Posts Tagged With: camping

Hiking Lightning Lakes

This is the third post in my Manning Park mini-series, so it’s time to talk about one of Manning’s most popular day hikes – Lightning Lakes. Manning Park has 3 campgrounds inside the park: Hampton, Cold Spring, and Lightning Lakes. I’ve camped at Hampton several times and once at Lightning Lakes. Of the 3, Lightning Lakes is definitely the most popular, so you have to be on the ball when booking, which is why I usually end up at Hampton. The nice thing about Manning Park though is that with 3 campgrounds, you don’t have to book a site right when they release, there’s usually something available.

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So in 2017, me and my friends starting making a car camping trip to Manning Park an annual thing. We drive up after work on Friday, do a short hike on Saturday, and then spend the rest of the weekend taking it easy. Usually our trips are all about physical activities, but our manning trip has always been about lazing at the beach, drinking beer, and playing games. After a big breakfast on Saturday morning, we usually relocate to the Lightning Lakes day use area for the rest of the day to hike, go swimming, and have a BBQ. It’s usually too chilly for swimming in the morning, so we’ve gotten in the habit of exploring around the lake.

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Lightning Lakes is as the name suggests, more than 1 lake. The first lake is located at the Day Use area and you can hang out at the picnic tables or rent a boat to explore for the day. There’s a bit of an offshoot from the lake on the other side of the boat launch and then if you follow the river up from the main lake, there’s a second long lake heading into the backcountry. There is a bridge across the river, so you can opt to do just the bottom lake, just the top lake, or both. The first year we’d intended to do both, but the length of the hike is actually a little bit misleading and it is longer than you think, so we ended up just exploring around the first lake. Then our second year we did the opposite and hiked around the back lake. Whatever you choose, make sure you cross the bridge! In my opinion it’s the most scenic part of the lake. There’s very little elevation gain on the hike, so it makes for a nice leisurely walk.

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As I mentioned, you can also rent boats at the lake. I’ve never done this myself because we have a little rubber dinghy that we usually bring, but some time I would like to rent a canoe and go up the river to the end of the lake. Some people find the lake pretty cold for swimming, but we’ve always enjoyed it. There’s also a large dog beach on the east side of the day use area and it’s fun to watch the ground squirrels popping out of their burrows and running around on the grass.

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I definitely prefer Lightning Lakes in the summer, but it does also make for a great snowshoeing location in the winter. Manning is one of my favourite places to snowshoe because unlike the North Shore and the Sea to Sky, it consistently gets snow all winter, so there’s always been fresh powder around when I’ve gone out there. This past winter I went out when my parents were visiting and we snowshoed up to the end of the second lake. We followed the trail on the way up and walked back across the lake. Careful doing this obviously – make sure it’s mid-winter and that’s it’s been cold for a while surrounding your visit.

So if you’re looking for a short, fun, and scenic hike; Lightning Lakes makes for a great pick any time of year!

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Skyline II Backpacking Trip

Continuing on with my mini-series about Manning Park, I’m super thrilled to finally write about the Skyline II Trail! After my amazing hike to 3 Brothers, I was inspired to go back to Manning. My goal was to hike the full Heather Trail, but I needed someone to do it with me. This was back in 2017, so I didn’t have as many hiking and backpacking friends as I have now, so that pretty much left Carolyn and Brandon because Seth isn’t really a fan of backpacking. I think Carolyn must have been on vacation at the time, but Brandon happily agreed to go with me. I wanted to hike from Blackwell Road all the way down to Cayuse Flats, staying overnight at Kicking Horse Campsite and Nicomen Lake. But since this requires two vehicles, we decided to try out the Skyline Trail instead.

The Skyline Trail is located on the other side of the park (basically, the other side of the highway) and continues for 25km to Skagit Valley Provincial Park. Since hiking to Skagit Valley would also require two vehicles, we decided to do a there-and-back-again hike from Strawberry Flats in Manning Park. The Skyline Trail is also well known for its wildflowers, but it doesn’t receive quite as many visitors as the Heather Trail, presumably because of the elevation gain. We wanted to beat the crowds to the campsite, so we decided to take Friday off and head out early.

