Hiking Slesse Memorial Trail

Slesse Memorial Trail has been on my bucket list for a while, but the access road is a little bit dicey so we’ve been waiting for the right opportunity. In late September, me, Seth, and Brandon decided to make a go at it.

Slesse Memorial is a 12km out-and-back trail located off Chilliwack Lake Road. After having driven the access road, we wouldn’t say that you have to have 4WD to get to the trailhead, but high clearance would definitely be an asset. You won’t get there in a car, but potentially in an AWD SUV. Personally, I wouldn’t take my Hyundai Tucson out there because I’m not comfortable driving in terrain with water bars, but Brandon thought you could probably make it there in one if you wanted to try.

20210925_094750

Either way, we had no trouble getting there in Brandon’s 4runner. The nice thing is it’s not a long access road. Cheam Peak is located in the same area and it took us about an hour to drive 9km on that road – the access to Slesse probably only took us around 15-20 minutes. There’s a small parking lot at the end and there are two branches from there. One branch continues on in the same direction as the road coming in, and the second branch is on the left and continues up a rocky narrow road. The second branch that goes up continues on to Mount Rexford and my GPS indicated that we needed to continue up that road about 600m and then take a right branch onto the old Slesse Memorial Trailhead. I say “old”, because Brandon’s GPS showed a second trail leaving on the straight branch out of the parking lot, which we later learned is the “new” trailhead.

20210925_104055

I recommend taking the newer trailhead (the right of the two forks). Either will get you there and they do meet pretty early on the trail, but the newer trailhead is slightly shorter, easier, and more well maintained. We missed the old trailhead on our first pass and had to double back to find it tucked in the woods.

The first half of the trail meanders through the forest and isn’t very difficult. There are some tree roots to step over, but it’s not overly technical. Shortly before the memorial plaque, you pop in and out of the woods and get a few glimpses of Mount Rexford across the valley. We went in late September and the trees were just starting to change colour. We were a bit too early for full colours, so I’d recommend early October instead.

PSX_20210929_205451

The memorial plaque is located around the halfpoint of the hike and has a beautiful view looking up towards Slesse Mountain. The trail is called Slesse Memorial Trail because a commercial jet crashed on the side of the mountain in Dec. 1956, killing 60+ passengers and crew. The plane was flying from Calgary to Vancouver when it disappeared and it wasn’t actually found until 5 months later when a climbing crew accidentally spotted it on the side of the mountain. Due to the challenging locating, the bodies were never recovered. You can’t see the crash along the trail (at least we didn’t), but some of the debris has been collected at the top of the trail. I’m not sure at what point this was done, but these days there are signs indicating not to do this.

HOP_6344

We came for the view versus the memorial, but it was very interesting and we spent a lot of time thinking about it, making it a bit more of a somber hike. After the plaque, the trail gets a lot steeper. I thought we might need to do some way finding on the trail, but it’s easy to follow, just steep. There were a lot of old blueberries along the trail, so I could see it attracting bears, but on this occasion the berries only attracted Sadie. She discovered them growing there and wouldn’t stop picking and eating all the berries! It was very cute.

20210925_135450

In all it took us just over 3 hours to get to the top. It’s an interesting trail because it doesn’t go to the top of the mountain, but rather the base of it. A lot of the mountains in this area are forested, but Slesse is sheer rock with no vegetation growing on it. It’s very steep, so I’m sure it attracts climbers, but for hikers, the trail ends at the base of the mountain. There’s a beautiful 360 degree view and you can climb up a bit further if you’re feeling adventurous. There’s a long flatter section of rock, with a glacier coming down one side and the sheer rock face at the back. I say “flatter” because the rock is still a lot steeper than it looks. Me and Brandon explored up a bit further, which has a gorgeous view looking back towards Rexford.

20210925_135652

Be careful where you explore though, it was a surprisingly hot day for late September and the glacier was on the move while we were there. At one point there was a very loud rumbling and we watched as a big snow patch at the bottom of the glacier slid down part of the mountain. So we stayed away from that section and explored directly under Slesse, where there was still a bit of snow, but much less and not as steep.

PSX_20210927_223317

The steep uphill section does make for a slow descent on the way back. We left around 2pm because we didn’t want to get stuck hiking in the dark. We inched our way down the top section, but were able to pick up the pace a bit once we got to the flatter bits. It’s a pretty narrow trail, so it can be a bit tricky passing people. We only saw 2 other people on the way up, but passed a handful of people on our way down.

HOP_6383

Overall it was a nice hike. It was a lot more forested than I was anticipating, there’s a few peak-a-boo viewpoints, but not too many views until you reach the top. If you have the time to explore at the top though, there’s quite a bit of open terrain. We finished the hike around 5pm and still had lots of daylight left, but I’m glad we turned around when we did because the sun goes down over the mountains on this trail pretty early, so it was still quite dark hiking back through the trees at the bottom. I did really like the hike and would love to return and do more hikes in this area!

