Saturday… Mt Frosty
The Canada Day weekend: the first long weekend of the summer. This time last year we went to Della Falls on Vancouver Island. This year we decided to go to Manning Park.
At the wholly unreasonable time of 6.45 am, we picked up Anne and by 7 am had collected Merewyn as well. The drive to Manning Park was pleasant and uneventful, the section of Highway 3 through the valleys of the Sumallo and Skagit rivers being especially scenic as always. We reached the first campground around 9.30 am, and cruised round looking for that magical camping spot. We didn’t see it so we moved on to the Hampton campground (where Maria and I had camped on the Labour Day weekend in 2005). This campground was almost completely deserted and we had no trouble finding our ideal site, bathed in sunshine yet surrounded by a few trees with a handful of lupines and columbia lilies for decoration. Before long our tents were pitched and we were ready to head out for our first hike: Mt Frosty. Or Frosty Mountain depending on your preference.
Our first stop was the lodge to fill up our water bottles. I was amazed at the sheer number of ground squirrels, guarding burrows, squeaking to one another even allowing inquisitive photographers to get quite close. We parked at the Lightning Lake day use area and at 12 noon on the dot, we were ready to go. Around the bottom of Lightning Lake, and immediately up the slope through the trees. The incline was quite gradual and we had no trouble making good time. The trail still had a few wind fall trees which required a bit of climbing over or under, but most of the hard work had been done. A few switchbacks later and we had gained some height, reaching the 1 km mark with a nice view along the Lightning Lake valley and its defining ridgelines.
The trail continued its way up and levelled off a little. Gaps in the tree cover allowed sunny patches of flowers to spring up, mostly lupines. Before long we started to see small snow patches in sheltered spots. Hooray! I was going to get into the snow in June, keeping up my snow-every-month plan. Up again and some more switchbacks, this time crossing a dry west-facing slope with great views, plus lots of lupines, paintbrush and phlox.
The trail levelled off again as we reached the first plateau, meandering along, up and down through the trees. The snow had only just left these areas as the ground was still covered by flattend foliage. Here and there were glacier lilies, sometimes just one or two, sometimes a small bunch. And we saw our first western anemone flowers: we had seen plenty of `moptops’, which are the seed heads of this flower but never seen the actual flower. Of course this slowed us down as we scrabbled around on hands and knees to try and get that perfect photo. Not much further and we reached a mini-meadow, filled with lilies, anemones and spring beauty, sparking off a photo frenzy :-) Although there was nowhere to sit except on the trail, Merewyn tactfully suggested to the rest of us that this might make a good lunch spot. And so it was.
Beyond our lunch spot we encountered more snow patches, and the odd tree over the trail. We came to the Frost Creek backcountry campground, with its nasty outhouse (though not the worst) and creepy-looking shelter. A group that had passed us on the way up had stopped here for their lunch. We crossed the creek (according to the map, it’s not actually Frosty Creek) and headed uphill, crossing more and more snow patches and getting our first glimpses of the craggy faces of Mt Frosty. Just as we reached the larch plateau, the snow became continuous and our hiking turned to trudging on soft slushy snow. Hard work – it’s like walking on sand. Except wet. At least walking on the snow was cooling off my feet.
The larch plateau is named for the larch trees that grow there at an altitude of 2000 m (6600 ft) above sea level. For us they were just budding, sprouting new soft and rubbery needles. Later in the year the needles turn yellow and they are shed by the tree. It’s the only evergreen tree that isn’t! We all agreed it would be fabulous to see them in the autumn when the needles changed colour.
The plateau is also quite open, with only copses of trees here and there, which makes for some great views over the rest of Manning Park to the north, and the North Cascades to the south across the border. Another curious feature was that the snow was pink, or at least was streaked pink in places. We later found out that is called Watermelon snow, because it’s the colour of watermelon, and it smells like watermelon. Apparently. We didn’t get close enough to notice. But it was really interesting to see. The colour is caused by a particular species of algae which is red rather than green. In places, the snow had melted into little `sun cups’ and these were darkest red.
We reached the far end of the plateau and spent a few minutes contemplating the spectacular views of Mt Frosty. It was 4.30pm and I was pretty tired – it had been a long day and I was feeling the effects of being at altitude. But the others were eyeing up the peak of Frosty itself and were wondering how long it would take. We met a couple who had just come down and Merewyn asked them. The guy replied saying how long it had taken him, and then inflated it by 25% as his estimate of how long the girls would take! Well, we thanked him politely and delayed them no longer. I decided to stay put and let the others continue. It meant I didn’t get to the summit of Frosty, but I did get some peace and quiet ;-) some sunshine and coolar air, and some nice photos of the mountain.
