Posts Tagged With: Skyline II trail

Skyline II Backpacking Trip

Continuing on with my mini-series about Manning Park, I’m super thrilled to finally write about the Skyline II Trail! After my amazing hike to 3 Brothers, I was inspired to go back to Manning. My goal was to hike the full Heather Trail, but I needed someone to do it with me. This was back in 2017, so I didn’t have as many hiking and backpacking friends as I have now, so that pretty much left Carolyn and Brandon because Seth isn’t really a fan of backpacking. I think Carolyn must have been on vacation at the time, but Brandon happily agreed to go with me. I wanted to hike from Blackwell Road all the way down to Cayuse Flats, staying overnight at Kicking Horse Campsite and Nicomen Lake. But since this requires two vehicles, we decided to try out the Skyline Trail instead.

The Skyline Trail is located on the other side of the park (basically, the other side of the highway) and continues for 25km to Skagit Valley Provincial Park. Since hiking to Skagit Valley would also require two vehicles, we decided to do a there-and-back-again hike from Strawberry Flats in Manning Park. The Skyline Trail is also well known for its wildflowers, but it doesn’t receive quite as many visitors as the Heather Trail, presumably because of the elevation gain. We wanted to beat the crowds to the campsite, so we decided to take Friday off and head out early.

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It was late July and a beautiful blue sky day. We started hiking around noon and our goal was to stay at Mowich Camp, which is located right at the halfway point along the trail: 12.5km. The start of the Skyline II Trail is a bit of a slog. You leave from Strawberry Flats, which is a little way past Lightning Lakes. You can also hike the Skyline I Trail, which leaves directly from Lightning Lakes, but is longer and takes a different route up. On the Skyline II Trail, it’s about 5km to the junction with the Skyline I Trail. There’s not a whole lot to see on the way up – it’s pretty much all uphill in the trees, but they start to thin out near the top and you can catch a glimpse of Snow Camp and Goat Mountain. While it’s not the most interesting section of the trail, I’ve always liked it because it’s not too steep, so it takes about 90 minutes to hike up.

Once you reach the junction though, you are greeted by one of the most beautiful views in the park! From the junction the view completely opens up and you can climb down to this rock viewpoint that looks out over the park, all the way to the distinctive peak of Hozameen Mountain in Washington. The viewpoint isn’t for the faint of heart as there’s a pretty big drop-off, but we loved hanging out there while we ate our lunches.

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After that, it’s back into the trees for one last challenging section. You have to climb back down and up Deception Pass. You head right back into the trees and follow the switchbacks down along the pass before starting to climb back out – I think it’s about another 1-2km, but then you’re home free for the rest of the hike! That’s not to say it’s easy, but it is damn beautiful! Skyline II Trail is what firmly cemented Manning Park as my favourite provincial park and to date, I still consider Skyline II Trail to be my favourite hike in all of BC. Now I still have yet to hike in the Rockies, but until I make it out there, Skyline Trail is definitely holding on to the top spot.

Once you climb out of the pass you quickly realize where the trail takes its name from. The rest of the hike is along the ridgeline looking down over meadows full of wildflowers to the Lightning Lakes Chain Trail, and out towards Hozameen Ridge and Hozameen Mountain. We had picked a dream day to hike the trail. There was absolutely no one on it since it was Friday, it was sunny, and the wildflowers were in peak bloom! I can’t recall exactly how long it took us to get to Mowich Camp, but it wasn’t the fastest. I have a feeling it was somewhere around 6 hours, which is a bit on the slow side for us, but we were constantly stopping to take pictures of the wildflowers and had a long lunch break at the viewpoint. Brandon is pretty silly and I was have a fun time hiking with him – he indulged me by taking lots of Sound of Music inspired photos of me dancing in the wildflowers.

