Brew Lake Backpacking Trip

I had one of the best backpacking trips to close out the season this year. I wanted to try and get one more overnight trip in the fall and planned a mid-September hike with Carolyn and our friend Tiiu, who is looking to get more into backpacking. We bounced around a few ideas for hikes and decided on the Rainbow Lake trail in Whistler. You can’t actually camp at Rainbow Lake because it’s the Whistler water supply, but you can camp a few kilometres further at Hanging Lake, so that was the plan.

This was one of those trips where nothing seemed to go right. It was super, don’t-go-outside-you’ll-kill-your-lungs, smoky in Vancouver the week before the hike from the fires in the States, so we decided not to go. Which we regretted a little because the smoke did end of clearing out the night before we were supposed to go, so we probably could have gone, but it was too late to change plans. So we rescheduled for the first weekend in October.

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Again, the smoke started to come back the week before the hike, but it was much lower on the air quality index than the last time, so we decided to go for it anyways. Otherwise, the forecast was great and it was a cloudless sunny day when we left Vancouver. We got to the trailhead and there was a sign saying that the trail was closed because of a bear, but then underneath the sign it said “trails above flank closed, trails below open”. As non-Whistler locals this had absolutely no meaning to us and we spent forever studying the map trying to find the Flank trail and determine what “above” meant (North? physically above on the map? what?). Eventually we decided that Rainbow Lake was below what looked like a flank trail junction and decided to hike up to the junction and see if there was more clear info.

It was a bit less than a kilometre to the junction, where we found the same sign, which was no more clear than the first. However, in this case, there were two trail branches and it was located closer to the Rainbow branch, so we thought that likely meant it applied to Rainbow as well. We couldn’t get a hold of anyone at Whistler Municipality on the phone (they manage the area), so we decided not to risk it and go back. There was a conservation officer at the car park when we returned and it turns out the trail was closed, so we made the right decision and had a good conversation with her about how the sign could maybe be more clear, so hopefully they improve it for future users. She was very nice and gave us some alternative trails to consider instead.

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It’s not mine and Carolyn’s first time having to make last minute adjustments to our plans (see our first snow camping adventure), so we decided to head south on the Sea to Sky highway while I looked up some other trails. We agreed Brew Lake sounded like a good alternative and made for the trailhead.

Brew Lake is a lower trafficked trail near Callaghan Valley, just across the highway from Brandywine Falls. Information on trail length is a bit confusing. According to AllTrails, it’s a 17km trail that’s partially on forestry road and partially on trail. According to my “105 Hikes” trailbook, it’s an 8km trail at the end of a 2WD service road. After doing a bit more research, I’ve seen it listed as several different lengths, so I think everyone just disagrees on what parts of the service road are really driveable.

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The entrance to the forestry road is right next to the Whistler RV park, it’s so narrow we legitimately didn’t see it on our first drive by, so we decided to just park there and walk it. We figured we’d had enough setbacks for one day and didn’t want to get Carolyn’s SUV stuck down there. Having now walked it, I’d say that about 3km are drivable and after that you can make a decision about how far you’re willing to take your vehicle. We passed about 5 other cars at various intervals of the trail, so that seemed to be the common approach.

After an easy 5km along the road, we reached the forest trailhead. It was a very hot day, though still a little smoky. The only people we saw on the road were a family of ATVers, so it seemed that the trail wouldn’t be too busy. Since we’d had a late start from Rainbow Lake, we decided to have lunch soon after we reached the forest. We just picked a little rocky outcropping and settled in for a break.

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Because we’d followed the AllTrails route, we had about 17km of hiking and 1000 metres of elevation gain, however, our GPS clocked it at 18km and 950m, so somewhere around there. We’d done 5km in just over an hour, but only 200m in elevation gain, so we figured we had a pretty steep hike ahead of us. The next 2 kilometres meanders through some really interesting topography in the woods. It’s quite unlike any other hikes I’ve done in the area and reminded us a bit of hiking on Vancouver Island because it was all through the woods with lots of small hills and valleys. But it still wasn’t that steep and we were wondering when we would finally hit the major elevation gain.

Turns out most of the elevation gain is in the last 2 kilometres. You hit a giant boulder field that proved to be a bit confusing. The whole trail is pretty well marked, but you definitely have to watch for the markers because the trail itself is not super obvious. We got a little off course in the boulder field – we missed the marker that indicated the trail goes up the edge of the field and instead started hiking up into it. The boulders are REALLY large, so it’s not conducive to hiking over it. Eventually we found our way back to the trail along the edge and went from there.