So I sat back and watched them climb up through the talus to the Windy Joe trail junction. After a pause to take in the scenery they continued up to the summit. It was at this point that I thought, well maybe I can make it up to the Windy Joe junction. Rested, I followed and although the rocks looked steep and difficult from a distance, the trail was actually quite easy. There were some steep dropoffs, but the actual exposure was minimal. It reminded me of hiking up the Old Man of Coniston in the Lake District, or Snowdonia in Wales.
Well, going that far was well worth it. It was very windy, sure, but the views were unbelievable. Some of the best panoramic views I have ever seen. I could see the Three Brothers and the Heather Trail had a great angle on the east face of Frosty. Plus immediately below me was a huge snow-filled bowl, which looked like it would make an amzing slide. Indeed, people had slid down, and I could see steps kicked in to the snow right up the face to the summit of Mt Frosty. Looked like a good place to practice self-arrests, and just plain have fun!
I carried on along the ridge, past the `Use Extreme Caution’ sign and met up with the three girls coming back down. They told me all about the magnificent views from the summit and that I really should go up there. Apparently someone had taped a little Canadian flag to the summit post. very fitting for the Canada Day weekend. We then picked the best possible spot for a group photo with mo
untains all around before reluctantly heading back down. It was 6 pm. Time to head back down! Before long we back down by the plateau, having glissaded down the snow :-) Reaching firm ground again, we hiked a steady pace back to the car, passing all the flowers we’d stopped at on the way up. We watched the sun go down behind the ridges as we descended into the valley, and by 9 pm we had reached the car where we watched a deer for a few minutes. The last 5 km seemed to take a long, long time; especially the final kilometre. But we were back, and it was time to go cook some dinner!
It was a pleasure to get the boots off! We headed back to the campground and by 10.30 had eaten a quick dinner. By 11 pm we were all heading off into our tents for a well-deserved night’s sleep!
Sunday… First Brother
Aah, Sunday…. Canada Day. A more leisurely start. We got up when the sun rose on the tent and it became too hot inside. Breakfast was had in the sun as we planned the day. Another 20-odd km hik, but with much less elevation gain: First Brother, or Three Brothers depending on who you asked. This would repeat part of what we did along the Heather Trail last August, but we didn’t mind. It’s such a nice trail it would be great to do it again.
We drove up to the Blackwall Peak trailhead, passing a super-cute bunny and a couple of marmots along the way. We paused briefly at the Cascade Overlook to soak up the views of Mt Frosty, before parking up at the trailhead and donning our boots again. By 10.30 or so we were ready to leave. The first part of the trail is downhill, which means it’s a bit of a slog uphill on the return leg. There were still patches of snow here and there, and not many flowers out, mostly anemones. It had clouded over a little too, so it was cooler than yesterday.
Down and down towards Buckhorn campground, passing lilies and anemones galore, along with a few marigolds and globeflower (we identified these later). We soon reached the campground and quickly passed through the camp over the creek (running much higher than last year) and began our climb up onto the Heather Trail. The uphill stretch had our tired muscles complaining, but we took it slowly up through the old burned area. We reached the end of the trees and came out into the first meadows. We felt a bit embarrassed by the time we had spent yesterday trying to get photos of the small number of lilies and anemones we saw. Here they were out in their hundreds, covering the slopes in every direction. Of course we couldn’t resist taking more pictures…
Plodding steadily on, we reached Bonnevier junction and stopped for a break to take in the view. From here, we began crossing snow patches again, and in places the trail was a running stream. And were it was water, it was dark-chocolate coloured mud. Only a few flowers here and there, but plenty of new growth was visible. Seeing only a few leaves poking through made it impossible to identify most of the plants, with the exception of the poisonous Indian Hellebore, with its distinctive leaves. The views opened up even more, and we found ourselves staring at numerous distant peaks: Frosty, Hozameen and others unknown to us.
Having discussed the relative lack of flowers amongst ourselves, we then found something new: shooting stars. These are beautiful deep-pink flowers with cone-shaped inner regions, so they look a bit like a rocket. Of course we took a photo or two :-) As always, once you see one you suddenly see many and we could make them out all around us.
The snow patches became larger and larger. And more tiring as we had to make our way up numerous steep little snow banks. But First Brother soon came into view and gave us hope that we weren’t too far off! More snow, and then we were at the base of the climb up to the ridge. We decided that here would be a good spot to have lunch. Provided we could get shelter from the wind, that is, which was now quite strong. We hid behind a small line of spruce trees, and had a pleasantly warm and lazy lunch break.
