Posts Tagged With: Cheam Peak

Hiking Cheam Peak

One of my favourite local hikes to date is Cheam Peak – which is interesting because the first time I hiked it was in 2018 and in much less than ideal conditions. Cheam Peak is a well known hike in the Fraser Valley, whose sharp peak dominates the skyline as you drive out Highway 1 past Chilliwack. Though you can easily see the mountain from the Highway, you have to enter the trail from the South on Chilliwack Lake Road. I wasn’t expecting it to be a busy hike because you need 4WD to access to the trail head, and it was a pretty smoky day when we hiked it in 2018, so I was shocked when we arrived at the trailhead to find the parking lot packed with trucks and SUVs. As far as 4WD hikes go – I can also assume this is one of the more popular since the mountain peak is so iconic.

5 of us piled into Brandon’s 4Runner to get to the trailhead – a drive that was a lot more fun for Brandon than the rest of us. The higher we drove along the road, the worse the visibility got. 2018 was one of the worst summers for forest fires and the city was filled with smoke for weeks on end, making it hard to do much of anything outdoors without coughing up a lung. The smoke hadn’t peaked yet, but it was also an overcast day and we were high enough to be up in the clouds – so the smoke and fog together made for some really terrible visibility.

The conditions didn’t impact my enjoyment of Mount Cheam though and even with the poor visibility, between the alpine meadows and cute little Spoon Lake, I was in hiking heaven. The meadows start pretty much at the trailhead and are gorgeous and green, with this tiny little swimming hole that looks like it’s been punched out of the landscape. Plus there’s lots of wildflowers if you go at the right time of year. From the meadow, I think you can see up most of the mountain, but unfortunately for us, the meadow was the only part of the trail not shrouded in fog. As we started to ascend, we immediately entered the clouds and lost all sight of anything around us. I’ve hiked a few times in the fog, but this was definitely the worst. The closer we got to the top, the worse it got. It’s not the longest trail, only 9km round trip, but you tackle a lot of elevation gain in that hike, approximately 650m. So it’s pretty steep for most of the hike, with lots of switchbacks and at times I literally couldn’t see my friends if they were more than 6 feet away.

We weaved our way up the mountain until we reached the ridgeline along the top. It was super creepy in the conditions because the fog was getting caught up on the other side of the ridge (towards the highway), so we could see down the ridge a little bit, but the highway side was just a bank of milky white fog. It’s made weirder by the fact that when you reach the top, you get over the mountain sound barrier, so all of sudden you can hear all the traffic from down on the highway. From the peak, Mount Cheam looks down on the highway, but since we were hiking it from the back, we were totally surrounded by the backcountry. Since you can’t see any of the traffic on the way up, you feel like you’re in the middle of the wilderness, it makes for a really weird experience.

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We hung out at the bottom of the ridgeline for a bit and had our lunch. We figured there was no use racing to the top when we couldn’t see anything anyways, so we took our time. The fog did eventually start to thin, so we continued on to the very top, but we never did get a view down into the Fraser Valley. We hung out for a long time taking funny pictures of the fog and messing around, but we eventually gave up on our hope of catching the view and started to head back down again. Despite all the fog and not being able to see the view, I still had a great time on the hike, which I attribute to my companions, who had just as much fun taking photos in the fog as we would have with an amazing view!

The fog continued to thin as we made our way back down again. We could see more of the mountain around us and eventually the fog got high enough that we could see all the way down to the meadow. This was my favourite part of the hike and it made for a nice, scenic walk back. Me and Lien are a bit obsessed with swimming, so we had big plans to take a dip in the little hobbit pond, formally known as Spoon Lake, at the bottom. We didn’t waste any time and both dove right into the water as soon as we got there. It’s a small waterbody and it was the middle of the summer, so it was actually really warm and we had a great time swimming around. From Spoon Lake, it’s just a short walk back out of the meadow and about a kilometre along a gravel road back to the parking lot. So even though the weather conditions weren’t the best, we still had a great time on the hike and will have to keep in on our bucket lists to return on a clearer day!

