Landslide Lake Backpacking Trip

I didn’t know much about Strathcona Provincial Park before we decided to visit, but after a google search I quickly arrived at the conclusion that Landslide Lake is one of the most popular hikes in the park. Vancouver Island isn’t really known for its mountains. Even though I know the island has mountains, it’s always the coastal hikes that come to mind when I think of the island, so I was keen to do Landslide Lake and explore some of the more mountainous regions.

We spent the first night car camping and got up early to hit the Landslide Lake trail. It’s right off the highway on the way to Gold River. It was a weekday in mid September, so there were a lot more cars in the parking lot than we were expecting. It seemed several large groups had camped up there overnight, but most of them were exiting the trail as we were hiking in.

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It’s not a challenging trail. It starts with a short uphill climb before leveling out along Elk River. It is mostly uphill, with some slightly technical sections, but overall not a difficult trail. It just feels long. It’s around 7km to the first campsite at Butterwort Flats, which is located next to the river but primarily in the trees, then it’s another 3km to Upper Gravel Bar Campsite, which is where we were planning to stay. It took us around 3 hours at a pretty brisk pace to reach the campsite.

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There was no one there when we arrived, so we set up our tent along the river and had lunch. It’s another 3km to Landslide Lake, but you’re not allowed to camp there, so people just day hike up and back from the campsite. It’s steeper heading up to the lake and the trail can be a little bit confusing at times. There’s a lot of uphill over bare rock and while it’s really obvious which direction you want to go (due to the valley), it’s easy to lose the trail, so watch for the cairns. It took a bit longer than we were expecting due to the heat, but there’s a nice waterfall on the way up and eventually we made it to the lake. There were a few day hikers there, but they soon took off and we went for a swim in the cold water and had a snack.

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We probably should have called it a day there, but both of us were keen to check out Foster Lake (aka Iceberg Lake) while we were up there. It’s only about 1.5km to the next lake, but there’s no official trail and it’s a bit of a bushwack at times to get there. We didn’t really have trouble following the trail, but it’s really technical with lots of brush and ups and downs, so we were cursing and swearing pretty much the whole way there. It’s very forested around the back of Landslide Lake and then once you get to the end of the lake, you follow the creek bed for a bit before climbing up over scree and boulder fields. To be honest, some of the best views of Landslide Lake are from the boulder field at Foster Lake, because the angle of the afternoon sun from the base makes it hard to get any good photos.

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We strongly debating throwing in the towel and turning around, but we’d come so far and knew we were unlikely to come back, so we kept going while we grumbled. I am glad we persevered, but my advice to others would be to either give yourself an entire day for it (2 nights at the campsite), or skip it. I can’t deny Foster Lake is pretty cool, it’s definitely alpine terrain and there’s a glacier at the back of the lake that you can explore if the conditions are right. If we had a whole day for it I wouldn’t mind exploring around the area a bit more, but we had less daylight because it was September and we were tired from the hike in. We enjoyed the view for 15-20 mins before turning around and heading back to make supper. The trail was just as annoying on the return trip and by the time we made it back to camp, we’d clocked in almost 20km for the day.

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I liked the campsite because there was only us and 2 other groups, but I’d guess it gets pretty busy in the summer. That said, there is a lot of room for tents along the river and in the trees, so I wouldn’t be deterred from going on a weekend. It is a bit dark in the forest, but at least there’s an outhouse and bear cache. We had one of my leftover SCT meals for dinner and Brandon made us some soup to go with it. It was the time of year where it’s hot in the day, but can get quite cold overnight. I didn’t have any trouble sleeping, but it was damn cold getting out of the tent in the morning!

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We didn’t waste too much time making breakfast and packed up to start our hike out. I’d got it in my mind that we could drive into Gold River for a nice lunch, so we made quick time hiking back down the trail. We only stopped briefly to chat with two guys who were also hiking out and we quickly identified each other as Newfoundlanders, so we had a good chat about life on the west coast vs. the east coast. We made it to the parking lot around 12:30pm and changed into some clean clothes before heading into Gold River for a rewarding cafe lunch!

