Posts Tagged With: pemberton

Semaphore Lakes Backpacking Trip

I already wrote about my one night backpacking trip to Tenquille Lake, but I also did one night at Semaphore Lakes in the same trip. I decided to split up the trip into 2 blogs though because the two trails are not actually related and writing about them together would make for one really long post. We visited Tenquille Lake and Semaphore Lakes on the Canada Day long weekend in 2016. In hindsight, we easily could have spent 2 days exploring around Tenquille Lake, but instead we hiked out from Tenquille on the second day and did Semaphore for the second night.

The reason we picked Semaphore Lakes for the second night is that it’s super close to the Tenquille Lake trailhead. Instead of having to drive on the 4WD Branch 12 road though, it’s located just off the Hurley Forest Service Road, shortly past where the Branch 12 side road is (see my Tenquille Lake blog for more detailed directions). So you can get to this trailhead with 2WD.

Semaphore Lakes is a much shorter trail, it’s about 5km round trip to the lakes and back, but don’t be deceived because there is still 300 metres in elevation gain in the short 2.5km, so it does make for a pretty steep hike up to the top. With our packs, it probably took us about an hour and a half to reach. We had a bit of a late start hiking in to Semaphore because we had a personal issue come up that required us to drive back to Pemberton between the two trails. Then when we finally got back to the Semaphore Lakes trailhead in the late afternoon (and had all our packs on ready to go), Brandon realized he left his REALLY NICE Nikon DSLR camera on the side of the road at the Tenquille Lake trailhead when we were packing up the car. So we had to drive back up and down the 4WD access road, but fortunately his camera was still sitting there patiently waiting for us!

So I think it was after 5pm by the time we finally started hiking in to Semaphore and it started to rain on us in the last half hour. In my early backpacking days I had a bit of a “rain” phobia because I was terrified of my clothes and sleeping bag getting wet and being stuck freezing cold in the mountains. Actually, this is totally a valid fear and one I go to great lengths to protect myself from. I actually carried an umbrella with me on the entire 50km Juan de Fuca trail because I was afraid of the rain getting my clothes wet on the first day of our 4 day hike. I’ve since chilled out because I’ve acquired some better gear to protect me against these scenarios, but I remember when it started raining on the way to Semaphore I pretty much ran the last 20 mins to the lakes because I was terrified that our tent would get wet because Seth had failed to purchase himself a backpack cover. He thought a garbage bag on top of his pack would work fine – spoiler alert: it didn’t.

Anyways, in retrospect, the rain was a bit of a joke. It was really just sun showers and not a proper downpour, but when we got to the lakes we pretty much threw the tent up as fast as possible and chucked all our gear inside. Me and Seth were still using my parents ancient tent at this point, which is a tee-pee style tent and not very spacious, and I have this really funny memory of the two of us just sitting in the tent staring at each other waiting for the rain to stop because there wasn’t enough room to do anything else.

Brandon travels in style ALL the time, so he and Carolyn were next door happily setting up their mansion while we just stared at each other in angst – me because I was annoyed about the rain and Seth because he never really wanted any part of the trip to begin with. Eventually Carolyn and Brandon got their house all set up and invited us over for dinner, as if we had anything better to do LOL, and we climbed into their nice space and cooked supper poking out through the vestibule. This is like textbook ‘what-not-to-do’ because you don’t want your tent to smell like your dinner and attract bears. I want to say, “but we were rookies and didn’t know any better”, but we did know better, so I really have no excuse. I’ve since purchased a lightweight tarp for future trips, so problem solved next time.

Anyways, the rain did let loose after that. Fortunately we were all set up by that point, so none of our gear got wet, but it did result in a pretty early night. We failed to bring cards, so I ended up reading a bedtime story to everyone instead. I basically yelled at Carolyn and Brandon for 30 mins between the tents so that they could hear me over the sound of the rain, and those kweens just fell asleep on me in like the first 5 minutes, rude.

So our evening at Semaphore left a little to be desired after our awesome night and campfire at Tenquille, but I have no regrets because the rain moved on overnight and the clouds cleared out in the morning. So I woke to the sun shining on me and the most beautiful view of the lake through my tent door. I was afraid of the clouds rolling back in again, so I got up pretty early and me, Carolyn, and Brandon went for a little exploratory morning walk around the area. You could absolutely spend 2 nights at Semaphore Lakes as well because there’s so many other mountains nearby to explore during the day. Since it was only the first weekend in July and we were at a pretty high elevation, there was still a lot of snow around, so we just explored the immediate area, but it had some truly lovely views of the lakes and surrounding mountains.

