K2inCanada's Blog

August 16, 2015

Choo-Choo – BC Long Weekend Aug 1-3

Filed under: Canada, Hike — K2 in Canada @ 9:05 PM

It is hard to believe how few backpacking trips I have done since living in Canada – two! Back when I was living in Germany many of my vacations involved backpacking trips to get away from the crowds. And most of those in the Northern parts of Europe – Ireland, Scotland, Norway, Sweden – with the one exception of Gran Canary Island. So when I came to Canada I expected to do a LOT of backpacking. But living in Vancouver, it does not take long to get away. You can do the most amazing hiking as a day trip. Jeff introduced me to fly fishing and we spent/are spending many weekends car camping at remote lakes within a 3-5hr drive from home. Initially those trips were done in Jeff’s 1979 Volkswagen Van until it nearly fell apart and we finally got our first truck. We also discovered kayak touring early on and spent a lot more time in a sea kayak exploring the BC coast. Much easier to carry gear in a kayak than on your back. So there wasn’t that much need nor time to go backpacking. And my knees also never liked carrying a heavy pack.

Then came the BC Day long weekend with endless sunshine and heat in the forecast. Usually we stay in town on summer long weekends because traffic is just plain awful getting out of town and back. On Thursday before the long weekend I was studying the new hiking book “Scrambles” and saw all those awesome hikes in the Pemberton area which is just a bit too far for a day trip unless you are an early bird which I am NOT. I found this hike into Semaphore Lake which the book said is only 1.5hrs to get to the lake and not too terribly steep. And from the lake one can do some great scrambles up the surrounding mountains beautifully named Locomotive, Tender, Caboose, Faceless and Face :-). That sounded like a great 3 day backpacking opportunity but will the body’s back and knees hold up? I was still on the fence until late Friday evening. But just before bedtime I told Jeff we are going!!! He was a bit puzzled thinking the decision came a bit late. We hadn’t packed yet nor thought about what we needed nor did we have all the right food. Jeff had loaded up on chips for the weekend – sure they are light enough for backpacking – but no cereal bars or essential hiking food like bread and cheese and fruit. I figured we would have enough time in the morning to do all that. The hike in was only supposed to take 90min as per the book so we would not have to start till the afternoon. If the traffic is okay the drive to Pemberton would be less than 3hrs plus the drive up the Hurley River Road – a summer only gravel road I always wanted to drive up.

We got up at a normal time Saturday morning and started packing our backpacks in all leisure. Luckily I still had plenty of dry food  from our last kayak trip in 2013 and since it was only 3 days and warm weather I had room for both bags of chips, yeah :-). Jeff was carrying all the heavy stuff like tent and 10L of water (don`t ask why we would carry 10L of water when we go camping at a lake). We were on the road by about 11AM. Traffic was quite reasonable, bit slow getting through Whistler and all the lights. We stopped in Pemberton for some bread, salami, cheese and apples and had lunch in town at a place with really healthy – and a bit tasteless – food and smoothies. To make up for the chips we were going to eat for the next 2 days of course! And so the adventure begins. As we were driving up the lush green Pemberton Valley visibility got quite poor. SMOKE! I knew that there was a wildfire in the area but it was far enough away on the map that I thought we would never know. Unfortunately though the wind was driving the smoke into our direction. It wasn’t as bad as a few weeks ago in Vancouver but you could smell it a little bit. It got better as we drove up the Hurley River Road into the mountains. We reached the start of the trail by about 2PM and got a bit of a nasty surprise. I expected to see a few cars at the trail head but not over 20!!! The pull out only fit 4-5 cars so everyone, including us, was parking along the road. I was a bit worried about how busy the camping will be at the lake but I wasn’t thinking of going back home or find an alternate place. It was a sunny long weekend after all and it would be busy everywhere. On go the hiking boots – I only brought my day hikers and not my full on hiking boots – and the backpacks. Mine felt light enough and I was excited to get going.