HOP_6405

Hiking Joffre Lakes

I’ve written about a lot of hikes, many of which are super popular. I found the time to write about Garibaldi Lake twice and I’ve written about Elfin Lakes a whopping 5 times, but somehow I’ve never found the time to write about one of Southwest BC’s most quintessential hikes: Joffre Lakes.

Joffre Lakes is a gem of a provincial park located about 30 minutes out of Pemberton on Duffey Lake Road. It’s a bit of a trek for a day hike from Vancouver, but every year swarms of people flock there to discover the brilliant blue glacial lakes for themselves. The park was closed through most of 2020 due to Covid-19 and re-opened in summer 2021 with a new day pass reservation system in place to manage crowds in the park. This is a free day pass that has been introduced in several of BC’s most popular parks to curb the flow of visitors. A lot of people are opposed to the day pass system and BC Parks has been widely criticized for it, but while I have many criticisms of BC Parks (mostly to do with their poor online system and cancellation policies), I have to admit I am a fan of the day passes. It keeps the crowds down and removes the stress of having to get up super early to ensure you find parking.

DSC00537

The first time I visited Joffre Lakes was in 2015 and while I was astounded at the beauty of the park, I had to admit that the swarms of people definitely took away from the experience. I visited on a beautiful Saturday in August, so I know there would likely be less people on a weekday, but the park only has one major trail and it’s only 11km round trip, so it’s not a lot of space for people to disburse along the trail, even on a less busy day. There were literal greyhound buses toting group tours of up to 50 people along the trail, so it was hard to get a moment to yourself anywhere on the hike. That said, a lot of people only hike to the second lake, or if they do hike to the third lake, they stop at the head of the lake. If you hike around the back of the third lake, where the campsite is, I did find it to be much less crowded.

DSC00546

When the park re-opened this summer, I thought it might be time to finally re-visit it since Canada is still mostly closed to international tourists. Emily and my parents visited during the first week of September and we decided to make the trek out there on a week day to hopefully find a bit of solitude on the trail. There’s no question that with the day pass, parking was much easier. I think they’ve added an overflow lot since my last visit and we had no trouble finding somewhere to park. It was still quite busy for a week day in September, but much less crowded than my first experience.

DSC00552

Like I mentioned, the trail is only 11km round trip if you go all the way to the campsite (which lots of people don’t), and has about 400m of elevation gain. It’s a very well maintained trail, so it is good for beginners. There are 3 beautiful lakes located in the park, making it easy to customize your trip. The first lake is only about 5 minutes in along the trail, so it makes for a good pit stop if you’re just passing through and want to stretch your legs. From there, the trail continues up through a boulder field (the trail is backfilled though, so easy walking) with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. This is where most of the elevation gain is done along the hike and is the longest stretch between lakes.

DSC00562

Eventually you pop out of the woods along the edge of the second lake, which I would say is the most popular of the three. The water is a gorgeous green hue and Matier Glacier is framed through the trees at the end of the lake. I’ve visited the park 3 times in total and always opt to eat my lunch at the second lake to bask in the views. On this occasion, I convinced my mom to take a quick dip in the water with me. I’ve swam in a lot of alpine lakes over the years and Joffre is definitely one of the coldest! It is numbing, so if you opt to swim, be prepared for a quick dip in and out.

DSC00639

One of the other highlights of the second lake for me is that at the back of the lake there is a beautiful stepped waterfall cascading down from the third lake. It’s only a short hike between the second and third lakes, so I definitely recommend going up to the third lake, even if you opt not to hike around the lake to the campsite. The third lake has incredible views looking up at Matier Glacier.

DSC00582

On this trip, we ended at the base of the third lake (which is a round trip distance of 8km), but on my first visit Seth and I opted to hike the entire way around to the campsite. If you continue past the campsite you can hike up onto the big rock overlooking the lake, which is my second favourite view in the park after the second lake. From there, the surrounding mountains come into view on the opposite side of the lake, making for beautiful photos.

DSC00605

All in all, it took me about 5 hours return trip on both visits. It’s a beautiful park that’s 100% worth ticking off your bucket list, but I don’t think it would even rate top 10 on my list of trails overall. It’s just too crowded. If you choose to visit, please treat the area with respect – take all your garbage with you and make sure to leave no trace. Sadly the area often gets trashed due to its popularity and we want to preserve this beautiful park for generations to come!

The view from the back of the third lake – only photo from my 2015 visit

Hiking Chain Lakes Trail

The final trail in my little ‘Fall hiking in Washington’ series is the Chain Lakes Trail that leaves from the ski area at Mount Baker. Me, Lien, and Emily had visited the previous year in March to snowshoe Artist Point and were totally awed by the views, so we decided to come back in the fall for a different view. It was Thanksgiving Weekend in October 2019, just one week after me and Lien had hiked Yellow Aster Butte. This time we were joined by Emily and my friend Amy, who flits in and out of my life every now any then. We never really know when she’s going to appear and disappear again, but it’s fun to hike with her!

