Hanging Lake Backpacking Trip

Apparently Mount Assiniboine wasn’t quite enough adventure for me and I decided to go to Hanging Lake near Whistler just one week later. Honestly, it was a pre-planned trip that I probably would have preferred to skip after the drama of Assiniboine, but I had planned it with Carolyn and because of our schedules, it was the only weekend we both had available until late September (we went in mid July), so I didn’t want to miss out on that time with her.

There were a few other people going on the trip, but I was still really anxious hiking with people I didn’t know that well after my experience at Assiniboine, so Carolyn and I did most of the hike on our own. It ended up working well because I wanted to go slow after the heat wave, and Carolyn was tired from recently travelling, so it was definitely one of our slower hikes. It wasn’t anywhere near as hot as Assiniboine, but it was still high 20’s, so not a walk in the park either. We left around 8am to drive out to Whistler and parked her car overnight at the Rainbow Lake trailhead.

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Rainbow Lake is a pretty popular hike – it climbs up 800m of elevation over 8km to Rainbow Lake, which is the Whistler municipality’s watershed. Because of this, we found it to be a pretty well maintained and easy trail. There are lots of fancy new bridges and outhouses because it’s essential not to pee or poo in the watershed. Despite the substantial elevation gain, it’s a pretty gradual incline for most of the hike and just gets a bit steeper towards the end. It’s not a bad hike for a hot day because most of it is in the trees, but it is incredibly disappointing not to be able to swim in the lake at the end, so take that into consideration.

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The Metro Vancouver watershed is entirely closed to the public, so it’s pretty unique that we can still hike in the Whistler watershed and we should do everything we can to protect it when visiting. They’ve outfitted the lake with a really nice trail and lots of benches and picnic tables, so it makes for a great lunch stop, which is what we did. Carolyn and I have both been experimenting with cold soak lunches lately and used this trip to try some of them out. Cold soaking is basically choosing foods that will rehydrate just by soaking in cold water for a few hours. Lots of people soak their dehydrated meals pre-cooking, but cold soaking doesn’t involve any heat.

I have two recipes that have been working out well for me, one is instant rice with dehydrated veggies and taco seasoning and nutritional yeast (cheese flavour). The other is a dehydrated pasta salad that I cold soak and add a small bit of salad dressing and fresh cheese. Carolyn’s been experimenting with some couscous and quinoa recipes. They’ve been working out great for me and I enjoy them a lot more than eating cheese and salami on tortilla day after day after day.

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There were a fair number of people hanging out at Rainbow Lake, but it never felt particularly crowded and we didn’t see many people on the actual trail. Most people just hike up to Rainbow Lake as a day hike as there’s no camping allowed, so we had decided to continue on another 2km to Hanging Lake. The trail continues along the back of the lake and I recommend doing this part of the trail even if you’re just day hiking. The trail starts to climb up over a pass at the back of the lake and in my opinion, was where you could get the best views of Rainbow Lake! After you hit the top of the pass, you’re out of the Whistler watershed and can descend down to Hanging Lake, where camping is permitted.

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It’s a bit steep going down to Hanging Lake, but short, so not a big deal. There’s space for 10 tents at Hanging Lake and it has some really nice new facilities, including an outhouse and bear cache. Tiiu and Spencer were already at the lake when we got there and we were joined a bit later by some more of their friends. We were surprised to find the campsite almost entirely empty! Aside from our group, there was only one more tent there, otherwise it was completely empty. Based on how busy everything has been during the pandemic, I really didn’t expect that on a Saturday night. We’re not sure if the lack of people is just because the trail isn’t actually that popular, or if it’s because travel had recently re-opened and a lot of the locals had cleared out of the province (or the region) for a holiday. Either way, it was great for us!

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It was around 3pm when we arrived and we hung out at the lake for the rest of the day. Everyone went for a swim, but the water was freezing and not very deep. We later realized we were super lucky as there was a nice breeze that kept all the bugs away. The breeze dropped down while we were eating supper and the mosquitoes came out with a vengeance, sending us all to bed by 9pm.

