Cheakamus Lake Backpacking Trip

After two May Long weekend trips to Lindeman Lake, we decided to try Cheakamus Lake in 2019. Our group continued to grow and this time we had 11 people join us for the adventure!

The one challenge with going to Cheakamus Lake is that it’s in Garibaldi Park, which means you have to reserve the campsites in advance. There are two sites to choose from, the bigger Cheakamus Lake Campsite at the head of the lake, or the smaller Singing Creek Campsite in the middle of the lake. Both campgrounds are really nice. The sites at Cheakamus Lake are more isolated and are spread out along the lakefront, so if you’re only booking one site, I’d recommend here as it’s a lot more private. At Singing Creek, there’s a lovely beach on which to hang out, but the sites are all clustered together in the woods, so it was prefect for as a large group! Several groups day hiked into the beach throughout the weekend, but otherwise we were the only ones who camped there overnight.

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We met at the trailhead on Saturday morning and started hiking together, though with so many of us, we quickly became scattered along the trail. It’s 4km to the first site and then another 4km to the second site. It’s mostly flat along the trail, so it’s a great hike for early in the season, and for beginners. Since it was an easier trail, I finally convinced Seth to join us for the weekend and Megan third wheeled with us in the tent.

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We took a short break at the first site, but otherwise had a steady pace to the end of the trail. I think it took us about 2.5 hours to make the trek. We set up tents among the trees and spent the rest of the day lounging on the beach. The weather forecast had been a bit mixed and the first day was supposed to be the best, so we decided to make a go for our annual May swim in the lake! Me and Carolyn were the first to make a quick dive in and out of the water and about half of the group joined us. Steve made a half hearted run up to his knees and then turned immediately turned back without regret, whereas Seth’s approach was to prolong the agony with a slow wade in. Me and Emily went for a second swim the following day, but no one was quite so dedicated to swimming as Lien. He must have been in and out of the frigid water at least 3-4 times throughout the weekend!

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Cheakamus Lake was a cool place, but the downside is that once you get to Singing Creek, there’s not really anywhere else to explore. We had a whole day to kill on Sunday, so most of us slept in, although some more than others (looking at you Meg). Carolyn and Tiiu took us by surprise by deciding to get up and go trail running up towards Helm Creek after breakfast. Carolyn came over to give me her trip plan in case they didn’t return (to which Steve was a little offended, but eventually agreed he’d rather not assume any responsibility in Carolyn’s rescue if things went awry).

But I had to laugh at Carolyn when she told me they were going to go up towards Helm Creek and Black Tusk. Before leaving she asked me whether I thought there would be snow on the trail, to which I needed only to point across the lake to where you could clearly see the snow atop the mountain to answer the question. She looked a little abashed and just agreed they’d turn around when they hit the snow.

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I was a little disappointed not to have been invited on this outing (I mean, why would I, I’m not a trail runner), so I decided to rally the troops for a little bushwacking. It did look as if the trail continued further up the lake into the woods, so we decided to follow it. The trail deteriorated pretty fast and while it was in no way a reliable or groomed trail, it was still there, so we continued on up the lake through the trees. It did involve a bit of wayfinding, but we just made sure to stick close to the shoreline and track our progress on my GPS.

From our beach, you can see another bigger beach at the end of the lake, and I was determined to get there. The closer we got to the end of the lake, the trail turned into more of an animal path before finally disappearing altogether. We continued on for a bit, but eventually had to conclude that there was a marsh standing between us at the beach at the foot of the lake. We did make it all the way to the end of the lake, but there was simply no way (that we could find) across the bog, so we decided to turn back.

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Meg slept through this little adventure and Brandon made the trek all the way back to his car in search of warmer bedding (apparently it’d been a cold night). We returned sometime after lunch and Carolyn and Tiiu reappeared mid afternoon. We went for another swim and then played a few games of crib (of course Steve had brought a travel size board in his bag of wonders).

We’d been expecting rain, but it continued to hold off. We set up a few tarps in the woods just in case, which was an even more effective way to keep the rain away because after that it never materialized at all! We enjoyed a smorgasbord of dinners over the two days. I teamed up with Brandon and he made us thai chicken curry the first night, followed by my potato chili and apple crumble the second night. Emily had spaghetti, which involved an entire can of tomato sauce (so heavy!) and Carolyn, Tiiu, Meg, and Steve teamed up to make a pretty fancy looking charcuterie board.

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Our May Long weekend trip is always centered on sharing and comradery, so I loved just hanging out on the beach and taking it easy with my friends, something that seems even more special after a year of Covid isolation. I spent a lot of time chilling in the hammock and felt especially lucky to be accompanied by both Seth and Emily on this trip. We were treated to a particularly lovely sunset over the lake on the first evening and then hit the sack early after that.

On Monday we packed up and headed back out the trail. It rained on me, Seth, and Lien for no more than 10 minutes, and it seemed to have been pretty localized as no one else reported seeing rain at all. so overall it was another successful trip and I’d definitely recommend it as a great backpacking trip for beginners!

