Another weekend, another Wanderung trip. On our Joffre Lakes trip the week before we had discussed what other hikes we would like to do, and Mt Frosty came up again. Maria and I had done Mt Frosty on Canada Day 2007 with Merewyn and Anne (although I didn’t make it to the summit), but this time we eyed up a longer, more-or-less circular trip which also had the advantage of taking in poor Windy Joe (as Dawn Hanna says in her book on hikes in south-western BC). Such a trip was clearly not an option as a day hike so we organized an overnight car-camping trip to Manning Park.
Maria and I met with yet another Andrew (Andrew S.) and Lothar and headed to Manning Park around 4 pm on the Friday afternoon, while Gabriela, Andrew (L.) and Merewyn were to follow later. Much later as it turned out, thanks to a wrong turn onto the Coquihalla Highway… Oops. We bagged a double camp-site in the Hampton campground in sight of the mountains and settled down for the night.
After a quick breakfast, we headed back to the Beaver Pond car park to begin the hike. We took Gabriela’s car to the end of the trail to avoid a boring 4 km walk along the road. We got under way at 9.15 am and followed the trail out the north-west corner of the parking lot parallel to the Similkameen River. About 20 minutes later, we passed a small parks depot and looked for a spot to cross the river. The guide books were not terribly helpful on this point, but we soon found the old ruined bridge and carefully made our way over a small tributary (fortunately at low water) and into a swampy area. Here there was no trail so we followed animal tracks, across another small creek and came out right beside the main bridge over the river. Good start.
Crossing the bridge, we came to the Similkameen trail and soon came to the three-way junction with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the Windy Joe trail. We headed uphill towards Windy Joe and made good time, chatting away merrily. The km markers came and went and we were at the summit before 11 am, perfect timing for a snack break in the old fire tower. We savoured the views and watched a nearby ground squirrel doing its best cute impression. After a quick stop to use the facilities we set off back down a couple of km to join the Mt Frosty loop trail. The Windy Joe trail is essentially an old road, and as such is a bit hard on the feet after a while, so we were glad to turn off onto the PCT/Mt Frosty trail. Suddenly we were on a really nice trail, which continued a gentle descent through lupines and arnica.
At its lowest point, the PCT veered off to the left and we stayed right to head to Mt Frosty. The trail now began a gentle rise and meandered its way through the forest. On and on, the gradient was relentless, but never steep. At times it was hard to remember we were heading uphill, so gentle was it. After a while the trees began to thin, and the first carpets of flowers appeared. Lupines galore, of every shade of blue, some with white, some not. In many places the lupines were joined by bright yellow arnica to make up a beautiful yellow-blue-green colour palette. We passed through an old burn area full of flowers standing out against the stark silvery-grey trees.
The views returned as we entered the meadows proper, treating us to grand-scenic sights of the North Cascade ridges and summits in the USA to the south. Here we were barely a km or two from the 49th parallel, which is visible in places as a long cut-line through the trees. More gentle climbing and ever-improving views followed. As we neared the last groups of trees, we found a suitable spot along the trail and stopped for a well-earned lunch break.
On a nice day, on a great hike with fabulous views it’s always hard to get going again after lunch. Especially when the stiffest uphill bit is yet to come… But we dragged ourselves back into action and continued gently up through the meadows. At one point we had the life scared out of us by a mother grouse taking off in a flurry of wings. Before long the trail steepened as we approached the Windy Joe junction, which we reached after a series of short, steep switchbacks over loose rock. All the while the views were getting better and better. As we left the meadows behind, the change in flora was striking with spring flowers appearing again.
We paused at the Windy Joe junction long enough to take in the views, looking back at Windy Joe itself which now looked quite small and hard to distinguish from the surrounding bumps. Now the trail disappeared in the scree and it was a matter of following small cairns and worn rocks as the we made the final ascent to the hikers’ summit of Mt Frosty. From a distance the trail looks steep and dangerous, but in practice it was easy.
Woohoo! We reached the summit post on Mt Frosty and were greeted by the usual mountain-top breeze. We sat around for a while, admiring the craggy peaks of the North Cascades and the sense of space and wilderness. Glorious. A pika poked its nose up from a gap in the rocks and we all scrambled to get a good photo, prompting the little creature to hide again. And so we played hide-and-seek with the pika for a time before it took its chance and took off over the scree to a quieter den.
We could have spent the rest of the day up there. And we had it to ourselves, with only a group of three joining us briefly on their way up from the US side of the peak. A quick check of the time and we realized we would be hard-pushed to get back before dark so we began our descent. Down over the scree, a big of rock-surfing here and there, back to Windy Joe junction and then we continued with our loop, down towards the Larch plateau. We had only been up on the plateau when it was covered in snow so it was a surprise to see the trail leading us off all over the place where we were expecting to go in a straight line! We found ourselves being bothered by black flies and other hungry insects and kept a steady pace over the plateau, stopping only occasionally to look back at the view.
All too soon we were off the plateau and beginning our journey back down through the trees for the third time in just over a year :-) We passed the patches of meadow before reaching Frosty Creek camp and its convenient facilities. With tired and aching feet the group stretched out a little as everyone settled to their own comfortable pace. Merewyn and the two Andrews reached Lightning Lake first, just as the sun set and promptly raced into the lake for a swim. Not me; it was too cold, but Maria braved it, albeit with some shrieking :-)
With the sun gone, the temperature dropped quickly and everyone who’d been for a dip in the lake dried and dressed as quickly as possible. Gabriela drove me back to collect our car and a little bit of shuffling later, we were back at our camp site for a fire and some food.
The next morning dawned grey and cloudy, with spits and spots of rain. Over breakfast we found that no one had much enthusiasm for another hike so we packed up and headed for the lodge and coffee. We amused ourselves taking photos of the all-too-tame ground squirrels and chatted over coffee about what to do. We opted for the drive up to the Blackwall Peak parking lot and to wander about the little loop trails at the start of the Heather Trail.
And wander we did. We spent nearly two hours wandering, admiring the flowers and what small views we had. it was perfect conditions for flower photography though and Andrew L. and I took plenty. The flowers were at their peak display and we were wowed by the sheer number of lupines, wood betony, arnica, western anemone moptops and more. Glorious.
With our eyes filled with such rich colours it was time to head for home, stopping only to snap a photo of a marmot posing at the roadside, before returning to the highway. Another great weekend.
Distance: 26 km
Elevation gain: 1400 m
Photos on Flickr