The trail was nice and wound its way up steadily – 320m elevation gain over maybe 3km. The footing was good and I plowed through it like it was a normal hike, just a bit slower. Don`t stop till you get to the top. I used a hiking pole which helped a lot. We passed a couple of parties that must have started just before us along the way. The majority of the trail was through open forest until you climb up a steep bare knoll which gets you to just above the lakes. On top you have the view over a wide basin with Semaphore lake surrounded by heather meadows below us and a backdrop of high mountains, glaciers and waterfalls. The view was a bit obscured by smoke but still stunning!!! And to our surprise we did not see many tents – the area for camping was huge and everyone seemed to be able to find their own little spot away from each other. We found a spot right next to a little still creek with trees on one side that would provide shade from the mid day sun. It only took 1hr15min to get there. Any other year the spot would have been a swamp but not this dry summer. We set up camp right away and had our first bag of chips :-). After a short rest we tried to see if we could climb up to the foot of Train Glacier. There was a LOT of water coming down the mountain from the glacier and it was pretty loud. As we got closer we discovered that there are more lakes and camp spot all along. Some were occupied, many were not. It never ever felt crowded. And most surprisingly we saw NO garbage lying around – not even a single cereal bar wrapper. Maybe there is hope for mankind yet. As we got closer to the waterfall heather turned to rock and large areas of purple flowers – mostly Fireweed. We managed to scramble up the left side of the waterfall for a little bit but soon enough reached some steep cliff we did not feel like climbing. Instead we meandered back into camp and up another trail below the ridge to the east. It slowly climbed up and looked like would be the trail that would get us to Locomotive Mountain the next day. So we turned around again at a high point with nice views of the basin below and the mountains. I decided to scramble up a dry creek bed to the very top of the east ridge while Jeff returned to camp. The ridge top was nice with more meadows and lakes. I could see Jeff way below in the tent reading. I also saw that there was another lake, even bigger than the others we had seen so far. Instead of turning around I tried to find a way down the rocky area right above camp. It was a bit of a scramble but not too bad. And I got to hang out with a marmot for a while half way down. Back in camp I joined Jeff in the tent reading and napping. The bugs were actually quite bad. Mosquitoes, black flies and horseflies and I had not brought any repellent. As the sun went behind the mountains it started to cool off a bit. We had to put on long sleeve shirts and pants not only because of the temperature but also to protect us from the buzzing nuisances around us while cooking dinner – Goulashsuppe with pasta and Kielbasa sausage. Not the most delicious meal ever but filling. The one other thing we had not thought through very well was what to do with our smelly food during the night. There were a few trees around but none where we could string a proper rope to hang up the food, nor did we have a proper bag. So we did what we do on our kayak trips – packed all the food into one pack, moved it a bit away from the tent and peed around it to mark it as ours. We had seen absolutely no sign of bear anywhere so far and were hoping for the best. The night was clear and we left the fly of the tent. Stars started popping up as we crawled into our sleeping bags. It was awesome. Except, my sore back and shoulder woke me up ever couple hours. The moon came up around 1AM and drenched everything in bright light. But it was still awesome to camp under the stars! I was glad we were here.

Day 2 started later than I expected since a) neither Jeff nor I had slept well that night and b) it took a while for the sun to climb above the east ridge. We needed the sun to burn off the mosquitoes on the tent. I think it was after 8AM when we finally crawled out of the sleeping bags. The first hikers already walked past our camp on the trail we figured would lead to the peak of Locomotive, towering 680m above the campsite. The “Scrambles” book classifies it as easy/moderate with route finding. After a sandwich breakfast – correct, no bear nor mice had gotten into our food – we also started heading up the trail. It didn’t quite match with the description in the book but was generally going into the right direction. The first part was still through meadows climbing up a small ridge until we reached the gravel basin with a nice clear lake in it – this one was mentioned in the book. From here the route finding starts. Both Jeff and I thought we read that we had to stay above the un-named glacier hiking along the ridge all the way to the base of the still steep looking peak. The scramble up to the top of the ridge was a bit tricky but we only had to cross one small snow field. Jeff usually was way ahead and had to wait for me. One time he had a couple Ptarmigans keeping him company while waiting – pretty cool. The hike along the ridge was easy and even the last steep push up to the peak was fine. We were following rock cairns for most of it. The views were fantastic – up and down the Pemberton Valley below – still obscured by smoke. We weren’t the first ones to reach the top and we had passed a few parties along the way. So the top of the peak was getting crowded pretty quick. The view over Train Glacier and the other mountain tops was stunning though. We hung out for about 20min and then decided to push on to conquer one more peak – Tender Mountain. First we had to go down the steep side of Locomotive – no obvious trails here – and then back up Tender. It was fun though and we had Tender all to ourselves – for about 15min. We had passed Jonathon and his friend early on the way up. While his friend had enough after Locomotive Jonathon pushed on to Tender and after a short chat continued on to Caboose and Faceless. I had looked at continuing on and even though it looked possible following the ridge I was thinking about how my knees will feel on the way down. So we did the smart thing and went back down to hike another peak another day. The way down was not as bad for my body as I had feared but it took about the same time. Mind you we stopped at the high lake for a quick swim. It was cold but by far not as cold as lakes we tested on previous hikes. Instead of backtracking our steps up along the east ridge we headed down the basin – I think following the route described in the book. There was one steep section down a waterfall but with big boulders for providing solid footing it was relatively easy to do. We ended up in the lower basin with an easy walk back into camp. Once there, after ~6hrs of hiking, we dug into the 2nd bag of chips as a reward. :-). I wasn’t done for the day. While Jeff stayed in camp I had a look at the bigger lake I had spotted the day before from the east ridge. So I went for another hour walk and my 2nd swim rather than fighting the mosquitoes and black flies in camp. Upon my return we quickly cooked dinner – Kartoffelsuppe with rice and the remainder of the Kielbasa – before crawling into the tent to get away for the buzzing attackers.

