SCT Part VII: Golden Stanley to Saltery Bay

Start reading from Part I.

Mount Troubridge was the last section on my SCT thru-hike. After camping at Golden Stanley Hut, I had a big hike over the top of the mountain and then down to Saltery Bay. As usual, I got up early at Golden Stanley Hut to start my hike – I was hoping to hike 22-25km, so I was on the trail by 7:30am. It’s a long slog up to the top and I had 12km and 1000m in elevation gain to the next hut near the top. I wasn’t looking forward to the climb after how strenuous Tin Hat was, but it ended up being a lot easier than anticipated.

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It starts with a short steep climb, but then it levels out and most of it is just a leisurely gentle uphill through the forest. The trail switchbacks for awhile, but it’s never difficult and I hiked a lot faster than I thought I would. There’s one cute forest campsite near a stream on the way up, and then a second site at Elephant Lake, but I wouldn’t recommend this one. Elephant Lake isn’t the nicest and there’s absolutely no facilities, not even a picnic table. I only saw one flat spot big enough for one tent, otherwise, I don’t really think there’s room here for camping. You’re better off at the forest site or just continuing on to Troubridge Hut.

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It’s ~10km to Elephant Lake and it was all pretty easy hiking, though the brush was dense in a few places. After Elephant Lake it gets steeper, but it’s only 2km of trail to the hut, which is about a half hour below the summit. The hut is really cute. It’s a similar design to the other A-frame huts, but it’s more of a traditional log style cabin and it is a bit smaller. I would definitely have preferred it to Golden Stanley, but it was quite chilly up there since it’s at the top. There’s not really a view from the hut, but there is a small pond where you can swim.

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It’s ~1.5km to the summit of Mount Troubridge from the hut. Unfortunately the summit wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Unlike Tin Hat and Walt Hill, Troubridge is completely forested, so while you can catch a few glimpses through the trees of the view, it’s not completely open. It’s a little disappointing considering it’s the highest point on the trail, but I still felt very accomplished getting to the top in time for lunch.

Unfortunately, Troubridge was the only place on the trail where I encountered mosquitoes, but I had my thermacell, so I set it up while I ate lunch and enjoyed a view through the trees. I had service and was able to check in with my family. I was planning for one more night on the trail since I had to catch the bus home, but I wasn’t sure if I would camp at Rainy Day Lake Hut or Fairview Hut, which are about 3.5km apart. I was hoping to maybe push all the way to Fairview to shorten my hike out, but as I started the downhill, it was obvious my knees had finally had enough.

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I don’t have great knees, so I’m shocked they held up as well as they did over 130km. I thought I was going to wreck them on Tin Hat, but because I camped on top of a lot of mountains, it meant I did the downhills in the morning when my legs were fresh, and that made a big difference! In contrast, on Troubridge, I’d hiked the entire 1200m of elevation gain to the top, only to have to hike back down the same day. It was hard on the knees and the longer I did it, the slower I got.

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There’s a few really nice views along the old forest roads on the way down to Rainy Day Lake (like better than the summit), but I really stumbled my way down to Rainy Day. I wanted to check out the hut whether I would stay overnight or not, but Carolyn had told me it was one of her favourites, and with my bad knees, I decided not to push any further. Rainy Day Lake is exceptionally beautiful! I was alone again, but it didn’t bother me as much in the beautiful setting, especially knowing it was my last night on the trail. I’d seen one other solo hiker going in the opposite direction and she was the only person I saw all day.

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Rainy Day Lake is a semi enclosed hut located above a big circular lake. You can climb down to the lake and someone has constructed a floating dock tied on to the rocks. The dock is amazing. It was a perfectly sunny day and I stripped down to go for a swim and take a bath and then just hung out on the dock for the better part of the afternoon. Eventually I returned to the hut to take care of my chores, but then I went back to the dock to watch the sun go down. The sun shimmered off the water and being alone there, I really felt like I had a little piece of paradise to myself. I think it ought to be renamed because “Rainy Day” Lake doesn’t do it justice!

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I got up even earlier on my last day because I had to catch the noon ferry and I was worried about my knees. I still had to descend another 400m to get to Fairview Hut, but the rest had paid off and my knees were feeling a lot better, so I needn’t have rushed. I knew Fairview Hut was more popular than Rainy Day Hut, but honestly, they are both amazing and I wish I could have stayed in both of them. I was hiking as soon as the light cracked through the trees and Fairview Hut was bathed in sun when I arrived. It’s located right on the coast and it is really something special. I hung around for a bit, but it wasn’t enough time and I would really love to return. The nice thing about Fairview is that it has beach access, so I’m thinking it would make for a good kayaking trip for me and Seth sometime in the future.

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The last 6km from Fairview to Saltery Bay have a lot of ups and downs, but it was also nice to return to coastal hiking and I when I saw the Arbutus trees I felt like I had come full circle. I particularly loved Pirates cove, which also has beach access and a little campsite. Once I hit Rose Beach (the last landmark), I really slowed down my pace and enjoyed the last kilometre. There’s a big sign and storyboard about the trail at the end and I had a nice photoshoot with it before walking to the ferry terminal at Saltery Bay.