More clouds rolled in and the wind pick up some more, but we trudged our way up the steep slope to the ridge of First Brother. More flowers here, but it was too windy to take photos: the flowers were being blown about all over the place. After the longest 15 minutes ever, we were on the ridge and heading off to the summit. We scrambled up the little rock pile (no marmot this time), and within a few minutes were standing at the summit cairn and marker. The wind here was amazing and it was hard to hold a conversation. Instead we sat down, and just huddled by the cairn :-) We chatted to someone else who’d got there moments before us, and Merewyn wandered off to the end of the ridge to see where it went. The views were spectacular in all directions and we took a few photos, but decided against a group shot in case the camera was blown over!
After a while we decided it was time to head back down, rejoining the main trail in a short time. A little bit of uphill back into the snow and everything seemed to be twice as hard: our legs were even more tired now! But at least we could enjoy sliding down the numerous little banks we’d had to climb up on the way out. Some were good for boot-sliding (glissading), others for bum-sliding. One of the last patches of snow had an almost vertical 10-foot face on it, so I decided to try it out :-) Woohoo! Getting up there was hard enough, having to kick steps into the snow. I tried to stay on my feet but on my first attempt I went straight down on my bum and slide the rest of the way, sending a huge spray of snow in all directions. I had to try it again though, and the next time I stayed on my feet the whole way. Great fun :-) Now Maria and Merewyn had to try and they both opted for the bum slide. Probably the best slope all day.
After that, we more or less yomped our way back into Buckhorn Camp. It was cool and windy and we wanted some shelter. Down into the trees again and the wind dropped and suddenly we were too warm! But it was welcome relief after the wind-blasting. On our way down through the burned area we spotted a ground squirrel and snapped a couple of photos. Reaching Buckhorn Camp we made use of their facilities, one of which was the worst outhouse I have ever visited. Yeauch! Seriously disgusting and we opted for a spot behind the trees instead.
Then came the final climb out of the campground. Only 4.5 km, but uphill. We weren’t looking forward to it, but we just set ourselves a steady pace and plodded along. About half-way back we startled a mother grouse and her brood and we stopped to watch and photograph them for a few minutes. She didn’t seem too bothered by us, as long as we kept our distance. They were all in constant communication: the hen gently clucking, the chicks with their high-pitched cheeping. After the `aww-they’re-so-cute’ effect wore off, we carried on up the hill. They were a welcome distraction, as it didn’t seem so bad after that.
We counted down the markers and then we were almost there. We came to the low-point of the return journey: the Staircase of Death. It was like som
eone had just put the Grouse Grind in front of us. Groaning, we plodded up the steps and emerged on the flatter plateau above, only to be greeted by the sight of the communications tower at the trailhead which still looked far away, and uphill. A bit more grunting later and we were back at the car, much earlier than yesterday :-) With relief, we peeled off our boots and headed back down the hill.
We slowed down as we came to the rock pile where we’d spotted a marmot in the morning. Ah, there it was and we pulled over to get a photo, only for the marmot to come bounding towards us like a family dog greeting us at the end of a day away! It came right up to the car and then disappeared, so I stopped the car right there. It proceeded to wander round the car, sniffing at bits here and there, allowing us to get a photo or two out the window. Then we decided to get out of the car and at first it scampered off, but soon returned to the car, even getting up on its hind legs at one point with its front paws on the car door! Then it began to investigate us, first Merewyn and then having a nibble at Maria’s laces. While this was a great spectacle for us, it must be used to getting a snack out of the tourists. We didn’t oblige and chased it away, far enough for us to safely continue our drive.
We stopped again at the Cascade Overlook as another marmot was posing on the concrete wall, right in front of Mt Frosty! Yup – they sure know how to pose. Then it was back to the campground and a luxurious dinner. We made ourselves a cozy campfire and had some fun with photography before eventually crawling off into our respective tents.
Monday… Lightning Lakes
Another sunny morning… Another leisurely breakfast. We packed away our tents, Merewyn doing her fabulous strong person impression, lifting her dwelling above her head :-) packed up the car and headed for the Lightning Lakes car park again. Manning Park has lots and lots of ground squirrels, and they were in abundance at Lightning Lake. A lot of high-pitched `peeping’ sounds as they chattered to one another. One of the burrows we were close to had three small furry creatures in it: three young squirrels, plus a watchful mum. They didn’t seem too bothered by us and were quite content to run between the various burrow entrances. One of them even stopped to feed. They were very cute and we spent a while watching and taking photos.