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The big thing to be aware of if you’re camping on the Skyline Trail is the water supply. In hindsight, we were pretty lucky because we weren’t super prepared for it. There’s only one campsite on the entire trail and the water source is pretty small. It’s just one tiny stream that runs through the campsite. We weren’t sure if it was even going to be running, so we kept out eyes open for other water sources along the way. There are a few other streams running by, but it would have been a long walk from the campsite. Fortunately the stream in the campsite hadn’t yet dried up. Our plan had been to bring Brandon’s water filter since it was only a small source, but he forgot it, so we had to make do with the emergency water tabs in my first aid kit. Obviously we could have just boiled the water, which we also did to leave overnight, but the last thing you want after hiking all day is to drink hot water (or worse, no water if the stream was dried up). So plan accordingly if you’re going out there. In future, I would bring extra water with me just in case.

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Despite the rest of the trail being breathtakingly gorgeous, Mowich Camp isn’t much to write home about. It’s hidden in the trees, so there’s no viewpoint from the camp. But it still goes down in my memory as one of the more memorable campsites. For the first, and only time, on all of my hikes, we were the only people at the campsite. Manning Park is too far to drive after work and then hike into the camp, so we ended up being the only ones there! It was a weird experience. I’ve camped several times with only a limited number of other people (Juan de Fuca Trail and Ring Lake come to mind), but never as the only people. We took over the whole campsite and picked the best spot to pitch our tent. Brandon set up his hammock across two trees and we set up his bluetooth speaker while we cooked to scare away any animals that might be attracted by the smell. Brandon made chili for supper and had even brought dessert up with him! Overall it was a relaxing evening, except when Brandon left to go get ready for bed and I was left alone in the tent with only the sounds of the forest to keep me company. It’s kind of creepy being the only people around and I was definitely more aware of the potential for animals to wonder into the campsite. We were very careful about keeping all of our smellies away from the tent.

But we weren’t disturbed at all and woke up in the morning to continue our journey. Our plan for day two was to hike along Hozameen Ridge to Monument 74 at the Canada-USA border for a view of Hozameen Mountain. We continued along the Skyline Trail for a little while until we reached the junction for Hozameen. The Skyline II Trail continues down from there all the way to Skagit Valley. I’ve never done that section of the trail, but I have heard there’s more elevation gain to reach the bottom, so it’s not as scenic as the Manning side of the hike. But our destination lay along the ridge. We took the junction onto the Hozameen Ridge Trail, which continues all the way to border, and I suspect onwards past Hozameen Mountain and Ross Lake. I was never able to find a proper map for it, so I’m not really sure. My GPS says the trail ends shortly before the border, but it definitely continues to the monument and beyond.

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Hiking along the ridge is pretty easy. It’s mostly flat and you meander back and forth through the trees, catching views on both sides. As you approach the end of the ridge, you start climbing. This is definitely a more challenging section, but as you crest the end of the ridge, you’re rewarded with an unimpeded view straight to Hozameen Mountain. If you’ve ever been to Manning on a clear day, it’s likely you noticed Hozameen Mountain. It’s the biggest mountain in the area, with very distinctive jagged peaks. We decided it was the perfect lunch spot and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to soak in the view while we ate our wraps. While we were eating, we came across our first visitors of the day, three trail runners that were training for Manning’s ultra marathon in August, the Fat Dog 120. They had started running that morning and caught up with us at the half-point of their run (and our 3 day trip). They downed a few gels, snapped some photos of Hozameen, and then took off again while we stared flabbergasted that they’d run the same distance it took us 2 days to traverse in just one morning. I bet we had more fun though.

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Our lunch viewpoint is where it looks like the trail ends on my GPS, from there it’s a steep downhill towards Hozameen. We could see the border monument and trail continuing at the bottom, but I was reluctant to go down there because I didn’t want to have to climb back up again. There was no way Brandon was leaving the last stretch of trail unfinished though and he dragged me down over the side to finish what we started. It is difficult to follow the trail down over the edge and it is pretty steep, so be careful if you’re following this route, but I definitely felt a sense of accomplishment when we reached the monument. It was my first time hiking to a border monument (I’ve since done Monument 78 as well) and we had a lot of fun snapping pictures and dancing around the monument.