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It was late July and a beautiful blue sky day. We started hiking around noon and our goal was to stay at Mowich Camp, which is located right at the halfway point along the trail: 12.5km. The start of the Skyline II Trail is a bit of a slog. You leave from Strawberry Flats, which is a little way past Lightning Lakes. You can also hike the Skyline I Trail, which leaves directly from Lightning Lakes, but is longer and takes a different route up. On the Skyline II Trail, it’s about 5km to the junction with the Skyline I Trail. There’s not a whole lot to see on the way up – it’s pretty much all uphill in the trees, but they start to thin out near the top and you can catch a glimpse of Snow Camp and Goat Mountain. While it’s not the most interesting section of the trail, I’ve always liked it because it’s not too steep, so it takes about 90 minutes to hike up.

Once you reach the junction though, you are greeted by one of the most beautiful views in the park! From the junction the view completely opens up and you can climb down to this rock viewpoint that looks out over the park, all the way to the distinctive peak of Hozameen Mountain in Washington. The viewpoint isn’t for the faint of heart as there’s a pretty big drop-off, but we loved hanging out there while we ate our lunches.

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After that, it’s back into the trees for one last challenging section. You have to climb back down and up Deception Pass. You head right back into the trees and follow the switchbacks down along the pass before starting to climb back out – I think it’s about another 1-2km, but then you’re home free for the rest of the hike! That’s not to say it’s easy, but it is damn beautiful! Skyline II Trail is what firmly cemented Manning Park as my favourite provincial park and to date, I still consider Skyline II Trail to be my favourite hike in all of BC. Now I still have yet to hike in the Rockies, but until I make it out there, Skyline Trail is definitely holding on to the top spot.

Once you climb out of the pass you quickly realize where the trail takes its name from. The rest of the hike is along the ridgeline looking down over meadows full of wildflowers to the Lightning Lakes Chain Trail, and out towards Hozameen Ridge and Hozameen Mountain. We had picked a dream day to hike the trail. There was absolutely no one on it since it was Friday, it was sunny, and the wildflowers were in peak bloom! I can’t recall exactly how long it took us to get to Mowich Camp, but it wasn’t the fastest. I have a feeling it was somewhere around 6 hours, which is a bit on the slow side for us, but we were constantly stopping to take pictures of the wildflowers and had a long lunch break at the viewpoint. Brandon is pretty silly and I was have a fun time hiking with him – he indulged me by taking lots of Sound of Music inspired photos of me dancing in the wildflowers.

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The big thing to be aware of if you’re camping on the Skyline Trail is the water supply. In hindsight, we were pretty lucky because we weren’t super prepared for it. There’s only one campsite on the entire trail and the water source is pretty small. It’s just one tiny stream that runs through the campsite. We weren’t sure if it was even going to be running, so we kept out eyes open for other water sources along the way. There are a few other streams running by, but it would have been a long walk from the campsite. Fortunately the stream in the campsite hadn’t yet dried up. Our plan had been to bring Brandon’s water filter since it was only a small source, but he forgot it, so we had to make do with the emergency water tabs in my first aid kit. Obviously we could have just boiled the water, which we also did to leave overnight, but the last thing you want after hiking all day is to drink hot water (or worse, no water if the stream was dried up). So plan accordingly if you’re going out there. In future, I would bring extra water with me just in case.

