Fraser Canyon, 23-24 Jun 2007

Somewhere new
Time to explore somewhere new. Our arrival in Vancouver was via the Fraser Canyon (on the Rocky Mountaineer), and we had driven through it once: in the dark, when it was raining. So it was about time we actually spent some time exploring it. The `103 Hikes’ book lists several hikes in the Canyon, and we picked a couple to do over a weekend.

Friday night we picked up Andrew and Merewyn and headed east on Highway 1, through the rush-hour traffic leaving Vancouver and then into rain just before Hope. Our destination was Emory Creek Provincial Park campground, and we got there for about 8 pm. We cruised round the campground, claimed our spot and pitched the tents before settling down for a late dinner. The campground was mostly empty, and quiet. Except for the close proximity of the Canadian National Railway line. And the Canadian Pacific line on the other side of the river. Still, it was mostly peaceful, and the trains didn’t bother us too much overnight.

Saturday: 1848 (First Brigade) Trail
Saturday morning dawned cloudy, but patches of blue sky began to appear during breakfast. Everyone was in a good mood and by 10 am we were heading out for our first hike. We reached the trailhead, parking the car at Alexandra Lodge and got under way at 10.30 am. Our choice of hike was the 1848 Trail, also known as the First Brigade Trail which was first defined by a brigade sponsored by the Hudson Bay Company in its attempt to find an overland route from Yale in the Canyon to the Interior.

We passed a sign which explained some of the history and before long were heading uphill in a mossy open forest. The trail was steep, but truly delightful: the forest was a feast of green and spring flowers were beginning to bloom. Flowers + photographers = lots of stopping and starting, and the pace of the day was quickly established. We pretty-much sauntered up through the trees, taking pictures of new flowers, pretty creeks and creepy crawlies along the way. After about an hour and a half, we came to a fabulous viewpoint overlooking the valley (canyon). There was even a bench, a welcoming breeze and a large fallen tree made for an excellent safety barrier.

We pushed on through the trees, thankful for a bit of shade. The trail was soft underfoot and meandered through the forest, with Devil’s Club and other moisture-loving plants all around. Not so many flowers, but plenty of Western Coralroot, a spring favourite of mine. It’s a saprophytic orchid which means it gets its nutrients from decaying matter (like fungi) but it’s a flowering plant, so relies on insects for pollination (rather than releasing spores). They’re really cool.

1848 Trail, 23 Jun 2007

We reached a trail junction and took the right fork up on to the high ridge. More uphill (pant, pant) but soon the trail levelled out and we reached a more open area where a forest fire had burned a few years ago. Here we saw Lupines and other meadow flowers. Here too Maria found she had a hitch-hiker: a deer tick had embedded itself in her side. OK, time to try out the tick tweezers we’ve been carrying for years. Well all I can say is that ticks are very hard to remove with these tweezers. Eventually the tick broke leaving the all-too-nasty mouthparts in the skin. A bit more effot, and a different pair of tweezers and we had all of the various bits of the tick safely stored in a little plastic jar to take to the doctor when we got home.

Continuing on (and ignoring a passing shower) the trail wound its way down through the burned area, now full of head-high spring growth of fireweed. Here and there were bright yellow Columbia Lilies, nodding in the breeze, and a colourful contrast to the fire-blackened trees. We reached the end of the burned area and the trail headed back into the forest for a short distance. At the location of a lake, a small sign pointed uphill to `Campsite’. We followed this trail, as the description on Club Tread mentioned it. It was faint but discernible and soon we reached an open spot on the edge of a cliff overlooking another lake. This was our lunch spot, and we spent a lazy hour or so eating, enjoying the view and taking photos. We could see up towards Gate Mountain, and decided that we had sufficient time to try that peak, or at least as far as the Notch mentioned in the book.
1848 Trail, 23 Jun 2007

Moving on, we soon met up with the rest of the trail and, misreading the map in the book, we turned right. Before long, our trail turned right uphill and a flagged trail went straight on. We figured this was the 1858 trail and proceeded to follow it. Although faint, it was possible to follow the trail and flagging tape down through some nice old-growth forest but within a few minutes we ended up crossing a small creek and we were suddenly surrounded by tape! We explored a bit further but there was no clear direction to go, and we turned back.

We rejoined our original trail and turned left to follow it further. But it turned south, suggesting we would return to the `Campsite’ sign, and so we turned round and followed the trail back again. We passed where we came in from the campsite trail (where we’d had lunch) and within a couple of minutes were at the campsite! By now it was too late to attempt Gate Mtn, so we vowed to return another day. :-) We used the picnic bench for a snack break, took more photos of the view over the Fraser Canyon and turned south. Looks like a nice place to camp.

