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Howe Sound Crest Trail: Part II

Though we went to bed pretty early on Day 1, we didn’t get the best night’s sleep. It was definitely not cold, but Emily woke up with heartburn in the middle of the night and had to go for a little midnight stroll to ward it off. Then she proceeded to read her book in the middle of the tent with the light on, so I went and made some unsuccessful attempts at star photography. All while Carolyn slept on oblivious. She doesn’t usually sleep very well, so we were all surprised by this, but she’s also generally pretty cold at night, so maybe it had something to do with actually being warm for once. Either way, when me and Emily finally drifted off to sleep in the early morning, Carolyn was awake and ready to go at 5:45am. Yay.

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It was a pretty dismal breakfast. While we weren’t running super low on water, we were definitely conserving, so we boiled the bare minimum for our oatmeal and then packed up camp for the day. On the plus side, it was another gorgeous day and it was already hot enough for shorts at 8am, so it was probably a good idea to get an earlier start. We departed the campsite at 8:30am with somewhere between 1-1.5L of water each and 3.5km to go to the first water source.

Unfortunately, it was some of the hardest 3.5km. Between the Lions and Magnesia Meadows, the trail follows peak after peak after peak. It was gorgeous and breath-taking, but a little stressful when you’re sweating buckets, thirsty, and running low on water. If it hadn’t been so hot, I think our water would have gone a lot further and we would have been a lot less tired, but there’s very little shade along the trail and it’s still very technical, so it makes for a slow go. I had sussed out the topography before we left camp and we could pretty much see our end goal when we started, but it didn’t make the morning go any faster. The hours dragged on as we lugged our packs up and down peak after peak. Carolyn was feeling strong, but me and Emily were definitely struggling, mostly I think because of our anxiety about the water situation, but the heat certainly didn’t help.

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Finally, we started the last climb up the pass to Magnesia Meadows. We could see Mount Harvey looming over the meadow and we were just hoping the water source wasn’t located very far off the trail. We’d intended to summit Mount Harvey since we only had about 10km of hiking to do that day, but after 3.5km took us 3.5 hours of hiking, water was our main priority. We could see the red roof of the emergency hut as we crested the slope and from there we all but ran to the water source, relieved to see a small, but pretty clean water hole off the side of the trail.

We all finished off the dregs of our platypuses and then set to filtering enough water for the rest of the day.┬áSince it was now noon and we were all in need of a break, we decided to have lunch in the meadow and made the pretty much unanimous decision to skip Mount Harvey. It was a little bit of a bummer to skip it, because we were so close to it, but it also looked really steep and we were all tired, so it’s important to know your limits. Plus you know, it’s always worth leaving something to come back for.

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The hiking improved a lot after lunch. It wasn’t as scenic as the morning, but the trail was a lot easier and mostly hiked around the bowl of Magnesia Meadow. We were thrilled to discover there were still some wildflowers in bloom and had a pretty nice hike up to the branch for Brunswick Mountain. Again, we had planned to summit Brunswick Mountain, but we decided that, given the heat, we’d rather spend our time swimming in Brunswick Lake than hiking up another mountain. So Brunswick Mountain will also have to wait for another day.

I don’t regret the decision though. We ended up arriving at Brunswick Lake around 3pm and we were all zonked. We hadn’t decided in advance exactly where we were going to camp, but we’d originally been thinking Deeks Lake, which was a few kilometres further along the trail, but we’d heard from many people that Brunswick Lake was nicer. We could see the beautiful blue hues of the lake poking through the trees and as we exited the woods next to the lake, I truly could believe we were in a tropical paradise. The water was so clear and blue and looking super inviting. We knew it was freezing of course, but it still looked inviting.

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So we decided to stay there. We dropped our bags in an empty clearing and made a beeline straight for the water. As expected, it was cold, but honestly we were expecting it to be worse, so we were pleasantly surprised. We didn’t want to stay in the water too long, but it wasn’t the run-in-and-out-as-fast-as-you-can kind of cold… if you know what I mean.

