Mount Assiniboine Backpacking Trip: Part IV

On Day 5 we got up at 5am to try and beat the heat for the day (Part I, Part II, Part III for reference). We had to backpack 15km to the next campsite, but fortunately our packs were lighter and the day was pretty much going to be entirely downhill. We packed up everything and were off at 7am.

We hiked back towards the lodge and then took the trail branching off to Og Lake. This was the route most people had entered by and our final destination was Sunshine Village. After leaving the lodge it’s about 5.5km to Og Lake and the trail leaves the woods almost immediately. It’s a very exposed trail and it would have been exhausting late in the day in the open sun. Fortunately there was still a nice breeze so I actually really enjoyed the first half of the walk across the plain.

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There’s a lone boulder about halfway across the plain, so we stopped there for a quick shady break, but the mosquitoes quickly ruined our solitude and we were forced to go on. After that the trail was entirely inundated with mosquitoes. Seriously, I’ve never seen so many of them. It’s a boggy area around the trail and I guess they’ve just been breeding like crazy in the heat, there were literally thousands of them flying around everywhere. It was a nightmare. You couldn’t stop moving for 2 seconds or they would swarm you. I hiked in my bug hat and left full length pants on despite the heat. I couldn’t bear to cover my arms, so I used fly dope to keep them away. All I can say is thank goodness it wasn’t also hot at this point in the day.

We arrived at Og Lake around 9am to find it totally deserted. There are 10 tent pads by Og Lake, but there is absolutely no shade to be found anywhere and the mosquitoes are awful, so I think everyone either got up early or bypassed it altogether. Magog Lake was buggy, but it definitely didn’t have anything on Og. I’d seen on the internet that a lot of people actually prefer Og Lake and think the campground itself is more scenic than Magog Campground. I could see how it would be nice on a cooler day, but on this particular trip I’ve never been so happy to skip a campsite.

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We did stop briefly to go for a swim because I was still determined to swim in every lake. The water was a little cool because it was morning, but I could see it being so nice in the heat of the day. The big thing about this section of the trail is you need to make sure to fill up your water bladders between Og Lake and Porcupine Camp. There’s no water for the first 6km to Porcupine and while there are two small lakes in the last 3km, they’re not great water sources because they are stagnant, so we avoided them. We’d been carrying 3L of water with us where ever we went, so it wasn’t really a problem for us.

The 9km between Og Lake and Porcupine Camp are a bit of a bummer though. The area is known as the Valley of the Rocks and it’s basically a semi forested area with lots of big glacial till. It is a really interesting topography because you can tell it was once super barren and that the entire valley would have been glacier covered, but now a lot of vegetation has grown on the top of the rocks. But after 9km it gets pretty boring. The only saving grace was the mosquitoes were a lot less and it was semi shaded.

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We trudged along taking a break every 3km. We stopped at km 6 to have lunch on a windy rocky ledge and we were getting pretty tired. The final 3km were brutal. There’s a junction and if you don’t need to stop at Porcupine Camp, you can avoid 200m of elevation gain by taking the other trail, but we had to stay at the campsite, so there was no avoiding it for us. Our part of the trail was very meandering, with several steep uphill sections and a whole lot of downhill (that we would have to undo the following day). The steep sections were filled with that slippery cobble sized gravel that’s a pain in the ass to walk on and I had several close calls and 1-2 falls.

But eventually the trail flattened out and we finally hit Porcupine Camp. It’s a first come-first serve camp and since it was only 2pm, we were the second group to arrive. The other group was a couple there that were bushwacking their way across the park and having their afternoon siesta. Fortunately the mosquitoes weren’t bad and we had a nice nap in the shade before taking a little river bath. I heard a lot of the other hikers complaining at Magog about how it’s not a nice campsite, but I actually didn’t mind it at all. It had a nice cool creek and it was quiet and shaded, I actually found it quite relaxing! I had some journaling time and befriended the new hikers as they arrived from the other direction.

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The bushwackers had come from the same direction as us and were debating whether to bushwack out along the Simpson River Trail the next day (they didn’t), while the other 2 groups that showed up were on their way to Magog Lake. One couple arrived at 5pm and were debating continuing to Og Lake, but I convinced them to stay. I was like, “Og Lake is one big mosquito orgy. It’s all uphill, has no shade, and it took us 5 hours to get there from here”. Needless to say they were easily convinced considering they’d already done almost 20km in the heat that day. (PSA, don’t try and go from Sunshine Village to Og Lake in one day with the gondola out, it’s too much).