We passed the lake we could see from our lunch spot up on the cliff and soon we were back among the burned trees (and fireweed and flowers). The trail wound its way up, yielding great views over the Canyon. At one point the trail becomes a scramble over a narrow rocky outcrop (the Club Tread description calls it `unbelievably narrow’ but I don’t think I’d go that far) with even better views (and steeper drop-offs). We could see the Fraser River coming around a bend just downstream from Hell’s Gate and watched a couple of trains trundle on by. It all looked like a model from up there :-) Here we had a Common Nighthawk twitter and fly in front of us before landing on a convenient branch so we could photograph it! Beautiful bird, and one I’ve been wanting to see for ages (OK so I wanted to see a Nightjar, but this was close enough :-).

By now it was getting late, so we put away the cameras and headed back to the car. Before long we rejoined the trail coming uphill and began the knee-punishing descent. We reached the car at 6pm: we had taken 7 hours :-) That’s what I call leisurely.

We drove back to the campground to make dinner and share a bottle of wine. We bought some firewood from the camp attendant and made ourselves a nice little fire to sit back and enjoy. As the fire died down, we were all suddenly very sleepy and crawled into our tents for some well-deserved sleep.

Sunday: Spirit Caves Trail
During the night there was a bit of rain and we all awoke with some trepidation for the day. It dried off over breakfast and the clouds began to break, teasing us with some blue sky. We packed away our tents and headed towards Yale for the Spirit Caves trailhead. We found some parking a few yards up the road, pulled on our boots and headed off.

Emory Creek, 24 Jun 2007

The trailhead was marked and was next to a marshy area with waist-high horsetails, the biggest I’ve ever seen. Into the forest
and a pleasantly wet bushwack through flowering thimbleberry, followed by walking up along a slippery log and then more wet thimbleberry and salmonberry. As we passed under the power lines we came to a small clearing with a view over the river. Pleasant enough for a water break and a couple of photos, before carrying on.

Then the real climb began. Again, the trail was a great one to hike, only a couple of boots wide as it wound its way relentlessly upwards through the trees. The slope was really steep and I was a bit nervous in places as losing your footing would result in quite a long tumble! And it would probably hurt. Up and up, and round switchbacks until we came up to a narrow ridge with steep slopes on either side. We could hear All Hallow’s Creek gurgling away down on our left. Then the trail climbed some more, over a washed out part of the trail (with another long slide below – eek!) and up again.

Spirit Caves Trail, 24 Jun 2007

The trail suddenly levelled out and we found ourselves at a cliff with an absolutely amazing south-facing view of Yale and the Fraser Canyon. A steel cable had been strung along the trees to provide a barrier to stop people finding the edge by mistake, but of course the best views to be had were a few feet the other side of it ;-) We heard a train and looked down into Yale and to our amazement, the Rocky Mountaineer was just passing through. (In May we saw the Whistler Mountaineer in Cheakamus Canyon :-) Although it was nearly lunchtime, we decided to push on to the caves to explore them before coming back to this viewpoint to eat.

We pushed on through the forest, which had levelled out and become even more green and mossy than before. As expected, we came to a pile of huge mossy boulders. And just as described, the caves were really only gaps between the boulders. We wandered over the boulders, taking pictures of course but decided against venturing into any of the `caves’. Most of the entrances were just that little bit too tight to get through for my comfort.

Now it was time for lunch and we headed back to the clifftop viewpoint. The sun was out, we were fed and we spent an hour just soaking up the view. Somehow we dragged ourselves away from the view and began the steep descent. I was a bit worried about it since there had been a few tricky spots on the way up. But in the end it was fine, hard on the knees but not difficult. I guess the angle of the trail going up made it seem steeper than it was. Within an hour we were back at the car.

Alexandra Bridge
From here we headed north towards Alexandra Lodge again to see the old bridge over the Fraser River. We parked up and took a gentle walk down to the bridge, stopping for a very long and noisy train in the process. The bridge was a bit of a surprise, looking more dilapidated than I expected. The road bed was an open metal grill, allowing us to see the river flowing by underneath. It was fun to walk across such a huge river, far bigger than anything in the UK.

Alexandra Bridge, 24 Jun 2007

We headed back up the hill to the car and drove back down to the RV park next to our campground to get ice cream and coffee. Ice cream never tasted so good! Then it was time to drive home, through some torrential rain (no hope of seeing Mt Cheam from the road) and even hail. Emerging from the rain storm we found ourselves in heavy traffic, but with quite a spectacular view of towering storm clouds, and a thunderstorm over the North Cascades. Even despite the traffic, it wasn’t long before we were home and unpacked.

All in all, a great weekend :-) And definitely a place to revisit.

Total distance: 13 + 5 + 1 = 19 km
Total elevation gain: 780 + 530 + 20 = 1330 m
1848 Trail photos on Flickr
Spirit Caves photos on Flickr

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