A tough but extremely rewarding 5-day trip. Tundra Lake has to be seen to be believed, and made a suitable turnaround point. Things we encountered included, but were not limited to:
- stunning views
- beautiful lakes
- acres of wildflowers
- a remarkably well-defined route (mostly…)
- a major creek crossing (which may vary between easy and impossible)
- lots of uphill
- lots of downhill
- fallen trees
- lots of alder
- mosquitoes, black flies, deer flies, horse flies and everything else in between
- more boulders
- a few other hardy souls
Six of us went up to explore the Lizzie-Stein divide on the long weekend:
- TH to Lizzie Cabin (hot and sunny)
- Lizzie Cabin to Caltha Lake (hot and sunny)
- Rest day – Caltha Lake to Tundra Lake viewpoint (sunny, very windy, cloudy later, light rain)
- Caltha Lake to Lizzie Cabin (warm, mix of sun and cloud, haze from forest fires)
- Lizzie Cabin to TH (rain)
We parked at the start of the bypass trail which is marked by a couple of long strands of flagging tape, and a small fallen tree to step over. (We didn’t investigate crossing the creek at the 2003 washout.) The bypass trail is easy to find – continue on the road up the hill and park where it levels out again, 1.2 km after turning off the In-SHUCK-ch FSR.
The bypass trail had some side-hilling on a steep slope which required care, before a very steep and loose descent to the old logging road. (Of course that meant we had to climb up away from the road at the end of the hike… groan.) Once on the road, the footbed was pretty good all the way up to Lizzie Lake. It *is* brushy and the alder is a PITA, but it’s not particularly difficult, just tedious. We were still able to hike at a decent pace. It’s amazing to see how much grows back in 12 years.
We couldn’t find a bridge over the east branch of Lizzie Creek, just the known smooth log which we all balked at. However, the creek was low enough to ford easily; with tight-fitting gaiters I was able to walk through without getting wet feet, even though the water was mid-calf. On the way back it was raining, I was soaked from the alder, and I didn’t care any more :-)
Along the road there was a handful of bear scat here and there, noticeably more near portions of the trail with lots of (ripe) berry bushes. We did our best to be bear aware and made noise, especially when buried in the alder!
The trail from Lizzie Lake up to Lizzie Cabin was very steep but well marked and easy to follow. There were numerous downed trees to make life more difficult/interesting, but none of them was especially hard to deal with. The boulder field at the Gates of Shangri-La was pretty tiring at the end of a long day.
The trail from the cabin was well-defined up to Arrowhead Lake, then Heart Lake and beyond to the col above Iceberg Lake. (Take note of the flagging and turn right over the creek soon after leaving the cabin, and not take the obvious path that dead-ends in the meadows…) After Iceberg Lake, we followed cairns onto the east shoulder of Tabletop (where there was cell reception at the highest point!) and eventually picked up a trail just before the descent into Cherry Pip pass. It seems there are a couple of cairned routes here – we followed one heading out, and picked up a different one on the return. Having a GPS really helped here so we would keep an eye on our route. (Side note: Tabletop and Anemone look like fun, straightforward scrambles.)
Out of the pass (the climb is nowhere near as bad as it looks), the trail became faint but it was there when we looked closely, even where it crossed the (numerous) boulder fields (which had cairns for help). This trail led us directly down to Caltha Lake where we camped for two nights. From Caltha Lake to the pass above Tundra Lake an intermittent trail headed east before running out and turning up to follow one of the creeks up to the pass. We rejoined the trail (that comes in from the west) part of the way up and followed that to the pass, where we enjoyed the incredible views of Tundra Lake – it’s an unreal colour.
Note that beyond Lizzie Cabin, the trail was above the tree line so there is no shelter anywhere should the weather turn bad.
On our return, the climb out of Cherry Pip pass was tough but it was pretty much downhill all the way after that. The haze from forest fires was pretty bad as we got back to Arrowhead Lake and we could smell the smoke.
Camping: there are a few spots with picnic tables at Lizzie Lake, plus an outhouse. Lizzie Cabin has a few spots in the trees off to the NW of the cabin, enough for our four tents. We passed a very flat spot on the way in to the cabin which may have been better, but it looked like water drains through that area so it’s probably only useable when it’s very dry. The cabin also has 2 outhouses of varying desirability – these are the last outhouses before the camping at the east end of Tundra Lake. Neither has a door, so we had to take care when walking back and forth and knock before entering! The cabin looks like it sleeps 6-8 people quite comfortably, but it smelled very musty – I would rather camp outside in the fresh air. Heart Lake has a couple of flat spots on a knoll above the lake. Elsewhere there are spots here and there that would suit a single-person tent or bivy bag. Caltha Lake has the next decent camping, although it’s almost impossible to avoid the meadows. There are also no sizeable trees near the lake either in which to hang food. We did our best to practice no-trace camping and packed out all our garbage (including TP).
Bugs: mostly a non-issue except for some at Lizzie Lake and again at Lizzie Cabin, where the mosquitoes were numerous and persistent. We actually resorted to bug nets for a time here (there’s photographic evidence…). Up in the alpine, horse flies were the biggest pest and were biting if you weren’t quick enough to knock them off.
Remarkably, after all this time, the Copelands’ description (from Don’t Waste Your Time in the Coast Mountains) is still absolutely spot on. I’m a big fan of their writing, so it was a treat to have that on the trip with us.
And I recommend getting the new Stein to Joffre map from Trail Ventures. Just be aware that in places where they have marked “scree”, the trail crosses boulder fields, not scree.
An incredible five days – it would be much better if the road were still driveable, but then it would also be much more popular and, to be honest, we enjoyed the lack of people. If I get time, I’d like to write a more detailed description of each day, and include some photos. In the meantime I’ve included a few from my phone (on Instagram), one per day.
Distance: 51 km
Elevation gain: 2560 m
Photos on Flickr