I was surprised to learn upon reaching the monument that the entire border is actually clear cut through the park. As we hiked along the ridge, we noticed there was a corridor of clear cut trees, but never considered it was the border. I just assumed there was a transmission line down there. But once you arrive at the monument, it becomes pretty clear that it’s the border. I researched it after the trip and confirmed that it is true. There’s no signage at the monument, but I later learned when I hiked to the PCT monument that the border is also monitored by cameras. There’s a sign at the PCT monument asking you not to moon the border as you are on video! Wish I known this when I was flipping Trump the bird at the monument by Hozameen!

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We continued along the trail a little bit further to get another view of Hozameen Mountain before finally deciding to turn back. The trail definitely continues on, but it’s hard to judge the distance because mountains as large as Hozameen can be very misleading when guessing distance. All in all we hiked about 15km there and back to the campsite. We didn’t see anyone on the trail on our way back, but upon arriving it was obvious that other people had been busy hiking in all day. Our little solitary campsite was now filed with campers who had driven up in the morning to hike in for one night. It made me glad that we had taken Friday off and had the opportunity to hike the trail on our own, but we made some new friends with some of our fellow campers and swapped stories while teaching them to play exploding kittens.

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We’d had two beautiful blue sky days, but the weather was forecasted to change on Sunday. When I hike with Carolyn, we’re always the first people up and on the trail, but when I hike with Brandon, we’re usually the last. Carolyn is a major morning person, while Brandon likes to take his time. I tend more towards being a morning person, but I can swing either way and enjoy sleeping in and taking it easy when I hike with Brandon. So despite being the first people to the campsite, we were among the last to leave. The clouds had finally moved in, but fortunately the rain was staying away. We made better time on the hike out, but we still stopped a lot to take more pictures. Even though I prefer round trip hikes, I find there-and-back-again hikes still look different from both directions and I have a tendency to take all my pictures twice – especially when it’s different weather conditions and all the photos look different anyways.

We stopped again at the big viewpoint for lunch and then pounded the last 5km back down to Strawberry Flats. I can’t remember if it ever did rain on us, which itself suggests that likely it didn’t, or at most was just a bit of drizzle. So even though it was 3 years ago that I hiked the trail, it still stands out in my memory as one of my most memorable backpacking trips and my all time favourite trail!

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The Best ‘Long Weekend’ Backpacking Trips

With the Labour Day long weekend coming up, I want to share some of my favourite long weekend backpacking trips! There’s lot of single night hikes in Southwestern BC, but long weekends are the best for backcountry hiking because the extra day enables you to explore further and to really escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Whether you’re a first timer or a seasoned hiker, here’s 5 of my favourite backpacking trips near Vancouver:

For the Beginner: Lindeman Lake

Trail profile: Day 1 (2km, 300m gain), Day 2 (8km, 200m gain), Day 3 (2km, 200m loss)

Lindeman Lake is the perfect backpacking trip for beginners and one of my personal favourites for long weekend trips. I’ve been to Lindeman Lake twice for the May 24th long weekend and what makes it so great for beginners is that the campsite is only 2km from the parking lot, so it’s a great way to test out carrying a heavy pack for the first time. Once you set up camp, there are all kinds of options for what to explore over the rest of the weekend.

I wrote a post summarizing the different trails, but my recommendation for newbies would be to hike up to the campsite on Day 1 and then do a day hike to Greendrop Lake on Day 2. Greendrop Lake is approximately 8km roundtrip from Lindeman Lake, so it makes for a good day hike. Then on Day 3 you can hike back down to the parking lot and drive home. Lindeman Lake is located in Chilliwack Provincial Park, so you will need a backcountry permit, but there’s no reservation system and it’s only $5 per night, per person. Please remember that no campfires are permitted in this park at any time of year.

 

For the Bucket List Hiker: Garibaldi Lake

Trail profile: Garibaldi Lake Trail (18km, 820m gain), Panorama Ridge (15km, 610m gain), Black Tusk (11km, 820m gain), Mt. Price (11km, 620m gain)

I know, this hike is insanely popular and busy, but it’s popular for a reason! Garibaldi Park is only an hour and a half drive out of Vancouver and it boasts some of the most amazing views of the backcountry. I’ve only been in BC for 5 years and I’ve already done this iconic hike 3 times! There’s a lot to love about Garibaldi Lake, from the beautiful blue hues of the lake, to the breathtaking views of the glaciers and surrounding mountains, to swimming in the ice-cold lake and watching the sunset paint the mountains pink. But my favourite part of Garibaldi Lake is using it as a base from which to explore some of the surrounding trails. While Garibaldi Lake is gorgeous, the trail to the lake itself is a snooze-fest. It’s 9km of forested switchbacks, but has a huge payoff at the end. But from there, the rest of the trails in the park are breath-taking from start to finish!