Instead of coordinating, we decided to be totally self sufficient on this hike. Carolyn and I have been working on upgrading some of our gear to try and be more lightweight. We had both purchased non freestanding tents in the last year that weigh only 2lbs, so we opted to each bring our own tent, stove, and food. I actually really enjoyed it and couldn’t believe that my bag was only 28lbs with all my gear and 2L of water. It’s mostly due to only having to bring 1 day of food, but it was nice to have a lighter pack and still have all my own gear. I’m hoping to upgrade a bit further over the next year or so to get it even lighter.

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My new tent is a Gossamer Gear tent called The Two. It sleeps 2 people, but it doesn’t have any poles (instead you set it up with your hiking poles) and it’s only a 1 layer tent, which makes it a lot lighter. I’m still testing it and haven’t quite figured out how I feel about it. It’s super easy to set up and I love that it’s lightweight. It’s also quite large and has giant vestibules. The only thing I’m still assessing is the 1 layer set-up. It has mesh sides, but the main body of the tent is just 1 layer, which means that the top of the tent will collect condensation and there’s nothing separating you or your gear from that layer of condensation. I knew this would probably be slightly annoying, but am willing to try and deal with it in the interest of saving some weight.

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I’m not sure if it was just the weather conditions on this trip, but it did get A LOT of condensation inside the tent, like I was shocked by how much collected. So I had to be careful not to touch the walls with my bag or it would also get wet. I was a little disappointed with how wet it got on the inside (it took me a while to dry it out the next morning), but I have since tested it in the rain (and wind) as well and it held up remarkably well. It was really humid the second time I used it and the inside didn’t get any condensation and when it rained, it actually still stayed dry on the inside wall as well and kept the rain off no problem. I thought it might be dicey in the wind, but it held up well against that as well. So I’m not ready to make my verdict on the tent yet and am looking forward to trying it out more.

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Unfortunately it was still buggy the next morning, so we had a quick breakfast and packed everything up. Carolyn wanted to go for another swim before we left, so we went for a quick dip in our birthday suits before starting the climb back up to the pass. The rest of the group wanted to check out a side trail for Ninja Lakes, so we said goodbye and planned to meet up for beers in Squamish. It was a faster hike out, though hard on the knees with all the downhill. We hit up Backcountry Brewing on the way home, which is one of our favourite places to stop (honestly, the beer is just okay imo, but the pizza’s are amazing!). We had to wait forever to get in, but the pizza was worth it!

So overall, a pretty lowkey, but fun hike up to the lake. We’d tried to do this one last fall and it had been closed due to a bear, so it was nice to return and cross it off my bucket list!

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8 Great Hikes for Swimming

I love to swim! I’ll hike any trail, but I find hikes with somewhere to swim to be some of the most rewarding trails, especially on a hot summer’s day! A lot of the lakes in BC are fed by glaciers or snow-melt, which makes for a really cold swim, but over the years I’ve become a big fan of those quick, cold dips and will swim in almost any lake from May to October. That said, I’ve tried to focus my list on some of the warmer swimming spots, but we do live in Canada, so to be honest, they’re still all quite cold.

Just a few things to remember before you swim in any body of water. Practice Leave No Trace principles, which means don’t swim in lakes that are also used for drinking water and don’t alter the site in any way or move rocks to create pools. Remove sunscreen, fly spray, moisturizer, etc, before entering the water.

Without further ado, here’s some of my favourite swimming hikes!

Brohm Lake

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Brohm Lake is an awesome place to visit in the summer because there’s access to a ton of hiking trails and you can opt to go around the lake, up to the Tantalus viewpoint, or hike through the interpretive forest, finishing each hike with a dip in the lake. The only downside to this hike is that the lake is located right next to the highway and is popular for picnicking – so if you want to make sure you get parking on a hot day, arrive early!

Buntzen Lake

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Located in Anmore, Buntzen lake is a popular attraction for hikers, boaters, and picnickers. This is another location you need to get to early, but it’s a much bigger lake, so there’s more room to spread out. My preference is to hike down to the far side of the lake where there’s a smaller picnic area and wharf with a lot less people. You can either take the lakeview trail, which has minimal elevation, or the Diez Vistas trail, which climbs up over the lake and has beautiful views of Indian Arm. This is definitely a colder lake, but refreshing after a day of hiking!