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Strathcona Provincial Park

Well, after my 8 post series on the Sunshine Coast Trail, I needed a little break, but now it’s time to catch up on the week I spent in Strathcona Provincial Park immediately after.

It’s unreal how many provincial parks we have in BC. Me and Brandon were all booked to hike the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park in early September, but then 3 days before the trip we got an email from Parks Canada asking us not to come because of the wildfires. Technically our trail wasn’t closed, but the entire town of Jasper was without power and Parks Canada was encouraging people to cancel, so we listened and made other plans.

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We floated around a lot of ideas for where to go instead, but we had so little time in which to execute the trip that a lot of them were quickly ruled out. Brandon suggested Strathcona Provincial Park, which has been on his bucket list for a long time, and it sounded like the perfect place to do a mix of front and backcountry camping with limited preparations. It was the second week of September, so fortunately the crowds were gone and we didn’t have to worry about reservations. We hoped on the ferry on Sunday morning to spend a week exploring the park!

First off, Strathcona Provincial Park is huge! There are other large provincial parks nearby, like Garibaldi, but Strathcona is largely accessible by car, so it gave us a lot of National Park vibes as we were driving through, though you can tell it receives much less funding than a National Park. It’s not so far from Vancouver that you couldn’t visit over a long weekend, but the size definitely warrants a longer trip. What makes it tricky is that it has multiple entrances and they are all very far away from each other. For example, there are some great trails that can be accessed through Mount Washington and Courtney, but we opted to skip these to focus on the core park area, which is closer to Gold River and a bit of a further drive.

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The core area of the park is centralized around Buttle Lake, which extends from tip to toe of the park. There are tons of backcountry campsites, but only 2 frontcountry campgrounds, both located on the lake. The Buttle Lake Campground is at the top of the lake, while the Ralph River Campground is down closer to the bottom. We opted to start at Buttle Lake and spent our first night exploring around the lake. It was a bit smoky when we arrived and the water level of the lake was really low. We went for a walk from our campsite and were able to walk right on to Rainbow Island due to the low water level. There’s a marine backcountry site located on Rainbow Island and I’m now keen to return to Buttle Lake with my kayak because there are several marine sites located along the opposite shore of the lake that would be fun to explore!

Since there’s so much to do, we only spent one night at Buttle Lake before making an overnight trek up to Landslide Lake, which is one of Vancouver Islands most popular backcountry hikes! Landslide Lake is a 20km trek on the northwest side of the park that is best done over 1-2 nights. We opted for 1 night and day hiked from the campsite up to Landslide and Foster Lakes. There’s a lot to talk about between those 2 lakes, so I’m going to write a whole separate post about that hike!

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After we finished the Landslide Lake hike, we decided to make a quick stop into Gold River to get lunch. It’s a tiny little town, but it has a lot of great eco tourism! It’s the launching spot if you’re doing the Nootka Trail, as well as if you’re doing any paddling around the coast. It has fishing and some great little tourist attractions if you’re just there for the day. We stopped into a little cafe for lunch and our waitress gave us a hot tip to check out the Heber River, which has the most beautiful little swimming hole! The water is vibrant blue and super clear, but boy is it cold! We both went for a dip, but it was a quick one!

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After our swim we got another hot tip when we were stocking up at the liquor store about an easily accessible cave system. About 20 mins west of Gold River, there’s a small Rec Site called Upana Caves. It’s a network of caves with 4 that are easily accessible after only 10 minutes of walking – just make sure to bring your headlamp! I’m a bit of a chicken when it comes to caving, but Brandon convinced me to go into a few and we ended up spending an hour crawling around. Our favourite was the last cave in the system, Resurgence Cave, which has a little river flowing through it and is pretty scenic. A bit of a different activity for us, but well worth the detour!

