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!

Wedgemount Lake Backpacking Trip

It’s been 3 years since I hiked Wedgemount Lake, but this trail still haunts me!

Wedgemount Lake is a 14km round trip hike with a whopping 1200 metres in elevation gain. All I can say is, don’t underestimate it. Wedgemount has recently been added to Garibaldi Park’s database of reservable sites, so you now have to book to go up there, which wasn’t the case when I visited. I suspect this may have actually increased the traffic up there though because people that aren’t able to get a spot at Garibaldi Lake or Elfin Lakes, see it on the map and decide to go there instead. I don’t actually know if this is true or not, but I did meet a group of 5 guys at the trailhead to Elfin once who were changing their plans to go to Wedgemount when they realized Elfin was full, but just a guess!

Wedgemount is incredibly scenic once you get to the top, but boy is it a long slog to get there. I went in late August with Brandon the first summer I started camping and I believe we started hiking sometime after noon. There’s very little to see but forest until you reach the halfway point across a short boulder field. After that, it’s back into the woods again until just before the end when you have to climb a steep boulder field to get up to the top. Don’t get me wrong, the whole trail is steep, but the boulder field is definitely tough with overnight packs as you’re basically climbing up over the rocks.

When you get to the top of the landslide, you’re in a valley of sorts, with Wedgemount lake at the bottom, surrounded by another set of peaks and the Wedgemount glacier. You hike down into the valley, which is completely wide open with very little shelter. Over the years, people have moved the rocks around to create little rock-walled campsites to protect from the wind that funnels in through the valley across the lake. There is a small hut up there as well, but I think most people opt to camp as there’s tons of space up there and lots of sites to choose from.

It was certainly windy when we went up there. Even though it was August, it’s one of the coldest camping trips I can remember. I was fine once I got in my sleeping bag and went to bed, but until then, it’s freezing sitting out on the ridge with nothing to shelter you from the wind. We set up our tent as fast as we could and tried to find the most sheltered place to quickly make and eat out supper. Then we hit the sack pretty early because it was just so cold outside.

It’s a beautiful location though. Wedgemount Lake itself is quite large, but the soils must be a lot siltier than other lakes in the park because it has a much paler blue hue to the water. The wind died down overnight and we got up early to do a little exploring around the lake. Like I said, it’s a wide open space surrounded by other mountain peaks, so there’s tons to explore up there. Our exploration was pretty limited, which kind of makes me what to go back, but that landslide still haunts me and I don’t want to have to haul my backpack up over it every again.

We did explore to the glacier though. If you walk around to the head of the lake, you can see the Wedgemount glacier. I’m sure it looks different every year depending on how the ice changes and melts, but the year we visited had left another lake at the base of the glacier with lots of bergy bits (real technical term – I’m a Newfoundlander, I would know) floating around. The glacier is huge and looks misleading in pictures, but Brandon got a few great photos of me standing at the base of the glacier that really put the size in perspective.

The lake is nice, but the glacier was definitely the highlight for me. The only other glacier I’ve hiked to is the glacier at the top of Brandywine Mountain, so it was a landscape quite unlike where I usually hike (the Brandywine Glacier was very different as the ice melt was flowing down the mountain instead of pooling).  I can’t decide whether Wedgemount makes for a better day hike or overnight though. A day hike seems like it might be rushed, but having just a day pack sounds a lot nicer, so it might be a judgement call based on your fitness level.

The clouds were looking pretty threatening though, so we didn’t stick around too long at Wedgemount. We packed up our things just before the rain hit and hiked back over the landslide and down again. Wedgemount is just as tough going down as it is going up. It’s a steep hike over the landslide and then the trail feels like it goes on forever after that, with nothing to look at and no respite for your knackered knees. It was a relief when we finally hit the parking lot.