Deeks Lake and Brunswick Lake

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Both lakes are located on the north end of the Howe Sound Crest Trail and are best done as an overnight trip. You can do them in a single day, but it does make for a lot of walking. Deeks is the first lake and a great place to swim, but if you’re willing to walk a few kilometres farther, Brunswick Lake is really the shining gem of the trail. Both are cold, but when the sun hits the water on Brunswick Lake, it turns the most brilliant shade of blue and looks like a tropical paradise!

Elfin Lakes

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I feel like most people don’t think about Elfin Lakes for swimming because they’re so small and completely fed by snow melt, but the last time I visited in the summer was a scorching day and I couldn’t get enough of lazing around in the water. Of the two lakes, swimming is only permitted in one – the other is solely for drinking water and swimming is not allowed. I recommend later in the season for this hike because the lake will heat up a lot by the end of the summer.

Alice Lake

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When I think of Alice Lake, I tend to think of it more as a frontcountry campground rather than a good place for hiking, but if you’re looking for a shorter hike that can end in a swim, this is a great one! It’s only a few kilometers to walk around the lake, but if you’re looking for something longer you can also extend it to do the four lakes trail loop. Similar to Brohm and Buntzen, get here early to secure a parking spot as you will be sharing the lake with picnickers.

Lightning Lakes

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This is another one that might surprise a few people because Lightning Lakes isn’t one of the warmest lakes, but on a nice day, I really love this lake. Definitely make sure it’s going to be sunny before driving out to Manning Park because it can be really cold and windy on an overcast day, but this is a great place for boating, swimming, and hiking on a hot day. Hike around 1st lake or 2nd lake (or both) and then finish with a dip in the water!

Cheakamus Lake

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I’ve only swam in Cheakamus Lake in May, so it was quite cold, but I imagine it probably warms up later in the summer. I decided to include it because it’s a great lake for either day hikes or overnight trips. There are two campsites, one at the foot of the lake and another halfway up, and both have beaches from which you can swim. It’s a big body of water, so it’s always going to be cold, but a great place to hang out and dip in and out of the water.

Lindeman Lake

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Lindeman Lake is another one I’ve only swam in May, but I really love this lake. It’s a short, but steep, hike in Chilliwack Provincial Park and you can swim at both the foot and head of the lake. It’s tempting to swim right when you arrive at the lake, but I prefer to hike up to the back of the lake and jump of the rocks into the water from there. It’s definitely another cold one, but has the most gorgeous views!

Elsay Lake Backpacking Trip

Elsay Lake is the last trip in my backpacking archive! Once I write about this one I’ll be all caught up on backpacking trips. Don’t fret though, I have lots of trip plans in the works for this upcoming summer and I still have lots of day hikes and frontcountry trips to write about!

Elsay Lake is one of the more random trips I’ve done. I hiked it in July 2019 when my Howe Sound Crest trip was cancelled for the third year in a row (finally did it in 2020). Me, Emily, and Carolyn had planned to go do the trip together, but ended up having to cancel it because the last part of the trail is on private land and had been closed. Parks constructed a new trail entrance before 2020, but in 2019, you weren’t able to do the trail as a through hike.

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Carolyn decided to bail on an adventure altogether, but me and Emily still wanted to do something, so Carolyn agreed to drop us off at a local trail. I did a bit of quick research and we decided to try for the Elsay Lake trail, which leaves from the parking lot on Seymour Mountain.

In the summer, you can hike up the ski run to Brockton Point (the top of the chair), where you can continue into the Seymour Wilderness. Our plan was to try and hike up to Mount Seymour and do a loop trail that brings you back down towards Elsay Lake. This was a trip where my GPS app got me into a bit of trouble.