It’d still been a pretty hot day and we were thrilled to see more clouds rolling in. Brandon was convinced it would rain overnight, but I wasn’t optimistic. We enjoyed our final dinner on the trail and went to bed early to prepare for another early rise.

Us and the bushwackers were up again at 5am, but everyone else was still asleep when we hauled out at 7am. The location of Porcupine Camp was perfect for us because we had to start the day with a huge climb up Citadel Pass. We had to go up 500m of elevation in just 3km and then another 100m in the last km. I was dreading it after Wonder Pass, but it ended up not being that bad! I was surprised that on the final day I was actually feeling pretty good. Day 5 had been a bit of a slog and I felt like I’d been battling dehydration since Day 2, but on Day 6 I actually started to feel a bit rejuvenated.

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The clouds hadn’t amounted to anything and we’d woken to blue sky again, but it was definitely a bit cooler. It took us about an hour and 15mins to ascend the 3km and another 45minutes to the top of the pass. Citadel Pass is absolutely beautiful! It’s filled with meadows and mountain peaks on all sides, I actually really enjoyed our hike through the pass.

After that we descended for most of the rest of the day. A lot of the trail was exposed, but it was so scenic and there were so many wildflowers, I loved it and it ended up being my second favourite day on the trail after our sunset hike up the Nublet. Unfortunately Brandon didn’t have the same boost of energy I had and was still not feeling great. I don’t know if it’s actually related, but I drank 1L of electrolytes every day throughout the trip (500mL with breakfast and 500mL with dinner); Brandon didn’t drink any electrolytes, only water, so I wonder if that’s why I recovered faster. Could also be age since Brandon has a decade on me 😛 But I’ll stop rubbing it in because usually Brandon outpaces me on every hike, this just wasn’t his day.

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We hit Howard Douglas Lake at about the 8km mark and stopped for a break and a swim. It was my last lake. It wasn’t my favourite, but it was still very beautiful and quite warm since it wasn’t very large. Unfortunately there was a final push uphill after that to the top of Windy Ridge – it wasn’t very long, but it was steep and hot, so it took us a little while. But again, from the top of the ridge there were absolutely gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains! Plus there was a nice breeze on the top so I felt good again. The only downside is from the top you can see the rest of the trail as it meanders through meadow after meadow all the way to the ski resort, and it looks far.

We continued down from the ridge and the trail was still partially shaded along this stretch. The trail went in and out of the meadows and it was very hot crossing them, but we decided we’d push until the end of the last treed section and then take a break for lunch before crossing the last meadow. The last meadow is Sunshine Meadow, which is super popular among tourists when the gondola is running. We had the unique experience of visiting when it was totally empty, but it’s exposed for about 3km, so we weren’t looking forward to crossing it.

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We stopped for lunch in the trees before pushing through the final stretch. As we were sitting we saw more and more clouds moving in. Just as we were packing up to head back to the meadows, a miracle occurred and the clouds moved to actually block the sun! We were so thrilled, we cheered and quickly started crossing the meadow to try and beat the sun. We encountered two groups heading in the other direction while we were crossing the meadow and they were the first people we’d encountered that day, save for one couple at Howard Douglas Lake. There was a nice breeze going through the meadow and I still felt great as we crossed.

Once we finally hit the ski resort though I started to lose my motivation. The trail continues down to the gondola and then it’s a brutal 6km walk along the road that goes under the gondola. It was interesting seeing the ski village empty and in the summer, but we were both ready to be done so we blew through quick. The sun had poked out from the clouds again and it was exhausting as it beat down our backs on the descent. It was around 1:30pm, so there was no shade to be found and the road was that awful gravel that’s great for rolling an ankle, so it was hard to go too fast.

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About halfway down some dark rainclouds moved in and blocked out the sun again. We could hear a thunderstorm brewing from the neighbouring mountains and we figured we’d better haul ass. Honestly I would have welcomed a bit of rain, but a full fledged thunderstorm was probably more than we needed. We felt a few drops on the way down, but it never amounted to more than that while we were on the trail. The last few kilometers were brutal on the feet. We hiked almost 20km, which was our longest day, so my feet were throbbing and so desperate to be done.

