Day Hiking Elfin Lakes

To date, I’ve hiked the Elfin Lakes trail 4 times. I’ve written about the first time I camped on the tent pads and the first time I went snow camping, but I’ve never written about my very first visit, which was a day hike with Brandon in 2016.

G0300329

Thanksgiving is usually a bit of a hit or miss for me since I don’t have any family in BC. I’ve always celebrated it, but whether or not I’ve celebrated during the actual Thanksgiving weekend depends what my friends are up to. In 2016, most of them had other plans, so we celebrated a week later, leaving me with nothing to do over the long weekend. Brandon and I decided to do a big day hike and though this was our first one, it ended up becoming an annual thanksgiving tradition for the 2 of us. I’m not sure if Elfin Lakes is a particularly Fall hike, but I have a tendency to think about it that way because most of my visits have been in September and October.

We left really early to take advantage of the limited daylight hours. Elfin Lakes is a 22km hike, with 600m of elevation gain, so it’s by no means a short hike. However, with the elevation spread over such a long distance, it doesn’t feel too steep.

HOP_4703

The first 5 kilometres to the Red Heather Hut are the worst part. It’s the steepest part of the trail and it’s just a boring access road through the forest. We made really quick time on the way up and didn’t stop too long at the hut before continuing on along the rest of the trail. The next 6km are much more scenic, though it was very cloudy on the way up, so we didn’t see a whole lot along that section either. But the hike is much flatter and just meanders along the ridge.

I can’t remember the exact time we got to the shelter, but it was super early. We wasted no time on the hike up and when we crested the last ridge, we didn’t even realize because it was so foggy we couldn’t see the lakes until we were basically on top of them. It was a little disappointing, but it was October, so not totally unexpected. We spent a little bit of time in the shelter hoping the fog would clear before deciding to continue a little farther up the trail, hoping we’d eventually get some views.

HOP_4745

Brandon always brings out the best adventurer in me. Looking back I’m pretty impressed with myself that at the midpoint of a 22km hike I agreed to hike further, but I did and we continued up along the trail to the Saddle, which goes up towards the Gargoyles. The Elfin Lakes trail actually continues another 11km to Mamquam Lake, passing Opal Cone along the way, but there’s a short offshoot near the hut that is popular among backcountry skiers. You leave the main trail and hike up this bowl to the saddle between the two peaks. There was some snow on this part of the trail, but not enough to deter us from going.

It did get deeper as we got closer to the top. My legs were starting to hurt and I was really nervous about aggravating my knees which such a long hike still ahead of me, so I eventually bailed out for a snack and Brandon continued on to the top of the saddle. The clouds had started to clear out so we finally got a view of the lakes and the surrounding mountains. It was still marred by wisps of clouds hanging around all the peaks and low to the ground, but it made for some dramatic views!

DSC02643

Eventually we turned around and made our way back to the lake for lunch. This was only my second season hiking with Brandon and up to this point he’d been super keen on looking out for me whenever we were adventuring. The very first hike we did together was a day trip up to Garibaldi Lake and Brandon hiked it with a full backpack because he wanted to bring lunch for everyone, packing up fancy sandwich meats, cheeses, avocado, and containers of fresh berries as snacks! Then when we did our first backpacking trip to Tenquille Lake he hiked in an axe so that we could have a proper campfire and made us scrambled eggs for breakfast!

I’ve since learned that this is how Brandon sucks in new hiking friends. He’s always looking for new people to hike with and he really wants for you to have a good time, so he lures you in with all these fancy luxuries. Then, once he’s got you hooked, he drops all the pretenses and suddenly becomes a super lightweight hiker who lives off salmon jerky.

DSC02679

By this point, I guess I’d become savvy enough on my own and this was the first trip where Brandon showed up with just his water vest – big enough for a few snacks and a jacket. I was a few years into being a girl guide leader at this point, so I’d gotten pretty big on safety (though not as intense as I am these days), so I thought he was a little batty to go into the wilderness with so little, but I had my own gear, so I didn’t make a big deal about it.

Now those who know me will tell you I’m a big eater and snacker. I always bring a sandwich and you’ll never catch me heading out with just jerky. So as we were sitting down in the hut for lunch, I was making fun of Brandon that he was going to be so jealous of my sandwich, when he realized he’d forgotten his salmon jerky in the car! So Mr. lightweight had no treats and just a grumbling tummy. Obviously I shared with him because I always bring more than enough food, but as a result I gained the right to make fun of him for it the rest of the trek!

