Ring Lake Backpacking Trip

Ring Lake was definitely one of the weirder backpacking trips I’ve been on over the years, but I look back on it now with very fond memories. It was August 2018, the smokiest summer I’ve ever experienced in the lower mainland. My Howe Sound Crest trip had been cancelled for the second year running because of the smoke, but I still wanted to go out exploring somewhere, so Brandon and I decided to head up towards Whistler in hopes that the smoke would thin.

If anything it was worse in Whistler, but we carried on towards Callaghan Lake, pulling over just before the lake at the Conflict Lake/Ring Lake trailhead. Callaghan is most well known for its cross country skiing, but you can explore there in the summer as well. It’s a gravel road that’s in pretty rough shape; I think it’s doable in a 2WD because there aren’t many water bars, but high clearance definitely make it easier.

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The Conflict Lake trail is really popular in the winter because there’s a beautiful cabin you can ski into and explore the area from, but for some reason it’s not operating in the summer and we didn’t see a single person on the trail. It’s 5km to Conflict Lake along relatively flat terrain through the woods. I had a bit of an upset tummy, so we rushed along to the Lake, thinking there would be an outhouse near the cabin. But alas, it’s too swanky a cabin for that so I was forced to make use of my trowel.

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We had lunch at the lake before carrying on to Ring Lake, which is another 5km, but this time it’s all uphill. It’s about 500 metres in elevation gain, but since it was flat to Conflict Lake, all the elevation is in the second half of the trail. However, right after Conflict Lake there are some really beautiful meadows, and just our luck they were filled with wildflowers! The contrast of the green meadows and smoke filled valley made me feel like I was somewhere else entirely. Coupled with the fact that we had yet to see another soul on the trail, it was quite blissful.

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It’s a tiring climb up from there though. The trail skirts the edge of the valley as you climb up towards the lake. It’s almost totally in the trees until you reach the top and pop out in the alpine. When I did Brew Lake it reminded me a lot of Ring Lake because both trails are almost completely forested until you reach the top, and both weirdly empty.

The challenge of Ring Lake is that about halfway between Conflict and Ring, you have to do a pretty dicey river crossing. Because of the terrain, the river cascades down over the rocks at a pretty steep angle, making it dangerous if you were to misstep and fall in. For this reason, the season during which you can hike to Ring Lake is short because you need to wait until the flows in the river goes down. I had a friend that tried to go in July once and had to turn around at the river crossing, so I’d really only recommend going in August. Fortunately for us (I guess), it was a super dry year, so we didn’t have too much trouble. I just opted to wear my full goretex boots for the trip and brought two hiking poles instead of the one I normally bring to make the crossing easier (although I ended up giving the second one to Brandon).

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After the crossing the trail is still quite technical though, there are a few ladder and rope sections, but eventually you pop out of the trees to the most gorgeous mountain vista! Sadly though, with the smoke we could barely see across the lake, but the whole area is hemmed in by mountains and it looked like there was lots to explore nearby. When we arrived we saw one tent on the far side of the lake, so we went in the other direction to set up our camp. It’s a large lake, so by the time we found a place we liked, we couldn’t even see them anymore. They left before us the following morning and we didn’t see a single other person the whole weekend.

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There’s only a handful of times when we’ve had such solitude at a campsite. I love it, but it does make you much more keenly aware of your presence in the wilderness. Ring Lake is in grizzly bear country, so caching our food was super important. Unfortunately though, it’s also an alpine environment and trees were very sparse. There are some around, but they’re the kind that go straight up with very few branches from which to hang a bear cache. After pitching the tent, we immediately got to work on our bear cache because we knew it would take some time. Looking back, I really have no idea how we managed to get the thing up – it took us about an hour, but somehow Cowboy Brandon managed to lasso to trees and we created a clothesline between them that we then hoisted our bags up. Most challenging was making sure not to tie the ropes in such a way that we wouldn’t be able to get them back, but in the end it all worked out. Definitely the most impressive bear cache I’ve ever fashioned. It was higher than it looks in the photo (because it was taken on a slope), but it did start to sag overnight.

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I’d also brought some bear bangers in case we saw a grizzly and I’d been thinking of setting one off before bed just to make sure the area was clear, but there is a small chance of fire with bangers and flares, so I opted not to with the forest so dry. Instead we just kept our bear horns nearby and we ended up sleeping with the fly off the tent, so we could easily see the surrounding area with the moonlight. I’m not really sure why we left the fly off, I think Brandon wanted to watch the stars, but with so much smoke, there wasn’t really much to see overnight. We did get a beautiful orange sunset over the lake though!

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I think what makes this trip stick out in my mind so much was the rest of the evening. After we’d set up camp, we went downwind of our tent to make dinner. Brandon had brought his speaker so that we could play music to scare off the bears and we’d accidentally brought a pretty significant amount of fireball with us. So we ended up doing quite a few shots and having our own mountain dance party as we made dinner! There’s nothing so enjoyable as a watching the sun go down with Brandon’s backcountry thai chicken curry and a pleasant buzz. But mostly we just marveled in our good fortune in having such a beautiful place all to ourselves.

