Ottomite Peak Snow Camp

I didn’t do much hiking in the Fall last year, but as soon as winter hit I’ve been out exploring in full force! I only did one snow camp last year and was really keen to try and fit 2 in this year. It’s always a challenge because I like to ski a lot too and the snow season is so short.

Fortunately, the weather aligned for us to make a trip out to the Coquihalla in early February. After a very snowy December, it’s been a pretty warm start to the year and all the local mountains were above zero degrees. The Coquihalla can get cold, but it reliably has snow, so it’s one of my favourite places to go in the winter. To date, we’ve been to Falls Lake and Zoa Peak.


It rained most of our drive up the Coquihalla, but it switched to snow just before we got to the Summit Rec Area, which was very lucky. I’d never even heard of Ottomite Peak, but Carolyn came across it somewhere and it’s a pretty low risk trail, so we decided to check it out. You park in the lot at the base of Yak Peak (across the road from the Needle Peak parking lot) where there is a really nice rest stop bathroom. The trail starts around the edge of the bathroom and runs slightly parallel the highway as you ascend up towards the peak.


I tracked just over 4km from the parking lot to Ottomite Peak. The trail is mostly in the trees and is all simple avalanche terrain until Ottomite. It’s also popular for ski touring and most of the skiers were continuing past Ottomite to Iago Peak. We considered it, but the trails goes into challenging terrain near Iago Peak and the avalanche risk was considerable in the alpine at the time, so we opted not to. There was a beaten track until the branch to Ottomite Peak, which has a really beautiful view and would also be great for camping.


The trail continued on towards Iago, but we had to break the trail to Ottomite Peak. It’s pretty rare to have to break trail in Southwest BC, the only other time I’ve done it was when we snow camped at Poland Lake last winter. It’s a lot more work, but fortunately it’s not too far to the peak of Ottomite Peak. Overall it took us about 2 hours from bottom to top. There’s a great view of the north mountains from Ottomite Peak, so we decided to camp at the top.


As usual, there were 4 of us on the trip, but Steve couldn’t make it, so our friend Marie accompanied Carolyn instead! Brandon and I shared his big 4 season orange tent as usual, and Carolyn experimented with her summer tent. She typically uses her 3 season MSR Elixir, but she has a non-freestanding 2p Durston tent that she wanted to try out. It took her a while to get it set up properly as it’s a bit tricky since it relies on using your hiking poles and tension to stand. But she managed to get a good pitch and said it worked fine for the night.


The weather was surprisingly nice on Saturday. We were expecting it to be overcast and snowy, but it cleared up a lot while we were hiking in and we actually got some blue sky and sun while we were setting up. Eventually the clouds moved back it, but we got some really lovely views from the peak, which we easily could have missed.


We built a nice big snow kitchen where we hung out for the better part of 4 hours while melting snow and preparing supper. Marie made hot lemon whisky and I made Kahlua hot chocolate bombs for happy hour and Brandon made our favourite thai chicken curry for supper. Then we had Marie’s apple crumble for dessert, so it was quite a spread! If you think me and Carolyn got off easy, I made lunch sandwiches and she made us homemade egg mcmuffins for breakfast!


The temperature was really hovering around zero, so it was one of our warmer snow camps and we were lucky it didn’t rain to be honest. We stayed up until around 8:30pm, which is pretty late for snow camping, before hitting the sack for a long night’s sleep. I slept pretty good early in the night, but then I was treated to the symphony of Brandon’s snores later in the night. The moon came up overnight and I enjoyed a beautiful view when I got up to pee, with the moonlight reflecting off the snow, it was super bright and I didn’t even need my headlamp.


Otherwise it was a low key morning and we packed up our gear and headed back to the parking lot. It was a lot faster hiking out and we stopped in Hope on the way back for the Blue Moose CafĂ©. Considering how little known this trail is – I really liked it! It is in avalanche terrain, but it’s pretty low risk terrain, so I think it’s good for beginners. I’d definitely like to go back some day and go all the way to Iago Peak, or maybe revisit in the summer, when you can hike several peaks back into the wilderness! Overall, another successful trip!


