Hiking Seed Peak

Over the years it’s become a bit of a tradition that me and Brandon always go hiking together on the Thanksgiving long weekend. The forecast was calling for gorgeous weather on Thanksgiving Monday, so we got to planning where we wanted to hit up this year. Brandon had a long list of hikes to try, but once we started doing a bit of research, we found it to be a bit challenging to find a suitable hike for the conditions.

Because I believe in always putting ample research and consideration into every hike you do, I’ll walk your through our process. First we crossed off some of the longer and more strenuous hikes from Brandon’s list. One of the hikes was a whopping 1800m in elevation gain and we were concerned about having enough daylight hours to do such a long hike. Next we took into consideration the weather. It had been uncharacteristically cold the week previous and in true Vancouver fashion, it had rained all week. A bit of research confirmed our suspicion that many of the local peaks were now covered in snow. Brandon was keen to do Tricouni Peak outside of Squamish, but the two routes up to summit involve either fording 2 creeks, or crossing what is described as the “mud gauntlet”. Both of these options sounded like a bad idea given the amount of rain that had fallen earlier that week and the peak was still quite high in elevation (meaning more snow), so eventually we landed on Seed Peak.

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4WD access road to the trailhead (E110)

Seed Peak is a less trafficked trail off of Mamquam FSR in Squamish. It was 300m lower in elevation than Tricouni, and while we knew there would still be snow, we guessed the access road would be snow free and overall make for a shorter, less strenuous hike. After having done the hike, I wouldn’t say it’s not strenuous, but hey, that’s how we ended up giving it a try!

Mamquam FSR is in good condition and any vehicle should be able to make it to the end of the road. AllTrails actually lists this hike as 19.5km starting from the end of Mamquam FSR. Brandon hates hiking on anything he could have driven, so we took his 4runner a fair bit further than that. From the end of Mamquam, you branch off onto E100 and then E110 to get up to the trailhead. E100 is a bit steep at the beginning, but still in pretty good shape, I think most SUV’s and AWD could make it up to the end of E100. We were able to get Brandon’s car all the way to the end of E110, but I would advise hiking up the last little switchback (about 300m). There’s a pullout before a steep rugged section and I didn’t think it was really worth risking the drive up that part.

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Logging at the trailhead

I would only recommend Seed Peak if you have good wayfinding skills. It’s pretty intuitive to know where to go, but there are parts without a well defined trail (and some parts with no trail), so if you’re hopeless with navigation I’d give it a pass. The most confusing bit for us was finding the trailhead. This is an active logging road and there has been some slashing between the road and the trailhead, which run parallel one another for a few hundred metres. I suspect they weren’t supposed to log onto the trail, but it looks like it happened nonetheless. We did some crawling over the logs to try and get to the trail, only to miss it entirely and then hike up the edge of the slash until we found trail markers. My recommendation would be to walk right to the very end of the road, from there you’ll see a trail marker, you may have to climb over a few logs, but you can pick up the trail a lot easier from there rather than trying to cut across all the downfall.

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After that it’s pretty easy to follow the trail markers up about 1km to the sub-alpine. This was the only part of the trail that didn’t have snow on it when we did it. The snowline started around 1400m. The great thing about this hike is that only the first 1km is in the woods, after that you have views for pretty much the entire hike! It was the main reason we picked it, because we figured if the conditions were too bad or snowy to do the whole thing, at least we still had a good chance of seeing some nice views early in.

It is a challenging trail though. It’s not been the easiest hiking season for me as I’m still pretty out of shape from the pandemic with all my normal exercise activities still being cancelled (or high risk). It’s 12km round trip to the top of Seed Peak, but the elevation gain is misleading as there is a lot of up and down and it is quite steep. Fortunately we were prepared with microspikes as we definitely couldn’t have done the trail without them given how steep it is. I was a little bit concerned as we were going up that it would be a struggle to come back down, but it was manageable with the spikes.

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After you pop out of the woods, you immediately start a steep climb up to the first peak. I can’t see a name for this peak on Gaia, but it has great views if you’re looking for a shorter hike. It’s very flat on the top, so we wondered around snapping photos before continuing on. This trail is also known as Pinecone Trail, so you might see it listed as that on some trail apps (Gaia included). The reason it’s called Pinecone Trail is because after the first peak, you cross the border into Pinecone Burke Provincial Park! I was particularly excited about this because I live in Coquitlam and go hiking in Pinecone Burke all the time.