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We both regret that we couldn’t explore the area further. There are lots of surrounding mountain peaks that would have made for a fun second day, but the smoke stole any hope of a view, so we decided to just head back down the following day, though we’re both keen to return again in the future.

The trek down was a lot more enjoyable than the hike up. We did a small bit of exploring at the meadows at the top before heading back to Conflict Lake for lunch again. There’s a boulder field between Ring and Conflict Lake that is an excellent place to watch for marmots. We saw a few on the way up hanging out on the rocks. Then on the way back down I counted a record 7 marmots out sunning themselves! One was a family of 4 with two little pups that were super cute!

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It’s only 10km each way, but it feels like a long 10km with big hiking packs. The hike from Conflict back to the car felt like it went on forever and we were relieved when we finally arrived back at the car and could shed our packs and smelly clothes. Like I said, I really would like to go back and visit Ring Lake again, but I would never do it in such conditions. Looking back, the smoke was great enough that we shouldn’t have gone hiking at all and I’m impressed I didn’t feel sick from it.

We had some really bad smoke in Sept. 2020 as well and again attempted to escape it by heading out of the city. We weren’t successful in escaping it, but on this occasion it gave me such a headache I quit the hike 3km in and went back to the car. When the smoke is so bad, it’s really not worth going out in it since it’s quite dangerous to your health. At the time though, we’d been cooped up for the better part of a month and were going a little stir crazy. It’s a difficult hike, don’t underestimate it – but in different conditions, I would gladly return!

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Favourite Hikes in Southwestern BC: Part II

About 2 years ago I compiled a list of my Favourite Hikes in Southwestern BC. At the time I’d hiked about 40 trails and narrowed it down to my top 10 favourite trails. Some of those trails would definitely still be in my top 10 hikes, but since then, I’ve surpassed 100 trails and decided it was time to compile a new list! I haven’t included any of the hikes from the first list, so check out that post if you want to see my original list, but this list features even more awesome trails! All photos taken by yours truly.

#10 Lightning Lakes – I’m a little bit obsessed with EC Manning Provincial Park (as you’ll soon see from this post) and what I love about Lightning Lakes is that it’s got a little bit of something for everyone. The entire Lightning Lakes Chain Trail is actually 24km long and travels through the valley past 4 different lakes, but I’ve actually only done shorter loop around the first two lakes (but I’d love to do the whole trail someday). But I love this trail because it is pretty flat, so it makes for a great beginner trail and because there’s multiple lakes, you can customize it to whatever length you want. It has the most gorgeous views of the blue lakes and the surrounding mountains, as well as it’s a great place to swim and hang out in the summer. Me and my friends go every year to chill and BBQ at the first lake. (24km, no elevation gain, you decide the time and length!)

#9 Dam Mountain and Thunderbird Ridge – Located at the top of Grouse Mountain, I’ve never explored these trails in the summer, but I had a blast when I snowshoed them in the winter. It’s annoying to have to pay the gondola fee to get up Grouse Mountain, but on a clear day with a fresh snowfall, this hike has the most gorgeous views looking out into the Metro Vancouver watershed. It’s an easy enough trail – a lot of people just snowshoe up to Dam Mountain and then turn around, but I’d recommend going the extra 2km along Thunderbird Ridge. I also have to say that I ran into some equipment issues (personal equipment) and the Grouse Mountain staff were so helpful in resolving them! (7km, 250m elevation gain, 3 hours)

#8 Ring Lake – Ring Lake would probably rank even higher on this list had it not been right in the middle of wildfire season when I went there. But even with the insane amount of smoke in the area, I still loved this hike and am now dying to go back at a clearer time of year. Ring Lake is located in the Callaghan Valley and is a very low traffic trail. The gravel road to get to the trailhead is a little dicey (I’d recommend high clearance) and it is in grizzly country, but it’s a great area to explore if you want to escape the crowds. It is a steep trail up to the top because most of the elevation gain is in the second half of the trail, but the views at Ring lake are fantastic. The only issue right now is that one of the bridges is out right before the lake and you can’t cross it in high flows, so I would definitely recommend visiting in August or September. Even if you don’t make it to the top though, it’s worth visiting for the berries and alpine meadows located just past Conflict Lake. (20km, 500m elevation gain, 8 hours)

#7 Flatiron/Needle Peak – Flatiron and Needle Peak share most of the same trail, but split towards the end with Flatiron one way and Needle Peak the other. I think you could easily do them both in a day, but there was snow when I went a few weeks ago (early October). so we decided to skip steep Needle Peak. But this hike still blew me away! It does have significant elevation gain, but I liked it a lot because after an initial push through the forest (45-60 mins), the rest of the hike is along the ridge looking up at Needle Peak. Flatiron continues on to a lake that would probably be great for swimming in the summer and boasts great views looking down on the Coquihalla. Breathtaking on a clear day, but bring a sweater, it’s cold up there! (11km, 800m elevation gain, 6 hours)