Finally we hit the parking lot and I kid you not, 5 minutes later the clouds completely let loose a torrential downpour on us. We felt sorry for everyone on their way into Porcupine, but were thrilled to be back in our air conditioned vehicle. We no longer had to pick up Lien’s car from Mount Shark, so we went straight to Canmore to check into our hotel for the night. I finally got to talk to Seth and my Mom about what had happened and we showered before going out for a celebratory dinner. We each had 1 beer and we were toast, so we did some more walking (I know right?) and shopping along the pedestrian road to sober up. It ended up actually being a really nice evening!

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There’s not much to report on the drive home the next day. We learned the intense heat wave had unfortunately caught half of the province on fire and the air quality was atrocious driving through Kamloops from the smoke. Surprisingly though, I didn’t feel sore after the hike and the drive. I usually find nothing makes you more stiff than getting in a car after a hike, but I didn’t get the post hike stiffness this time. I had a stiff shoulder early in the hike, but otherwise I did a good job keeping my pack light on this trip! I started with a 38lb pack and I weighed it at 30lbs on the final day of the trip. Not the lightest, but pretty good for 6 days!

So overall, it was not the trip we anticipated. We faced a lot more challenges on this trail than I expected, but I did still find the experience rewarding. I would like to re-visit Assiniboine some day, but in future I would definitely do things differently. But really, that’s what all treks are about – bettering yourself. We learned some hard lessons on this trip, but I also learned that the effort I regularly put into preparedness actually really matters. Never underestimate the trail and bring your essentials every single time. The time and money put into courses like wilderness first aid and invested in gear like an inreach can quite literally save your life. Invest in yourself. It’s worth it.

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Mount Assiniboine Backpacking Trip: Part III

One of the great things about this trip was that after our strenuous 2 day hike to arrive at the campsite (Part I and Part II), we had 3 nights there it which to enjoy it. After the incident on Day 2, it was a relief to know we didn’t have to get up early and carry our big packs anywhere.

We had big plans to sleep in, but it was still the middle of a heat wave and the sun had big plans to cook us. The previous 2 days had been around 32 degrees, but on Days 3 and 4 it went up to a whopping 36 degrees! I can only imagine how hot it must have been in town when it was so hot up in the mountains. I’ve rarely experienced 36 degree temperatures anywhere, and definitely never at elevation.

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So the sun woke us up at 7:30am and there was really no avoiding it. As soon as it hits your tent it totally bakes you. Brandon tried to block it out by putting his sleeping bag over the tent, but we eventually had to admit defeat and got up. We had a lazy breakfast at the cooking shelter and made friends with the other campers. Because of grizzly bears you’re not allowed to do any cooking by your tent at Magog Lake. There’s a large cooking area with lots of picnic tables and a covered shelter, so we did all our cooking in the shade of the shelter and stored our smellies at the bear cache.

The result of this setup is that it forces all the campers into proximity with one another. Not really the best scenario for COVID, but it made for a really great vibe at the campsite. Everyone was super friendly and I loved swapping stories with the other campers and getting advice on the trails everyone had already done. Everyone was suffering from the heat, though people were still doing some pretty big hikes during the day. Brandon and I took it easy all morning and I mostly wrote in my journal and ate snacks. Shortly before noon we finally packed ourselves a day pack and went to do a bit of exploring.

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While other campers were suffering through the heat hiking up to Wonder Pass and the Nub, we decided to have a lake day. There are 4 lakes close to the campsite and I made it my mission to swim in all of them. We started with Sunburst Lake, which we heard was the best swimming lake. Since everyone else was out exploring, we had it to ourselves for a full 2 hours. It has a gorgeous view looking back at Mount Assiniboine and Sunburst Mountain and we went for a swim and then took our thermarests out into the lake to relax. I was a little bit nervous to take my expensive thermarest in the water, but I figured YOLO and it ended up being totally fine!

We wanted to take a nap, but unfortunately it was a bit too buggy for sleeping, so eventually we packed up and continued on. Cerulean Lake was next on the list. It’s bigger than Sunburst and a bit more scenic, but also colder, so we just did a quick dip in and out of that one. Brandon convinced me to go 1km further to Elizabeth Lake – I wasn’t really digging it because it was uphill, but we did it anyways. Elizabeth Lake was also very scenic and sits right at the base of the Nub (the peak everyone hikes up to get the killer view of Assiniboine and Sunburst Mountains). The water at Elizabeth wasn’t the nicest (it looked a little stagnant), but I was on a mission to swim in all the lakes at this point, so I swam in it anyways. It was the warmest of all the lakes, but had a lot of algae, so it was a quick dip. (although it looks awesome in the photo below!)