Elfin Lakes Trex Backpacking Trip

Am I really going to write yet another post about Elfin Lakes? My blog, my rules, so yes I am.

I always say that the Skyline II Trail in Manning Park is my favourite hike, but I might have to eventually cede the number one spot to Elfin Lakes because I never get tired of visiting. I’ve been in Autumn, I’ve been in Winter, I’ve backpacked to Opal Cone, I’ve backpacked to Mamquam Lake. It’s not even my first time going with Guide Girls. The first time I went with girl guides, I accompanied a group from the North Shore as a back-up guider. This time, I took my own troop for a one night trip in late September. But it’s always interesting no matter when you go because the weather makes it a different experience every time!


Both of my trips with girl guides took place on the last weekend in September, but the first trip dumped about 15cm of snow on us, while this trip was sunny and warm enough for shorts! Trex is a special ops unit in Guiding that only does outdoor adventure (as opposed to the full program). I’ve wanted a trex unit for years, so I finally started my own in New West last year and we focused on a backpacking series for our first year. We hiked to Viewpoint Beach in Golden Ears in June, 3 Brothers Mountain in Manning Park in August, and Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Park in September to finish the series.

It was the longest distance they had done carrying their backpacks, but they did very well. It was pretty cloudy and chilly when we started, but we made good time going up towards the Red Heather Hut. We’d been warned of bears by the park rangers, so we made sure to be loud on the way up and didn’t see any, but some of the trex were really nervous about it.


We stopped for a nice hot lunch at the hut before continuing on to the lake. From there things got interesting. The trail branches when you leave the hut, with the mountain bike trail on top and the hiking trail below it. We immediately ran into a mama bear with cubs, but you’re probably not surprised to hear that bears are even more afraid of a noisy group of 10 girls than we were of it, so they quickly scampered. They were the only bears we saw on the way up, but we saw a lot more coming back down and I think our final bear count at the end of the weekend was 10 bears! Definitely a record for me. They weren’t interested in people at all though and were only interested in bulking up on the late season berries.


I love the hike from Red Heather Hut to Elfin Lakes. It’s so scenic as you traverse up and over the ridge. Trex enjoyed it too and they made really good time to the hut. The sleeping hut is still closed due to COVID, but there are 50 tent pads you can avail of instead. We set up our tents and had lots of time to relax and soak in the views. We had an earlier supper so that we could watch the sunset over the lake.

I don’t really plan any activities once we’ve arrived because it usually takes most of the day to get there, set up camp, and eat. But I decided to run a little workshop on star photography for anyone who was interested, which was everyone! I love the long days in the summer, but one of my favourite parts of the diminishing light is not having to stay up late to watch the stars. I lugged my tripod up and we went up on the hill overlooking the lake to try our luck. Fortunately it was a clear night and the moon was no where to be seen, so it was a great opportunity.


Very shortly after we started (I hadn’t even set up the tripod yet), trex started freaking out when a series of lights started flashing across the sky! They were even more concerned when I didn’t know what it was. It was super creepy and felt very end-of-days when you’re not expecting it. It was a series of lights that were moving in a perfectly straight line across the sky – they were all spaced equidistant and moving at the same pace. They did this for about 5 minutes before the last one finally disappeared. I made a guess that it was a satellite launch and another camper confirmed for us later that it was indeed Starlink! So our timing was excellent. We didn’t get any photos on the camera, but the girls were able to capture a few cell phone pictures of the phenomenon and it was quite a treat to see.


After that we settled into actual star photography and everyone got really into it for the better part of an hour. We did portraits of everyone with the starscape before turning in for the night. It was a completely clear morning and ended up being a very hot day, so we were driven out of our tents by the sun when it peaked over the mountains and illuminated the campsite. Staying at Elfin is a real treat because it’s definitely one of the most scenic campsites with the 360 degree view of the mountains.


We had a quick breakfast and packed up our campsites to head back the way we came. We made a slower pace as we came up to the hut because the whole area was crawling with bears and there were a lot of people. One cub had been scared up a tree, which made us nervous because we didn’t know where Mama was, but we passed through without any incident and had a hot lunch in Red Heather Hut before hiking back to the parking lot.