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Snowshoeing Bowen Island Lookout

The last snowshoe trail I’ve done on the North Shore to date is the Bowen Island lookout trail at Cypress Mountain. We got a ton of snow in the city in 2019, right at the moment my friend Sean was visiting from Newfoundland. I’m not sure he was entirely thrilled about it given that he had just left a lot of snow behind, but either way we had the perfect conditions to go snowshoeing up to the lookout.

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We’d had a late night out the evening before, so we didn’t have the earliest start to the day and as a result had to battle the traffic to get up to Cypress. I don’t think I’ve ever parked so far away from the base (seriously, we had to park on the side of the road just past the turn-off for the nordic area), but despite the 2km walk to the trailhead, I had the best time! I’m inclined to thank the company since Sean is one of the most appreciative and enthusiastic guests.

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I’ve been up to the lookout several times in the summer, but this was my first time going up in the winter. Like I said, we had excellent conditions – it was a beautiful day and there was lots of fresh powder on the ground. The winter trail takes a different route up than the summer trail, which involves winding through the meadows at the base and then switchbacking up towards the branch to the lookout.

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There was obviously a lot of people on the mountain, but the trail never felt too busy, so I assume a lot of the cars were skiers. I brought both snowshoes and spikes for the trip – I used my snowshoes at the bottom to frolic around in the meadows and climb up the switchbacks, but I switched to my spikes for the switchbacks on the way down because I found it easier to navigate. Overall though it was definitely a snowshoe day!

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We had our lunch at the lookout and took our time enjoying the view. Looking back at the pictures apparently Sean had the experience of feeding a stellar’s jay, which is rare indeed! Whiskey Jacks will take anything you offer them, but rarely will a stellar’s jay (we only fed them nuts that are good for birds to eat (jays love peanuts), never feed them human food like bread or crackers!). It had been a bit of a mixed week for weather and this was our last activity before Sean went home, so we both thought ourselves super lucky to have such a gorgeous day! Now I just have to work on getting Sean back for summer adventures! He had planned to visit April 2020, but of course, Covid messed up those plans. One day though!

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Snowshoeing Grouse Mountain

I’ve only been up Grouse Mountain in the winter once, but it’s a great place for snowshoeing! You can rent snowshoes at the top and there’s lots of great trails to explore, plus the myriad of other activities available at the top of the mountain. The downside is that you have to pay to go up in the gondola, so unlike most hikes, it comes at a cost.

I don’t like paying to enjoy the outdoors, so I’ve only been up the one time when Carolyn had the annual pass and therefore was able to get my gondola ticket half off. Neither of us wanted to pay to come back again, so we decided to try and snowshoe as many of the available trails as possible in one visit!

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It ended up being quite the adventure! It was several years ago and I believe it was Carolyn’s first time snowshoeing in BC, so she borrowed Seth’s snowshoes, which were a hand-me-down from my parents. Unfortunately, they’re not very quality snowshoes and one of them broke halfway up the trail. The trail was pretty well compacted, so she continued on just in her boots, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this now without microspikes. It was several years ago and we were a lot less savvy back then.

The snowshoeing trails at Grouse are pretty straightforward and our goal was to snowshoe up to the top of Dam Mountain, which had great views looking down over the backcountry. While the trail itself was compacted from so many users, there was still a lot of fresh snow on the ground and we got some great photos of the trees all covered in snow.

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We had a short lunch at the top of Dam Mountain and then decided to continue on along the Discovery Route, which I believe in the summer is known as Thunderbird Ridge. Things got a little sketchier here – there was less traffic and a lot of fresh powder, so I went first to try and blaze a trail for Carolyn, who was coming behind me without snowshoes. She was a good sport about it, but she was definitely postholing a lot, despite my best efforts to compact it down for her.

I think she’d agree though that it was worth it! There’s amazing views looking back out over the backcountry from Thunderbird Ridge and we had a lot of fun playing around in the powder. Grouse is definitely on the busy side, so the Discovery loop is definitely a great idea if you’re looking to escape the crowds.

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We bypassed Dam Mountain on the way back and headed back down to the lodge. I have to give props to the Grouse Mountain staff – they were doing some work on the trail when Carolyn’s snowshoe broke and told us to leave them there and if they went back to the lodge before we got back, they would bring them back down for us to customer service. They had done so, which was super kind, so we were spared having to carry them out. On top of that, when we brought them into the snowshoe shop, they happily fixed them for me for free! They were cheap snowshoes and it was just the matter of a broken rivet, so they replaced it with a sturdier bolt. This had happened on the other snowshoe the previous year and I’d had to pay to get it fixed at a repair place, so I was really impressed with the service at Grouse!

So overall, despite some setbacks, we had a great day exploring around the mountain and had some snacks in the lodge before loading the gondola back down. It’s definitely a bummer to have to pay for the gondola up, but worth it for the access to some really great trails!

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