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Fast forward to 2020. 2 years after our first hike to Mount Cheam, we decided to return and see if we could actually catch the view. It was Sunday morning back in mid July and it was one of the hottest days of the summer. Me and Emily spent all Saturday trying to get into any of the lakes in the lower mainland and were rejected from Buntzen and Sasamat, so we figured cute little Spoon Lake would make for a great end of hike swim the next day.

Even though I never saw the view the first time, I’d loved everything about Mount Cheam, particularly swimming in Spoon Lake, which looks like its been carved out of the hillside. So I was excited to return, this time with Emily, Seth, and Sadie in tow. We drove separately and then all piled into Brandon’s 4×4 for the 9km ride up to the trailhead. I remembered there being some pretty bad waterbars along the forestry road the first time, but I also remembered us driving up it pretty fast. I don’t know if I mis-remembered or if the road has gotten worse, but it seemed in much poorer condition then the last time. It ended up taking us over an hour just to go the 9km! I wasn’t sure how well Sadie would do on the drive. As a puppy she had really bad car sickness, but has mostly grown out of it. Fortunately she seemed to love the 4×4 road! She was running back and forth across me, Seth, and Lien in the back seat to look out the windows as we drove up.

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It was a slow year for the snowpack melting, so there was still quite a bit of snow on the trail when we visited in mid-July. Fortunately we had microspikes, but since the snow was so sporadic, it’s a pain constantly taking them on and off, so we mostly went without. Sunglasses are a must with so much snow though – Emily sunburned her eyes crossing the snow fields. Walking into the meadow from the parking lot we could see there was a fair amount of snow left and we were concerned the lake might still be frozen. You can’t see it until you’re pretty much on top of it, so we were anxious as we approached, praying we’d be able to swim in it. Unfortunately, the lake was a real mess. The whole area coming down to the lake looked more or less in shambles. Since our last visit, it looked like there’d been an avalanche in the area. There’s several trees knocked down and a ton of debris coming down into the lake. It looked like there was a bunch of debris from the slide that had been knocked into the lake and was now covered with snow and dirt. We were convinced it would never be swimable again, but I’ve since seen photos of the lake on Instagram later in the summer, and it looks totally fine now, so most of it must have been snow, or the debris suck to the bottom. So we were quite sad at the time, but thrilled to see it more or less seems to have recovered.

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The hike ended up being more challenging than I remembered. Like I said above, it’s a short hike, but has a lot of elevation gain. I’m not sure if I was having a bad day or if I’m just out of shape from the pandemic, but it was a challenging hike, even after completing the NCT. I’m inclined to blame it on the heat though because it was well over 30 degrees. From the lake it’s a steady climb for the rest of the hike, the main difference being that this time we got to enjoy the views! A lot of the hike is going back and forth across exposed boulder fields, some of which were still under snow, so caution is definitely advised. On our way down we saw a few people trying to take shortcuts up the boulder field, don’t do this, it’s deceivingly hard, it’s dangerous (loose rock and steeper) and it damages the landscape.

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It was a slog, but we reached the top to gorgeous blue sky views of the surrounding area. Looking north you can see Highway 1 all the way out to Harrison Lake, and south is a cacophony of snowy peaked mountains all the way to the States. We sat at the very peak to enjoy our lunch before heading back down again. This was Sadie’s first major hike, so we weren’t sure what to expect, but she LOVED it. She’s definitely an outdoor dog and has a ton of energy. She thrives on steep difficult trails, so she was right in her element on Cheam. Also, she’s obsessed with the snow and loves playing it. I’m not sure if it’s just because it was so hot, but she couldn’t get enough of running around throughout the snow fields. She was totally pooped by the end of the hike though. She was all wet and muddy from running around and we didn’t want her sitting in our laps, so we made her sit on the floor in the back seat and she immediately lay down and fell asleep for most of the car ride back (a feat for Sadie who rarely settles down).

So despite the setbacks with the lake, it was still a great day! It’s a challenge to get to, but well worth the visit, my only recommendation is to leave early to avoid the crowds and go prepared for any condition because you will be a long way from help! Happy hiking everyone!

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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)

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