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Around this section we passed a few day hikers on their way down. They (mistakenly) told us once we finished the boulder field we were pretty much done, so we were very excited. It’s definitely steep though and after you finally get across it, there’s an even steeper rope section up a hill side that we had to take one at a time. After that we figured we should be almost there based on what the other hikers had said, but it really didn’t look that way on my GPS and we had to trundle along through several more uphill sections after that, much to our disappointment.

Because of the trail mix-up, it was turning into a pretty long day and we were all ready to get to the campsite. It was around 4pm and we thought we’d finally reached the last peak, only to crest it and see another peak we’d have to climb before maybe reaching the end. I was starting to get a little discouraged at this point, but the moment we finally crested the last peak and the view opened up, all the other thoughts melted away and I was super pumped to be there.

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The trail is really all in the forest, so it’s a little weird when you finally pop out of the woods to this completely open alpine lake, surrounded by meadows and low mountain peaks. From the lake you can continue up to Brew Mountain, where there’s a hut, but fortunately our plan was to end at the lake.

I LOVE swimming and I’d really been hoping to go for a swim in the lake, but I didn’t dare voice the desire out loud for fear it would be too late or too cold when we arrived. But it had been a super hot day and the sun was still up over the lake when we arrived, so it took barely more than a look between me and Carolyn to agree we were going in the water (she loves swimming just as much). We could tell the sun was soon going to dip below the mountains, so we didn’t waste any time in setting up camp or anything first. When you swim so late in the season you really have to do it right away, before your body adjusts to the temperature and cools off. So we stripped down and were in the water within minutes. We had the real privilege of having the lake completely to ourselves, so we decided to enjoy it in our birthday suits, an rare opportunity in BC, where the backcountry is usually so busy.

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After that we made camp pretty fast. Daylight is so much more limited in October, so we got the tents up and then I started making dinner while Carolyn and Tiiu got to work on a bear cache. We were alone in grizzly bear country, so it was pretty important, though a real challenge with not that many trees around. They were successful, but I am starting to think it may soon be time to invest in a bear canister.

We had my dehydrated chickpea curry for dinner and Tiiu had some chocolates and rye to share, while Carolyn had brought a little dessert surprise. It was a freeze dried ice cream sandwich! I’m not sure where she got it, but it was definitely one of the more bizarre treats I’d had on a camping trip. The whole thing becomes this kind of brittle, almost spongey-chalky type texture, but once you chew it, it really does have all the flavours of an ice-cream sandwich. I don’t know how astronauts stand eating so much of that stuff, but it made for a fun experiment for us.

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We didn’t stay up too late, but since the sun sets a lot earlier now I did stay up and take a few star photos, not my best photos, but still fun to play around with the camera. It was no where near as cold as I was anticipating and I was quite comfortable hanging around outside. I had hiked Frosty Mountain the week before and it had been FREEZING, so I’d come a little over prepared for Brew Lake since we were having much nicer weather. I never bothered with my sleeping bag liner that I’d brought and Carolyn had just bought a new -18 degree bag, so we were toasty warm in her tent. However we forgot to open the vents and I’ve never seen a tent so covered in dew in the morning. Although to be fair, everything was covered in a crazy amount of dew. Must be the season.

Unfortunately, it clouded over in the night and it did drizzle on us a little when we were making breakfast, but not enough to really cause any trouble and the sun did eventually poke through the clouds. It felt mystical with the fog clinging to the tops of the surrounding mountains, but it was clear near the lake.

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We took down our tents and said goodbye to Brew Lake, which had been extremely good to us considering the circumstances. As soon as we left the lake though we descended straight into the fog and didn’t catch anymore views the rest of the trip. It was a cooler day than the previous day, but still super humid, so even though it was all downhill, we were sweating a lot. Brew Lake is definitely one of those trails that’s harder on the downhill, so we were pretty cautious as we came back down the boulder field. Always leave space between yourselves on scree as its easy to knock rocks down on your friends.

We finally popped back out of the woods and then had a long walk back along the forestry road. It drizzled on and off, but not enough to warrant digging out our rain coats. Finally we made it back to the car and as soon as we got back on the highway, the rain started for real, so we were pleased with our timing! We decided to finish off the weekend with a trip to the new cider place in Squamish, Geo Cider, where we each enjoyed a flight and some pizzas!

