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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Camping in the wind and rain at Kilby Park

This will be a short blog post about a short trip, but it was exciting enough that I decided it was worth writing about! My friends wanted to get one last camping trip in before snow season and booked up 3 campsites at Kilby Park over the Remembrance Day long weekend. They all drove out after the Remembrance Day service on Thursday and Brandon and I joined them on Friday evening after work. It ended up pouring all Thursday night and most of Friday, so I didn’t regret my decision. The rain finally stopped as Brandon and I were driving out and it didn’t rain again until the following afternoon.

But a little bit of information about the Kilby Campground. Kilby Park is located near Harrison Mills and it was my first time visiting the area. Historically there was a mill located in the area and Kilby was the location of the train station, so people travelling between Chilliwack and New Westminster would stay in the area. At the time there was a 14 room hotel, general store, and post office located at the train station, so visitors would often stay the night. Today, the original building has been turned into a museum and a small campground developed along the river to provide revenue towards maintaining the site.

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Like I said, I’d never heard of the park, but I was pleasantly surprised by it’s location. The campground is located right on the banks of the Harrison River where it empties into Harrison Bay and has gorgeous views. I would love to return in the summer and hang out on the sandy beach and go kayaking around the bay. On this particular trip though, it was pretty wet and chilly and the campground itself left a little something to be desired. The campsites are definitely intended for campers and RV’s and we were the only people staying there that were in tents. The sites have a strong parking lot vibe, with very few trees and little privacy. But the views really can’t be rivalled, so I wouldn’t be opposed to going back.

Brandon and I arrived just after sunset. The rest of our crew had been there for 24 hours already, so they had constructed a pretty good set-up, with several pop-ups over the picnic tables and fire. We’d gone on a pretty large wood finding mission before the trip and had stockpiled a huge pile of construction waste to burn through and keep us warm. Carolyn and Steve made our supper for the night and had cooked salmon and roasted veggies over the fire in tinfoil packages, which was delicious!

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Unfortunately, though we had foreseen the rain, we hadn’t accounted for the wind. It’s very rare that we get wind at all in BC and as we were eating dinner, the wind started gusting up off the water and lifting up the pop ups. We tried pegging them down, but the sites are designed for campers and the ground quality was poor, so we ended up having to guyline every corner of the pop-ups as well. Fortunately that did the job and they didn’t give us any more problems after that. We spent the rest of the evening enjoying the fire and the break from the rain. Carolyn recently got a Golden-Doodle puppy named Jasper, so we loved getting to hang out and snuggle with him. I decided to leave Sadie home with Seth because she is pretty high maintenance and reactive and I didn’t think she would do well in the open-concept campsites (also I didn’t want to sleep with a wet dog).

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We camped in Brandon’s tent and I finally had another reason to use my -30 degree sleeping bag, which obviously kept me super toasty warm all night. I slept better than expected and we got up with the sun at 8am for a full car camping breakfast of eggs, bologna, and hash browns. We also had a fabulous view of several eagles and saw 3 of them hanging out along the beach throughout the morning. We later learned we happened to be visiting during the Eagle festival, so it was nice of the eagles to show off for us!

Having a look at the upcoming forecast, we made the decision to take advantage of the dry weather to take down the tents. We’d been planning to stay Saturday night as well, but it was calling for an insane amount of rain starting in the afternoon, as well as wind, so we figured we didn’t want to battle both elements and have to take home a ton of wet gear in the morning. This ended up being an excellent decision as this was the weather event that ended up flooding entire towns in BC. At the time, the forecast was calling for 150mm of rain in the Fraser Valley, by the end of the storm, some areas of the province ended up getting close to 300mm of rain. This resulted in heavy flooding and destruction in Merritt, Hope, and Abbotsford, as well as the flooding and collapse of several highways, causing BC to declare a State of Emergency for the third time in 2021. So if you have any doubts about climate change, please educate yourself because the effects are very real and devastating.

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Around noon we decided to check out the Kilby Museum. It’s only open on the weekends in the off-season, so we walked up the road and paid the $10 entrance fee to tour the museum. They’ve preserved the old hotel and store as much as possible and added several exhibits in the old hotel rooms about the development of the Fraser Valley through the years. We really enjoyed touring around and they have a really nice gift shop that also sells homemade pies! That’s where we learned about the historic use of the site and it was nice to learn something new.

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It started to rain a bit after that and most of our party took off to head home. We stayed a little bit longer and Brandon cooked up his infamous Thai chicken curry for us and Carolyn and Steve. It did start to rain in earnest then though, so we packed up as much as possible, just leaving the pop-up over the picnic table until the last minute. Unfortunately, because we had cut the trip short, we had a lot of firewood leftover. I’m the only person with a yard and fire-pit at home, so we ended up loading all the leftover wood aboard Brandon’s car and Seth and I now have a huge stash for next year!

It was around 3:30pm when we left and it was torrential downpour the entire way home. We were very satisfied with our decision to leave early and didn’t fully understand just how wise that decision was until news started to break the next evening about the devastation the rain caused. So in conclusion, the Kilby sites leave a little something to be desired, but I would love to return in the summer to take advantage of recreation activities in Harrison Bay and would totally recommend checking out the museum.

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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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