Hanging Lake Backpacking Trip

Apparently Mount Assiniboine wasn’t quite enough adventure for me and I decided to go to Hanging Lake near Whistler just one week later. Honestly, it was a pre-planned trip that I probably would have preferred to skip after the drama of Assiniboine, but I had planned it with Carolyn and because of our schedules, it was the only weekend we both had available until late September (we went in mid July), so I didn’t want to miss out on that time with her.

There were a few other people going on the trip, but I was still really anxious hiking with people I didn’t know that well after my experience at Assiniboine, so Carolyn and I did most of the hike on our own. It ended up working well because I wanted to go slow after the heat wave, and Carolyn was tired from recently travelling, so it was definitely one of our slower hikes. It wasn’t anywhere near as hot as Assiniboine, but it was still high 20’s, so not a walk in the park either. We left around 8am to drive out to Whistler and parked her car overnight at the Rainbow Lake trailhead.

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Rainbow Lake is a pretty popular hike – it climbs up 800m of elevation over 8km to Rainbow Lake, which is the Whistler municipality’s watershed. Because of this, we found it to be a pretty well maintained and easy trail. There are lots of fancy new bridges and outhouses because it’s essential not to pee or poo in the watershed. Despite the substantial elevation gain, it’s a pretty gradual incline for most of the hike and just gets a bit steeper towards the end. It’s not a bad hike for a hot day because most of it is in the trees, but it is incredibly disappointing not to be able to swim in the lake at the end, so take that into consideration.

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The Metro Vancouver watershed is entirely closed to the public, so it’s pretty unique that we can still hike in the Whistler watershed and we should do everything we can to protect it when visiting. They’ve outfitted the lake with a really nice trail and lots of benches and picnic tables, so it makes for a great lunch stop, which is what we did. Carolyn and I have both been experimenting with cold soak lunches lately and used this trip to try some of them out. Cold soaking is basically choosing foods that will rehydrate just by soaking in cold water for a few hours. Lots of people soak their dehydrated meals pre-cooking, but cold soaking doesn’t involve any heat.

I have two recipes that have been working out well for me, one is instant rice with dehydrated veggies and taco seasoning and nutritional yeast (cheese flavour). The other is a dehydrated pasta salad that I cold soak and add a small bit of salad dressing and fresh cheese. Carolyn’s been experimenting with some couscous and quinoa recipes. They’ve been working out great for me and I enjoy them a lot more than eating cheese and salami on tortilla day after day after day.

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There were a fair number of people hanging out at Rainbow Lake, but it never felt particularly crowded and we didn’t see many people on the actual trail. Most people just hike up to Rainbow Lake as a day hike as there’s no camping allowed, so we had decided to continue on another 2km to Hanging Lake. The trail continues along the back of the lake and I recommend doing this part of the trail even if you’re just day hiking. The trail starts to climb up over a pass at the back of the lake and in my opinion, was where you could get the best views of Rainbow Lake! After you hit the top of the pass, you’re out of the Whistler watershed and can descend down to Hanging Lake, where camping is permitted.

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It’s a bit steep going down to Hanging Lake, but short, so not a big deal. There’s space for 10 tents at Hanging Lake and it has some really nice new facilities, including an outhouse and bear cache. Tiiu and Spencer were already at the lake when we got there and we were joined a bit later by some more of their friends. We were surprised to find the campsite almost entirely empty! Aside from our group, there was only one more tent there, otherwise it was completely empty. Based on how busy everything has been during the pandemic, I really didn’t expect that on a Saturday night. We’re not sure if the lack of people is just because the trail isn’t actually that popular, or if it’s because travel had recently re-opened and a lot of the locals had cleared out of the province (or the region) for a holiday. Either way, it was great for us!

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It was around 3pm when we arrived and we hung out at the lake for the rest of the day. Everyone went for a swim, but the water was freezing and not very deep. We later realized we were super lucky as there was a nice breeze that kept all the bugs away. The breeze dropped down while we were eating supper and the mosquitoes came out with a vengeance, sending us all to bed by 9pm.