DSC02692

We spent some time exploring around the lake before heading back down to the car. The trek back was a lot more scenic now that we could see some of the surrounding mountains and as with any day hike, it inspired me to come back the following year for a proper backpacking trip! Even 4 trips in, I still love Elfin Lakes and it remains on my bucket list because I want to hike all the way to Mamquam Lake one day.

Cape Scott and North Coast Trail: Part II

Continuing on from Part I, after an eventful journey to the trailhead and our first night on the trail, we still had 5 more days of fun ahead of us!

We never made it to Nel’s Bight on Day 1 and still had 8km to go to the beach, so we decided to aim for it as our lunch spot on Day 2. We weren’t in too much of a rush in the morning, but we made good time taking down camp (ended up being our fastest day packing up), and had a speedy start, hiking the 4km to the trail junction in just over an hour. At the junction one trail branches off to Nel’s Bight and Cape Scott, while the other continues on the Nissen Bight and the rest of the North Coast Trail. We’d be heading there eventually, but first we wanted to see Cape Scott.

DSC06013

It’s another 4km from the junction to Nel’s Bight and we continued on with ease. The trail was reasonably muddy on Day 1, but it was surprisingly clear on Day 2. I would say this is the easiest section of trail in the park (except perhaps for the trail to San Jo). The trail continues through the woods with the first landmark being detritus from one of the old Cape Scott settlements. Cape Scott was originally settled by the dutch in the late 1800’s, but it was too remote and the government wouldn’t subsidize any services because they didn’t want to encourage the colony, so it was abandoned. It was settled again in the early 1900’s and peaked at a community of around 200 individuals. There’s not much left now, but you can see some old debris from the community that settled at Hanson’s Lagoon.

On the way to Hanson’s Lagoon, you pass across a large open marsh area. There is a small road that continues on to the lagoon, but our path took us around the lagoon to Nel’s. It’s very green and lush, but the clouds decided to drop a quick bout of rain on us as were passing through and we ended up running most of the way across to the safety of the trees. Though of course once we reached the trees it had pretty much rained itself out, so Brandon joked we must smell bad and nature was just treating us to a quick shower.

IMG_0357

We made it to Nel’s Bight before noon, which Brandon affectionately refers to as Tent City. Along the way we ran into one of the Rangers that lives on Nel’s and he told us the previous evening (saturday night), he’d estimated there were 100 people camping on the beach, so the name was definitely accurate. Fortunately Nel’s is a giant white sand beach with lots of space for tents, so there’s no concern about finding a campsite. It’s the most popular beach in the park because you can hike there in a single day and it’s a popular stopping point for people visiting the lighthouse. Most people camp at Nel’s and day hike to Cape Scott. Since we’d stopped at Fisherman’s River, we had a different destination in mind. Guise Bay is located 4km past Nel’s Bight and it was Brandon’s favourite beach in the park, so we decided to lug our packs the extra 4km.

It was an excellent choice! We stopped at Nel’s for lunch and it was extremely windy, sending huge crashing waves along the beach. It was a little drizzly, so we sent up a tarp but didn’t stay too long. The drizzle didn’t last long though, so it was a nice 4km stroll to Guise. You head back into the woods briefly at the end of Nel’s and then come out at Experiment Bight – another long sandy beach. It’s also perfect for camping, but there’s no water source or facilities so I don’t think it gets used very much. After Experiment Bight you go back into the woods, this time crossing the peninsula to Guise Bay. Because Guise Bay is on the opposite side, it doesn’t get as much wind and the water was a lot calmer. I immediately liked it and with only 1 other tent on the beach, we got a great campsite without the crowds.

HOP_3872

It was overcast most of the day, which I think is super common at Cape Scott, but the rain stayed away for the rest of the day and it did slowly get clearer as the day progressed. We set up our campsite and decided to continue on to finish the rest of the trail to the lighthouse as a day hike. We left our backpacks behind and stuffed our pockets full of snacks. From Guise Bay it’s ~5km round trip to the lighthouse, which is located just outside the park boundary and is a government facility.

I didn’t love the walk to the lighthouse. My feet were starting to hurt after so much walking. I didn’t have any blisters or hot spots, but it was just a general throbbing on the soles of my feet from being on them for too long. Emily was also having a rough time. She has awkwardly shaped pinky toes and she always gets blisters, so she was battling both sore feet and a blister. It was cool to see the lighthouse though. There’s not a whole lot there – it’s just a wire frame tower and what looked to be 3 houses and an office building. I’m not sure if all the houses are occupied, but we talked to one of the inhabitants and he said he’d been living there for the last 20 years! Apparently he gets a supply drop once a month and that’s what he lives on. It was neat but I can’t imagine living so remotely, especially in such a foggy place (sounds like home lol).