DSC00810

We had Thanksgiving dinner at my house on Sunday night and then made an early departure on Monday morning to cross the border. Traditionally, me and Brandon have always gone on a Thanksgiving Monday hike (3 years running), but this year he went on holiday and bailed on me, so I had to console myself with my other companions. I really liked both Yellow Aster Butte and Chain Lakes, but of the two, I would definitely have to give the edge to Chain Lakes. At 11.5km, it has half the elevation gain of Yellow Aster Butte, just 375m. The trail starts in the backcountry parking lot at the ski hill. Be sure to get and print out the parking pass online before you go because there’s no where to get it on the mountain. It’s only $5 and I’m told you can get it at the visitor center at the bottom before you drive up, but I’ve never once seen it open on the weekend.

DSC00839

Chain Lakes is one of those rare trails that is scenic the ENTIRE trail. You’ve already driven up most of the elevation gain to get to the ski hill and from there, the trail continues up to the summer parking lot for Artist Point. In the summer, you can drive almost the whole way up to Artist Point, but at some point in September they close the road. Hiking up the road is the least scenic part of the trail, but still has really nice views looking down into the big bowl that’s popular among backcountry skiers. We decided to skip the Artist Point viewpoint since we’d already done it and instead continued down the other side of the parking lot into the backcountry. I think it’s a bit of an understated part of the trail, but it was one of my favourite parts. You hike right across the slope of Table Mountain, looking out towards Mount Baker.

DSC00840

From the Skyline Divide Trail, I felt like I was so close to Mount Baker that if I continued hiking I would eventually reach it (you can reach the foothills, but then the trail ends). But from the Chain Lakes Trail, you really are on the trail that goes up to the top of Mount Baker (albeit this is only for experienced mountaineers). It looked like if we just crested a few more hills we’d pretty much be there, but of course, it’s further then it looks as the size of the mountain dwarfs everything surrounding it and can be a bit misleading. Once you get to the end of Table Mountain, the trail turns to continue around the mountain and over to the chain lakes part of the trail. You can also hike along the top of Table Mountain, which may have to be an adventure for another day.

DSC00909

The first lake you come to is Mazama Lake. You can camp there, but it’s pretty small and not the most scenic, so if you’re overnighting, I’d recommend one of the other lakes instead. After Mazama, you come to Iceberg lake, which is the biggest and has staggering views looking up at the steep cliffs that surround the lake. This is where we decided to stop for lunch and enjoy the views before starting our climb back up the pass to the top of the trail.

DSC00879

One of the awesome things about Chain Lakes, in addition to the fact that the entire hike is scenic, is that it’s a loop trail, so you don’t have to do any return on the trail. It starts to climb around Iceberg Lake until you reach Haynes Lake, which is where I’d recommend branching off to camp. From there it gets really steep. There’s some great views looking back down the trail at Iceberg lake and you continue climbing to the top of the pass before starting to descend back into the bowl we were looking at from the start of the trail. It seemed like most people were doing the trail in the opposite direction as us, starting with the steep climb up the bowl. I’d recommend going the same way as us though because then you get to finish the hike with what was, in my opinion, the best view.

DSC00922

The view from the top of the pass is really unreal. The mountains stretch out around you in every direction and as you climb up the side of the Mazama dome, you really feel like you’re on top of the world. We’d already had lunch, but we decided to stop and have a break to make tea so that we could enjoy the view for a little bit longer! Even though we still had a few kilometers left to go, from the top we could pretty much see the trail down to the bottom almost the whole way there. We continued from the pass and started the long descent down the bowl to the parking lot. We were basically undoing all of the elevation from the rest of the hike in this stretch, which is why I recommend doing the hike from the other direction, that way the ascent is more gradual, with a few flat parts in between as you climb up. The descent down the bowl though is hard on the knees, so something to take into consideration as well.

IMG_4567

The trail switchbacks for a while until you finally reach the bottom. It weaves through the valley and you pass by a few more lakes and the most quaint little rock bridge. Seriously, there’s no part of this trail that is not scenic, and even a few minutes before the parking lot, we were still stopping to take pictures of things. Except for Emily, who was badly in need of a washroom and sprinted the last 15 minutes of the trail to get to the outhouse.

IMG_4564

Sadly that was our last adventure in the North Cascades. I returned the following winter with Carolyn and Brandon to snow camp on Artist Point, but unfortunately with Covid, we haven’t been able to return. I was hoping to do a few hikes in the summer and fall again, but sadly I’ll just have to wait until next year (hopefully). Either way, if you’re from Washington, I’d definitely recommend hitting up the North Cascades, and if you’re Canadian, put in on your bucket list!

IMG_4406
IMG_4534