Instead of coordinating, we decided to be totally self sufficient on this hike. Carolyn and I have been working on upgrading some of our gear to try and be more lightweight. We had both purchased non freestanding tents in the last year that weigh only 2lbs, so we opted to each bring our own tent, stove, and food. I actually really enjoyed it and couldn’t believe that my bag was only 28lbs with all my gear and 2L of water. It’s mostly due to only having to bring 1 day of food, but it was nice to have a lighter pack and still have all my own gear. I’m hoping to upgrade a bit further over the next year or so to get it even lighter.

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My new tent is a Gossamer Gear tent called The Two. It sleeps 2 people, but it doesn’t have any poles (instead you set it up with your hiking poles) and it’s only a 1 layer tent, which makes it a lot lighter. I’m still testing it and haven’t quite figured out how I feel about it. It’s super easy to set up and I love that it’s lightweight. It’s also quite large and has giant vestibules. The only thing I’m still assessing is the 1 layer set-up. It has mesh sides, but the main body of the tent is just 1 layer, which means that the top of the tent will collect condensation and there’s nothing separating you or your gear from that layer of condensation. I knew this would probably be slightly annoying, but am willing to try and deal with it in the interest of saving some weight.

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I’m not sure if it was just the weather conditions on this trip, but it did get A LOT of condensation inside the tent, like I was shocked by how much collected. So I had to be careful not to touch the walls with my bag or it would also get wet. I was a little disappointed with how wet it got on the inside (it took me a while to dry it out the next morning), but I have since tested it in the rain (and wind) as well and it held up remarkably well. It was really humid the second time I used it and the inside didn’t get any condensation and when it rained, it actually still stayed dry on the inside wall as well and kept the rain off no problem. I thought it might be dicey in the wind, but it held up well against that as well. So I’m not ready to make my verdict on the tent yet and am looking forward to trying it out more.

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Unfortunately it was still buggy the next morning, so we had a quick breakfast and packed everything up. Carolyn wanted to go for another swim before we left, so we went for a quick dip in our birthday suits before starting the climb back up to the pass. The rest of the group wanted to check out a side trail for Ninja Lakes, so we said goodbye and planned to meet up for beers in Squamish. It was a faster hike out, though hard on the knees with all the downhill. We hit up Backcountry Brewing on the way home, which is one of our favourite places to stop (honestly, the beer is just okay imo, but the pizza’s are amazing!). We had to wait forever to get in, but the pizza was worth it!

So overall, a pretty lowkey, but fun hike up to the lake. We’d tried to do this one last fall and it had been closed due to a bear, so it was nice to return and cross it off my bucket list!

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Mount Assiniboine Backpacking Trip: Part I

At the tail end of June I went on a 6 day backpacking trip to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. It’s a trip I planned last year that ended up getting cancelled because of the pandemic. We made a second attempt at it this year and were partially successful in making it happen. I got permits for 3 nights at Magog Lake and we decided to extend the trip by a night on either end to hike in and out of the park.

There are lots of options for how to get to Mount Assiniboine and where to stay. There’s a swanky lodge with several hotel style rooms, about a dozen reservable huts, and a pretty standard backcountry campground with 40 sites. We opted to go the rustic route and stay at the campground, but me and Brandon had a running joke throughout the trip that the next time we return we will stay at the lodge!

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Likewise, there are a few options for getting into the park. You can take a helicopter ride from Canmore or the Mount Shark trailhead on Kananaskis Highway for $200 each way, or you can hike in through one of the many trailheads that run through the park. I thought a lot of people would be helicoptering in either one way or both ways to the park, but a surprising amount of people we met had actually decided to thru-hike in and out of the park. The park was only open to BC residents this year, so that might have had something to do with it.