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Despite the rest of the trail being breathtakingly gorgeous, Mowich Camp isn’t much to write home about. It’s hidden in the trees, so there’s no viewpoint from the camp. But it still goes down in my memory as one of the more memorable campsites. For the first, and only time, on all of my hikes, we were the only people at the campsite. Manning Park is too far to drive after work and then hike into the camp, so we ended up being the only ones there! It was a weird experience. I’ve camped several times with only a limited number of other people (Juan de Fuca Trail and Ring Lake come to mind), but never as the only people. We took over the whole campsite and picked the best spot to pitch our tent. Brandon set up his hammock across two trees and we set up his bluetooth speaker while we cooked to scare away any animals that might be attracted by the smell. Brandon made chili for supper and had even brought dessert up with him! Overall it was a relaxing evening, except when Brandon left to go get ready for bed and I was left alone in the tent with only the sounds of the forest to keep me company. It’s kind of creepy being the only people around and I was definitely more aware of the potential for animals to wonder into the campsite. We were very careful about keeping all of our smellies away from the tent.

But we weren’t disturbed at all and woke up in the morning to continue our journey. Our plan for day two was to hike along Hozameen Ridge to Monument 74 at the Canada-USA border for a view of Hozameen Mountain. We continued along the Skyline Trail for a little while until we reached the junction for Hozameen. The Skyline II Trail continues down from there all the way to Skagit Valley. I’ve never done that section of the trail, but I have heard there’s more elevation gain to reach the bottom, so it’s not as scenic as the Manning side of the hike. But our destination lay along the ridge. We took the junction onto the Hozameen Ridge Trail, which continues all the way to border, and I suspect onwards past Hozameen Mountain and Ross Lake. I was never able to find a proper map for it, so I’m not really sure. My GPS says the trail ends shortly before the border, but it definitely continues to the monument and beyond.

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Hiking along the ridge is pretty easy. It’s mostly flat and you meander back and forth through the trees, catching views on both sides. As you approach the end of the ridge, you start climbing. This is definitely a more challenging section, but as you crest the end of the ridge, you’re rewarded with an unimpeded view straight to Hozameen Mountain. If you’ve ever been to Manning on a clear day, it’s likely you noticed Hozameen Mountain. It’s the biggest mountain in the area, with very distinctive jagged peaks. We decided it was the perfect lunch spot and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to soak in the view while we ate our wraps. While we were eating, we came across our first visitors of the day, three trail runners that were training for Manning’s ultra marathon in August, the Fat Dog 120. They had started running that morning and caught up with us at the half-point of their run (and our 3 day trip). They downed a few gels, snapped some photos of Hozameen, and then took off again while we stared flabbergasted that they’d run the same distance it took us 2 days to traverse in just one morning. I bet we had more fun though.

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Our lunch viewpoint is where it looks like the trail ends on my GPS, from there it’s a steep downhill towards Hozameen. We could see the border monument and trail continuing at the bottom, but I was reluctant to go down there because I didn’t want to have to climb back up again. There was no way Brandon was leaving the last stretch of trail unfinished though and he dragged me down over the side to finish what we started. It is difficult to follow the trail down over the edge and it is pretty steep, so be careful if you’re following this route, but I definitely felt a sense of accomplishment when we reached the monument. It was my first time hiking to a border monument (I’ve since done Monument 78 as well) and we had a lot of fun snapping pictures and dancing around the monument.

I was surprised to learn upon reaching the monument that the entire border is actually clear cut through the park. As we hiked along the ridge, we noticed there was a corridor of clear cut trees, but never considered it was the border. I just assumed there was a transmission line down there. But once you arrive at the monument, it becomes pretty clear that it’s the border. I researched it after the trip and confirmed that it is true. There’s no signage at the monument, but I later learned when I hiked to the PCT monument that the border is also monitored by cameras. There’s a sign at the PCT monument asking you not to moon the border as you are on video! Wish I known this when I was flipping Trump the bird at the monument by Hozameen!

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We continued along the trail a little bit further to get another view of Hozameen Mountain before finally deciding to turn back. The trail definitely continues on, but it’s hard to judge the distance because mountains as large as Hozameen can be very misleading when guessing distance. All in all we hiked about 15km there and back to the campsite. We didn’t see anyone on the trail on our way back, but upon arriving it was obvious that other people had been busy hiking in all day. Our little solitary campsite was now filed with campers who had driven up in the morning to hike in for one night. It made me glad that we had taken Friday off and had the opportunity to hike the trail on our own, but we made some new friends with some of our fellow campers and swapped stories while teaching them to play exploding kittens.