Night 2 was about as restful as night 1 and we were slow in getting up again. Neither of us felt like we could do the 2nd scramble up Face. The route looked a bit too tricky to us, moderate scrambles are still above our skill level, especially when already tired. But we still wanted to do some more hiking in the area before breaking camp so climbed the east ridge together. This time all the way to Peak 6010. I think it deserves a better name than that :-). This was also the clearest day of the trip. No clouds, no smoke and I took all the pictures I took the last two days all over again. From the high point of the ridge we could see the road we came in on two days earlier way below us, as well as the long line of trucks parked at the trail head. Pretty neat hike along that ridge through meadows, past lakes, over rocks and through small bush. But it did not take long and by 11:30AM or so we were back at the tent, packed up and headed back down to the truck. Now with the extra weight of the pack – even though somewhat lighter with all the chips eaten 🙂 – I did feel my knee complaining more seriously but the hike was so beautiful it was easy to ignore.

We arrived at the car by 1PM – it was covered in dust from the dirt road, more yellow than silver. Since it was still early in the day, we decided to drive to the end of the Hurley River Road having heard so many good things said about how spectacular it is and how unique the towns of Gold Bridge and Bralorne are. Well, the views were nice but not anywhere near as nice as what we had seen on our hike. The towns were rather disappointing. It was a stat holiday after all and they seemed deserted. I guess we could have tried the pub in Bralorne but didn’t. It had clouded over a bit by then as well and looked like rain. We were a bit torn about going back the same way via Hurley River FSR or trying to find our way along Carpenter Lake and through Seton Portage and D’Arcy. But by then we were kinda tired of driving as well and the same way back seemed shorter despite all being gravel. The first bit of the road out of Bralorne, Hurley River East FSR, was quite a narrow road so going was a bit slower. It was paved between Gold Bridge and Bralorne. Once back on the main Hurley River Road it was fine except for the last stretch where we had caught up to another car and the dust was incredible – visibility near zero. Once we hit the paved Pemberton Valley Road everything was fine. Here we finally got radio reception to check on traffic. BC long weekends are known for the worst accident rate all year. Not that we expected anything more than a lot of traffic along Hwy99. Unfortunately we were wrong. Apparently they had just re-opened the highway for alternating single lane traffic after a full highway closure for an unmentioned amount of time 10km north of Squamish. So we decided to have an early dinner in Pemberton and see if the backlog of cars would dwindle down. Not much is open in Pemberton either from what we saw but we ended up having some pretty good food in the local Chinese joint. Much tastier, maybe not better, than the health food on the way in if you ask me. By the time we got on the road again they had opened the hwy fully in both directions but traffic was still heavily back up going south – nothing was said about how heavy but we figured we throw in another stop in Whistler and have a beer. That took about another hour of the clock and when we got back to the truck the radio said “3hrs to get from Whistler to Squamish” – the drive usually takes 30min. We ended up doing another stop along the way at Brandywine Falls and walked around a bit. It was starting to get dark. Hiked to the “Swim Lake” which turned out to be this small brown puddle with mud all around it – no thanks! Killed some time searching the rocks for Pikas on the way back and actually saw one :-).

Back in the truck we were hoping for good news but the radio still talked about 3hrs. And shortly after we hit the end of the line – still quite far away from the actual accident spot. So we just parked along the road for a bit until we could no longer see brake lights ahead. But we did not make it that much further until we saw them again. So we pulled off along the Cheakamus River together with a whole bunch of other cars. We were sitting there for at least 2hrs, reading, star gazing – it was pitch dark by now – or just talking. No stress, enjoying the last few hours of the long weekend outside rather than watching TV or sitting in traffic. Several cars left the parking lot only to return 10 min later reporting that the end of the line up was still not far away. Eventually we got tired of just waiting. By 11PM we finally put ourselves into the line up. It still looked like a long ways away from Squamish but it kept moving – quite slowly at times, but it moved. I was afraid that we would creep on like this all the way to Vancouver which would mean we might be home just in time for work the next morning but all this traffic cleared up miraculously right after where the accident had been. From there on it was near clear sailing all the way home. Hence we made it home by just after 12:30AM. Was this backpacking trip worth the effort – ABSOLUTELY!!!

Mind you, my back, which had been sore before the trip, and left knee had been bugging me for close to 2 weeks after! Not that that is going to stop me enjoying what I love to do but I think the next backpacking trip will be in a kayak again:-).

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