Hiking Skywalk North

Last week I said Tricouni Meadows might be my favourite hike of the season… then I did Skywalk North and now I can’t decide! After such a successful hike at Tricouni, I was enthusiastic to try another day hike. This time we decided on the Skywalk North Trail in Whistler – it doesn’t require any off-roading, but is a much longer trail with much more elevation gain.

HOP_7641

I’ve heard of the Iceberg Lake hike, which is quite popular, but I hadn’t heard much about the Skywalk trails, which I found in the 105 Hikes book by Stephen Hui. There’s a ton of hiking trails in the area and many mountain bike paths – the Skywalk trails consist of 2 loops with a shared middle section. The South Trail leaves from Alpine Way and the North Trail leaves from Mountain View Drive (both in Whistler). The South Trail is a bit shorter, but if you want to visit Iceberg Lake, they’re both probably about the same length because it’s a branch to visit the lake on the South Trail, whereas the North Trail goes right past it.

20220827_122312

So both trails are ~20km including the lake, though we tracked 22km on GPS, and over 1000m in elevation gain, so it is definitely a big hike and you should give yourself enough time to complete it. We started just before 10am and didn’t finish until just after 7pm. For the most part it’s not a very technical hike and it has a lot of flat sections, but this just means it does a lot of gain in a short distance, so it is steep.

IMG_1256

On VancouverTrails, it says it’s 7.5km to the lake, but my GPS tracked 9km and 900m of elevation gain, but I didn’t find this part of the trail difficult at all. The trail starts with a steep climb, then flattens as you walk through the trees along the river and past some waterfalls. Then you climb again up to the meadows where you meet the junction for the Skywalk South Trail. There’s an outhouse and a gorgeous view up to the glacier. It’s another 1km to the lake, which is the most technical part of the hike. You have to hike up through the boulder field to the base of the glacier. This was one of my favourite parts of the hike though because there were lots of wildflowers growing around the streams coming down from the glacier and it was very scenic!

IMG_1261

It took us about 3 hours to get up to Iceberg Lake. We barely saw anyone on the hike up to the meadows and once we left the lake, but it was fairly busy from the meadows to the lake. It was strangely cold on the day we visited though. Vancouver had been nursing a steady heatwave since mid July, but on the weekend we went, we got a brief cold spell and we had to layer up with fleeces and windbreakers at the lake. But not before I went for a swim!

20220827_124519

I pride myself on almost always going for a swim, no matter how cold the water is and this was no exception. I knew I was going to get cold fast once I stopped moving and my sweat cooled, so I stripped down to my swimsuit immediately. It was definitely some of the coldest water I’ve been in and I didn’t stay in for more than a minute. By the time I crawled out my body was already starting to go numb, but it was cool to briefly swim with all the bergy bits – that was a first for me!

20220827_123959

We hung out at the lake for a bit before continuing on. If you’re doing the South trail, you’ll have to hike back to the meadows, but the North trail climbs up over the pass on the right side of the mountain to continue into the sub-alpine. Unless you’re doing the shortest route (up and back on the Iceberg Lake Trail), I’d really recommend Skywalk North (though I haven’t done the South Trail yet). The hike up the pass was my favourite part of the whole hike because you get to look down on the lake and the glacier, which is a cooler vantage point than looking up on it.

20220827_140228

Once you get to the top of the pass, the trail flattens out again and you spend a lot of time hiking through meadow after meadow. We stopped at the top for a bit of a photoshoot and then took our time hiking down. What I liked about the North trail is that you get to spend a lot more time in the sub-alpine than if you just did the Iceberg Lake trail. There’s a great view looking out towards Whistler-Blackcomb, Wedgemount, and Pemberton and the alpine meadows were all in bloom with yellow arnica, purple lupins, white sitka valeria, and pink mountain heather. Plus by doing a loop you get to experience all new terrain!

20220827_141333

This part of the hike did take us a bit longer than anticipated. The down side to Berg Lake is that you eat your lunch when you haven’t done half of the trail, so it does make for a long afternoon. We hit Screaming Cat Lake around 4pm, which is a large lake before you start the downhill. I decided to go for a swim again and I was thrilled because Screaming Cat is not a glacial lake and is much warmer, so you can actually go for an enjoyable swim. It was still pretty cold, but once you got in, it was actually warmer in the water than out of it and we stayed in for a while, with both Lien and Brandon joining me.