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We’d had two beautiful blue sky days, but the weather was forecasted to change on Sunday. When I hike with Carolyn, we’re always the first people up and on the trail, but when I hike with Brandon, we’re usually the last. Carolyn is a major morning person, while Brandon likes to take his time. I tend more towards being a morning person, but I can swing either way and enjoy sleeping in and taking it easy when I hike with Brandon. So despite being the first people to the campsite, we were among the last to leave. The clouds had finally moved in, but fortunately the rain was staying away. We made better time on the hike out, but we still stopped a lot to take more pictures. Even though I prefer round trip hikes, I find there-and-back-again hikes still look different from both directions and I have a tendency to take all my pictures twice – especially when it’s different weather conditions and all the photos look different anyways.

We stopped again at the big viewpoint for lunch and then pounded the last 5km back down to Strawberry Flats. I can’t remember if it ever did rain on us, which itself suggests that likely it didn’t, or at most was just a bit of drizzle. So even though it was 3 years ago that I hiked the trail, it still stands out in my memory as one of my most memorable backpacking trips and my all time favourite trail!

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3 Brothers Mountain Day Hike

I haven’t written about many of my day hikes on this blog. I’ve gone on tons of them over the years, but I tend to write more about my backpacking trips since sometimes it seems like there’s not a whole lot to say about day hikes. But I’m excited to write about 3 Brothers Mountain and have decided to make it the first post in a mini-series about E.C. Manning Provincial Park. My first time visiting Manning Park was in 2016. Since then I’ve hiked and camped all over the park and it has become my favourite Provincial Park in BC to date. The first time I travelled there was with Emily when she was visiting from Newfoundland after finishing her Engineering degree. She stayed with me for about a month and we decided to spend one weekend car camping in the park. It was just the two of us and though it was the middle of July, it was a pretty cold weekend. I’ve had both hot and cold trips to Manning Park since then, but Emily seems to always be there for the cold ones, so I’m starting to think she might just be bad luck.

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Anyways, after a cold night in the tent, we decided to hit the trail to try and burn some calories and warm up. It wasn’t very warm when we woke up, but as we started driving up Blackwell Road to get to the trailhead, the car thermometer kept dropping. By the time we reached the top, it was only 6 degrees. We hadn’t anticipated it would be so cold, so we grabbed all the sweaters and coats we had in the car and set off. It was a rough start when I realized I’d brought a camera with a empty SD slot, so I was forced to use my cell phone for photos. Probably not a big deal for most people, but I love my little mirrorless camera, so I was pretty bummed about it. You’ll have to excuse my photos for not quite being up to standard.

If you’ve never been up Blackwell Road, it’s worth going up there just for the view. You don’t even need to be a hiker. There’s an amazing viewpoint about halfway up and then another great view of the surrounding wilderness from the parking lot. If you have enough time for a short hike, follow the paintbrush trail, which does a short little loop near the parking lot and is covered with wildflowers (hence the name) around late July/early August. We had set our sights a little higher though and were aiming for 3 Brothers Mountain, a 21km out and back trip. The actual name of the trail is the Heather Trail and it continues on past 3 Brothers to Kicking Horse Camp and Nicomen Lake. I have also hiked that trail, but it’s a story for another time.

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The Heather Trail and 3 Brothers Mountain are really top notch though. Because you’ve driven all the way up Blackwell Road, most of the elevation gain is done by car. That means the trail is already starting in the alpine, which makes the entire trip incredibly scenic. There is still almost 500m of elevation gain on the trail, but a lot of that is at the very end when you summit the First Brother Mountain, so spread over the rest of the 10km, the elevation gain is not bad at all. You start out on the ridge from the parking lot and descend about 5km to Buckhorn Camp. It’s a very quick 5km and we did it in about an hour. It’s a good place to stop for a pee break and a snack because there are several picnic tables and camping pads. I’ve never seen anyone camping there, but I could see it being a great campsite if you wanted to drive out after work on a Friday and get an early start on the Heather Trail in the morning.