The rest of the afternoon was lovely and lazy. We lounged in the sun and did a whole lot of nothing. There was definitely a lot more traffic at Brunswick Lake, especially since it was a Saturday. There were probably 4 or 5 tents when we showed up and more backpackers kept showing up throughout the day, all the way until 9pm. The last people that I was aware of were 2 girls who had hiked all the way from Cypress that morning. They said they’d been hiking for 12 hours, which I admire, but definitely don’t envy.

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Carolyn made us chili for dinner and we enjoyed watching the sun go down over the mountains. Even though there were tons of people at the lake, we were some of the only ones who hung out on the beach into the evening. It was pretty buggy and most people were taking refuge from the mosquitoes in their tents. As beautiful as Brunswick Lake is, the real downside to the Howe Sound Crest Trail is that there are no outhouses anywhere on the trail. I’m fine with peeing in the woods and digging catholes, but there were a lot of people camping at Brunswick Lake and there are few private places to use the washroom. With so many people, I do think it’s time for BC Parks to invest in an outhouse at each of the campsites, if only to protect the landscape. Check out my recent post on Backcountry Bathrooms if you looking for some tips for when there are no facilities.

It was another warm night in the tent and I think we all slept better on the second night and actually slept in until almost 8am the next morning. We took our time with breakfast, so it was a bit of a later start, but it was nice and chill. It’s about an hour hike to Deeks Lake, passing by Hanover Lake and some beautiful waterfalls. We were pretty much done with the views for the trek, but it was nice to hike in the shade of the forest for a change. Deeks Lake is bigger than Brunswick Lake and also very beautiful, but there’s not very many campsites and they’re all in the trees, so I definitely don’t regret staying at Brunswick Lake – in my opinion it’s the better of the two lakes.

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We decided to finish off the trek with a swim in Deeks Lake. It was also very cold, but we thought it was slightly less cold than Brunswick and stayed in the water for a while. After that it was ~8-9km hike down to the parking lot. There’s not a lot to see along the trail and you undo a lot of elevation gain. In total we did about 1500 metres in elevation gain over the entire trail, but we also had almost 2400 metres in elevation loss, half of which was on the last day, so it was mostly a climb down on Day 3. It’s pretty steep for the first section after you leave Deeks Lake, but it eventually levels out a bit into a steady downhill. The last section of trail is outside of the park and mostly along old forestry roads. The very end of the trail now has a detour because of mining work happening on private land at the end of the trail. We were pretty fast coming down the trail, but I could see it being a bit of a slog if you were hiking the other direction. Though there were a lot of people at the Lake, I think the majority of them had hiked up from Porteau Cove. A handful of us had done the whole trail from Cypress, but I think we were the minority.

And that concludes our adventure on the Howe Sound Crest Trail! We didn’t summit any of the mountains we’d planned to summit, but we did still climb a lot of peaks and saw a lot of amazing views. I would do it differently in future (mostly with the water), but I wouldn’t be deterred from coming back. I think if I was to return, I’d maybe hike up from the Mount Harvey or Brunswick trailheads and camp either in the meadows or at the Lake. There’s lots of different ways to customize the trip and still lots left to explore on the trail!

 

Categories: Life in British Columbia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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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Cape Scott and North Coast Trail: Part II

Continuing on from Part I, after an eventful journey to the trailhead and our first night on the trail, we still had 5 more days of fun ahead of us!

We never made it to Nel’s Bight on Day 1 and still had 8km to go to the beach, so we decided to aim for it as our lunch spot on Day 2. We weren’t in too much of a rush in the morning, but we made good time taking down camp (ended up being our fastest day packing up), and had a speedy start, hiking the 4km to the trail junction in just over an hour. At the junction one trail branches off to Nel’s Bight and Cape Scott, while the other continues on the Nissen Bight and the rest of the North Coast Trail. We’d be heading there eventually, but first we wanted to see Cape Scott.