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Garibaldi Lake Backpacking Trip: First Timer

Garibaldi Park is hands down, one of the most beautiful provincial parks in the lower mainland. I’ve been to the lake on 3 separate occasions in the last 5 years and I really felt I experienced something new on every single trip. The first time I went to Garibaldi Lake was in 2015 as a day trip and it’s what inspired my desire to start backcountry camping. It was so beautiful at the lake that I really wanted the opportunity to stay there overnight. So the next year, I bought myself some backcountry gear and did a 3 day trip with Seth and Emily, who had just finished her bachelor’s degree and was visiting for the summer at the time.

Both times I’ve backpacked to the lake have been for 3 nights, which I think is a good length. I left work early on a Thursday and we drove out to the trailhead, aiming to be hiking by 5pm. I think we were a little bit behind, but we were certainly on the trail by 5:30pm and it took us about 3.5 hours to hike to the lake without any detours. 2016 was the first year that Garibaldi introduced the backcountry booking system, so we did have a campsite booked, but we decided to take Friday off to get ahead of the crowds and have one day with fewer people.

It’s a rough walk up to the lake for sure. It’s a pretty easy trail, but there is significant elevation gain (~800m) and the trail is pretty much constant switchbacks with no views for the first 6-7km. After that it gets a little more varied and less steep, before you finally reach the lake and hike in along the edge to the campsite. If you are hiking in a little later, like we were, be prepared to hike in the dark and have lights with you. Fortunately, we reached the campsite just around dusk and got to see the glacier at the back of the lake lit up pink with the alpen glow before night set in.

Hiking in Thursday night gave us two full days in the backcountry before we had to hike out again, so we planned to hit Garibaldi’s other two most popular attractions, Panorama Ridge and Black Tusk. I was most excited for Panorama Ridge because I’d seen so many amazing pictures of the bright blue waters of Garibaldi Lake as seen from the ridge looking down on it. So we decided to day hike to Panorama on Friday. We had each purchased a small daypack from Mountain Warehouse that we had stuffed into our big packs, so we crammed them full of all our day items.

It’s a bit of a rough start to Panorama Ridge when you leave the lake and have to hike back up over the bank, but after that the trail levels out a lot and has beautiful views of the alpine meadows. Panorama Ridge is about a 15km round trip hike from the lake and definitely ranks as one of my top 5 hikes. At first you hike through alpine meadows until you reach the base of Black Tusk, and then the trails branch off and you loop right the edge of Black Tusk Mountain down towards helm creek. You can’t see Black Tusk from this part of the trail, or Garibaldi Lake, but you can see down into the Valley and up to your final destination at the top of the ridge. I went during the August long weekend, so there were lots of wildflowers in bloom along the trail.

The last 2 kilometres of the trail are more difficult as you start climbing up towards the top of the ridge. It’s a steep trail and it can get quite crowded. Even though it was a Friday, it was still pretty busy, but I was glad we did it first. The view from the top is unbelievable and you should absolutely time your trip to eat up at the top so that you can hang out for a while. The view of Garibaldi and the surrounding mountains and glaciers is incredible, but it’s really the view back towards Black Tusk that took my breath away. I don’t think that view is showcased quite as much. I was anticipating and expecting the beautiful view of the lake, so I was surprised by the equally beautiful view looking back at Black Tusk and could never quite decide which direction to face!

I definitely think a day hike is the way to go for Panorama though. I know some people do Panorama as a 30km round trip, but I can’t imagine doing this unless you were a trail runner. It must be at least a 12 hour day to do the whole thing and that doesn’t leave much time to enjoy the views or the lake. Panorama Ridge was a whole day affair for us.

The year we went, there was still a lot of snow going up the side of the ridge towards the top. On the way up we could see some butt marks in the snow coming down from the top and Seth was really keen to slide down the snow on the way back. I think whether or not this is possible probably depends on the conditions when you visit, but I would absolutely recommend AGAINST it either way. Me and Emily were swayed by Seth’s enthusiasm about sliding down and decided to give it a try. But it’s a lot steeper than it looks and a lot longer. Once you start sliding down it’s really hard to control your speed and you’re pretty much committed to going the whole way. It is so cold to slide down a snowbank in your shorts and because we started picking up to much speed, we were forced to try and slow ourselves down with our hands, causing both our hands and butts to go totally numb for hours (yes. hours, I am not exaggerating). So yes, we did slide down, but I would not repeat the experience.