HOP_7913

The rest of the hike was pretty painful for me. It’s been a while since I’ve done so much elevation gain in one day and my knees were starting to bother me. After Cat Lake you have to do about 850m of downhill, which gets progressively steeper. It’s still a very nice hike – the trees aren’t tightly packed, so the forest had a very sunny feeling, but my knees were both killing me. I got slower and slower and pretty much crawled down the last 2km. We added a bit more distance to take the less steep routes where possible to save my knees. Even still, it was just after 7pm when we exited the trail, which I thought was pretty good all things considered!

IMG_1334

We drove back to Squamish and had a delicious meal before heading back to Vancouver. I don’t think I got home until 11pm, so it was a very long day, but I really loved the hike! It’s a lot of work, but high reward and a lot of time spent in the alpine! Definitely recommend for those long summer days. Though I’d be wary of going on a really hot day – a lot of the hike is exposed and it’s a lot of climbing to do with no shade.

IMG_1289
HOP_7843

ECT Series: Beaches Path

2021 was my first Christmas home in Newfoundland since 2018, so I had lots of plans for my visit. Unfortunately they were, of course, all dashed by Omicron, but I still got to spend time with my immediate family and fortunately, the outdoors is always open, so I managed to do a little bit of hiking.

There was some snow when I visited, but pretty much nothing had accumulated yet. I brought my microspikes with me to do some hiking along the ECT, but they were overkill and I ended up just using my mom’s studs. The trail had the lightest dusting of snow and ice, but on the sunny day I hiked there, it made for the most picturesque photos!

PSX_20211224_150351

Beaches is a 7 kilometre trail between Witless Bay and Mobile that is ranked as easy. I only tracked 50metres of elevation gain over the whole thing and it was definitely a nice and simple trail. I went with my mom and it took us about 2.5 hours to hike one way. We started in Witless Bay and arranged to get picked up in Mobile. It’s nice to only have to hike one way, but given the ease of trail and distance, you could hike there and back if you don’t mind committing ~5 hours to the trail.

20211222_104310

I really liked this section of the East Coast Trail. In addition to being an easier trail, it’s incredibly scenic! it was a beautiful blue sky day when we visited and the first half of the trail out of Witless Bay takes you along several different beaches and along a few bluffs and cliff-sides. There are small sections through the woods, but for the most part you are directly along the coastline. The second half of the trail is a bit less scenic and has longer wooded sections, but there is one really nice viewpoint at Herring Cove that is worth walking down to. We still liked the entire trail, but if you only have 1 vehicle and don’t want to hike a full 14km, I would recommend hiking halfway along the Witless Bay side of the trail instead.

PSX_20211222_165918

This entire trail looks out towards the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. From the Witless Bay side of the trail there’s a nice view of Gull Island (see if you can spot the researchers cabin, Seth has done research here in the past!) and we could see a few puffins flying around from the Mobile side, even though it was winter. I haven’t hiked this trail in the summer, but I suspect there should be good bird-watching and whale-watching along the trail when it’s warmer. If not, it’s totally worth taking a boat tour of the area with either O’Brien’s or Gatheralls. We also spotted a seal hanging out in the water around the halfway point of the trail. This is a common occurrence in Vancouver, but I’ve never seen a seal from shore (and rarely from boat) in Newfoundland, so it was an exciting occasion!

DSC00007

Overall, Beaches Path makes for a great day hike. It’s a good length and the drive from St. John’s is reasonable (~45 minutes). It’s a very scenic trail, particularly on the Witless Bay side and I would love to return on a warm summer day. If you decide to do in the off season, I just recommend bringing some kind of traction (spikes or studs) if there’s any snow or ice down on the trail.

PSX_20211227_003100

Hiking Chain Lakes Trail

The final trail in my little ‘Fall hiking in Washington’ series is the Chain Lakes Trail that leaves from the ski area at Mount Baker. Me, Lien, and Emily had visited the previous year in March to snowshoe Artist Point and were totally awed by the views, so we decided to come back in the fall for a different view. It was Thanksgiving Weekend in October 2019, just one week after me and Lien had hiked Yellow Aster Butte. This time we were joined by Emily and my friend Amy, who flits in and out of my life every now any then. We never really know when she’s going to appear and disappear again, but it’s fun to hike with her!