There’s a few different ways to hike Garibaldi Park as a long weekend trip. I’ve done two long weekend trips to Garibaldi Lake and both times I left work a little early on Friday afternoon and hiked the 9km up to the lake on Friday night. From there, I stayed two nights at the lake and did day hikes on Saturday and Sunday, before hiking back out on Monday. However, if you’re a beginner I would recommend hiking up on Saturday morning instead and just doing one day hike on Sunday. Both times I hiked in Friday night, I started hiking around 5:30pm and got to the lake around dusk. If you’re a new hiker or not comfortable hiking or setting up in the dark, start your hike on Saturday morning instead.

Once you get to Garibaldi Lake though, there’s lots of options for day hikes. Panorama Ridge is my personal favourite and Black Tusk is also very popular. There’s also the lesser known Mount Price, which leaves the lake in the opposite direction of the other two hikes. Panorama and Black Tusk are both very popular and well marked trails, Mount Price is a bit more of a bush wack at times and isn’t well marked. So stick to the well marked trails if you aren’t familiar with way-finding.

However, if you’re making Garibaldi your destination for the long weekend, you’ll have to plan in advance. You must book a backcountry permit in advance for $10 per person, per night. The campsites release 4 months in advance of the date you book and they do book up fast. There is overflow camping at Taylor Meadows campsite, but it’s 1.5km away from the lake and definitely not as nice as the Garibaldi campsite. And as a final reminder, Garibaldi has been having problems with littering, so If you visit Garibaldi, make sure to pack out all of your garbage and leave no trace that you were there.

 

For the Through Hiker: Heather Trail

Trail profile: Day 1 (13.5km, 300m gain), Day 2 (9km, no gain), Day 3 (17.5km, 1000m loss)

Personally, I’m a big fan of through hiking. It’s great when you only have to set up camp once and don’t have to carry your heavy pack with you every day, but there’s something really fulfilling about through hiking and ending at a different location from where you started. It requires a bit more coordination as you’ll often need 2 vehicles, but it’s fun not to have to retrace your steps at any point.

Through hikes often require more time than just a long weekend, but one hike that can be done over 2 nights that I absolutely loved was the Heather Trail in Manning Park (it can also be done as a return hike, but I think it works best as a through hike). Manning Park is my favourite provincial park in southwestern BC and has some of the most scenic hikes. The Heather Trail is particularly well known for its wildflowers as the trail is mostly comprised of alpine meadows that burst into bloom in late July. The other highlights of the trail include walking the ridge along first brother mountain and camping at Nicomen Lake.

On Day 1, drive out to Manning Park and hike 13km to Kicking Horse Campsite. There is another camp called Buckthorn Campsite located at 5km, but it’s an easy walk to Buckthorn and not a scenic camp, so I’d recommend pushing all the way to Kicking Horse on the first day. Along the way, do the 1km summit up First Brother Mountain. On Day 2, it’s a more relaxing 9km hike to Nicomen Lake through meadow after meadow. Nicomen Lake is great for fishing if you’re so inclined, but bring your bug net because there’s a lot of flies. Nicomen Lake technically marks the end of the Heather Trail, but instead of turning around and hiking back 21km, I’d recommend hiking the Nicomen Lake Trail 17km back to the highway. 17km sounds like a lot, but the entire trail is downhill and we did it in just 5 hours. The benefit of hiking the trail this way is that there’s limited elevation gain. The hike starts at Blackwell Road, which is located 1000 metres up from the highway, so you do most of the elevation on the drive up. There’s no reservation system for this hike, but you do need a backcountry permit, which costs $5 per person, per night.

