A weekend away
For a change we called out a pair of hikes to the Wanderung group, which found us at 8th & Pine for 7 am meeting up with Trey, Russ, Sara and Irene. We split up between the cars, picked up Maya on our way through downtown, then Andrew at Park Royal and headed up the Sea to Sky highway. Heading into Lions Bay I thought I caught a glimpse a small black furry animal but couldn’t be sure. The folks in the other car saw it more clearly and it was indeed a young black bear. Not a bad start to the day!
A pleasant and quiet drive had us rolling in to Nairn Falls campground for 9.30 am. We cruised around and luckily found a double site. We set up our tents and headed off to Blowdown Pass. Driving through Pemberton and Mount Currie, we marvelled at the wide, flat valley surrounded by steep, high mountains. Some flooding on the road held us up briefly, then past the top of Lillooet Lake and up the switchbacks of the Duffy Lake road. A considerate RV driver pulled over for us, and we were on our way along the bumpy and windy road. But what a drive: spectacular scenery all around, including glimpses of the peaks above Joffre Lakes, spoiled only by obvious old logging areas.
Blowdown Pass and Gott Peak
We reached the end of Duffey Lake and, spotting the avalanche gate, braked hard to turn sharp right onto Blowdown Forest Service Road. I was a bit apprehensive as there was 9 km of dirt road to go and I had no idea what condition it was in. But it was fine: in good condition all the way (just the odd pile of bear scat), except for the last km or so when it turned uphill. Even then we had no problems getting to the trailhead and by 11.30 am we were parked up and donning our boots.
The trail went off right over a cross ditch at the end of an old overgrown road. This was the route to an old mine in the Stein Valley. The grade was gentle and we made good time up the road. I couldn’t work out why I was getting out of breath so easily, but a quick check of the map showed that we were starting the hike at nearly 1800 m (6000 feet). Although not particularly interesting, the trail was at least easy, if hot and exposed to the sun, as it followed the old road steadily upwards. We passed a couple of washed out areas, but they looked passable with ATVs (later we saw a Jeep coming down, so I guess the washouts weren’t that bad after all). But the payoff was being surrounded by partially snow-covered peaks.
We followed the old road, now grassy and mostly covered in flowers (the newer, still drivable road turned away). Glacier lilies and western anemone poked through all around as our first views of Blowdown Pass appeared. Up to our left were the massive slopes of Gott Peak, carpeted in yellow glacier lilies. To our right was the lake, a beautiful camping spot if ever there was one, with many little icy patches covering part of the surface. For the next 15 minutes we soaked up the views all around. Further on we encountered our first snow patches and gradually made our way up to join the main road, also snow-covered.
A last push across the snow and suddenly we were at the pass! With the exception of the road, there was no sign of human impact in any direction. Absolutely amazing! And it was well-named: it was very windy at Blowdown Pass. It was lunchtime, but we wanted to carry on to Gott Peak for a lunch spot with a view. Irene and Maya didn’t fancy the steep climb and found shelter from the wind to rest for a while. The rest of us turned up the slope and began clambering our way up, initially over rocks and boulders and then on a steep grassy meadow. It was hard work: I was really feeling the elevation. After about 30 minutes we reached a small summit, and decided that the views were plenty good enough from there. Gott Peak was still about a kilometre away, with more elevation gain. Maybe next time. The wind obligingly died down and we enjoyed a comfortable lunch stop, with views all around and plenty of scenery to photograph.
With lunch digested, we began our descent. By now it was cloudier and cooler, especially up on the ridge. The descent was slow and hard on the knees, so Andrew and I took to the snow. Much faster! And easier on the knees. Getting back down across the rocks was tricky in places: what was easy to come up was not always easy to go down, but we soon reached the bottom, joining up with Maya and Irene again.
We headed back and once we made our way down to the old road, looked for a way down to the lake. There was no obvious route anywhere, but we reached a small stream and bush-whacked our way down through the willow and across the marshy ground (covered with marsh-marigolds) down to the lake. Maya’s squealing had us all wondering what was up, but it turned out to be a large trout she had tried to touch. Looking into the lake we could see plenty of good-sized fish. However, now we were at the lake and in the realm of the hungry mosquito! Aarrgh! Swat here, splat there. But it was never enough, and although the lake was a lovely spot (the icy patches had now melted) we decided it was time to move on. A couple of ATVs turned up, complete with fishing gear hoping to try their luck. We wished them good luck with the mosquitoes! Back onto the road, and the boring bit again. It felt surprisingly steep, and long, but we eventually reached the cars and made our way back to the campground.