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The ferry employee was very excited when I told him I had hiked the whole trail and he happily offered me to use the staff bathroom to freshen up. I had done the sniff test on everything in my bag the night before and put all my cleanest items aside for the ferry. I had a little sink shower and I have to say, I felt pretty clean all things considered. I brought 2 merino shirts on the trail, one from Smartwool and one from Mons Royale. The Smartwool was completely trashed, but the Mons Royale shirt held up really well and still didn’t smell very much, so I would definitely recommend. It was higher percentage merino than the Smartwool though, so that might be why it did so well. And for full disclosure, when I reached out to Smartwool about it, they refunded me for the shirt, so that is still some great customer service, even though the shirt didn’t hold up like I wanted it to.

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Anyways, it felt a bit surreal to actually finish the hike. It’s bittersweet because after a full week on your own, you’re glad to be done, but you also know that you’re going to miss it later. I said in my last post that the trail was more emotional than physical for me. I had a lot of time with my thoughts and the solitude did make me question why I was out there hiking by myself. In some ways it feels like a bigger achievement because I did it on my own, but in other ways it feels like less of an achievement without someone to share it with. I think I would have had a much better time earlier in the summer when the trail wasn’t so empty, but I think the solitude did give me the opportunity to learn some things about myself and face some truths that I wouldn’t have with a companion. I’m not in any rush to do another solo hike, nor would I be deterred from it on the right trail. I needed to finish the trail this year, mostly for mental reasons so that I could move on from it. The trail was hanging over me from the moment I got off it in early August and I needed to go back and finish it for closure.

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It is a very beautiful trail. PRPAWS has created something really special with all the huts and connecting the entire upper sunshine coast. I don’t think this trail would appeal to everyone – there is a lot of forest hiking for minimal big views – but there is something really special about this forest (some of which is old growth) and I was sad to see so much of it being logged. I’ve come to appreciate forest walks a lot more in recent years and I would say the SCT has now made me love them. I’m naturally drawn to the alpine, but there is something to be said for low elevation hikes as well. In my opinion, the SCT has a little bit of everything and is really the perfect blend of nature over 180km. I got to enjoy the salt air and arbutus trees along the coast, hike through the bright green forests, swim in warm summer lakes, and climb steep mountains overlooking it all. It was my first thru hike over 100km and my first time solo hiking. I feel strong and confident after hiking so many kilometres through all types of terrain and after spending so much time alone with myself.

What a trail.

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SCT Part VI: Elk Lake to Golden Stanley

Click here to start reading Part I.

I continued my trend of waking up early at Elk Lake and was again on the trail by 8am. Mostly I was ready to leave Elk Lake Hut behind me. My next stop was Walt Hut Hill, which most people say is their second favourite hut, so I was ready to get going – plus I had a feeling it would have cell service and I was looking forward to talking to my family.

It’s only 14km between Elk Lake and Walt Hill, so it would be my shortest day on the trail. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about finishing so early in the day, but I figured my body could probably use a bit of a break and that Walt Hill was a good place for it.

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I left Elk Lake and noticed that the trail had been freshly weed-whacked. This made it easier to go through the brush, but it was also a bit of a hazard slipping over the dead grass covered in the morning dew. There were two routes down from Elk Lake – in the hut guest book, someone had recommended the “outside route” so I opted for that one. There was one view right at the beginning, but other than that it’s all in the woods, so I’m not sure what makes one route better than another, but I ran into a bunch of the PRPAWS volunteers on the outside route, so I was thrilled to have selected that one!

PRPAWS stands for Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society. It’s a volunteer society that is responsible for maintaining the trail. The Sunshine Coast Trail is hands down the most well signed and maintained trail I’ve ever been on it, and it’s entirely thanks to these fine individuals! I ran into 2 guys with weed whackers that were heading up the trail to continue clearing the brush. I had a nice chat with them and they told me they volunteer with trail maintenance every Tuesday and Thursday! Well done!

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They informed me I was very lucky because a bit further down the trail, Eagle Walz himself was out doing trail maintenance! Eagle Walz founded the trail back in 1992, authored the trail guidebook everyone uses, and has dedicated 30 years of his life to the trail! He was out weed whacking too and it was lovely to have the opportunity to chat with him. He was still out taking notes about the trail and asked to see my copy of the guidebook to check some things for himself. I asked him about starting the trail and he told me that at the time (1992), Powell River had 5 major trails and he incorporated 4 of them into what is now the SCT. He said there were a lot of considerations in planning the trail, one of the most important of which was water – not just because of it’s obvious importance for survival, but because streams often get some protection from logging companies and those set-backs can extend to the adjacent trail.

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I met a local day hiker later in the day that told me there were a lot of huts throughout the sunshine coast because the community groups often receive funding from logging companies when they cut down community forests (seems a very small reward to me). The SCT storyboard at the end of the trail also indicated that construction first started on the huts in 2009 when PRPAWS received a large grant and constructed more than half the huts in just 5 years! I asked Eagle what his favourite section of the trail is and he told me “whatever section I’m currently working on”, so it was great to run into him on his favourite part!

