Minnekhada Regional Park

The pandemic has obviously been draining and awful for everyone, but it’s definitely given me an appreciation for all the trails that are still within close driving distance to the city. I love getting away from the city and out into the wilderness, but there’s still a lot of wilderness right at our doorstep.

Metro Vancouver is lucky to have so many regional parks scattered throughout the lower mainland. Minnekhada is one I’ve spent a fair bit of time in over the past year, so I decided to write about it because it has definitely become one of my favourite local parks.

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Minnekhada is wedged in the mountains between Coquitlam and PoCo and offers a nice escape from the city. It’s not that large of a park, but the reason I like it so much is for the diversity that you’ll find along the trails. The trail network consists of a figure 8 trail loop around two ponds that are just bursting with wildlife! There are several beaver lodges scattered throughout the ponds and it’s a great place for birdwatching. Metro Vancouver has a lodge at the south end of the park that used to run events pre-covid and has a bird-blind for watching the pond.

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You can customize your trail length by either doing one or both of the pond loops. The trail crosses in the middle providing beautiful views of both ponds and the surrounding mountains (actually in reality this is one pond with a dam/causeway trail going across the middle). It seems like most people just do the southern loop, which is shorter, so we often take Sadie dog-walking around the northern loop because she’s still pretty nervous around dogs and strangers and we rarely see anyone there.

The highlight of the trail network though is the hike up to Low Knoll and High Knoll. Low knoll is a small branch off the southern loop to a forested viewpoint looking out over the ponds. High Knoll is known as the “Quarry Rock of Coquitlam” because it’s a steep hike to get up to the rocky outcrop that provides a scenic view of the tri-cities and Pitt-Addington Marsh. The view isn’t quite as stunning as Deep Cove, but in my opinion it’s a shorter and easier trail to the top.

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The first time I did High Knoll was a few years ago when I took my parents up there, but more recently I went up on a foggy morning in early December and stumbled upon some of the best views I’ve seen in the park. It was a sunny day, but the fog from the Fraser River was hanging low and had drifted into Coquitlam. It made for some stunning foggy views around the lake, with the sun streaming through the trees in sunbeams. But when we got up to High Knoll, we were treated to the most beautiful inversion. We’d hiked up above the clouds and could see the fog hanging over the city with the skyscrapers just poking up through. Steve treated us to some hot tea while we enjoyed the views.

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The shorter loop trail clocks in at around 3.5km, while doing both loops with High and Low Knoll side trails clocks in at around 8km. So you can really customize the trip however you want. However, Minnekhada is also well known for bears, so you should always practice bear safety when walking in the area. We went on an unfortunate hike in October where we ran into either 2 bears, or the same bear twice (we’re not sure). We first encountered it near the Low Knoll trail and it wondered off when we started making noise, but as we continued around the north loop trail, we encountered it again, but this time it did not leave us alone. It didn’t seem like an aggressive bear, but it was definitely curious about us and did not move on when we started making noise (nor was it deterred by our pre-emptive bear calls, which we’d been doing since the first encounter). We ended up abandoning the loop and backtracking and it didn’t follow us, but it did make me really nervous and I’d been arming myself with rocks in case in pursued us. There are bears all throughout the park, but we felt more vulnerable on the North loop because there are less people.

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Anyways, don’t be deterred by the bears, just hike with a friend and bring a horn with you, especially in late fall when the bears are bulking up for hibernation. That’s the only time I’ve ever seen them and I’ve been there a half dozen times. Overall, I think it’s a beautiful, under-rated park and I’d definitely recommend checking it out!

Lightning Lakes Snow Camp

I know I said I was done with writing about Manning Park, but in addition to doing day snowshoe trips in the park, I have also snow camped there, so I want to share about that adventure too!

It’s been a challenging year for everyone with COVID-19 and our limited ability to travel and see friends. Fortunately the outdoors is a relatively safe space to spend time with friends, so we decided to go on our annual snow camping adventure. We made some notable changes – we all drove separately, prepared our own meals, and brought multiple tents. It wasn’t ideal because Brandon is the only one who owns a winter tent, but Carolyn decided to make do with her 3-season tent and we convinced Steve to join us this year! Steve did avalanche safety training with us this year, so he was interested in expanding his horizons.

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Originally we wanted to do Zoa Peak, but the avalanche risk was particularly high the weekend we went, so we decided to do Lightning Lakes instead since there is very little avalanche terrain there. To be on the safe side, we still rented avalanche gear and practiced finding each other’s beacons to get more familiar and comfortable with the gear.

I won’t spend too much time on trail details as I just wrote a separate post about the Lightning Lakes trail. It was possible to hike on the lake, so we crossed once on the first lake and then followed the trail along the edge of the second lake to the back. I’ve never gone beyond the edge of the second lake, but it’s not too far to snowshoe to the next lake, which is Flash Lake, so we decided to check it out. We weren’t keen on camping on Lightning Lake since there’s a lot of foot traffic and we thought Flash Lake might be more secluded.