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After that we went back to the campground to have an early dinner. Brandon was feeling really tired and wanted a power nap, so he went back to the tent for a little while, which got a bit more shady in late afternoon. I did some journaling and chatted with the other campers. I spoke to a group of women that had done a sunset hike up to the Nublet the evening before and decided that would be a good option for us. We really didn’t want to hike up the Nub in the hot weather, so a sunset hike when it was cooler was a good alternative. The Nub has 3 lookouts. The first is called the Niblet, 2nd is the Nublet, and final is the Nub. The women told me the Nub was a lot of work for the same view and that they were just as happy with the scene from the Nublet, so it was an easy decision for us to just skip the Nub given the conditions.

We had dinner and then started our hike around 7pm. It was such a good decision! It was still a bit hot hiking up to the Niblet, but after that it cooled off a lot and there was a really nice breeze going up to the Nublet. It is still a pretty big hike up to the Nublet, there is some scree and scrambling, but it was the first time on the trip I’d felt truly energized! The wind gave me life and it got rid of the mosquitoes, it was the best feeling! Plus a few clouds had moved in and they really set the scene and provided us with hope of cooler weather, or at least some sun shade.

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We got to the Nublet about a half hour before sunset and only had to share the peak with one other group. In general, the lack of people was one of my favourite parts about Assiniboine. The campground was half empty because of the heat and because it’s so hard to get into the park, we had most attractions completely to ourselves. We ran around the Nublet taking photos from every angle before settling in to watch Assiniboine and Sunburst light up red. The sun actually sets on the opposite horizon from these mountains, but the orange glow from the sunset completely illuminates the Sunburst and Assiniboine, it’s magical!

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It was close to solstice, so we had long sunsets and long daylight hours. We stuck around almost until 10pm before deciding to head back down. We had lots of light in which to do the scramble and even the forested section was still pretty illuminated. I don’t love hiking at this time of day though because it makes me nervous of bears, so I sang most of the way down. Fortunately we only needed to use our headlamps for the last 10 minutes of the hike and got back to our tent just before 11pm.

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The next day the clouds had entirely disappeared and we had another slow, hot day. We got started a bit earlier in the morning and went for a walk up to the lodge. This proved very hot, so we took a break at a little waterfall that had a small breeze coming off it. Unfortunately, the hotter it got, the worse the mosquitoes got. I’m decent at just ignoring them, but they were driving Brandon absolutely nuts. We continued down to Magog Lake hoping there would be a good breeze since it’s the largest lake and has all the glaciers feeding it.

There was a really nice breeze down there, so blessedly no bugs, but also absolutely no shade. Fortunately I still had the tarp, so we set it up along the shore and enjoyed a few hours resting away from the bugs and sun. I thought Magog Lake would be really cold, but it actually wasn’t that bad and even Brandon went for a swim in the lake. One of the other campers had told us there was a small sandy part of beach at the opposite end of the lake, so eventually we packed up and headed that way.

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A lot of the campers that had been at Magog when we arrived were starting to move out and new campers were arriving, so we got some word of the outside world. Apparently the lodge had noted our heat stroke incident in its trail report, so hopefully other people learned from our mistakes. We found the sandy part of the beach. It’s not a fine sand, more a coarse rocky grain, but definitely more comfortable than the large jagged rocks in other areas. The only downside was there wasn’t as much of a breeze. We set the tarp up again, but the bugs had returned, so we made several forays in and out of the water to try and avoid them.

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We planned for an early night since we had to start backpacking again the next day, but it was too early for bed when we finished our dinner, so we scoured the GPS for a good after-dinner walk. We found one that hikes out around the far edge of Magog Lake. It’s the start of the wilderness route to Hinde Hut and has a ton of signs warning about the difficulty of the route, but if you just follow the first kilometre, it’s really nice. It takes you right to the back of Assiniboine Lake and gives you a close-up view of the mountain and glaciers. We couldn’t figure out how anyone could possibly continue up to the hut from that angle though and we figured it must be a rock climbing route because it looked very intense!

We went to bed before the sun had even set because we planned to get up at 5am the next day to avoid the heat. Reports from the outside were that it was supposed to start cooling down, but it would still be low 30’s the following day. We crossed our fingers for some rain or clouds and went to sleep. Here’s a few other photo highlights! Click for Part IV.