Everyone did really well on the trip, so we treated ourselves to ice cream at Alice & Brohm before heading back to town to conclude the trip. I think this trail lends itself well to a girl guide group because it’s a challenge, but not too hard, and it has lots of tent pads and an amazing view. I just have to work on convincing the girls to go back and stay again in the winter!


The Waterfalls of Strathcona Park

This has turned into quite the series about Strathcona Park, with my backpacking trips to Landslide Lake and Bedwell Bay being some of the highlights. But I want to spend a bit of time talking about waterfalls because there are so many to explore in the park and most of them are extremely easy to get to!

First up is Lady Falls. It’s located in the North end of the park along Highway 28 (as opposed to the road along Buttle Lake). If you’re going to Landslide Lake or Gold River, it’s a good stop along the way. There’s a small parking lot and it’s 500 metres each way (and 50m elevation gain) to get to the waterfall. There’s a platform from which to watch the falls thundering down into the ravine and you even catch some of the spray. Of the short waterfall hikes, Lady Falls is the easiest to get to and more impressive than Lupin Falls.


If you’re heading down Western Mines Road to the south end of the park, make sure to stop at Lupin Falls on the way there. It wasn’t as impressive as Lady Falls when we visited, but that’s because it was early September and extremely dry – I suspect it has a much higher flow in the Spring. It’s flat and less than 1km as a round trip hike through the woods. The waterfall was more of a trickle when we visited, but there are some beautiful tall trees to enjoy along the way.


Continuing on Western Mines Road, you’ll hit the parking lot for Lower Myra Falls at the south end of the lake, after the road for Bedwell Lakes. It’s a further drive than Lady Falls and Lupin Falls, but in my opinion, Lower Myra Falls is the best waterfall in the park (except for Della Falls). It starts with a steep hike down towards the lake, about 500 metres, but with 100m in elevation loss. There are two options for viewing – you can take the first left and see the upper falls and pool at the viewpoint – and then you can continue down to the middle falls where there’s another pool and you can explore around the rocks. You can walk along the edge of the falls as it cascades down towards the lake.


Our first trip was in the early morning, so it was too cold to swim and we decided to come back later in the afternoon. On the second visit, we went for a dip in the middle pool before climbing down over the rocks to the lake – “climbing” being the key word. There are various paths cutting through the woods, but none of them are official, so we just found the least dangerous route down to the lake where there was a large sandbar. I’m not sure if the sandbar is there year round though (lake level was very low when we visited), so exercise caution around the rocks as it would be easy to slip and fall.


We loved swimming in the lake. The waterfall pool was freezing cold, but the lake was a very balmy temperature and we enjoyed a proper swim before climbing back up to the parking lot. There’s a dam on the lake, so there are still all kinds of large tree stumps in the water from when they impounded the reservoir. It’s fun to swim out and stand on them, but be careful because they are slippery and have lots of sharp edges.


Our last waterfall was Upper Myra Falls. At 8km round trip, this is the longest waterfall hike in the park (that we did). If I we’re to rank them all, I would put Upper Myra Falls below Lower Myra Falls and Lady Falls, but above Lupin Falls. It’s a very high, narrow waterfall that comes out through the trees and cascades down to the forest floor. There’s no accessible pool, but there is a platform from which you can view it. It took us about an hour to hike the 4km to the platform and we hung around for a half hour and had lunch before heading back again. There’s only about 80m of elevation gain along the whole trail, so it’s not very difficult.


While it wasn’t my favourite waterfall, it still made for a nice little adventure. You have to drive through the active Westin Mine to get to the trailhead, which is an experience in itself, and the forest on the way to the falls is amazing! This trail is through old-growth forest, which is pretty rare in BC these days, so I enjoyed the tall, wide trees, and the chaos that makes up the undergrowth of an old growth forest.

And those are the waterfalls of Strathcona Park! There are more waterfalls that are accessible through other park entrances, the most notable of which is Della Falls and is only accessible by boat, but we only had time for the core area of the park on this trip. Overall I had a blast and would highly recommend this park, which is so large it feels more like a National Park!