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I use GaiaGPS to track my movements every time I go on the trail. I find the app to be a great resource, but you do still need to do research because the trails on the GPS are just based off of user data and are not always up to date. From Brockton Peak, the trail continues to a branch, where you can either go down the Elsay Lake trail, or up towards Pump Peak, Tim Jones Peak, and Mount Seymour. On my app, I noticed a trail shortcut to Pump Peak, so we decided to follow that. After hiking in for awhile, the trail became very steep and we lost it, so we decided to turn back. I later learned that it’s the old Pump Peak trail that has been closed, so you shouldn’t always put all your reliability in your GPS. However, deciding to stop and retrace our steps back was definitely the right decision and what you should do when you find yourself off trail. Don’t continue on because sometimes it’s possible to continue hiking up, but becomes impossible to turn around and hike back down (or vice versa) and you can find yourself stuck.

In any case, because of the lost time, we decided to ditch the Mount Seymour plan altogether and just took the Elsay Lake branch when we got back on the trail. This was definitely the right choice as the Elsay Lake trail ended up being super technically challenging and we needed to whole day to complete it.

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From the Elsay Lake trail branch, you descend down into the valley below Mount Seymour. It wasn’t raining, but it was a very foggy and overcast day when we did it, so at times it was poor visibility, but I also thought the valley looked so cool with the way the fog hung around the peaks. You hike down and down until you eventually come to a large boulder field. As we were hiking down into the valley, I would occasionally do my bear call as there were no other people around (most of the traffic is up on the Mount Seymour trail). After a while, we noticed that someone was starting to respond to our bear calls, and then they started yelling at us. We couldn’t understand what they were saying, but called back that we were on our way down.

When we reached the bottom of the valley, we ran into a slightly distressed couple. They asked us if we knew where we were, to which we responded, yes, and we asked if they were lost. They said they were – they’d been with a group of friends and they’d all hiked to the top of Seymour together. They’d been following their friend and gotten separated on the way down, so they’d hurried on towards the parking lot trying to catch their friend, but now they were confused and didn’t recognize anything.

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Because we were familiar with the area and using a GPS, we knew exactly where they’d gone wrong. On their way back from Mount Seymour, they’d taken the wrong branch and headed further into the wilderness towards Elsay Lake instead of back towards Brockton Point. They just kept going further down the valley thinking they were heading back to the parking lot. They were upset because they’d been entirely relying on their friend. We explained to them where they’d gone wrong, showed them the map, and explained they needed to climb back up the valley and take the proper turn to head back to their car. They weren’t happy to hear they would have to climb back up, but at least now they knew where they were and headed back the right direction.

This is a prime example of why it’s so important to always be prepared yourself. One of the common reasons people get into trouble is because of the “expert halo”. They rely on someone else to keep them safe. I’m absolutely a fan of mentoring in the backcountry, but there are definitely some basics you need to take responsibility for. If you get separated from your expert or the expert gets into trouble, do you know how to take care of yourself? It’s easy to get separated and easy to get lost. The Elsay Lake trail doesn’t get a lot of traffic and this couple were unknowingly going further and further into the wilderness. Even close to the city, it’s easy to get into trouble. Check out my post on personal safety in the backcountry and resources from organizations like Adventure Smart to learn more.

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But getting back to the trip, Emily and I stopped for lunch in the valley around the halfway mark, before continuing on along the trail. You continue along the edge of the valley for a while, before eventually heading into the woods. This is where the trail started to get really hard, after you pass the branch that heads up towards Mount Seymour (our initial plan). Elsay Lake is one of those rare trails, where aside from the first part, most of the trail is downhill. ‘Technical’ is definitely the word to describe the trail.

There’s lots of climbing over tree roots as you walk through the forest and several boulder fields scattered throughout. The challenge with the boulder fields is that they’re in the trees and the boulders are very large. So even though the fields are short, it’s difficult to cross them, especially if you’re short. There were several sections where we had to slide down rocks or support each other up over them because they were so large, not an easy feat when you’re both wearing large packs.

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Then the trail continues down several steep sections through the forest that we had to take slowly so as not to trip or fall. Eventually you reach a flat section through the trees at the base that we did relatively quickly, until we came to a challenging river crossing. You have to ford the river, but we were trying really hard to keep our shoes dry, so we spent a long time trying to figure out a way across. We did manage to get across and stay dry, but it chewed up a lot of time. After that, you hike through some mucky areas before finally hitting the lake and hiking around the edge to the campsite.