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I left the conversation feeling rejuvenated again and continued on towards Coyote Lake, which was my halfway point for the day. I was planning to swim there, but Coyote Lake was NOT an appealing swim location, so I ended up just filling up my water instead. It was definitely the worst place I collected water from, but it was the only reliable source for the day and there was no water at Walt Hill, so I didn’t have much choice. I was forced to carry another 10lbs of water weight up to Walt Hill, but fortunately it was no where near as challenging as Tin Hat Hut, so it didn’t bother me too much.

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Since I only had to hike 14km, I arrived at Walt Hill around 1pm. I was a bit worried about having so much downtime, but Walt Hill has such amazing views, that I didn’t find it as difficult to kill an afternoon there and liked having a proper break. The hut at Walt Hill is totally enclosed (my favourite as they feel the safest), and there was a camp chair out on the porch. I set up the chair overlooking the bluffs and had a great afternoon catching up with my family while enjoying the view. Besides the PRPAWS volunteers, the above-mentioned day hiker showed up, who I had a great conversation with about the backcountry, but otherwise, I was alone at the hut again.

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I ate my supper on the porch and enjoyed watching the sun set. Walt Hill was the most comfy for me because there were a bunch of large foam pads up in the loft and I opted to use these instead of my thermarest, which was extra comfy. I had another big day ahead of me, so I opted to go to bed early and get up to watch the sunrise over the bluffs.

The next day I was back on the trail before it was even properly bright and had one of my most ambitious mornings since Inland Lake. It’s a long hike down through the forest towards Lang Bay, but I made really good time. There’s no real attractions until you get to Lois Lake, so I decided to push through to the lake before taking a real break. I ended up hiking 17km to the Lois Lake Rec Site before noon, which was a new record for me.

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I was planning to take a nice long break at the lake, but it was very windy and I quickly got cold, so I had my lunch and then decided to push 2kms further to the Lois Point Rec Site. Lois Lake is interesting, it’s a reservoir, but they never properly cleared all the trees when they impounded the reservoir, so there are still large stumps everywhere when the water level is low, which it was on this occasion.

Unfortunately continuing on to Lois Point wasn’t a good idea. I only had 4km to go to Golden Stanley hut, so I wanted to kill some time at the lake so I wouldn’t have too much time alone at the hut. But the Lois Point Rec Site was extremely dicey and I didn’t feel comfortable stopping there. The Lois Lake site is pretty standard car camping, but Lois Point definitely attracts a different crowd. There were a lot of decrepit campervans and trucks, empty beer cans everywhere, as well as some tent shanty’s set up on the beach. I could see a few men on the beach where I’d been planning to hang out, but I was getting a bad vibe, so I snuck off along the trail and bushwhacked back to the lake about a kilometer further because I still had to filter water for the night. It was a lovely place with sandy beaches, but still very windy, so I got my water and moved on. I would have liked to enjoy the lake more, but I wouldn’t recommend Lois Point as a single female hiker – it was the only place on the trail where I felt unsafe (isn’t it unfair that men are scarier than bears?).

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So instead I continued the last few remaining kms to Golden Stanley Hut, which is right at the base of Mount Troubridge. I did end up getting there too early (3pm) and this definitely felt like one of the longest evenings. Golden Stanley is nice enough, but it’s in the woods with nothing to look at, so I allowed myself to listen to my audiobook for a while. I remember when Carolyn did the trail that she hiked all the way from Walt Hill to the Troubridge Hut (34km) in one day and I thought she was insane, but I understand now why she did it. Having arrived at Golden Hut so early, I was also tempted to keep going to Troubridge and strongly debated it, but it’s all uphill and I had less daylight hours than Carolyn since it was September, and wasn’t sure I could get there before dark.

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So I stayed alone at the hut instead. This was probably the low point for me as a solo hiker. I only had 2 nights left on the trail, but the solitude was starting to get to me. I didn’t have a conversation with a single person that day. In fact, the only people I saw all day were the men on the beach and a single mountain biker that blew past me. I did actually quite enjoy the solo hiking aspect in that I really liked setting my own schedule. I like the ability to get up when I want, stop when I want, and hike as fast as I want. I got comfortable with being alone on the trail and I did actually find it enjoyable.

What I didn’t like was solo camping. I didn’t like being alone at the end of a long day of hiking. I wanted companionship – someone to talk to and share the experience with. At 180km, the Sunshine Coast Trail was by far the longest trail I’ve ever done, but I found the psychological aspect of solo hiking much more challenging than the physical aspect. My body could handle the hiking and distance, but emotionally I missed having someone to share it with. There was no cell service at the Golden Stanley Hut, so I couldn’t even connect with my family. I ended up enjoying the following 2 days a lot more, but I do admit that at Golden Stanley, I was feeling ready to be done with the trail. I even seriously considered getting off the trail at Lang Bay, but I had limited options for getting home since I had to take transit and I knew I would regret not finishing, so I pushed through (of which I am glad).

Fortunately things did pick up for me after Golden Stanley and I have one more blog post planned to cover the last few days of the trip! Stay tuned for Part VII!