One of the benefits to Semaphore Lakes was that it has a lot less people. Don’t get me wrong, there were still other campers, but there was a lot less than Tenquille and they were a lot more spread out, so it didn’t feel crowded at all. It also had significantly less mosquitoes than Tenquille Lake, so that was a blessed relief. The clouds did roll in again pretty quickly though, so we didn’t stay too long and packed up our gear after a quick breakfast.

Overall, it was a great foray into backcountry camping and though we had some challenges, they were not enough to deter me from wanting to try it again and I ended up doing 2 other backcountry trips that summer! I would definitely love to go back to both of these trails as a more experienced hiker and check out some of the other surrounding trails in the area.

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Tenquille Lake Backpacking Trip

Tenquille Lake is a lesser known trail in southwestern BC, located near Pemberton, but it was the first trail I ever did on an overnight trip! Before my visit to Tenquille lake, I had never been on a backpacking trip before. I’d done lots of camping and hiking growing up, and I even went on a 5 day hiking trip to Machu Picchu in 2013, but it was my first time being wholly self-sufficient and having to carry all of my gear with me (in Peru we had horses to take the bulk of our gear). Well… I mean… I was mostly self-sufficient. I definitely couldn’t have done it without Brandon’s expertise, but I still carried most of the gear I needed for the trip.

3 years later I’ve completely fallen in love with backcountry camping and I have gotten a lot better at it, so don’t be afraid to take that first trip if it’s something you want to try. It’s important to be as prepared as possible, but you can also learn by doing. As long as you practice “leave no trace” camping and take your “10 essentials”, everything else can be learned with time!

The ideal scenario for your first time camping is to have a Brandon, by which I mean, an enthusiastic friend who has more gear and knowledge than you and is willing to help you out while you learn and accumulate your own gear. Gear is a killer when you start off backpacking. It is really expensive and deciding what to purchase is intimidating because there are so many choices and you want to buy the right gear without bankrupting yourself. Fortunately my parents already had some backcountry gear that they loaned me, but it was all really old, so while it saved me a lot of money initially, it also weighed a lot and caused us a lot of grief to carry when we were just getting used to backpacking. So if you can find a friend who’s able to lend you a tent, sleeping pad, or stove, it will definitely alleviate some of the strain of having to buy all your gear at once.

Tenquille Lake is what I would like to credit as the birth of my really close friendship with both Brandon and Carolyn. We’d all hung out together before and gone on the occasional hike or ski trip, but backpacking really cements a friendship and because Seth doesn’t really like carrying a big backpack, I’ve spent most of my backcountry experiences with either Carolyn or Brandon or both. Brandon is a great person to have with you in the backcountry because he brings endless optimism and enthusiasm and he makes the best backcountry thai chicken curry you’ll ever have in your life… actually, forget the “backcountry” part, it’s the best thai chicken curry, period. And me and Carolyn just get each other. We operate on the same schedule, we get what the other likes and dislikes, and I will confide with her about pretty much anything and everything. We’re both on a secret mission to tell every woman about the miracle that is the divacup and how it changed our lives. Plus, she’s obsessed with fresh vegetables and nothing improves a backcountry meal like fresh stuff.

But back to Tenquille Lake. Since this was my first backcountry trip ever, I somehow convinced Seth to join me. I don’t think he had a very good time, but he still came. Brandon was our spirit guide for the trip and even though she hardly knew us, Carolyn was not deterred from joining us on a 3-day trip into the wilderness. I’m pretty sure we ended up at Tenquille Lake because it was one of the first trails listed in my hiking book and I basically looked at the first page and was like, “that looks great, let’s go there!” However, the trail in my hiking book was actually an 18km round trip hike with 1400 metres in elevation gain, which in retrospect, was totally BONKERS for a first hike.

Fortunately, Brandon, in his infinite wisdom, found out that there was a second trail that you could access with 4WD that was only 14km. I still don’t know what the elevation gain was on that trail, but having done a lot of hikes since then, I can guarantee it was WAY LESS than 1400 metres. Brandon lives for any trail with a 4WD access road so that he can play around in his Toyota 4-Runner, so he was thrilled to check out the shorter trail. For those interested in hiking either trail, the 18km trail is accessible by car from Lillooet Forest Service Road and the trailhead is located directly after you cross the Lillooet River. The second, shorter trail (which is the one we did) is located at the end of a 7km long forestry road that definitely requires 4WD. This is known as the Branch 12 entrance. Basically, you continue up Lillooet Forest Service Road and take the right fork up the hill onto Hurley River Forest Service Road until you reach Branch 12 on the right-hand side of the road (after the switchbacks).