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Once we headed back into the park, we went on a bit of a tourist circuit of the easily accessible trails. There’s a ton of waterfalls in the park, most of which are located right off the highway. We stopped into Lady Falls, Lupin Falls, and Lower and Upper Myra Falls. Lower Myra Falls is definitely the shining gem of the park, so if you can’t get to them all, make sure you visit that one. You can swim in the falls, though it’s very cold. If you’re more adventurous, you can climb down from the falls to the bottom end of Myra Lake, which is a much nicer place to swim. Brandon and I had a proper bath here since we were in the park for a full week and neither of the campgrounds have showers.

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Since Lower Myra Falls is located at the bottom of the park, we opted to stay at the Ralph River Campground for 2 nights. Some of the sites appear to be “lakefront” which had us excited, but because the water level was so low, it was much more of a swamp then we were anticipating. We lugged all our gear out to the “beach” one night to cook, which was still nice, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a good place for swimming! In our case it started raining on us in the middle of our meal, but we were troopers and stuck it out anyways.

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The very end of the park is interesting because there’s actually an active mine right in the park! So a small part of the park is designated as “Strathcona-Westin Provincial Park”, which is basically just the extents of the mine. From what I understand, the mine already existed when they formed the park, so they let it continue operating. You actually have to drive right through it to get to some of the trailheads, including for Upper Myra Falls, so it’s an interesting experience!

We decided to finish the trip with a second overnight hike up to Bedwell Lake. It’s also a very popular hike and our plan was to do both Bedwell and Cream Lakes. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t really co-operate with us for this hike. It was really nice when we started, but it got foggier and foggier the closer we got to the lake. After talking to some other people, it sounds like most of the park was clear that day, but a bunch of clouds got hung up in our area and unfortunately, we couldn’t see a thing. But I’m also going to do a full post about Bedwell Lakes, because it was still an eventful trip, even with the odd weather.

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We had planned to do one more hike in the park via Courtney on the way home, called Century Sam, but we got notice on the way to Courtney that the gate to the trailhead was closed. The road to the trail is on private property, so you are at the mercy of the property owners if you choose to visit that trail. There is no service anywhere in Strathcona Park, so be prepared for that when you visit.

The salmon were just starting to run when we were leaving the park, so we stopped along the river on our way out to watch people fishing and then hightailed it to the ferry when we heard Century Sam was closed. We ended up having a bit of a wait for the ferry, but were able to make it home the same night. So overall, I really liked Strathcona and I don’t think it’s a place I would likely have planned to visit without such an opportunity. That said, I left the park with even more trails on my bucket list then when I entered!

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SCT Part III: Big Sliammon to Powell River

Click here to start reading Part I.

The next day was exhausting in a whole different way. Emily had almost a dozen blisters on her feet and wasn’t feeling great. She has a bad history of getting blisters and has tried so many different pairs of boots. She hadn’t been having any issues with her current boots, but she also hadn’t done any hikes longer than 2 days in a while. Usually she doesn’t get blisters until around day 4, so it was a little concerning that she had them after just 2 days of hiking.

We had 3km to get to Little Sliammon Lake, also known as Shangri-la. Emily was moving pretty slow, but we got there and I went for another swim. Little Sliammon is more popular than Big Sliammon, but I’m not really sure why. Little Sliammon is more of a pond in my opinion, with lots of vegetation growing in the lake – but it does have a dock that extends past the vegetation, so I guess that’s why it’s popular. In contrast to us being the only people at the big lake, there were about a half dozen groups that had spent the night at the little lake. Some of them were thru hikers just doing the northern part of the trail and the rest of them were day hikers.

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Emily didn’t want to have to re-do all her moleskin, so I went for a swim on my own. The water was still super warm so I opted to wash my hair with biodegradable shampoo and was feeling really nice and clean, despite my shirt and backpack smelling terrible.

Things went downhill after that. We had 7km to Powell River and Emily was really dragging her feet. I could tell she was upset, but I didn’t want to push her. There’s a bit of uphill after the lake, but then you hit an old logging road and it’s a very gentle downhill for 1.5km. Emily finally had a breakdown on the downhill and declared that her feet hurt too much and she couldn’t do it. I wasn’t sure if it was just your standard thru-hike trail despair or something more, so I told her to just focus on getting to the pub for now and think about the rest later.