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that we decided to hike. There are 3 main trailheads, but the option in Kooteney National Park is not commonly followed. I only encountered one group who had come that way and they said it involved several long sections of bushwacking, so I wouldn’t recommend it. The other ways into the park are through the Sunshine Village Ski Resort (located between Lake Louise and Banff) and through Mount Shark (in Spray Lakes Provincial Park). Most people we met started at Sunshine Village and continued out through to Mount Shark. In retrospect, this is the itinerary I would recommend, but I made an error in judgement when planning the trip and booked the campsite on the Mount Shark side first, meaning we had the reverse itinerary of most other thru-hikers.

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The reason it’s preferred to go the other direction is because it’s a net downhill from Sunshine Village, although in past years everyone would take the gondola up to the top to avoid most of the elevation gain. The gondola is closed this year, so now there is a fair bit of climbing on either side. I realized my error before the trip and tried to reverse the itinerary, but the Mount Shark section requires booking a backcountry reservation in one of 3 Parks Canada backcountry sites and there were no reservations left when I tried to reverse my plans, so we committed to starting from Mount Shark.

We started the hike on June 27, which you may remember was the start of a brutal heat wave across the province. Temperatures reached over 40 degrees in Metro Vancouver throughout the week – it wasn’t that hot in the Rockies, with a high of 32 on our first two days, but still not ideal temperatures for hiking. We had a full day of driving across the province to reach our starting point, so we stayed in Golden overnight and arrived at the Mount Shark trailhead around noon the following day. Mount Shark is located off the Kananaskis Highway, which is a gravel road that runs from Canmore.

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We started the trek as a party of 4. We ate lunch in the shade at the trailhead before starting our first day, during which we’d hike 13km along flat terrain to the Marvel Lake Campsite. I was quite nervous about the heat going into the hike, though I was reassured that Mountain Forecast showed lower temperatures near Assiniboine. We focused on hydrating for several days leading up to the trip and drank 2-3L of water a day prior to the trip. We packed a ton of electrolyte powder with us and did the best we could to keep our pack weight down.

The first day was hot, but we made good time (about 3km an hour) and kept our spirits up. It was tough starting at noon because the sun is directly overhead, which means that even though a lot of the hike was in the trees, there was still no shade to be found. It’s not the most scenic first day, but I still really enjoyed hiking through the forest and liked that we had a flat day to ease into the trip rather than having to start with the 6km climb up the gondola road on the Sunshine Village side.

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The Mount Shark trailhead is located in Spray Lake Provincial Park, but the trail quickly transitions into Banff National Park. From the trailhead, it’s 26km to Magog Lake, so it was a no brainer for us to split the hike over 2 days. There are 3 backcountry campsites that can be booked on the Parks Canada website: Big Springs at 9km, Marvel Lake at 13km, and Bryant Creek at 14km. I never visited Bryant Creek, but I thought Big Springs was quite open and nice and Marvel Lake, though not much to write home about, had lots of a shade and a nice rushing river.

Marvel Lake Camp is located just off the trail junction. There are 2 options for how you get to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. You can either take the trail along the edge of Marvel Lake and up over Wonder Pass, which was our plan, or you can take the Assiniboine Pass, which exits behind the lodge. Wonder Pass is recognized as the more scenic route, but is much more challenging than Assiniboine Pass due to the elevation gain. We opted for the more scenic route, though in retrospect, with the heat we should have revised our itinerary to do Assiniboine Pass instead. That said, the pass was incredibly scenic and there is much less elevation gain coming from the other direction, so if you start at Sunshine Village, I would still recommend the Wonder Pass route. I only met one group doing the Assiniboine Pass trail and it was because they did the whole 26km in one day and opted for the easier route.

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We were looking forward to ending Day 1 with a swim in Marvel Lake, but we discovered water activities are not permitted in the lake because there is a parasite in it and they want to avoid people accidentally transporting it to other lakes or locations. Also, the entrance to the lake ended up being kind of gross with a lot of mosquitoes, so in the end we weren’t that tore up about it. Instead, we enjoyed Brandon’s infamous Thai curry chicken for dinner and went to bed early to get a head start the following day to try and beat the heat. Check out Part II to continue the saga.