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It’s another 4km from the junction to Nel’s Bight and we continued on with ease. The trail was reasonably muddy on Day 1, but it was surprisingly clear on Day 2. I would say this is the easiest section of trail in the park (except perhaps for the trail to San Jo). The trail continues through the woods with the first landmark being detritus from one of the old Cape Scott settlements. Cape Scott was originally settled by the dutch in the late 1800’s, but it was too remote and the government wouldn’t subsidize any services because they didn’t want to encourage the colony, so it was abandoned. It was settled again in the early 1900’s and peaked at a community of around 200 individuals. There’s not much left now, but you can see some old debris from the community that settled at Hanson’s Lagoon.

On the way to Hanson’s Lagoon, you pass across a large open marsh area. There is a small road that continues on to the lagoon, but our path took us around the lagoon to Nel’s. It’s very green and lush, but the clouds decided to drop a quick bout of rain on us as were passing through and we ended up running most of the way across to the safety of the trees. Though of course once we reached the trees it had pretty much rained itself out, so Brandon joked we must smell bad and nature was just treating us to a quick shower.

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We made it to Nel’s Bight before noon, which Brandon affectionately refers to as Tent City. Along the way we ran into one of the Rangers that lives on Nel’s and he told us the previous evening (saturday night), he’d estimated there were 100 people camping on the beach, so the name was definitely accurate. Fortunately Nel’s is a giant white sand beach with lots of space for tents, so there’s no concern about finding a campsite. It’s the most popular beach in the park because you can hike there in a single day and it’s a popular stopping point for people visiting the lighthouse. Most people camp at Nel’s and day hike to Cape Scott. Since we’d stopped at Fisherman’s River, we had a different destination in mind. Guise Bay is located 4km past Nel’s Bight and it was Brandon’s favourite beach in the park, so we decided to lug our packs the extra 4km.

It was an excellent choice! We stopped at Nel’s for lunch and it was extremely windy, sending huge crashing waves along the beach. It was a little drizzly, so we sent up a tarp but didn’t stay too long. The drizzle didn’t last long though, so it was a nice 4km stroll to Guise. You head back into the woods briefly at the end of Nel’s and then come out at Experiment Bight – another long sandy beach. It’s also perfect for camping, but there’s no water source or facilities so I don’t think it gets used very much. After Experiment Bight you go back into the woods, this time crossing the peninsula to Guise Bay. Because Guise Bay is on the opposite side, it doesn’t get as much wind and the water was a lot calmer. I immediately liked it and with only 1 other tent on the beach, we got a great campsite without the crowds.

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It was overcast most of the day, which I think is super common at Cape Scott, but the rain stayed away for the rest of the day and it did slowly get clearer as the day progressed. We set up our campsite and decided to continue on to finish the rest of the trail to the lighthouse as a day hike. We left our backpacks behind and stuffed our pockets full of snacks. From Guise Bay it’s ~5km round trip to the lighthouse, which is located just outside the park boundary and is a government facility.

I didn’t love the walk to the lighthouse. My feet were starting to hurt after so much walking. I didn’t have any blisters or hot spots, but it was just a general throbbing on the soles of my feet from being on them for too long. Emily was also having a rough time. She has awkwardly shaped pinky toes and she always gets blisters, so she was battling both sore feet and a blister. It was cool to see the lighthouse though. There’s not a whole lot there – it’s just a wire frame tower and what looked to be 3 houses and an office building. I’m not sure if all the houses are occupied, but we talked to one of the inhabitants and he said he’d been living there for the last 20 years! Apparently he gets a supply drop once a month and that’s what he lives on. It was neat but I can’t imagine living so remotely, especially in such a foggy place (sounds like home lol).

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We topped up our water bottles from the tap at the back of one of the buildings (filtered water yay!) and then headed back to Guise. Emily was a bit out of it when we got back – her feet were hurting her a lot and in retrospect, I suspect she may have been a bit dehydrated – so she took a nap. I helped Lien start re-hydrating dinner and Brandon went in search of the water source on the far side of the beach. Lien followed him about 10 minutes later and I was treated to a little show from the other side of the beach. Our timing with collecting water was really good because we didn’t realize the water source was only accessible when the tide was low. I watched as Lien zigzagged his way across the pinch point and disappeared into the woods. He came back out with our water bladders about 10 minutes later and as soon as he reached the pinch point again, he suddenly turned around and took off running back towards where Brandon was still collecting more water. He popped in and out of the woods and ran back across the beach and over the pinch point and was followed moments later by Brandon in a desperate attempt to not get his feet wet! Fortunately we all kept dry and we had collected enough water to see us through the evening and the next day.