Eventually the road ended and the final 4km were pretty brutal. Not physically for me, but physically for Emily and mentally for both of us. The trail climbs up to Scout Mountain, which is similar to Manzanita Bluff and has amazing views looking out over Powell River – in any other circumstance I think we would have loved it – but we were both seeing our dream of completing the trail slipping away and the mood was very somber.

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As we approached Powell River we had a frank discussion about the trail and Emily admitted that she thought it would be a mistake to continue onwards. Her feet were in a lot of pain and she cried a lot of the way down. I think it was a combination of pain from the blisters, but also disappointment and questioning of whether she would be able to do long distance hiking at all in the future.

It felt like it took forever to go up and over Scout Mountain and the descent was particularly hard on Emily’s feet. Eventually we stumbled into the Shingle Mill pub, which marked 10km for the day and km 50 overall. If it was anyone else, I would have helped them figure out a way home and then continued on. Carolyn was coming through Powell River the following day and I could easily have completed the hike with her. But this was my baby sister who no longer lives in BC and had travelled thousands of miles to spend the week with me, so there was no question of continuing for me.

It was a disappointing decision because I was feeling really good. I’d loved the first 50km and I was feeling ready and capable of completing the next 130km. My family seemed pretty concerned about Carolyn and whether she would also get off the trail, but I knew she wouldn’t hesitate about completing the trail and she did go on to finish the entire 180km in just 7 days – 1 day faster than she’d originally planned. What a tank!

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Anyways, we had lunch in the pub while figuring out our next steps. We were planning to drive home with Carolyn and wouldn’t be able to go home that day because the shuttle bus only goes once a day, so we needed somewhere to stay for the night. We were trying to sort out hotels when Emily cracked a joke about how we should just fly Harbour Air back to Vancouver. Harbour Air actually flies right out of the pub because it’s located on Powell Lake, and while Emily was joking, I thought it wasn’t a bad idea.

I looked up the flight schedule and saw that there was one leaving in 3 hours, so we decided to go for it and booked 2 seats. With the cost of hotels, ferries, and shuttles, it was only about $100 more to book flights for the 2 of us and that put us both back in Vancouver the same day. Plus we got a scenic flight over the sunshine coast! You only need to check in for the flight 30 minutes early, so we hit up Townsite Brewing for a beer before heading back to Shingle Mill. I took a float plane once before to the hot spring in Tofino, but it was only a 3 seater. This plane had 14 seats, but it was hilarious that you literally just check in at the pub. They set up a little kiosk and take your bags – there’s no assigned seating or tickets.

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It’s about 45 minutes back to Vancouver harbour. It was very scenic, but it was definitely bittersweet. You fly right over the trail and I was disappointed about not getting the opportunity to summit Tin Hat, Walt Hill or Mount Troubridge – especially knowing Carolyn was going to do it days later. Seth picked us up downtown and we spent the rest of the week taking it easy. We couldn’t do any hiking, so we did a lot of swimming instead, visiting Sasamat Lake, Belcarra, Buntzen Lake, Alouette Lake, and the Cultus Lake Water Park. We went kayaking to Jug Island and the 8 Corners Tea Room and caught up with Carolyn when she finished, just before Emily returned back to Newfoundland.

That should be where this post ends for this year, but like I said in my first post, I haven’t been able to get this trail out of my head for 2 years and it kept haunting me after I finished. I still had 7 days of dehydrated food for 2 people that I’d spent weeks preparing and I felt incomplete. I didn’t want to put the trail off for another year. Who knows what next year might throw at me and I was ready to do the trail now.

So I decided to go for it. I’d already scheduled 2 weeks off in early September and was planning to go to Jasper for a week and a half with Brandon. He understood that I needed to go back to the Sunshine Coast, so we scaled our trip down to just a week and I returned to the trail on September 2nd, less than 4 weeks after me and Emily had got off the trail, this time solo. So stay tuned for Part IV!

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