DSC00810

We had Thanksgiving dinner at my house on Sunday night and then made an early departure on Monday morning to cross the border. Traditionally, me and Brandon have always gone on a Thanksgiving Monday hike (3 years running), but this year he went on holiday and bailed on me, so I had to console myself with my other companions. I really liked both Yellow Aster Butte and Chain Lakes, but of the two, I would definitely have to give the edge to Chain Lakes. At 11.5km, it has half the elevation gain of Yellow Aster Butte, just 375m. The trail starts in the backcountry parking lot at the ski hill. Be sure to get and print out the parking pass online before you go because there’s no where to get it on the mountain. It’s only $5 and I’m told you can get it at the visitor center at the bottom before you drive up, but I’ve never once seen it open on the weekend.

DSC00839

Chain Lakes is one of those rare trails that is scenic the ENTIRE trail. You’ve already driven up most of the elevation gain to get to the ski hill and from there, the trail continues up to the summer parking lot for Artist Point. In the summer, you can drive almost the whole way up to Artist Point, but at some point in September they close the road. Hiking up the road is the least scenic part of the trail, but still has really nice views looking down into the big bowl that’s popular among backcountry skiers. We decided to skip the Artist Point viewpoint since we’d already done it and instead continued down the other side of the parking lot into the backcountry. I think it’s a bit of an understated part of the trail, but it was one of my favourite parts. You hike right across the slope of Table Mountain, looking out towards Mount Baker.

DSC00840

From the Skyline Divide Trail, I felt like I was so close to Mount Baker that if I continued hiking I would eventually reach it (you can reach the foothills, but then the trail ends). But from the Chain Lakes Trail, you really are on the trail that goes up to the top of Mount Baker (albeit this is only for experienced mountaineers). It looked like if we just crested a few more hills we’d pretty much be there, but of course, it’s further then it looks as the size of the mountain dwarfs everything surrounding it and can be a bit misleading. Once you get to the end of Table Mountain, the trail turns to continue around the mountain and over to the chain lakes part of the trail. You can also hike along the top of Table Mountain, which may have to be an adventure for another day.

DSC00909

The first lake you come to is Mazama Lake. You can camp there, but it’s pretty small and not the most scenic, so if you’re overnighting, I’d recommend one of the other lakes instead. After Mazama, you come to Iceberg lake, which is the biggest and has staggering views looking up at the steep cliffs that surround the lake. This is where we decided to stop for lunch and enjoy the views before starting our climb back up the pass to the top of the trail.

DSC00879

One of the awesome things about Chain Lakes, in addition to the fact that the entire hike is scenic, is that it’s a loop trail, so you don’t have to do any return on the trail. It starts to climb around Iceberg Lake until you reach Haynes Lake, which is where I’d recommend branching off to camp. From there it gets really steep. There’s some great views looking back down the trail at Iceberg lake and you continue climbing to the top of the pass before starting to descend back into the bowl we were looking at from the start of the trail. It seemed like most people were doing the trail in the opposite direction as us, starting with the steep climb up the bowl. I’d recommend going the same way as us though because then you get to finish the hike with what was, in my opinion, the best view.

DSC00922

The view from the top of the pass is really unreal. The mountains stretch out around you in every direction and as you climb up the side of the Mazama dome, you really feel like you’re on top of the world. We’d already had lunch, but we decided to stop and have a break to make tea so that we could enjoy the view for a little bit longer! Even though we still had a few kilometers left to go, from the top we could pretty much see the trail down to the bottom almost the whole way there. We continued from the pass and started the long descent down the bowl to the parking lot. We were basically undoing all of the elevation from the rest of the hike in this stretch, which is why I recommend doing the hike from the other direction, that way the ascent is more gradual, with a few flat parts in between as you climb up. The descent down the bowl though is hard on the knees, so something to take into consideration as well.

IMG_4567

The trail switchbacks for a while until you finally reach the bottom. It weaves through the valley and you pass by a few more lakes and the most quaint little rock bridge. Seriously, there’s no part of this trail that is not scenic, and even a few minutes before the parking lot, we were still stopping to take pictures of things. Except for Emily, who was badly in need of a washroom and sprinted the last 15 minutes of the trail to get to the outhouse.

IMG_4564

Sadly that was our last adventure in the North Cascades. I returned the following winter with Carolyn and Brandon to snow camp on Artist Point, but unfortunately with Covid, we haven’t been able to return. I was hoping to do a few hikes in the summer and fall again, but sadly I’ll just have to wait until next year (hopefully). Either way, if you’re from Washington, I’d definitely recommend hitting up the North Cascades, and if you’re Canadian, put in on your bucket list!

IMG_4406
IMG_4534