We finished the day with one of my favourite activities, a swim in the lake! If you don’t walk far enough in around the lake, you might never know that there’s a dock, but if you want to swim, this is absolutely where I’d recommend you go because then you can save yourself the torture of having to wade into the freezing, glacial water, and just jump in. I think I swam in the lake every time I’ve been up there and while it is freezing, it is one thing I would recommend! The cold water is so nice on your aching muscles and it makes for a great photo!

On Saturday we hit up Black Tusk. We would have preferred to stay at Garibaldi Lake all weekend, but unfortunately the campsite had been full for Saturday night by the time we booked, so we packed up everything and moved to Taylor Meadows on Saturday morning. Taylor Meadows is about 1.5km away from the lake and has traditionally been used for group and overflow camping back before the reservations were introduced. Now you can book all the campsites online and while it’s frustrating if you’re not fast enough to nab one, it does remove the stress of wondering whether you’ll find somewhere to pitch your tent for the night.

It was the BC Day weekend and as expected, it was a lot busier on Saturday. Taylor Meadows is nice, but it definitely can’t compare with the lake. The campsites have much less privacy and are all crammed together in the meadow. We decided to eat lunch in the hut and then started on the Black Tusk hike after lunch. Black tusk is a bit shorter than Panorama Ridge, but it has more elevation gain. The weather was cooler on the day we did Black Tusk as well. You hike in to the same junction, but instead of hiking around the mountain, this time, you hike up it. I wasn’t expecting to see the Lake from Black Tusk since you can’t see it from Panorama at all until the very top, but you can actually see the lake from a lot of the Black Tusk hike, which was really nice. There was still quite a bit of snow on Black Tusk though, even in August, so we did have to cross several snowy sections on the way up.

What I didn’t realize until the way down, was that the official Black Tusk hike actually ends about halfway up to the ridge (there’s a sign that marks the end of the hike – which I did see, but thought it was just an info board about the hike). So we kept going to the top of the ridge at the base of the tusk. It is definitely rough going in that last section. It is all scree going up to the ridge and every step you take you feel as if you’re sliding half a step back. Emily and Seth hated it and I didn’t particularly like it either. We pushed to the top of the ridge so that we could see the views on either side of the mountain, but Emily and Seth refused to go on from there. There is one last section that goes right to the base of the tusk and I really wanted to see it, so I braved the last 10-15 minutes up the slope on my own.

But that’s where I quit. I know there are people that climb Black Tusk, some of which bring actually safety and climbing gear, and others that just free hand it. I’m not one of those people. I’ve heard stories of how dangerous it is, so I opted to give it a pass. But, I did get beautiful views of the tusk and looking out around the surrounding area on both sides of the tusk.

I have been back to Panorama Ridge since then, but that will probably be my one and only time up Black Tusk. It was a cool hike, but I’m not a huge fan of all the scree, so it’s one I’m happy to tick off my bucket list and move on from. But never say never I guess, I could probably be convinced to return on snowshoes.

And that was really it for our Garibaldi trip. We returned to Taylor Meadows and hiked out the next morning. It was Sunday when we hiked out, so there were still an insane number of people hiking in, and it’s kind of fun to watch all the day hikers sweating it on their way in while you hike all downhill with your pack and your sweater still on.

Overall, I do have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Garibaldi though. I definitely love it in that it is incredibly beautiful and awe inspiring, but it’s also mistreated by a lot of its visitors and that is really frustrating. I’ve had more than one “leave no trace” rant on this blog, but Garibaldi and Joffre are particularly bad for garbage. Please please please, respect the beautiful nature that we all share and pack out all your garbage! Do not leave garbage in outhouses as that attracts bears. If you can pack it in (uphill) full, then you can definitely pack it out empty.

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