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Hiking the Plain of 6 Glaciers

Our second hike in Banff National Park in August was The Plain of 6 Glaciers (our first hike was Sentinel Pass). Both hikes are located in the Lake Louise area and I feel like maybe I should have branched out a little more, but they were both so incredibly scenic it’s hard to regret.

As I explained in my last post, with Lake Louise being so popular, it’s best to get there early if you want to be assured parking. I’ve heard the lot generally fills up by 8am, but I think that’s only on weekends because there was still lots of space when we got there at 8am on a Thursday. The Plain of 6 Glaciers starts right at the lake and hikes the length of the lake and up into the backcountry. I’d been to Lake Louise once before as a teenager with my parents and the lake was just as scenic as I remembered, but there were so many people so we didn’t want to linger.

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There are tons of trails from the lake; you can hike up immediately to the Big Agnes Teahouse and a ton of hiking options, or you can hike up the near side of the lake to some viewpoints, but of course, we opted to hike towards the back of the lake. Despite the early hour, there were still a lot of people on the lake trail, though the traffic thinned out considerably once we reached the back of the lake. I think a lot of tourists just hike to the back of the lake and then return to the chateau – also on the day we went, there were a lot of climbers, and they all quit at the back of the lake to climb the sheer cliff wall. So we felt much more at home once we left the lake, as beautiful as it was.

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The weather was really nice. It was chilly, but the sun was out, so we slowly started ditching layers after leaving the lake. From there the trail is mostly uphill and continues through the woods and then into what I like to call the barren alpine. The entire valley was once covered in glaciers, so there’s not a whole lot growing there and it’s mostly rock left behind from the glaciers. There are beautiful views looking back at the lake as you ascend, as well as equally beautiful views looking ahead at the glaciers. It’s hard to count them to confirm if there actually are 6 glaciers, but they’re each slowly revealed to you as you hike up the valley.

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My favourite part of the hike is that there’s a cute little tea house located about a kilometre before the viewpoint. There’s a flatish area and they’ve constructed the teahouse and put some picnic tables along the river. We hadn’t really planned ahead properly for the teahouse because I thought I’d read somewhere that it was closed because of Covid, but it was open and fortunately Seth had $20 cash on hand. So we each had a cup of tea and shared a delicious jammy scone. We were thrilled to discover all the teas are from Banff Tea Co, which we had visited the day before, so me and Emily both had the “Plain of 6 Glaciers” tea in honour of the occasion. It’s an herbal tea with a little bit of mint and it was very yummy!

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The weather started to change a bit while we were enjoying our teas. It had clouded in and while it wasn’t raining, the sky was starting to look a little foreboding, so we decided to continue on. It’s just 1 more kilometre, the last part of which goes along the ridgeline and reveals the final glacier right at the back of the valley. It’s not really obvious where the trail ends, eventually it comes to a scree slope and I think you can continue on a little further, but we opted to stop there for our lunch. It did start to drizzle a little as we were eating, but nothing too bad. It just made us glad we had left early again because the weather did get worse and the crowds got larger, but for the most part we had enjoyed a scenic and empty hike up to the top.

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The rain picked up on the way down, making it colder, and the clouds quickly moved in to obscure some of the glaciers. I always find it amazing how quickly the weather can change in the backcountry and its a good reminder to always be prepared. Fortunately we had our rain jackets and merino wool sweaters, but we saw a lot of hikers coming up looking pretty wet and ill-prepared.

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We beelined down the trail pretty fast because of the rain and made pretty good time coming down. It rained on and off for the rest of the hike, stopping for periods of time, but often starting up again. You can go back to Lake Louise via a different route that would take you to Agnes Lake and the other hiking trails, but similar to Sentinel Pass, Sadie was tired and we weren’t really interested in exploring too much more in the rain, so we opted to skip it. It was even more busy at the bottom of the lake as it was now mid afternoon, so we hightailed it out of there and back to our campsite to relax for the rest of the day. So overall, I didn’t like the hike as much as Sentinel Pass, but still very beautiful and I’d definitely go back and explore some of the many other hiking options in the area!

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