We decided to do the trip on the Canada Day long weekend and drove out to Pemberton on Saturday morning with the intention of hiking to Tenquille Lake on Saturday night and Semaphore Lakes on Sunday night (I’ll write a separate post for the Semaphore Trip because otherwise this one will be way too long!). It was probably around 1 or 2pm by the time we reached the trailhead, so make sure you leave early if you’re planning to do this one as a day hike because even though the forestry road is only 7km, it really slows you down. I was rocking a pretty heavy backpack because me and Seth were using my parents old 10lb tent, but Brandon carried the stove and fuel and a fair bit of the food, so it definitely could have been worse. Carolyn was sharing a tent with Brandon, so I’m pretty sure she just had air in her pack because Brandon loves to share gear, but not carrying the weight.

I’ll admit, I’m a little foggy on the details of the trail 3 years later, but I do remember a fair bit of uphill through the woods at the start of the hike that eventually transitioned into undulating meadows. We didn’t get great weather on the trip and it was pretty cold at the lake for July, but the rain stayed away, so we really couldn’t complain. It was overcast on our first day, which is probably why it felt so cold. One of the things I do remember though, is the mosquitoes (henceforth known as “skitties”). Oh boy, were they ever bad at Tenquille Lake. It would have been nice to take it easy on our first major backpacking trip, but every time you would stop on the trail, you would be completely swarmed by skitties, so we pretty much would only stop to put on more bug spray. It definitely got better when we made it out of the woods and to slightly higher elevations. I didn’t find it too bad at the lake, but Seth would likely disagree with me. They must not like my blood type that much or something, because they more or less left me alone at the lake, but Seth had no respite and Brandon let him borrow his bug hat to try and keep them away. We don’t know Seth’s blood type, but the skitties love it.

One of my main motivations for picking the trail (besides stumbling upon it and thinking it looked nice), was that I thought it was probably far enough away from Vancouver that there would be less people, and that combined with the 4WD access road, there wouldn’t be very many people camping.

I can really be a dummy sometimes. But hey, it was my first backcountry trip and I’d still only been living in BC for 2 years at this point and I didn’t realize just how crazy everyone is for the outdoors here! There ended up being probably about 60 people in a campsite that’s made for 30 because it was a long weekend and a single Meet-Up group of 30 PEOPLE decided to visit the lake that weekend. It was a little overwhelming for my first time in the backcountry, but because of the overflow of people (and our late start), we ended up getting, what in our opinion was, the best campsite at the lake!

So I don’t condone this now that I’m a little more seasoned. When possible, you really should camp at the campsites or in a location that will cause the least harm to the surrounding area. At Tenquille, you’re not allowed to camp in the meadows because they are extremely sensitive, but because of the surplus of people in the actual campground, we were forced to find some overflow space, and yes, it was in the meadows. We avoided any untouched meadow and stayed only on the trail, but we did find an area that had obviously been used many times before for overflow camping and didn’t have any alpine vegetation anymore, so that’s where we camped. In the pictures it kind of looks like we’re in the middle of the meadow, but there was a trail there and about 4-5 campsites that are hard to see because of the surrounding vegetation. I’ve gotten a lot more sensitive about these things the more I backpack, so I always try and camp where I won’t have an impact on plant habitat.

Despite the shoddy weather though, I absolutely loved Tenquille Lake. I’ve come to appreciate this trail more since I was first there because it really is the perfect mix of alpine lakes and alpine meadows. Alpine meadows have become pretty much my favourite backcountry scene, and Tenquille has both the lake, surrounded by mountains, and the alpine meadows next to the lake. This was also one of the rare backcountry hikes I’ve done since I moved here where we were actually permitted to have a campfire. Most provincial parks prohibit campfires in the wilderness and by early July, we’re usually into full fire ban, but this was one trip where we went early enough to have a campfire. I’m realizing now that Brandon must have carried an axe up there on top of all his other gear, so thanks again Brandon!