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We didn’t see anyone along the Flash Lake trail, but the creek between the two lakes was not frozen and the head of the lake looked very sketchy. If we’d continued further, it likely would have improved, but we decided to turn around and instead found a nice clearing in the woods between the two lakes to set up camp.

Surprisingly there wasn’t actually a huge base of snow at Manning this year, so we didn’t have to dig too deep. In other years we’ve shared shovels, which made digging a bit slower, but this year we each had our own shovel, so even though we had multiple tents to dig out holes for, it ended up being a bit quicker than normal (or maybe we’re just getting better at it?). We dug deeper for Carolyn’s tent since it’s not a winter tent and we made sure to pack in a lot of snow around the edges for extra insulation. Fortunately it was only about -7 degrees overnight and with two people in the tent, they didn’t have any trouble staying warm.

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We all upgraded some of our gear this year, so Steve inherited some of Carolyn’s old snow camping gear and I got to test out my new -30 degree rated sleeping bag. It took me a bit longer than I anticipated to warm up in the bag (you’re only as warm as the heat you bring in with you), but after about an hour I finally got toasty and after that, quite warm. I ended up having to unzip a little bit and slept most of the night with one arm out of the bag, so I’m optimistic it will hold up in colder temperatures. There are very limited options for winter camping sleeping bags and even fewer are available in Canada. I still think some of the features of my bag could be improved, but I do think it was the best option available to me as a side sleeper.

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Like any snow camping trip, by the time you get to your destination, dig out your tents and make your snow kitchen, it’s more or less time to start getting ready for dinner before you lose daylight. We spent some time boiling water and enjoyed hanging out while we cooked our meals. I made the snow kitchen this year and I have to say I thought it turned out quite well! I made the counter/couch out of the pile of snow Carolyn shoveled out for her tent and then shoveled out a pit for one of the stoves. It snowed gently for most of the day and evening, but the clouds did clear a little bit and we got a glimpse of the stars before bed.

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It was around 7pm when we crawled into our tents. I read until around 8pm when I finally got properly warm and then hit the sack. I woke up around midnight to pee and then slept the rest of the night until 8am – definitely one of the better nights sleep I’ve gotten snow camping!

After breakfast we took down camp and then spent some time playing around with our avalanche gear before heading back out to the cars. It doesn’t take too long to hike back along the edge of the lake and we did a few photoshoots along the way. We all have a bit of an obsession with Gregory packs, so we take turns making attempts to get ourselves Gregory sponsorships – so far, no luck, but we still have fun!

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So overall it was a great first snow camping trip in Manning Park. Manning is a bit intimidating because it can get really cold there overnight, but fortunately for us it was pretty comfortable when we visited. Definitely have plans to go back and try camping at some of the other winter trails!

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Snowshoeing Similkameen River

This will be the final post in my Manning Park snowshoe series (for now). To date I’ve only explored the beginner trails, but now that I have avalanche safety training I’m hoping to venture further out in upcoming years. I go out to Manning Park a lot, sometimes camping and sometimes just for the day, but on this occasion Seth and I decided to rent a little airbnb log cabin in the Sunshine Valley for a weekend. The cabin was really quaint – it had a woodstove, which made it feel really cozy, and no cell service or wifi, so it was truly a proper forest getaway.

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We drove out on Friday night and then continued in to Manning Park on Saturday morning to go snowshoeing. We’d planned to do the Skagit River trail, but as it’s located right at the start of the park, and at a lower elevation, so it often won’t have fresh snow. On this occasion it didn’t, so we decided to save it for another day and continued on towards the resort to hike the Similkameen River Trail.

This trailhead starts just past the resort and is the same as the Windy Joe trail. You can park along the road just after the bridge and hike in along the river. Unfortunately we didn’t get the best conditions for it, the weather was good, but it was right after a wind storm, so there were a lot of fallen trees that we had to climb over and a lot of debris cluttering up the trail. Otherwise it was really nice though and I would love to go back and do it again.

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We followed the trail along the river past the turn-off for Windy Joe. After that, there’s another trail branch and it looks like you can cross the river and loop back on the other side of the river. This is what we decided to do, but I’d advise you to just turn around and go back the same way because the trail on the other side of the river is the nordic ski trail and snowshoers aren’t permitted on this trail.

Before doing that though, we continued further along the river trail to extend the time (it’s pretty short if you just go to the branch and turn around). If you’re keen, you can hike it all the way to the Monument 78/83 trailhead, but this is a bit of a roundabout route that would leave you having to hike back the highway, so I recommend just turning around whenever you feel you’ve gone far enough. We probably continued on for about a kilometre before stopping for lunch by the river. The Windy Joe lookout would likely also make for a fun day, but I think you may need avalanche gear for this trail, so proceed with caution.

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The Similkameen River also continues in the other direction from the trailhead and can be hiked in the resort snowshoe area as well, you just need to buy a trail pass for $10 at the resort to use that trail. There’s almost no elevation along the trail, so it’s great for beginners, and even with all the windfall, we still had a lot of fun exploring the trail! Definitely recommend!