Tikwalus Heritage Trail Backpacking Trip

Despite the high levels of snowpack hanging around in the mountains this year, I had a good start to the season and got in a second backpacking trip the first week of June. I find Spring backpacking challenging because of the limited number of trails with campsites that are snow free, so me and Carolyn have been trying to branch out to find new trails. This was made somewhat more challenging because we wanted to bring our dogs with us (and even fewer trails are dog friendly), but fortunately Tikwalus Heritage Trail fit the bill!

Tikwalus is located about a half hour north of Hope on Highway 1, just before you reach Hells Gate. As we were driving up there we realized that neither of us had done any hiking in this area and I couldn’t recall ever driving the highway since I’ve lived in BC (though I did it once as a tourist before I moved here). It’s exceptionally beautiful driving along the steep walls of the Fraser Canyon and it doesn’t seem to get that much hiking traffic. Despite not arriving at the trailhead until noon, we were only the third car in the lot! A very promising sign for me since Sadie can be reactive to people and dogs.  

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At 6.5km to the campsite, it’s not an overly long trail, but it is very steep and you gain almost 800m in the first 4km. We took our time going uphill and the dogs had a blast alternating between playing with one another and guiding us up the trail. Sadie is almost 2.5 years now and is an Australian Shepherd, which is a very high energy dog, so she had no problem with the hike and carries her own food and equipment in her Ruffwear pack. Jasper is still a puppy and less than a year old yet, so he was freeloading off Carolyn until he gets old enough for a pack. He got a bit tired early in the hike from the uphill, but he also has a lot of energy and bounced back very quickly once he got used to the climbing.  

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As the name suggests, Tikwalus is a heritage trail and covers both indigenous and colonial history. The trail has been used for many, many years by the Nlaka’pamux for hunting and gathering and there are several culturally modified cedars along the trail. In later years, the trail was used as a trade route through the Cascades by the Hudson’s Bay Company. There are several placards along the trail providing lots of information about the history of the trail, so it made for an educational hike and a nice respite from the uphill monotony on the way in. About halfway up there’s a beautiful viewpoint looking out on the surrounding mountains.  

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Once you get to the top of the steep section (~4km), you’ve done most of the elevation gain and the trail branches into a loop around the summit. If you do it as a day trip, it’s about 13km round trip. It’s mostly flat around the top, so we decided to take the slightly longer lake route to shorten our journey for the following day. Unfortunately there’s not a ton of views around the lake route, but there is a huge viewpoint on the other route. It was clouded over on day 2, so we never got to take advantage of the viewpoint, but it’s still quite scenic at the campsite, so it wasn’t that big a deal. Just something to note if you’re in a similar position as us with the weather. The viewpoint route does go along a narrow spine though, so if you have any issue with heights, the lake route felt a bit safer.

It took us about 3.5 hours to reach the campsite. We didn’t take any long breaks, though we did stop to get water when we crossed over a fast flowing creek on the way up. This was a really good choice because the water options near the campsite are not ideal. There are two creeks on either side of the campsite. I would say the option on the lake route is the better of the two. It’s closer to the campsite (maybe a 10 minute walk?) and it has a decent flow rate. The placard said there used to be a cabin in this area in the past because it was used as a water source. The second option is on the viewpoint route.

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It’s a bit farther (maybe a 15 minute walk?) and it’s not as fast flowing as the other one. To be honest, neither are great, so make sure you bring a filter, I wouldn’t want to rely only on water tabs. I’ve read in some comments online that people get water from the first lake, but I would definitely avoid – it’s very still and a terrible water source. Just walk a bit further to use either of the creeks.

There were two other groups at the campsite when we arrived, but it’s very large and we had no trouble finding a good spot to pitch our tent away from other people. We were joined later by a few more groups, but at no point did it feel crowded. The trail seems to be used primarily for backpacking. We didn’t see a single person on the way up or down, so it seems like most people who go up there plan to stay the night. It’s a mostly forested trail and campsite, but there are some really nice views looking out over the mountains.

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We had really nice weather on the way up and it threatened rain in the early evening, but mostly held off. Campfires are allowed at this campsite and there were several established rings around, so we collected wood debris from around the site and got a small fire going. I’ve done a whole post on responsible campfires, so make sure to only take dead wood and to avoid harming any natural habitat. Fires aren’t permitted in so much of the backcountry (and even when it is permitted there’s often a ban), so it was really nice to have one! We forgot a firestarter, but Carolyn worked some magic to get one going.  

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The rain finally moved in around 8pm and we decided to call it an early night. It was really just a bit of drizzle, but neither of us wanted to sleep with 2 wet, stinky dogs. However, it was still light, so it took the dogs a while to settle down and we did some reading before falling asleep early. Unfortunately, the dogs get up with the light, so they had us up and awake at 6am. It rained on and off throughout the night, but was mostly mist when we got up. We had a quick breakfast and then packed everything up and were back on the trail shortly after 8am. Quite early for us!

I thought it was going to be a brutal walk down based on how steep it was, but it ended up not being too bad. We saw nothing but clouds from the viewpoint on the return loop, but they lifted enough for us to get a misty view of the mountains at the halfway viewpoint. We finished the hike around noon and stopped into the General Store on the way back to Hope for lunch.

