in colder temperatures. There are very limited options for winter camping sleeping bags and even fewer are available in Canada. I still think some of the features of my bag could be improved, but I do think it was the best option available to me as a side sleeper.

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Like any snow camping trip, by the time you get to your destination, dig out your tents and make your snow kitchen, it’s more or less time to start getting ready for dinner before you lose daylight. We spent some time boiling water and enjoyed hanging out while we cooked our meals. I made the snow kitchen this year and I have to say I thought it turned out quite well! I made the counter/couch out of the pile of snow Carolyn shoveled out for her tent and then shoveled out a pit for one of the stoves. It snowed gently for most of the day and evening, but the clouds did clear a little bit and we got a glimpse of the stars before bed.

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It was around 7pm when we crawled into our tents. I read until around 8pm when I finally got properly warm and then hit the sack. I woke up around midnight to pee and then slept the rest of the night until 8am – definitely one of the better nights sleep I’ve gotten snow camping!

After breakfast we took down camp and then spent some time playing around with our avalanche gear before heading back out to the cars. It doesn’t take too long to hike back along the edge of the lake and we did a few photoshoots along the way. We all have a bit of an obsession with Gregory packs, so we take turns making attempts to get ourselves Gregory sponsorships – so far, no luck, but we still have fun!

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So overall it was a great first snow camping trip in Manning Park. Manning is a bit intimidating because it can get really cold there overnight, but fortunately for us it was pretty comfortable when we visited. Definitely have plans to go back and try camping at some of the other winter trails!

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