We definitely had to layer up at the lake because it was really cold, but I became totally enamoured with getting away from the city, eating with a kick-ass view of the lake, and waking up to see the sun just poking over the top of the mountains. We didn’t see the sun very much on this trip, but it did come out for about an hour both mornings, so I got up pretty early on that trip because I wanted to photograph our surroundings with the brief glimpse of sunshine and blue sky. Both days it clouded in by 9am, but we got a few hours of sunshine before the clouds snuck back into the mountains.

So all in all, it was a wonderful first trip into the wilderness. We did the somewhat strange choice of hiking back to the car and then doing another overnight hike to Semaphore Lakes (instead of just one 2 night hike), but more on that in a later post!

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Keyhole Hot Springs Snow Camping Trip

I went on two snow camping trips this year. My first trip was to Elfin Lakes in February in temperatures of -20 below, the second trip was to Keyhole hot springs, in much more manageable temperatures! I’ve been trying to visit Keyhole hot springs since 2016 and had two failed trips before finally making it there this year. In summer 2016, me, Brandon, and Carolyn planned to visit over the Canada Day long weekend, but were dismayed to hear that the trail was being closed due to an aggressive grizzly bear (more on this later). Then me and Brandon tried to visit again in winter of 2017, but only made it halfway there because a semi-truck had jack-knifed across the forestry road and was blocking traffic in both directions.

So this was our third attempt, and I’m pleased to say we were finally successful! We wanted to go on a second snow camping trip before the end of the season and Carolyn’s been working on visiting all the hot springs in the area, so we decided to visit and stay overnight to try and avoid some of the crowds. Like I said, our first trip was to Elfin Lakes and the temperature dropped to -20 degrees celsius overnight, so we were thrilled to see that the forecast for Keyhole was calling for 7 degrees during the day and -6 degrees overnight. I ditched my double sleeping bag system for this trip and packed in my bag liner and new backcountry blanket instead.

Keyhole hot springs has become insanely popular in the last ~5 years. It used to only be accessible with 4WD, but the road was upgraded in 2014 because of a new hydro construction project in the area and the hot spring blew up on social media, making it a really popular destination for backcountry lovers and drunk partiers alike. I have really mixed feelings about the hot spring because I do believe everyone should have the right to appreciate natural wonders like this, but it’s also been severely disrespected by some of its visitors and it’s very upsetting to many of the locals.

It’s only a 2km hike to the hot spring and due to the excessive number of visitors, and the fact that it’s not a park (so it’s not managed by any rangers), a lot of garbage started collecting around the area, which of course, started attracting bears to the area. Keyhole is located on a forestry road out past Pemberton, so there are grizzly bears in the area and they started becoming aggressive towards visitors, so the province closed the trail in 2016 between April and November to stop the bears from becoming habituated to food and people. Since then, the trail is only open in the winter, hence why we decided to visit in March.

We drove out on Saturday morning, with the intention of staying for one night. We knew it would be really busy on a Saturday, so we were happy to stay overnight in hopes of avoiding some of the crowds later in the evening. We were right about how busy it would be during the day, but we wrongly assumed we’d be the only one’s camping. Since the road has been upgraded and is kept plowed for the construction project, 4WD is no longer required to get to the trailhead, although winter tires are definitely a must. We arrived around 1pm and I counted over 20 vehicles in the parking lot at that time.

We chatted with some of the day hikers on their way out and a lot of them expressed an admiration for the beauty of the trail, but told us they didn’t end up going in the hot spring at all because there were just too many people around. I would echo the sentiment about the trail. Granted, we had gorgeous blue sky and sunny weather when we visited, but the trail itself is worth visiting and ended up being the highlight of the trip for me. In winter, the trail ends up being about 3km because you can’t make it all the way to the trailhead and you do have to walk an extra km along the road, but the rest of the trail follows the river, which looks gorgeous in the winter with huge pillows of snow on every rock.

It’s easy to find the parking lot, you just follow the Lillooet Forest Service Road for about 40km until you reach a parking lot. The road becomes a “private road” at the end of the parking lot, so you’ll know you’ve found the right place. There is a branch in the road at the parking lot and a separate road continues up the hill. The road is plowed, so it’s possible you could drive up it, but the snow was very soft by this time of year, so everyone was parking at the bottom and walking up the road. The only tricky part is it’s not clear when you have to exit the road into the woods. You walk for a couple hundred metres and you’ll eventually see another side road, if you follow it into the trees, you’ll find the path heading directly down to the river.

