The forecast was good, and a leisurely start to the day had us leaving home around 11 am, with coffee at the ready. We took a steady drive east, through the boring flat bits of the Fraser Valley eventually reaching Hope where the road became more interesting. Driving down into Manning Park is wonderful – you’re sandwiched between two ridges of mountains and the road winds its way along the rivers. There’s even the odd deer here and there. We got to Manning Park at 2 pm and stopped at the lodge to eat our sandwiches. I went to see if they had any of their nice hiking maps for sale, but no – they had stopped making them. Oh well – good job I’d printed something out from the website then!
We drove up to the start of the meadows, startling a marmot on the way (goal number 1 sort of satisfied but it doesn’t really count if you see it on the road) and by 3.15 pm we were parked up and packed up and ready to go. At the car park we could hear strange high-pitched peeping noises. These turned out to be ground squirrels warning each other of our presence :-)
Soon we were ready to go – it would be 3 days before we’d be back here. We set off along the trail and – wow – did those packs feel heavy! We started off quite slowly in the hot sunshine, following the trail through the meadows, marvelling at the complete and utter lack of flowers. It was dry and dusty and really not very interesting, and we were hoping that it wasn’t a sign of things to come. The trail wound its way downhill (uh-oh), in and out of small wooded patches. This part of the trail was clearly an old road and it was mostly pretty uninspiring. It probably also sees the highest foot traffic since most of the people looking for the flowers would end up coming down this trail.
However, there were patches of flowers here and there – lupine, arnica, and paintbrush the most common – and they were very pretty. But it wasn’t the intense display we were expecting. Maybe we had set our hopes too high? Anyway, it was easier to keep going downhill than to contemplate turning round and going elsewhere. Taking photos of flowers at ankle height while wearing a heavy pack is not the easiest thing to do, so mostly we just walked and looked, oohing and aahing as we went.
After about an hour and a quarter we came to an outhouse and a couple of picnic benches. Lots of flowers here too. A good time to have a snack/water break and make some adjustments to our boots and packs. We carried on after about 10 minutes and we had gone less than 100 yards before we came to the sign for the first campground: Buckhorn. Now this was supposed to be 5.5 km from the start, and at our pace there was no way we had covered 5.5 km (more like 4 to 4.5). We looked at the campground and contemplated moving on to the next one, 8 km further. As soon as we started heading uphill towards the next campground, we decided that it would be a good idea to just take it easy and spend the first night here. We wandered around and settled on the campsite furthest from the trail, especially as it had its own picnic bench and a view of the setting sun. Plus it was close to the stream for water (which we filtered with our brand new water filter and treated with Pristine drops).
By 5.30 pm the tent was pitched, and ready to sleep in. There was only 1 other tent in the campground: a man with his young (6 or 7 year-old) daughter. They had forgotten their matches and were facing the prospect of a cold dinner had we not turned up! Another couple came in a bit later (complete with a lovely big Alsatian) but that was it: three tents in the middle of nowhere. It was so quiet. So peaceful.
We set about cooking dinner: a dry chilli mix to which we added beans. Baked beans :-) More like cowboy camp! All we needed was a little warming drink (oh yeah, we had a measure or two of Glenmorangie). Anyway, it tasted good and we managed to fend off the persistent whisky jacks. These birds are also known as grey jays and they are master food robbers. They are so used to people that the first I knew of one of them, it was trying to land on the peak of my baseball cap! However, if you don’t feed them, they do eventually give up and fly off.
By 7.30 pm, we had eaten and washed up and sat down with a hot chocolate to watch the sun go down. It was getting chilly quickly – there was a cool breeze coming at us too. But it’s summer, right? Yes, except we were camping at an elevation of 1800 m (6000 feet!) where the air’s a little thinner and it’s definitely a little cooler at night. By 8.30 pm it was chilly enough to send us into the tent where we settled down for a very early night. I can’t say I slept well – it was so quiet that every little noise had me wondering what it was. Especially if it sounded bear-like…