So overall, it was not at all the weekend we’d planned, but I wouldn’t change anything about it because we had such a great time!

Long Weekend Trip to Las Vegas

I’m taking a departure from all the outdoor adventure stuff I’ve been posting about lately to write about my trip to Las Vegas instead. I went to Vegas with Carolyn for the first time in 2017 to run a half marathon. We had a great time, but because of the race, we felt like we didn’t really get to experience Vegas properly, so we were anxious to go back. At the time, I knew I was probably going to be getting engaged within the following year, so I promised her we’d go back for my Bachelorette.

And we actually did it! We were joined by my sister, Emily, my cousin, Katie, my oldest friend, Karen, and my work bestie, Sarah. I wasn’t really sure what to expect because it was a bit of a mix of friends, but we ended up having the BEST time! I know what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas, but I’m going to tell you about it anyways, well the PG parts at least, after all, it was a bachelorette party 😉

We decided to take advantage of the Easter long weekend and make a 4 day trip out of it. We went straight to the airport on Thursday after work and stayed until late Monday night on Easter Monday. I flip-flopped a lot on where to stay on the strip, but we eventually decided to stay at the Flamingo, which I have absolutely no regrets about! It was right in the middle of the strip and had an awesome pool party! They were able to give us two adjoining hotel rooms, which also made for a lot of fun.

We took it easy on our first night because we didn’t get in until pretty late and we figured Friday might be our only sober morning, so we got up pretty early on Good Friday and decided to spend the day exploring the strip. Carolyn is bridesmaid extraordinaire and surprised me with matching shirts and sunglasses for everyone, so we wore them out on our first day, which was an excellent decision. Plus, apparently bachelorette parties are in high demand at all the Vegas night clubs, so we got approached by a ton of clubs offering us skip the line and drink for free at their night clubs. Katie lives in San Francisco and was the only one with a working cell phone, so we set her up as our agent and she started texting with all the clubs to get us the best deals. We had a good laugh out of it and loved feeling like a VIP for a night!

We explored the south part of the strip on our first day, walking from the Flamingo down to Excelsior and then heading back up. My favourite hotels were the ones that really commit to their theme. It makes it so much more fun to explore them and see all the cute little themed shops. My personal favs (on day 1), were Paris and New York New York. Surprisingly, I liked Excelsior too – I thought it was going to be kind of childish, but the whole castle theme was cute.

Katie worked her networking magic for us and we decided to spend the night at Marquee Night Club in Cosmopolitan. I was super fun to just show up and skip the line and have a great time on the dance floor! Carolyn and I didn’t do any night clubs our first time in Vegas, although we did have a great time partying at the Piano Bar in NYNY, so it was fun to try out some of the night clubs. They’re all super chic and it was my first time (I think?) going to a club where the DJ didn’t play top 40’s music and actually just played dance beats. It was really different, but fun.

On our second day, we decided to take things easier and had a bit of a sleep-in before going out for brunch and then joining the pool party at the Flamingo. I haven’t really been to any of the other pools on the strip, but I loved the pool at the Flamingo! We strolled in our matching “booty veils” that Carolyn made for us (which were absolutely adorable), and spent the afternoon alternating between relaxing poolside and partying in the pool. I wish I took some photos of the pool, which had these awesome waterfalls and everything, but apparently I was having far too much fun and totally forgot. We all had a good laugh at the “booty dancing competition” hosted in the middle of the pool party. When they announced it, I was like, “We should sign up and dance with our booty veils”, but thank god we didn’t because the competition was the most ridiculous and extra thing I’ve every seen in my life. I loved watching, but I’m glad that’s where our involvement ended!

We decided on a club crawl for our second night. It started off at a Margaritaville, which was a bit lame, but we were really only there for the purpose of cheap drink deals. Mostly we just watched Sarah and Carolyn school everybody at flip cup before moving on to two clubs. The first was Omnia at Caesar’s Palace. Omnia was so cool! Overall, I think I had more fun with the VIP experience at Marquee, but Omnia was definitely the coolest club we went to. In my opinion, it had the best music of everywhere we went, and it had the coolest setup. The dance floor was completely on wheels with the DJ playing the most energetic beats and I had the best time dancing. It has this giant chandelier thing over the dance floor that does all these crazy light tricks and sends out fog – it was really cool, but hard to describe. It’s actually 3 clubs in one, sadly one of them was closed, but the second one was outside on the roof and had this really amazing view of the strip!