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It had been a bit of a mauzy day, both weatherwise and in spirit. Including the lighthouse, we’d trekked 17km, so we were feeling pretty tired. Brandon, our eternal optimist, decided to get a campfire going and I can definitely say the evening improved a lot from there! We got supper started and coaxed Emily out of the tent. The wind dropped down, the clouds lifted, and the fire warmed us all up! It ended up being one of my favourite nights on the trail. We had chili for dinner and then spent the rest of the evening lounging around the campfire listening to music on Brandon’s speaker. The sun never really peaked out, but the clouds did break-up and treat us to a lovely pink glow over the beach as the sun was going down. It was the last week of June and we were further north, so the days were extremely long. We found ourselves staying up so late every night because it would be after 11 by the time it would finally get dark.

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On Day 3 we awoke to a bit more of the same. Again, it wasn’t raining and it was brighter than the previous day, but still pretty cloudy. It was on the cooler side, but it was good weather for hiking. We packed up camp and started back the way we’d come, repeating our 4km hike back to Nel’s Bight and then another 4km to the junction. Just before we left the beach we heard some guys coming down the trail yelling into the woods. We figured they were just making their bear calls because they were the first ones on the trail (we regularly yell into the woods to keep the wildlife away). We were right, but it was because they’d actually seen a bear. They were on their way to the lighthouse and came on to the beach fully armed. One guy had his bear spray held a loft and they were both sporting knives. Apparently a bear had followed them for most of the trail from Experiment Bight to Guise Bay and while he didn’t seem aggressive, they weren’t taking any chances. The bear finally spooked off when they got to the beach, but since we were going back the way they’d just come, we had a nice sing-a-long on the way back – no sign of the bear.

Along the way we ran into some more rangers who were doing maintenance along the trail. They asked us about our plans and we told them we were going all the way to Shushartie Bay. They informed us they were the North Coast Trail maintenance crew and while they had conducted their initial assessment for the year, they hadn’t done any maintenance to date because of COVID. They warned us a lot of the brush needed to be cut back and that some of the trailheads might be difficult to find if the buoys were knocked down, but that the trail was still doable. So with that ominous warning we set off towards it.

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After re-tracing our steps 8km to the junction, we had to go 2 more kilometres to Nissen Bight. It was a long day on the trail because we wanted to go all the way to Laura Creek, a total of 17km with our packs. I always like to do more hiking before lunch than after, so we pushed 10km to Nissen Bight before stopping for lunch. My feet were definitely throbbing by the time we reached the beach and I wasn’t looking forward to another 7km after lunch. But we pushed the thought from our minds and tried to enjoy our lunch. Nissen is another big beach, pretty similar to Nel’s in that there’s lots of camping space and big waves crashing along the beach. I had exhausted my egg salad wraps, so I was on to cheese and salami wraps with dehydrated hummus. The hummus worked out really well, so it made for a filling lunch, though it got a bit repetitive as I ate it for the next 3 days.

Nissen Bight marks the transition from the Cape Scott Trail to the North Coast Trail. Cape Scott has been a well developed trail for ages and sees tons of visitors, while the North Coast Trail is a new trail that was only created in 2008. From Nissen Bight it’s 43km to Shushartie Bay and the water taxi that would bring us back to Port Hardy. We had 3.5 more days of hiking and 3 nights to complete it. I wasn’t too thrilled to be back on my feet, but I was excited to start exploring this less busy and more rugged part of the trail. We trekked another kilometre across the beach as the sun finally started to peak out from behind the clouds and then started our North Coast Trail adventure! To continue, read Part III.

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Categories: Life in British Columbia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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