DSC06069

We topped up our water bottles from the tap at the back of one of the buildings (filtered water yay!) and then headed back to Guise. Emily was a bit out of it when we got back – her feet were hurting her a lot and in retrospect, I suspect she may have been a bit dehydrated – so she took a nap. I helped Lien start re-hydrating dinner and Brandon went in search of the water source on the far side of the beach. Lien followed him about 10 minutes later and I was treated to a little show from the other side of the beach. Our timing with collecting water was really good because we didn’t realize the water source was only accessible when the tide was low. I watched as Lien zigzagged his way across the pinch point and disappeared into the woods. He came back out with our water bladders about 10 minutes later and as soon as he reached the pinch point again, he suddenly turned around and took off running back towards where Brandon was still collecting more water. He popped in and out of the woods and ran back across the beach and over the pinch point and was followed moments later by Brandon in a desperate attempt to not get his feet wet! Fortunately we all kept dry and we had collected enough water to see us through the evening and the next day.

DSC06050

It had been a bit of a mauzy day, both weatherwise and in spirit. Including the lighthouse, we’d trekked 17km, so we were feeling pretty tired. Brandon, our eternal optimist, decided to get a campfire going and I can definitely say the evening improved a lot from there! We got supper started and coaxed Emily out of the tent. The wind dropped down, the clouds lifted, and the fire warmed us all up! It ended up being one of my favourite nights on the trail. We had chili for dinner and then spent the rest of the evening lounging around the campfire listening to music on Brandon’s speaker. The sun never really peaked out, but the clouds did break-up and treat us to a lovely pink glow over the beach as the sun was going down. It was the last week of June and we were further north, so the days were extremely long. We found ourselves staying up so late every night because it would be after 11 by the time it would finally get dark.

DSC06085

On Day 3 we awoke to a bit more of the same. Again, it wasn’t raining and it was brighter than the previous day, but still pretty cloudy. It was on the cooler side, but it was good weather for hiking. We packed up camp and started back the way we’d come, repeating our 4km hike back to Nel’s Bight and then another 4km to the junction. Just before we left the beach we heard some guys coming down the trail yelling into the woods. We figured they were just making their bear calls because they were the first ones on the trail (we regularly yell into the woods to keep the wildlife away). We were right, but it was because they’d actually seen a bear. They were on their way to the lighthouse and came on to the beach fully armed. One guy had his bear spray held a loft and they were both sporting knives. Apparently a bear had followed them for most of the trail from Experiment Bight to Guise Bay and while he didn’t seem aggressive, they weren’t taking any chances. The bear finally spooked off when they got to the beach, but since we were going back the way they’d just come, we had a nice sing-a-long on the way back – no sign of the bear.

Along the way we ran into some more rangers who were doing maintenance along the trail. They asked us about our plans and we told them we were going all the way to Shushartie Bay. They informed us they were the North Coast Trail maintenance crew and while they had conducted their initial assessment for the year, they hadn’t done any maintenance to date because of COVID. They warned us a lot of the brush needed to be cut back and that some of the trailheads might be difficult to find if the buoys were knocked down, but that the trail was still doable. So with that ominous warning we set off towards it.

DSC06108

After re-tracing our steps 8km to the junction, we had to go 2 more kilometres to Nissen Bight. It was a long day on the trail because we wanted to go all the way to Laura Creek, a total of 17km with our packs. I always like to do more hiking before lunch than after, so we pushed 10km to Nissen Bight before stopping for lunch. My feet were definitely throbbing by the time we reached the beach and I wasn’t looking forward to another 7km after lunch. But we pushed the thought from our minds and tried to enjoy our lunch. Nissen is another big beach, pretty similar to Nel’s in that there’s lots of camping space and big waves crashing along the beach. I had exhausted my egg salad wraps, so I was on to cheese and salami wraps with dehydrated hummus. The hummus worked out really well, so it made for a filling lunch, though it got a bit repetitive as I ate it for the next 3 days.

Nissen Bight marks the transition from the Cape Scott Trail to the North Coast Trail. Cape Scott has been a well developed trail for ages and sees tons of visitors, while the North Coast Trail is a new trail that was only created in 2008. From Nissen Bight it’s 43km to Shushartie Bay and the water taxi that would bring us back to Port Hardy. We had 3.5 more days of hiking and 3 nights to complete it. I wasn’t too thrilled to be back on my feet, but I was excited to start exploring this less busy and more rugged part of the trail. We trekked another kilometre across the beach as the sun finally started to peak out from behind the clouds and then started our North Coast Trail adventure! To continue, read Part III.

DSC06164