Everyone did their own thing for dinner and we all reconvened round one of the fire rings to make a camp fire. We sat around in the dimming light, chatting and relaxing. Gradually most people drifted away to sleep, but the night had cleared and we still had wood to burn, so I couldn’t drag myself away. Finally it was down to myself, Russ, and Irene and the conversation turned to the usual late-night topic of putting the world to rights. A couple of drops of whisky later and it really was time for some sleep.
Nairn Falls and Joffre Lakes
Sunday morning we stirred around 8 am, had breakfast and broke camp. We parked at the entrance to the campground and walked the 1.5 km up to Nairn Falls, a gentle amble alongside the Green River. I wasn’t sure what to expect for the falls but they were smaller than I thought they would be. Instead of being a big drop, the falls are a result of the river squeezing through a narrow canyon. It was the sheer volume of water coming over the falls that really made the falls worth visiting. Most of the viewing area is fenced in so people don’t get too close to the edge. If you fell in, it’s likely that you wouldn’t get out again.
Satisfied with our views of the falls, we walked back to the cars and headed up to the Pony Espresso in Pemberton for morning coffee and snacks. Then it was back on the road up to Joffre Lakes. We parked up and set off, pausing briefly at the Lower Lake for a view and a photo or two. Very briefly: the mosquitoes were out in force and there was much swatting and running for cover. We quickly got onto the main trail and headed for the upper lakes. Much of the length of the trail lies between the Lower and Middle Lakes. It started off as a wide gravel path in wonderful old-growth forest, gradually turning into the usual softer forest floor after crossing a large bridge (over a tiny creek).
The initial climb was gradual and wound its way up the side of the valley, gaining height above the creek. A few openings were to be had, at avalanche or slide tracks which created small boulder fields to cross. With fresh legs, these were great fun: less so on the way down with tired legs. Before long we met up with Joffre Creek again and the trail now followed it back up the valley. This stretch of the trail was dominated by the sound of rushing water and a perfect soft trail bed, with roots and rocks here and there.
A short, steep climb later (with a brief glimpse of the Middle Lake through the trees) and the trail levelled out as we approached our destination: the spectacular Upper Lake. The trees had turned to subalpine firs and the trail wound its way through them with tantalizing glimpses of the lake. We crossed another couple of small creeks and then came face-to-face with the lake and the massive headwall of Mount Matier with its blue glacier. Wow, what a view! It was one of those sights where it is impossible to only take one photo. Just one more, in case the last one didn’t quite come out right… The trail skirted round the west side of the lake, over another bridge or two, past the helicopter landing pad and then down by the lakeside itself.
The uphill climb had warmed everyone up, the remedy for which could be only one thing: a dip in the lake! Yeah, right… Maria, Sara, Trey and Andrew took off their boots and
cooled chilled froze their feet in the lake, staying in long enough to have photos taken before darting out to warm up. But there was more to come: Andrew decided he needed to swim in it. He went to find a deeper bit to make it easier to go in, and after psyching himself up to it, splash! A quick swim, a few words of exclamation on the water temperature and he was out. Then began the painful process of warming up, as his skin had gone mostly numb!
Suitably entertained, we settled down for some lunch. After some food we continued on through the campground to see how far we could go. The snow patches and high water in the creeks made it a bit tricky to find a good way but we all managed somehow and found ourselves on the outcrop at the end of the lake, directly under the imposing headwall. Here we lingered for ages, maybe an hour or even two, soaking up the view, looking up at the glacier, enjoying some easy scrambling over the rocks and planning the return visit. I think we all agreed that it would be a fabulous overnighter, except for the fact that plenty of others also have the same idea.
Next stop: the Pony Espresso again for a coffee top-up before motoring on down to Squamish to catch dinner at the Shady Tree. Just as we were driving in to Whistler, I saw a dark shape in the grass to the right and instinctively slowed down, thinking that someone had let their dog off the leash. The shape then charged out into the open and sprinted across the road, materializing into a healthy young adult black bear as it did so. I stopped the car and we watched open-mouthed as it disappeared into the bushes on the other side of the road. Wow!
By 7.30 pm we were refuelling with burgers and beer! A great way to end a fantastic weekend.