#6 Frosty Mountain – The second hike from Manning Park on my list, I did a multi-day trip along the PCT and up Frosty Mountain (but you can do this one in a day). It’s definitely a steep hike, but the views are just amazing! my favourite part is the section running from what I call the “fake summit” to the actual summit, which goes right along the ridge up the peak with 360 degree views. I’ve heard awesome things about this trail in the Fall as well because the larch trees all turn bright yellow and make for some really vibrant pictures! (22km, 1150m elevation gain, 8 hours)

#5 Mount Price – A theme with my favourite hikes is that they tend to be some of the less crowded hikes. I did a 3 night trip through Garibaldi Park back in 2016 and hiked both Panorama Ridge and Black Tusk. My friend hadn’t been and asked me to join her for another 3 nighter, so I decided to switch things up and try out some new hikes while we were up there. While she was climbing Black Tusk (not a favourite of mine), I decided to hike the much less popular Mount Price. What a great decision because this hike is unreal! It’s basically Panorama Ridge, but on the other side of the lake and with hardly any people. It’s not a popular trail, so it’s not well maintained and does include a very dubious and steep hike up the side of Clanker Peak and then Mount Price, but the views from Mount Price are totally unreal! It has a very large summit, so I explored up there for over an hour without getting the least bit bored. It has great views across Garibaldi Lake of Black Tusk and Panorama Ridge, but it also has views looking back at the glacier and Mount Garibaldi. It was a tough hike, but ranks high on my list. (11km roundtrip from Garibaldi Lake, 600m elevation gain, 7 hours)

#4 Heather Trail – This one is a bit of a repeat from my last list since I included the Three Brothers Mountain in Manning Park, which is the first 11km of the Heather Trail. But I loved the Three Brothers hike so much that I had to go back and do the entire Heather Trail, and I definitely don’t regret it. If you love 360 degree views, the Heather Trail has it, but I personally love it for the alpine meadows. I’ve discovered I have a bit of thing for the alpine meadows (especially when wildflowers are in season) and I love hiking through meadow after meadow, there’s just so much open space and they make me feel like I’m living in the Sound of Music. I also really liked Nicomen Lake on this hike, but it was extremely buggy. The Heather Trail can be done as a through hike or return, we did it as a through hike by combining it with Hope Pass Trail from Nicomen Lake (38km through hike, 1000m elevation gain, 2 day hike)

#3 Cheam Peak – This one makes the list as well because of my recent obsession with meadows. It’s located in the Chilliwack Valley and you definitely need 4WD to get to the trailhead. But despite that, it was still a pretty busy trail because it boasts a great view looking out over the Fraser Valley. However, on the day we did it it was super foggy, so we didn’t actually see this view at all. But it really didn’t bother me and it still tops my list because the views looking back at the valley and the alpine meadows were breath-taking. In my opinion the fog made for some super interesting pictures and we had the most wonderful post hike swim in Spoon Lake, so the fog didn’t deter me at all. I felt like I was in middle earth for this hike, so I was content the whole time and would love to go back! (10km, 650m elevation gain, 5 hours)

#2 Juan de Fuca Trail – Okay, I know the Juan de Fuca is a bit of a stretch for this list, but it is still technically “Southwest BC”, it just involves a bit of travel time to get to the island if you live in the lower mainland. But it was seriously one of the highlights of my hiking experience over the past 5 years and I can’t not include it on this list. The Juan de Fuca is a 50km trail along the south-western coast of Vancouver Island and is known as the “West Coast Trail Lite”. I’ve devoted three whole blog posts to my experience on this trail and it was really unlike any other hike I’ve done before. The ocean speaks to that part of my soul that grew up in Newfoundland and this was my first multi-day through hike, so it felt like more of a journey than any other hike I’ve done before. I’d highly recommend this trail, I’d just say not to underestimate it. It is a very strenuous hike and it definitely kicked my ass, but it was the most rewarding hike I’ve ever done. (50km, 4-5 days)

#1 Skyline Trail/Hozameen Ridge – I had to end this list with one more trail from Manning Park. I really do love this park and I spent a lot of time exploring it over the last 2 years, and the Skyline Trail was definitely the highlight. With the exception of the first 5km, the entire hike runs along the “skyline”. You basically hike along the ridge from mountain to mountain with the most amazing views of the alpine meadows, wildflowers, and mountain range. You can do this trip in a single day if you’re ambitious, either as a through hike or return trip (25km), but we did it as a two night trip, base camping at Mowich Camp. On our second day, we day hiked along Hozameen Ridge to the border monument and the most incredible view looking out at the enormous Hozameen Mountain. I loved every second of this 3 day trip and would recommend to everyone. The first 5km are a pretty consistent incline, but after that, it’s not a difficult trail. (40km, 500m elevation gain, multi-day trip)