 

For the Long Distance Hiker: Elfin Lakes

Trail profile: Day 1 (11km, 600m gain), Day 2 (13-22km, 350-600m gain), Day 3 (11km, 600m loss)

I’m sensing a theme with this list because Elfin Lakes is another trail I’ve done 3 times! But my favourite was a 3 day trip that I did over the Labour Day long weekend in early September. Elfin Lakes is also located in Garibaldi Park and while it also gets a lot of visitors, it feels a lot less overwhelming than Garibaldi Lake. There’s a hut and tent pads at Elfin Lakes and you will have a similar problem as Garibaldi Lake in that you will need to book your reservation early if you want to be assured a site. The hut books up really fast in the winter and the tent pads book up really fast in the summer.

I say Elfin Lakes feels less overwhelming though because the campsite is much more wide open than Garibaldi and there’s a lot more area for people to disburse during the day, so it doesn’t feel quite as busy. You can swim in both lakes, but the Elfin Lakes are WAY smaller than Garibaldi Lake and therefore, much warmer and enjoyable for swimming. If it’s clear, you can also get an amazing view of the stars at night. My suggestion for Elfin Lakes would be to hike the 11km to the Lake on Day 1, then do a day hike to either Opal Cone or Mamquam Lake on Day 2, and hike out again on Day 3.

I call it the long distance hike because the options for your Day 2 hike are definitely nothing to scoff at. Opal Cone is a 13km round trip from the lakes, with about 350m in elevation gain and Mamquam Lake is a 22km round trip with 600m in elevation gain. I did the trip with my friend Brandon and we tried to get to Mamquam Lake on Day 2, but it was insanely hot and there’s a lot of elevation variation, so we never made it the whole way to Mamquam. We ended up turning back around 8km in, making for 16km in total. But the good news is, Opal Cone and Mamquam are the same trail, so even though we didn’t make it to Mamquam, we still got to do Opal Cone. There’s a lot of ground to cover on this hike, but with the exception of the first 5km from the parking lot, the entire hike is incredibly scenic!

 

For the Photographer: Skyline II Trail

Trail profile: Day 1 (12.5km, 610m gain), Day 2 (14km, minimal gain), Day 3 (12.5km, 610m loss)

Finally, the last hike on the list is not only my favourite hike on the list, but my favourite hike of all time! Like I said, I love Manning Park and for me, the Skyline Trail is the highlight of the park. It’s the most scenic hike I’ve ever done and it’s not even that crowded. Granted I didn’t do it on a long weekend, I took a Friday off to make it my own long weekend, so it might be busier on an actual long weekend. But that said, I did the same thing for the Heather Trail and it was definitely a lot busier.

I also hiked Skyline in peak wildflower season, which may have contributed to my love of the trail, but either way, I think I would have loved this trail because it has so many incredible views. The entire Skyline II Trail is 25km long and can be hiked with as a through hike or a return hike. The trail runs from Manning Park to Skagit Park, with Mowich camp smack-dab in the middle at 12.5km. I did the trail as a return hike from the Manning Side because the 2 trailheads are a 2 hour drive apart, so it’s logistically challenging (but not impossible) to coordinate. My recommendation is to start on the Manning side and hike to Mowich Camp on Day 1. From there, you can day hike along the Hozameen Ridge trail on Day 2, which branches off the main trail and continues towards Hozameen Mountain and the border.

Hozameen mountain is a very distinctive mountain and you’ll be staring at it all of Day 1, so it felt great to hike to the base of it. The trail continues on for a long time and actually ends on the American side of Skagit Valley. A good target for your day hike is to hike 7km to the Border monument. There’s a distinctive peak at the end of the ridge where you could end (because it is a steep downhill to the border monument), but I really wanted to see the monument, so we pushed through the last 500m to reach the monument – but the peak at the end of the ridge is a great place for lunch! We returned to Mowich Camp to sleep and then hiked back out the way we came on Day 3. But since the distance is the same on both sides of the Skyline Trail, you could hike out to the Skagit side instead if you wanted to make it a through hike. I’ve heard the Skagit side isn’t as scenic though and is mostly in the trees, so I didn’t mind hiking back along the same trail. The backcountry permit for this trail is the same as Heather Trail – no advance booking required, but the permit is $5 per day, per person.

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