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Overall, it’s a pretty understated hike. It’s mostly in the trees and it is quite steep, but we really enjoyed it. It’s very green in the Spring and we loved that it wasn’t crowded. The large campsite gave us lots of space and we liked the rare opportunity to have a campfire. It was a great choice for taking the dogs and we loved exploring a new part of the region that we’d never been to before and learning a little bit about the history of the area. Would definitely recommend if you’re looking for an early season hike and don’t mind a climb. It is tiring, but it’s not a technical trail, so I think it would be good for beginners looking to build up their stamina and abilities. It has both an outhouse and a bear cache and you can bring your furry friends!  

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Hiking Slesse Memorial Trail

Slesse Memorial Trail has been on my bucket list for a while, but the access road is a little bit dicey so we’ve been waiting for the right opportunity. In late September, me, Seth, and Brandon decided to make a go at it.

Slesse Memorial is a 12km out-and-back trail located off Chilliwack Lake Road. After having driven the access road, we wouldn’t say that you have to have 4WD to get to the trailhead, but high clearance would definitely be an asset. You won’t get there in a car, but potentially in an AWD SUV. Personally, I wouldn’t take my Hyundai Tucson out there because I’m not comfortable driving in terrain with water bars, but Brandon thought you could probably make it there in one if you wanted to try.

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Either way, we had no trouble getting there in Brandon’s 4runner. The nice thing is it’s not a long access road. Cheam Peak is located in the same area and it took us about an hour to drive 9km on that road – the access to Slesse probably only took us around 15-20 minutes. There’s a small parking lot at the end and there are two branches from there. One branch continues on in the same direction as the road coming in, and the second branch is on the left and continues up a rocky narrow road. The second branch that goes up continues on to Mount Rexford and my GPS indicated that we needed to continue up that road about 600m and then take a right branch onto the old Slesse Memorial Trailhead. I say “old”, because Brandon’s GPS showed a second trail leaving on the straight branch out of the parking lot, which we later learned is the “new” trailhead.

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I recommend taking the newer trailhead (the right of the two forks). Either will get you there and they do meet pretty early on the trail, but the newer trailhead is slightly shorter, easier, and more well maintained. We missed the old trailhead on our first pass and had to double back to find it tucked in the woods.

The first half of the trail meanders through the forest and isn’t very difficult. There are some tree roots to step over, but it’s not overly technical. Shortly before the memorial plaque, you pop in and out of the woods and get a few glimpses of Mount Rexford across the valley. We went in late September and the trees were just starting to change colour. We were a bit too early for full colours, so I’d recommend early October instead.

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The memorial plaque is located around the halfpoint of the hike and has a beautiful view looking up towards Slesse Mountain. The trail is called Slesse Memorial Trail because a commercial jet crashed on the side of the mountain in Dec. 1956, killing 60+ passengers and crew. The plane was flying from Calgary to Vancouver when it disappeared and it wasn’t actually found until 5 months later when a climbing crew accidentally spotted it on the side of the mountain. Due to the challenging locating, the bodies were never recovered. You can’t see the crash along the trail (at least we didn’t), but some of the debris has been collected at the top of the trail. I’m not sure at what point this was done, but these days there are signs indicating not to do this.

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We came for the view versus the memorial, but it was very interesting and we spent a lot of time thinking about it, making it a bit more of a somber hike. After the plaque, the trail gets a lot steeper. I thought we might need to do some way finding on the trail, but it’s easy to follow, just steep. There were a lot of old blueberries along the trail, so I could see it attracting bears, but on this occasion the berries only attracted Sadie. She discovered them growing there and wouldn’t stop picking and eating all the berries! It was very cute.

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In all it took us just over 3 hours to get to the top. It’s an interesting trail because it doesn’t go to the top of the mountain, but rather the base of it. A lot of the mountains in this area are forested, but Slesse is sheer rock with no vegetation growing on it. It’s very steep, so I’m sure it attracts climbers, but for hikers, the trail ends at the base of the mountain. There’s a beautiful 360 degree view and you can climb up a bit further if you’re feeling adventurous. There’s a long flatter section of rock, with a glacier coming down one side and the sheer rock face at the back. I say “flatter” because the rock is still a lot steeper than it looks. Me and Brandon explored up a bit further, which has a gorgeous view looking back towards Rexford.

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Be careful where you explore though, it was a surprisingly hot day for late September and the glacier was on the move while we were there. At one point there was a very loud rumbling and we watched as a big snow patch at the bottom of the glacier slid down part of the mountain. So we stayed away from that section and explored directly under Slesse, where there was still a bit of snow, but much less and not as steep.

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The steep uphill section does make for a slow descent on the way back. We left around 2pm because we didn’t want to get stuck hiking in the dark. We inched our way down the top section, but were able to pick up the pace a bit once we got to the flatter bits. It’s a pretty narrow trail, so it can be a bit tricky passing people. We only saw 2 other people on the way up, but passed a handful of people on our way down.

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Overall it was a nice hike. It was a lot more forested than I was anticipating, there’s a few peak-a-boo viewpoints, but not too many views until you reach the top. If you have the time to explore at the top though, there’s quite a bit of open terrain. We finished the hike around 5pm and still had lots of daylight left, but I’m glad we turned around when we did because the sun goes down over the mountains on this trail pretty early, so it was still quite dark hiking back through the trees at the bottom. I did really like the hike and would love to return and do more hikes in this area!

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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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