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After Buckhorn Camp, the trail starts to climb again and that’s when things get truly scenic. The remainder of the trail is through alpine meadows and since we were visiting in mid July, the wildflowers were starting to come out. They weren’t quite at their full glory, but definitely picturesque. The only downside of course is that the Heather Trail is known for it’s wildflowers, so it attracts a lot of people at that time of year. Overall there’s a lot of trail to spread out over, but we were still regularly passing large groups of people that seemed to be doing Meetups at the trailhead. We were making a pretty brisk pace to try and stay warm, so we ended up passing a lot of people. But the trail is really beautiful as you look out over the green meadows and wildflowers out towards the North Cascades, so you can kill a lot of time taking photos!

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About 9km in you reach a junction – you can either continue on along the Heather Trail for another 11km to Nicomen Lake and beyond, or you can take the branch that leads up First Brother Mountain to the viewpoint and our final destination. The name 3 Brothers Mountain is somewhat confusing. I couldn’t find a whole lot of information about it, but from the Park website I learned that the alpine meadows used to be used for sheep grazing until 1931, when they created the 3 Brothers Mountain reserve, which included the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Brother mountain peaks. It later became part of Manning Park in 1941. There’s the trail branch to go up the First Brother and the Heather Trail passes by the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Brothers along the way. But don’t ask me what the deal is with the Fourth Brother and why he was excluded from the trail and park name because I really have no idea why.

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We were just aiming for the First Brother on our trip though. It was a pretty overcast day, so while we’d been able to enjoy the views on the way up, some of the higher mountains were still shrouded in fog – this included the First Brother. We branched off the trail and started climbing into the clouds, lamenting that it was both getting colder as we climbed and the view worse. We made it all the way to the signpost at the top of the mountain, but we couldn’t see anything from there and it was very cold and windy. We sheltered behind some rocks to eat our lunch, but while we were eating, the wind finally moved the fog out and the view started to clear for us! From the top you have an incredible 360 degree view in all directions. The climb up is not for the faint of heart – it is pretty steep, with lots of rocks to climb over as you make your way along the ridgeline with a drop on either side of you. It made for an incredible walk back down though! Everything we couldn’t see on the way up came into view on the way down and it took us a while to get back as we were constantly stopping for photos.

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Even though this is a 21km hike, which I would normally expect to take a minimum of 7 hours, but more likely 8 or 9, somehow me and Emily did the whole thing in just 6 hours, including lunch break. This is a bad pace by which to measure other hikes because that is a super intense pace for us, but it does serve to highlight that the topography is definitely easier on this hike than others I’ve done (and that is was COLD). Please don’t use this as a reference for how long this hike takes though because another group of friends that I often hike with did the same hike in 10 hours. We ended up running into one of my friends on the way out. He’d spent the night at Kicking Horse and was heading back to the parking lot, so we did the last 6-7km together. He’d been planning to stay a second night, but he said it was just too cold up there to stay any longer. So we made good time on the way out and before we knew it we were back at our campsite again, building a campfire to warm ourselves up properly!

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So my first visit to Manning Park was a little rough around the edges, but it was the start of a long and beautiful love story! That first visit inspired me to hike the Skyline II Trail a year later and the entire Heather Trail the year after that. We continue to car camp in the park annually and it’s become one of my favourite places to snowshoe in the winter. It’s a beautiful park, but it attracts less visitors than Garibaldi (I don’t actually know if this is true, but it definitely feels like it), so even though I love both parks, Manning makes for a more enjoyable experience. Plus the night sky in Manning is to die for! Tune back soon (hopefully), for more stories from my many adventures in Manning Park.

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