For a bit of history, Pinecone Burke was first established in 1995 and has the unfortunate legacy of being one of BC Parks least funded parks. Despite it being a huge park located right in the lower mainland, it receives very little upkeep or promotion. Most of its users access it from Harper Road on Burke Mountain and it’s popular for mountain biking. There are a handful of trails in that area, but otherwise the park is mostly wilderness. It’s sandwiched between the Coquitlam Watershed and Pitt Lake in the south end, and continues north until it intersects with the south end of the much more popular Garibaldi Park. There’s limited access in the north end and Seed Peak is one of the only trails I can find exploring this end of the park, so I was excited to see a completely different side of it.

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After the first peak, the trail has a steep false descent, after which you climb up to a second smaller peak before beginning the real descent. We were one of 4 groups on the trail, so it was very empty. However, we were the last group, so we didn’t have to make tracks and just followed the trail the previous groups had created. This may or may not have been a good thing. Whether or not there is an actual trail in the summer is hard to tell when it’s covered in snow, so we don’t know how much we were actually walking on the real trail and definitely went through some vegetation. The upside is that all the rocks were covered in snow, so we didn’t have to navigate any boulder fields and mostly just cut a path straight down. We were definitely in the vicinity of the intended trail (according to my GPS), but I’m not sure if it would be any easier on a warmer day.

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The descent is a bit of a bummer when you know you have to continue climbing again. As you start to climb up the next peak (also unnamed on my GPS), you do get a few glimpses down to the beautiful jade waters of November Lake. It was a bit of a slog going up, but you’re surrounded by beautiful views on all sides. Unfortunately, there’s still one more peak to go after that. It took us about 2.5 hours to make it to this section, we continued a little bit further to get up to this hump before Seed Peak, but we opted not to go the whole way up Seed Peak. We did have enough time, but we could tell it was still a bit of a slog to get up there and we wanted to conserve some energy for the way down. So instead, we had a nice long lunch break in which to enjoy the view!

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If you do go the whole way, I think you get a view down to Pinecone Lake, which you can’t see from below because there’s a big ridge between Seed Peak and Mount Gillespie that blocks it. But there are still incredibly gorgeous views down into the valley and the snow-covered wilderness. I’d definitely be keen to return in the summer and camp along the ridge, although there’s limited water sources so you would have to come prepared for that.

Either way, we had a great time hanging out and filmed some fun videos to pass the time. It was definitely cold; I had a lot of layers, so my body was warm, but I had worn my hiking boots instead of my winter boots and unfortunately my feet did get wet from the snow getting trapped between the sides of my microspikes.

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We thought it might take us even longer to hike back because really steep sections are often worse on the downhill, but fortunately it wasn’t too bad and we cut about a half hour off our time on the way back. I was exhausted on all the uphill sections though, so I definitely need to start doing a bit more exercise on my non-hiking days. The trickiest part is that there is one rope section on the first peak (early in the hike). It’s even worse going down and we all guided each another on foot placement on the way back. I had been debating bringing Sadie on the hike with me, but I’m glad I didn’t. We read there was one rope section and I was worried about her on that part and with all the snow. I think a dog could get up the rope section, but I honestly don’t know how you would get them down. Overall there’s a lot of narrow edges and cliffs, so I would have been very weary with Sadie. I would likely have to let her off leash for my own safety in sections and I’d be worried about her making a mistake near a cliff edge. Also, we saw a GIANT black bear on the drive in, so they are definitely still active.

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Overall, we were hiking for just shy of 6 hours, so it was a great end-of-season hike. It’s about an hour drive from Squamish and we made it back to town around 5pm. The downside was there was an accident on the Sea-to-Sky. We had dinner at Howe Sound Brewing to try and avoid the traffic back-up, but it had only gotten worse and we ended up sitting at a standstill for 45 minutes. I think it was shortly after 9pm when I finally made it home, making for a bit of a long day! Either way, I’d recommend checking out this hike earlier in the season next year if you have 4WD or high clearance and like a challenge!

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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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Hiking Chain Lakes Trail

The final trail in my little ‘Fall hiking in Washington’ series is the Chain Lakes Trail that leaves from the ski area at Mount Baker. Me, Lien, and Emily had visited the previous year in March to snowshoe Artist Point and were totally awed by the views, so we decided to come back in the fall for a different view. It was Thanksgiving Weekend in October 2019, just one week after me and Lien had hiked Yellow Aster Butte. This time we were joined by Emily and my friend Amy, who flits in and out of my life every now any then. We never really know when she’s going to appear and disappear again, but it’s fun to hike with her!

