It’s that time of the month again. No, not that time; time for Andrew and Merewyn to find a lake to jump in. We’d decided on Cultus Lake, near Chilliwack, and picked our hike to be Vedder Mountain Ridge since Maria and I hadn’t done it before. We’d tried it once before but gave up due to the volume (in both senses) of dirt bikers. Andrew and Merewyn had both done it before and encountered a similar number of bikers and ATV riders. Despite the excellent weather forecast, we figured it would be early enough in the season that there wouldn’t be too many bikers out, so we went for it.
We parked up at 9.30 am and set off up the road, snowshoes strapped to our packs just in case. Within a few minutes we hit the first snow, fresh from the day before. We slipped and slid our way up the hill and after 45 minutes or so came to the turn off for the main trail up an old, narrow logging road. The snow was deeper and the sun was melting it off the trees overhead, occasionally bombing us with uncanny accuracy. Sometimes it was snow, sometimes rain. But it didn’t matter as it was warm and the sky could not have been any bluer.
The old road wound upwards and became more overgrown, causing us to duck under snow-laden branches risking yet more snow down the back of our necks. A hard tapping to our left stopped us in our tracks, and peering through the trees we could see a pileated woodpecker making its mark on a dead snag. For several minutes we watched in amazement at how hard it was hitting the tree. We all felt that for us to do same would result in knocking ourselves out.
A bit further on, the trail turned again now becoming solely a hiking trail. We had our second wildlife encounter here as a small Douglas fir squirrel dashed up a tree and stopped on a branch barely 6 feet off the ground to finish off gnawing at a trio of alder cones. We watched it for several minutes, Merewyn in particular marvelling at how spherical it looked. (Fat, I believe was the term used.) Very cute anyway.
We continued on our way into the second-growth forest. Normally this type of forest is dark and dingy, but today it was bright and airy mostly thanks to the snow on the ground and the bright sunshine above the canopy. Very cheerful. The trail gained height slowly as it wound its way through the trees. We had no trouble walking at a normal pace despite the snow on the ground. We wiled away the distance with protracted discussions about vampire films, started by our recent watching of the awful `Twilight’. We descended for a short distance and began a series of small ups and downs. Dawn Hanna refers to this as `dipsy-doodling’ in her description of a similar hike in Best hikes and walks in Southwestern BC, and today it felt quite apt as we ambled through the forest. We heard more tapping overhead, and looked up to see another woodpecker, this time a smaller hairy woodpecker, taking a more considered approach to locating food.
After another km or so we grunted up a small incline as the forest changed character. Whereas we had started in open fairly mature second growth, the trees here were smaller and closer together. Again, the snow prevented it from feeling gloomy. We gradually gained more elevation before plummeting down to a snow-covered frozen lake. Merewyn told us of the noise from all the frogs when she did it last, a couple of years ago. Today the only animal in evidence was a snowshoe hare, its footsteps leading across the corner of the lake. Another (unseen) woodpecker drummed loudly on a nearby tree.
We skirted the lake and reached a trail junction where we turned left heading steeply uphill. We crossed a slanted log bridge in front of a small rock face festooned with icicles before using a knotted rope to haul ourselves up a particularly steep section. After that we had a little more climbing before the trail levelled off and we were treated to fantastic views across the valley to International Ridge. The trees had changed again and the summit area was a forest of pines. Very pretty.
The trail continued on along the ridge and opened up to yield spectacular views towards Elk Mountain and the Cheam Range beyond. To the right, lay an impressive view up the V-shaped Chilliwack River valley. We ventured on as far as we could go, this time giving us views in the opposite direction towards Sumas Mountain and a host of unknown peaks to the north. The cloud cover was thicker in this direction, masking what, according to the map, must be superb views of Golden Ears.
We backtracked a short way and sat down on an open rock bluff with amazing views across the valley. Here we enjoyed a leisurely lunch basking in the warm sunshine. We lazed, we took photos, we soaked up the view and the sun. We were joined by two other hikers (and we saw only two more the rest of the day) who found another lunch spot a few yards away.
All too soon it was time to begin our descent, and reluctantly we headed back along the ridge taking in our last good views of Mt Cheam and friends. We re-traced our steps, back down the rope, over the slippery bridge and down the steep slope to the pond again. Given that we had to be back in Vancouver for 7 pm, we kept up a good pace. We hadn’t touched our snowshoes once and had no problems with grip or stability in the snow. Perfect conditions. We remarked on how our hiking attitudes have changed over the last few years. When we moved to Vancouver, the thought of encountering any snow on the trail was enough to have us think that we shouldn’t even try. Now, it’s just something else to deal with at the time. It did help that this trail was very easy to follow in the snow, with copious orange trail markers nailed to trees every few yards.
We soon passed the 3 km marker, missed the 2.5 km marker and found ourselves back at the beginning of the trail. Returning to the road, we found it churned up by ATV and 4×4 tracks, making our descent slippery and muddy. Most of the snow had melted. Things were even worse back on the main dirt road as all of the snow had melted here and the road was an orangey-brown mudbath. Yuck. We made sure we got well off the road when any bikes or ATVs passed us so as not to be sprayed in muddy water.
After what seemed an age we reached the car and loaded ourselves back in. Heading down the road, we came to the one and only water bar we had to cross and found our way partially blocked by a pickup. He wasn’t in a hurry to move, even when I explained that we could only get through safely without him in the way, so we went for it anyway… and lost the tail end of one of the twin exhaust pipes on the car :-( Dammit. I should have stuck to my guns and got him to move, or got everyone else to get out so the car wasn’t so low. Ah well, I’ll learn. It doesn’t seem to have affected anything, and it was pretty rusty anyway (I’ve been expecting it to drop off for ages).
Our next stop was the reason we were out here in the first place: Cultus Lake so Andrew and Merewyn could get in their March swim. We walked along and found a suitable dock for them to jump from and even got them to go in twice again to make sure we had proof on video :-) Then it was back in the car, and back to Highway 1, with a quick stop at Tim Horton’s for refreshments. Before we knew it, we were home, the second week running that the traffic had been kind and we had no holdups. We even had a nice view of Golden Ears from the Port Mann bridge. A fitting end to the day.
Were it not for that 3-km slog up (and down) the dirt road, this is a nice little trail I would do again. Unfortunately that road makes me think twice, if not three times, adding 50% to the distance and elevation gain. A pity, as once on the trail proper, it’s really very gentle. It’s also a shame that a good number of the views mentioned in the hike books are also long overgrown (something those books should really check on before printing any new editions!). However, none of this could detract from what can only be described as a brilliant day out.
Distance: 17.5 km
Elevation gain: 725 m