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Cathedral Cove and Waiheke Island

After Hobbiton, it really felt like our trip was starting to come to a close, but we still had a few fun activities left. One that I was really looking forward to was a day at the beach at Cathedral Cove and had my fingers crossed for nice weather. We stayed in a small town called Hahei at this lovely backpackers lodge and spent the afternoon exploring around the town – getting ice cream, walking along the beach, and having a few local beers. Beach towns always have a great vibe and we felt really relaxed.

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The next day the weather was great and we decided to skip the water taxi and hike out to Cathedral Cove, but not before renting some snorkeling gear at the local dive shop. It’s not too long a walk to Cathedral Cove, about an hour, and there are gorgeous views of the ocean and cliffside all along the trail. We took our time on the way there and decided to stop at the first beach to do the Gemstone Snorkel Trail. It’s basically a series of buoys in the water that you can snorkel between and there’s supposed to be all kinds of cool fish.

I ended up having a great time, but I’d advise that if you’re visiting Cathedral Cove, the snorkel trail is really better off done by boat. It is a little bit of a swim to get out to the buoys. I’m a strong swimmer and a former lifeguard, so I thought it was fine, but I was concerned about Seth and would really have felt better if we had lifejackets, which we didn’t. Seth swam out to the first buoy, but it was his first time snorkeling and he couldn’t really get used to it and had no where to stand up, so he bailed, but I had a great time swimming around. I didn’t end up following the buoys, but rather just swam around inside them until I found the fish. I did a bit of research after and I’m pretty sure I saw some blue maomao, red moki, banded wrasse, and maybe some snapper. The red moki was my favourite and looks like a zebra fish.

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We continued on along the trail until we finally arrived at Cathedral Cove! It was a weekend, so it was a bit on the busy side, but we found a nice little spot at the back of the beach to hang out for the day. The main feature of Cathedral Cove is the archway/cave that goes through the rock from the first beach to the second beach. There are several sea stacks around and beautiful golden sand, so it makes for a really picturesque location. Plus the water is really warm, so I had a blast swimming and we spent a ton of time in the water since it was so hot. Seth tried out the snorkel again and had a lot more fun with it in the shallows. We found some more fish swimming around and Seth was way more interested (then I would have been) in all the organisms growing on the rocks.

We planned to take a water taxi back, but there were so many people using them that it was a 2 hour wait to get on one, so we just walked back to Hahei instead and grabbed another ice cream before hitting the road for the last part of our road trip.

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It was back to Auckland for round 2. Although we didn’t actually end up spending that much time in the city. We wanted to finish up most of our food, so we had dinner at the hostel and had a lazy evening. The hostel was pretty interesting actually, it’s basically an old train station that has been reconverted into a hotel/boarding accommodation. So half the people actually live there for months at a time and the lobby is a huge train station entrance.

Our next day was devoted to a trip to the nearby island, Waiheke, which is known for it’s wine. It’s about a 45 minute boat ride to get there and we had booked a hop-on hop-off tour for the day. It was still a bit too early for wine, so we did the first part of the bus tour, stopping for an hour at the local beach, before starting our wine trail for the day. New Zealand definitely has some good wine, but it also makes for a pretty expensive day. Very few places do free tastings, so you usually have to pay $10-15 for a tasting. We each had our own for the first few places, but the more liquored up we got, we started sharing the tastings instead.

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I think we ended up doing 5 wineries. We had a light lunch at the first one, Wild Estate, and Seth went for a beer tasting since it was also a brewery. We stopped briefly into Stonyridge, which is one of the island’s most well known and most widely found wines. It was one of my least favourites though and I only ended up doing a small sample. Gorgeous views though! Next we went to Tantalus, which was probably my favourite of the day. It has this gorgeous building and the truffle fries were TO DIE FOR. The wine was great too and we each did a taste, but I still dream about those truffle fries.

The last two wineries were more memorable for the views. We went up the hill to Batch Winery, which has an amazing view looking out over the island, and then finished at Mudbrick (another really popular winery) for one last taster. In terms of decor and landscaping, Mudbrick was probably my favourite, It’s on the west side of the island and had a great view looking out over the water to Auckland. Plus the buildings are all made of a pretty red mud brick and there were flowers and a lavender garden sprucing the place up! We did stop briefly in the village to do a little shopping around before heading back across the water to Auckland.

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