The trail was easy to follow when we visited because there were so many people ahead of us and it hadn’t snowed in a while. But if you were the first one to visit after a fresh snowfall, it might be a challenge because the trail is not marked. Be careful visiting in March because the sun was softening up the snow and it would be easy to punch through the trail in some locations. Given the hot weather we’re getting this week, the trail will start deteriorating pretty fast as the snow melts, and remember, it closes for the season on April 1. But we really enjoyed the hike along the river and there were some really gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains.

We were wrong about being the only snow campers. There were at least 4 other groups camping that we saw and I think another large group arrived after us. I’m not sure if they were really prepared for the sub-zero temperatures though because they were all packed up and gone by the time we finally crawled out of our tent in the morning. We found a nice little private place to camp and it didn’t feel that crowded at the campsite. Overall though, the hot spring was a bit of a letdown for us. I think it would be a lot nicer on a weekday with smaller crowds and I personally wouldn’t return on a weekend again. There were just too many people and there was one group that hogged the pools for at least 3 hours and were still there after we’d come and gone.

The set-up of the pools is really something. The hot water flows down from a stream above the Lillooet River and trickles into a man made, but natural-looking rock pool. From there the water cascades into two other pools. Unfortunately the first pool is too hot to get in and the second pool is bearable, but still quite hot. The third pool is a perfect temperature and as such, the most popular of the 3. This is where the one group were hanging out. We went down to the pools around 4pm, but it was still busy, so we came back again a little later. We were able to get into the second pool and hung out in there for a little while as the sun set. But the one group insisted on blocking up the bottom pool and stayed into the night drinking, so we did get to visit, but overall it was a little frustrating. We debated getting up early to visit again, but decided to let it be in favour of a lie in, which I definitely don’t regret!

So overall, it was nice, but I would personally recommend going on a weekday if at all possible. Also, don’t be the group that gets drunk in the bottom pool all night. I was impressed that I actually didn’t see any garbage around the hot springs, so hopefully people are learning. But if you decide to visit Keyhole, as either a day hiker or an overnighter, make sure you practice leave no trace camping! Don’t leave anything behind – take everything out with you, including your toilet paper! There’s no facilities at all, so make sure you dig a hole if you’re going #2. The hot springs really are a natural wonder and they are beautiful, so lets do our best to take care of them!

So that’s my rant on the hot springs. I didn’t want to glamourize it because social media does enough of that already. I do think everyone has a right to the hot springs, we just need to protect them. I know keyhole isn’t the only place suffering from overuse, Garibaldi Lake, Joffre Lakes, and other popular destinations also suffer from a huge amount of overuse, with people leaving a ton of garbage behind and destroying the natural landscape in search of firewood. The overuse just seems a little more pronounced at Keyhole because of its small size.

But we still had a great time camping! It was crazy warm during the day when we were hiking in because the sun was shining on us the whole time, but it still got quite cold overnight. On a warmer day, like the day we visited, I think it would be easy to underestimate how cold it can get overnight. I debated how much gear I should actually bring. In addition to my winter jacket and snow pants, I brought my -15 sleeping bag, my sleeping bag liner, a camp blanket, a winter pad, and a lightweight down jacket to sleep in. I thought the blanket and extra jacket might be overkill, but I ended up using both, so I don’t regret it. I probably would have been fine with less gear, but I was so cozy overnight, it was worth it!

We had some more lessons learned when it comes to water though. The last two places we’ve stayed have both had pretty clean snow to melt for water, but because it was later in the season, there wasn’t as much fresh snow and most of it had pine needles in it because the campsite was located in the woods and the needles fall from the canopy. I had to walk a distance to find good snow to melt for water and even then, it still had some dirt in it. We’ve discovered that melted snow tastes extremely gross, so if you’re only going for one night, it might be worth taking a bit of extra water with you for drinking to see you through the trip. But if that’s not possible, which often its not because you don’t want to carry the extra weight and even if you did, the water could easily freeze overnight anyways, so we decided next time we will probably take Brandon’s gravity filter with us. That way we can melt the snow and then put it through the filter to remove any dirt and hopefully improve the taste a little.

Overall, it was still a fun trip, but it is a long drive (~4 hours) and because of the crowds it doesn’t stick out in my mind as much as the other snow camping trips we’ve done. But we tried something new and now we can finally cross it off the bucket list after all our other failed attempts!

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