The forecast was for rain, rain and – you guessed it – more rain, but I could see gaps in the clouds, and decided that it wouldn’t hurt to walk in the rain anyway. I headed for Whyte Lake, a relatively new trail since the lake is officially in the West Vancouver watershed and was out of bounds for many years. I’d read a couple of trip reports saying how lovely it was and decided to go see for myself.
I found the parking lot easily enough, and noticed it was one I’d seen many times while driving on the Upper Levels Highway, which I had often wondered about why it seemed so popular. I found a space, parked the car and pulled on my boots. The rain had stopped. Yay! I headed out along the trail and within moments a sound caught my ears and stopped me in my tracks. I looked around and saw two tiny orange bullets zoom past – a pair of rufus hummingbirds :-) The sound I’d heard was the distinctive buzzing from the males’ wings.
Moving on after this momentary distraction, I passed under the highway where it bridged the canyon of Nelson Creek, the road-deck curving away towards Horsehoe Bay. The trail immediately split, a left fork following the old highway and forming part of the Trans-Canada Trail. I walked as far as the old bridge and peered over the edge down to the trickle of Nelson Creek. A very deep valley for such a small creek.
I returned to the trail junction and began walking uphill. I was surprised at how steep it was and my lack of fitness was showing. No matter, it’ll do me good to push on and get out of breath a bit! After a hundred metres or so the road turned to the left to the site of a water tower while the trail entered the forest and continued up the slope along a short avenue of ripening salmonberry. The rain had returned, but was a bare sprinkle and I had no need of my rain gear just yet.
Within a couple of minutes I was stopped in my tracks again, this time by the sight of the lush green rain forest. It seems that Nelson Creek (or at least this part of it) is another old-growth hideaway, and I was surrounded by old cedars festooned with decades of moss and lichen growth. The forest floor was awash in bright green sword ferns. It was at that moment I decided “lush” was to be my word of the day.
Further up the slope, where I was now dodging some substantial mud-pools, I encountered the first of the enormous Douglas firs. These trees were even more impressive than the cedars, and might even be some of the biggest Douglas firs on the North Shore. I stood and just admired them for a few minutes, trying to work out an angle to get good photographs. I didn’t succeed, but no matter. Seeing them in person ought to be good enough.
The trail approached the edge of the Nelson Creek canyon, and one well-placed tree permitted a glimpse down to the tiny creek. Mind you, the cliff at this point had a bit of an overhang, with a clear drop perhaps 20 m straight down if anything went wrong. With that thought, I retreated back to the muddy path. Soon after I reached a sturdy bridge, right next to another huge fir, and crossed to the west bank of Nelson Creek, just above the point where Whyte Creek tumbled its way in. The trail gained a little more height and I noticed a well-trod side-trail off to the right, up the hill. I followed it and came to the old bridge – a fallen log with metal grips. While this end was easily accessible, the far end was lost among a maze of fallen trees and new growth. A single vertical handrail post remained half-way down the log. That explained the nice new bridge!
I followed the trail, ambling along a path following the straight line course of Whyte Creek. To my right, up the slope, the forest was dark and gloomy with almost no understory. While it looked like second growth, I wondered if the appearance was due to the nature of the slope. It was rocky, and there wasn’t much soil, yet mature cedars stood here and there (albeit small specimens). The trail crossed Whyte Creek and the valley (if it can be called that) widened into a fairly flat area.
A couple of minutes later I was at the lake, taking a side trail down through some skunk cabbage out onto a dock. The water level was high – the docked looked as though it would sink into the water at any minute. I spotted some movement to my left, looked down and saw a salamander swimming, oblivious to the rain that was beginning to soak me. Whyte Lake would have been glassy smooth were it not for the rain drops dotting its surface. I persisted in taking a few photos, wiping raindrops off the front of the lens, though it wasn’t really worth it.
I returned to the cover of the trees and followed the boardwalk around the lake, hoping to get another view. I came to another trail junction and saw a small wooden structure up the hill. I went over and saw it was a sturdy outhouse. A good idea, I thought, given that Whyte Lake is part of the West Van watershed. The door was a two-piece arrangement, so it would be possible to sit in comfort and admire the view – which looked directly along the trail leading in to the outhouse! At least you’d see if anyone was using it, I suppose.
The trail continued on around the lake, and I followed to see where it led. A small side trail brought down to the edge of the lake again, where I watched and listened to a very musical LBB (little brown bird). Some squeaking in the top of a tree behind me turned out to be some young woodpeckers, as I saw one of the adults fly away from the nest hole.
Well the rain wasn’t easing off and I could see that the trail wasn’t going to lead around the lake, or even go to another viewpoint. Plus I was hungry so I figured it was time to retrace my steps. I munched my cheese sandwich and wandered back in the direction of the car. I stopped a few times to try to capture the majestic Douglas firs and cedars, wishing I had a camera-sized umbrella to keep the rain off! Finally I gave up, put the camera away and just enjoyed the walk (as well as a couple of ripe salmonberries). Passing underneath the highway again I saw the most impressive waterfalls of the day – three great torrents draining from the scuppers on the road deck. I detoured around them and within a minute I was back at the car.
Only a short walk, but I have to say I really enjoyed it. Which I guess is why I’ve managed to write over a thousand words for a short hike!
Distance: 5 km?
Elevation gain: 200 m
Photos on Flickr