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We had Thanksgiving dinner at my house on Sunday night and then made an early departure on Monday morning to cross the border. Traditionally, me and Brandon have always gone on a Thanksgiving Monday hike (3 years running), but this year he went on holiday and bailed on me, so I had to console myself with my other companions. I really liked both Yellow Aster Butte and Chain Lakes, but of the two, I would definitely have to give the edge to Chain Lakes. At 11.5km, it has half the elevation gain of Yellow Aster Butte, just 375m. The trail starts in the backcountry parking lot at the ski hill. Be sure to get and print out the parking pass online before you go because there’s no where to get it on the mountain. It’s only $5 and I’m told you can get it at the visitor center at the bottom before you drive up, but I’ve never once seen it open on the weekend.

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Chain Lakes is one of those rare trails that is scenic the ENTIRE trail. You’ve already driven up most of the elevation gain to get to the ski hill and from there, the trail continues up to the summer parking lot for Artist Point. In the summer, you can drive almost the whole way up to Artist Point, but at some point in September they close the road. Hiking up the road is the least scenic part of the trail, but still has really nice views looking down into the big bowl that’s popular among backcountry skiers. We decided to skip the Artist Point viewpoint since we’d already done it and instead continued down the other side of the parking lot into the backcountry. I think it’s a bit of an understated part of the trail, but it was one of my favourite parts. You hike right across the slope of Table Mountain, looking out towards Mount Baker.

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From the Skyline Divide Trail, I felt like I was so close to Mount Baker that if I continued hiking I would eventually reach it (you can reach the foothills, but then the trail ends). But from the Chain Lakes Trail, you really are on the trail that goes up to the top of Mount Baker (albeit this is only for experienced mountaineers). It looked like if we just crested a few more hills we’d pretty much be there, but of course, it’s further then it looks as the size of the mountain dwarfs everything surrounding it and can be a bit misleading. Once you get to the end of Table Mountain, the trail turns to continue around the mountain and over to the chain lakes part of the trail. You can also hike along the top of Table Mountain, which may have to be an adventure for another day.

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The first lake you come to is Mazama Lake. You can camp there, but it’s pretty small and not the most scenic, so if you’re overnighting, I’d recommend one of the other lakes instead. After Mazama, you come to Iceberg lake, which is the biggest and has staggering views looking up at the steep cliffs that surround the lake. This is where we decided to stop for lunch and enjoy the views before starting our climb back up the pass to the top of the trail.

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One of the awesome things about Chain Lakes, in addition to the fact that the entire hike is scenic, is that it’s a loop trail, so you don’t have to do any return on the trail. It starts to climb around Iceberg Lake until you reach Haynes Lake, which is where I’d recommend branching off to camp. From there it gets really steep. There’s some great views looking back down the trail at Iceberg lake and you continue climbing to the top of the pass before starting to descend back into the bowl we were looking at from the start of the trail. It seemed like most people were doing the trail in the opposite direction as us, starting with the steep climb up the bowl. I’d recommend going the same way as us though because then you get to finish the hike with what was, in my opinion, the best view.

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The view from the top of the pass is really unreal. The mountains stretch out around you in every direction and as you climb up the side of the Mazama dome, you really feel like you’re on top of the world. We’d already had lunch, but we decided to stop and have a break to make tea so that we could enjoy the view for a little bit longer! Even though we still had a few kilometers left to go, from the top we could pretty much see the trail down to the bottom almost the whole way there. We continued from the pass and started the long descent down the bowl to the parking lot. We were basically undoing all of the elevation from the rest of the hike in this stretch, which is why I recommend doing the hike from the other direction, that way the ascent is more gradual, with a few flat parts in between as you climb up. The descent down the bowl though is hard on the knees, so something to take into consideration as well.

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The trail switchbacks for a while until you finally reach the bottom. It weaves through the valley and you pass by a few more lakes and the most quaint little rock bridge. Seriously, there’s no part of this trail that is not scenic, and even a few minutes before the parking lot, we were still stopping to take pictures of things. Except for Emily, who was badly in need of a washroom and sprinted the last 15 minutes of the trail to get to the outhouse.

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Sadly that was our last adventure in the North Cascades. I returned the following winter with Carolyn and Brandon to snow camp on Artist Point, but unfortunately with Covid, we haven’t been able to return. I was hoping to do a few hikes in the summer and fall again, but sadly I’ll just have to wait until next year (hopefully). Either way, if you’re from Washington, I’d definitely recommend hitting up the North Cascades, and if you’re Canadian, put in on your bucket list!

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