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It was only a 10km hike, but it ended up taking us about 8 hours by the time we reached the campsite. There is an emergency hut, and surprisingly, despite barely seeing anyone on the trail, the campsite was pretty busy. I mean overall there were only a few groups, but it’s not a big campsite and it took us a while to find a space big enough to pitch our tent. It was around 6pm when we arrived, so we went for a quick swim in the lake and then made dinner. There is an outhouse and we were able to store our food in the hut, so fortunately we didn’t have to mess around with a bear cache.

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Our concern now was the hike back the next day. We were exhausted and we’d completely underestimated the time the hike would take. We had pre-arranged a pick up time with Carolyn that we didn’t think we’d be able to make (this was before I had an inreach), so we figured we’d just have to do our best and hope she didn’t have to wait too long for us.

We got up early the following morning to get an early start on the day. It was dry when we got up and we were able to pack up our gear pretty quickly, but shortly after we started hiking it started to pour. It was pretty demoralizing considering we were trying to go fast, but at least it was the last day. We didn’t waste time at the river this time and instead just walked right through it, getting our feet soaked. This sucked too, but it was already pouring and we didn’t want to waste time.

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The trail is all uphill on the way back, which might be a downside to some, but we much prefer going uphill over going downhill, so things actually went a bit better than the previous day. We were still really slow going through the boulder fields, but persevered. As we were climbing up we came across a second couple that were struggling. The woman had injured her shoulder and her partner was now carrying both his and her packs! I can’t even imagine how difficult this was – in the boulder fields he would basically pass each pack up to her at each section and they would painstakingly carry them across. We stopped to talk to them and see if they needed any first aid. They didn’t, so we asked it they wanted us to contact Search and Rescue for them when we got cell service (since we would be ahead of them). Fortunately they had their own inreach, so they said they were going to continue on since it was still really early in the day, but would contact S&R if needed.

At the time I thought this was a reasonable approach, but after watching the S&R mini-series on the Knowledge Network, I would definitely advise just calling S&R from the beginning. There’s no fee for S&R and they won’t hold it against you for needing their help. This was an example of a couple that was actually well prepared; they had first aid supplies and a satellite device, but one of them had been injured, which is often outside your control. Don’t hesitate to call S&R if you need them. Time is the most important factor in S&R tasks and you want to give them as much time and daylight hours as possible to reach you. This was a rainy, cloudy day, so S&R likely wouldn’t be able to help this couple with a helicopter, which means they would need more time to get in the field. Perhaps this couple was totally fine, but I think S&R would probably just have encouraged them to seek help right away.

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Once we got out of the boulder fields, our day improved a lot. It stopped raining and we took a break in the valley again for snacks and to change out of our wet clothes. I still had wet feet, but I was able to finish the hike in dry clothes at least. When we got back to the trail branch, I was able to get service and give Carolyn a call that we would likely be a little late. Surprisingly we’d actually made really good time and by the end of the trail, we were only 30 mins behind our original estimate.

When she heard about how challenging the trail was Carolyn seemed reassured in her decision to skip the trip, but then she went to soccer later that night and broke her ankle with an injury that takes 2.5 years to heal, so I’m not sure how she feels about the decision now! Either way, it was both a memorable and forgettable sister trip for me and Emily. The challenges were memorable, but overall I’d say the trip was forgettable and I definitely won’t be attempting the trail again. I would like to go back some day and hike up to Mount Seymour, but personally I’d give Elsay Lake a pass. I did like the trail down to the valley, but beyond that, the trail is miserable. It was a good lesson in trip preparedness though, given that we encountered two groups experiencing trouble and that we mistakenly took a wrong trail branch ourselves. The North Shore mountains are notorious for S&R tasks, so this was a good reminder to always be prepared!

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Special shout out to Emily for taking ZERO pictures of me on this hike. So all you get is a million photos of her selfish butt.