The second club we visited was Chateau, which is located right under the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It was probably my least favourite of the 3, but still really cool to visit. It was the least crowded though, which I really liked. Omnia was awesome, but towards the end when we were there it got crazy busy on the dance floor, like to the extent that you couldn’t dance anymore because you could barely move, at which point it stopped being as fun, but it never felt like that at Chateau and it was really nice being outside in the open air.

Day 3 marked the beginning of the more chill part of our trip. We had a few more drinks, but we took it easy after that and explored a different side of Vegas. Our third day was our foodie day. We started the day off with lunch at Gordon Ramsey’s Burger restaurant in Planet Hollywood. It’s one of the few places where you can actually order how you would like your burger cooked because they actually grind the meat into burgers right on site. You could also make any burger into the vegan “impossible burger”, which our two vegetarians really appreciated! I can’t even describe how good these burgers were, even the fries and onion rings were to die for with multiple sauces for each. Sarah and I shared a Mediterranean lamb burger and a blue cheese beef burger that were phenomenal! We finished it off sharing Katie’s oreo milkshake which I think I still have dreams about, it was so creamy!

We spent the afternoon in Downtown Las Vegas, also known as the Old Strip. It’s a lot different than what the strip looks like now, but it’s cool to see the old casinos and it has a fun vibe. There are outdoor stages with performers set up along the strip and the entire thing is covered with a huge roof that I’m lead to believe is actually a giant screen? We didn’t spend too long downtown, but we did take the opportunity to get our souvenirs as everything down there was cheaper than the strip.

We postponed supper to take in a Cirque du Soleil show, Mystere at Treasure Island. Since Treasure Island is on the north side of the strip, we took the opportunity to explore that end. The Venetian still takes the cake as one of my favourite hotels on the strip. I love the canals and Mark’s Square outside and I love that the theme is continued inside with the canal running through the building and all the shops set to look like you’re walking through Venice. It’s definitely a strong contender for where to stay next time I go back! This was my 4th Cirque show and as usual, it did not disappoint. Katie gets a discount to a bunch of the shows from her job and she was able to get us front row seats for it!! We had a great view and my favourite part was when the clown kicked Sarah and Carolyn out of their seats for a laugh.

We had a late dinner, but it really paid off because we didn’t have to wait in any lines and we got a fantastic table sitting on the patio of this fancy french restaurant in Paris. It’s directly across the street from the Bellagio, so you have an awesome view of the fountain show as you enjoy your meal. The restaurant was called Mon Ami Gabi and it had the best food, it was my second time eating there and I would absolutely eat there again because the food and ambiance are fantastic. We finished the evening with a stroll over to the Bellagio, which I’d never been in before and had the most beautiful garden inside! The Bellagio was classy. I wasn’t expecting to like it so much because I thought it was one of the oldest casinos, but it is lovely in there and I really liked exploring it.

The last day was a bit tricky because we were all preparing to go home and we had to check out of the hotel, but our flight wasn’t leaving until 9pm. We made another great decision though and after we checked out, we picked up a rental car from the hotel and peaced out of Vegas for the day to do a little bit of exploring. Carolyn agreed to be our driver and we had a good laugh when we saw what she would be driving us in all day. There were 6 of us (and luggage), so I had booked a 7-seater SUV, but we ended up getting upgraded to a Suburban, which had 7 seats, plus an enormous trunk that Emily informed me later actually had more seats in it and easily fit 6 pieces of luggage.

We spent the day at Valley of Fire State Park. None of us has really spent any time in the desert, except maybe for Katie who goes to Burning Man every year, so it was a lot of fun to explore. Valley of Fire State Park is all this bright red desert rock that makes you feel like you’re living on mars. It was really hot and we didn’t want to do to anything too strenuous, so we did a short hike on the “white dome trail”, which takes you through some of the landscape and this really cool canyon stretch. We stopped into the visitors centre and had a bit of a photoshoot at the “Seven Sisters” before heading back to Vegas again to drop the car at the airport.

So there you go, that covers about 90% of our trip – you’ll just have to use your imagination for what we got up to on the rest! I really had the best time and we’ve already started to pressure Karen about where she’s going to take us on her bachelorette next year! For someone who thought she wouldn’t like Vegas, it’s become a favourite and I would definitely go back again!