Reluctantly (and our muscles were very reluctant!) we headed off around the lake, taking the long way round first. We remembered how long that felt at the end of a hike so figured it would be best to get it out of the way first. It was funny to think that the last time we were on that trail, it was covered in snow and we skied across the lake. We hiked at a steady pace, thankful for the lack of uphill! At one point we passed a small pond filled with luminous green algae, making it seem as though the lake were glowing.
We reached Rainbow Bridge at the midpoint of Lightning Lake and watched a canoe paddle beneath us. Given a choice of trail, we opted to stay close to the lake on the Fisherman’s Trail. Before long we wished we hadn’t done that: every few yards we were picking our way through, over and under fallen trees and we were tiring quickly. The warm, still and humid air made it very sticky going. We came to a clearing on the edge of the lake and stopped for a break, taking in the view. It was almost mid-day and we felt in need of lunch, but we resisted and had some trail mix instead. We froze as we heard rustling in the bushes behind us and were relieved to see it was a young doe looking for food. She stopped at the base of a tree and found something good to eat as she didn’t move despite our encroachment with cameras. Eventually she did spook and moved away from us. That was our cue to continue and we tackled yet more blowdown before eventually rejoining the main trail.
Now our pace picked up again and we quickly reached the end of Lightning Lake, passing alongside the creek connecting the lake with the next before Flash Lake opened up before us. We spotted a pair of loons on this lake and they obliging treated us to their haunting call. Our next wildlife encounter was also heard before seen. Another strange sound, like a teenage boy’s voice breaking as he tried to hit a high note. Mystery solved: it was a trio of young ravens. They sounded so funny, literally as if their voices were breaking :-)
The warm sunshine on the trees made for a very aromatic wander. I love the scent of the spruces and firs. We reached the end of Flash Lake and then onto Strike Lake. We were now hungry for lunch so we looked for a suitable spot, finding a great one down by the lakeside complete with a couple of makeshift log benches. A warm, leisurely lunch ensued. We were constantly visited by several butterflies and a couple of them took a liking to Maria’s hat. Amazingly they stayed put even for a prolonged photo-shoot :-)
Merewyn and I wanted to see Strike Camp, so we pushed on for the final km or so to take a look. Well no wonder it’s close: it was still a mess of trees. Some very large trees had come down in the winter storms and they were only partly cleared. I took a peek in the food cache and was disappointed to find no tins of salmon (unlike the last time :-) With not much else to look at, we headed back to rejoin Maria and Anne. They were snoozing in the warm sun and we reluctantly dragged them away. On the return leg we took the trails around the southern shores of Flash and Lightning Lakes. Getting to that side of the lake was a bit tricky in places, with the creeks running very high and fallen trees blocking our route. But we made it with dry feet and wandered along, encountering the meadowy marsh (or should that be marshy meadow?) at the eastern end of Flash Lake. A big beaver lodge stood proudly in the centre, and many of the trees (including some large ones) showed signs of busy beavers.
On rejoining the main trail we found the water running even higher and had to carefully pick our way through to find the trail. It was a good test of balance and route-finding :-) Finally we reached Lightning Lake itself and we just had the last stretch to go. By now we were all really tired and we put our heads down and hiked. At one point we encountered the loons again and I tried to get a photo or two but it wasn’t to be. At least we got a close up look and could see that they had some young loons with them, a real treat! Moving on, we passed another beaver lodge at the edge of the lake (some of the beaver teeth marks were about my waist level – them’s big beavers ’round here!) and finally Rainbow Bridge came into view. Now only 1.5 km back to the car and thankfully it was only a short time before we made it. It was 5 pm and we celebrated removing our boots for the last time by heading back to the lodge for a rest stop and the most important food group of the weekend: ice cream!! :-)
Although the weekend was mostly over, we still enjoyed the drive home. The light was beautiful and everyone was relaxed and happy. We stopped for one last photo call at the gia
nt marmot at the entrance to Manning Park, something we’d been wanting to do for ages! Back on the road, we joined the mad rush on Highway 1. For the second weekend in a row, we weren’t able to see the top of Mt Cheam from the road: this time a thin veil of cloud cloaked the top (at least it wasn’t torrential rain this time!). We stopped off in Chilliwack for food (Extreme Pita – highly recommended), thinking that we’d be stuck in traffic for the rest of the drive back in to Vancouver, but to our amazement there were no jams anywhere, not even the usual slow-down for the Port Mann bridge over the Fraser.
By a little after 9 pm we were dropping off Merewyn at her place, then back to Kits to drop off Anne before we got home. We unpacked the car, threw everything in a heap and raced for the shower before crawling into a very comfortable bed… What a fantastic weekend :-)