A stunning valley, huge meadows and a pair of beautiful lakes – there’s a lot to like about this trip. I have at least two reasons to return: 1) to camp by the lakes and scramble the peaks, 2) to photograph the untold numbers of glacier lilies that bloom on the wide open slopes. Lower Twin Lake is a beautiful green colour.
Despite being an ATV track, the trail is actually pleasant hiking. It’s mostly wide enough for two people to hike side-by-side, which makes conversation easier. It gets a bit loose and rocky on the climb up towards Twin Lakes, but it’s still easy hiking.
Our plan was to camp up at Twin Lakes, but we ran out of steam, opting for the small area by the ATV cabin instead. It wasn’t our first choice, being really close to a large camp fire/cooking area, but thankfully no one wanted a fire. There is room for a small number of tents here, but it’s less than ideal. There is nowhere else to camp beyond here until lower Twin Lake, unless you lie down in the meadows and flatten a thousand-and-one flowers. At the end of the day, we were glad to have camped there. It was cold enough down in the valley – it must have been freezing up by the lakes.
We met only a few ATV riders, including a pair staying at the cabin hunting deer. (They were successful – a single, very loud shot at over 100 m. They offered us some venison landjaeger from last year’s hunt in exchange for some red wine :-)
There was some lingering snow around upper Twin Lake. According to the hunters, the snow was over a foot deep near the cabin when it first fell! What was more amazing was how much the snowfield that used to calve into that lake has shrunk: now it barely reaches the lake.
The Haylmore Creek FSR is in pretty good shape, a bit bumpy but no obstacles or water bars. Low-clearance, 2wd can make it no problem. The alders are encroaching in a few places, and it’s often only 1 vehicle wide with remarkably few pullouts to allow two vehicles to pass. There is a shallow creek crossing at around 8.3 km. The directions in the Scrambles book are accurate (though we didn’t see one of the forks mentioned). The road ends after about 13 km where a rock slide has blocked it. There is parking here, though it’s below a steep slope and we saw a few rocks had tumbled down after the recent rain. Better parking is available for 3-4 well-parked cars about 100 m before the rocks. A larger pullout is at about 10.6 km that would work for overnight camping.
The flowers are definitely done, with just a few paintbrush holding on. The meadows are vast and must be spectacular when in full bloom. The number of seed pods from glacier lilies numbered in the thousands. I *have* to return here one June to catch that display.
Marmots aplenty up by the lakes – they whistled in panic as a pair of eagles swooped down and cruised the meadows. No bear signs that we could see. A mother grouse and her small brood startled us as much as we startled them near the junction of the ATV track and the logging road. We encountered two bucks and a doe along the road, and the hunters said they saw quite a few deer up on the ridge.
Distance: 22 km
Elevation gain: 1150 m
Photos on Flickr
How many times can you begin a post with the phrase “this is an area that’s been on our list for ages….”? Would it hurt to say it one more time? No? Good.
Praised highly in the guide books and raved over by our friends, this is an area we’ve been wanting to visit for a few years now. With a long weekend and a plan, we set off after work on Friday and headed up the Sea-to-Sky highway towards Pemberton. On and on we drove, stopping briefly for dinner and to refuel, into the darkening night and up the winding road towards Birkenhead Lake, where we planned to camp for the night. We pulled over to check how far we had to drive to get to the lake, and instead changed our minds, opting to drive up to the trailhead and camp there. We didn’t fancy a 15-km gravel road in the dark which we would only have to drive again in the morning, so we continued onwards to Darcy and duly reached the end of the road having missed our turnoff up the Haylmore FSR. Oops. Checking the directions, we back-tracked a km or so, found the turnoff and picked up the logging road.
We had no idea what to expect. Within moments of hitting the gravel, we came up behind two young white-tailed deer bucks. We approached slowly as the chain-link fence on either side of the road meant they couldn’t escape sideways. They trotted along the road seeking a place to escape, which turned out to be an overgrown spur road after a hundred metres or so. With that obstacle sorted out we drove on up the road. We weren’t sure what kind of logging road we’d be driving, but thankfully it was in good condition, at least for the first 9-10 km. We made good progress, startling one more deer along the way, until the road narrowed to a single vehicle wide. Here and there alder encroached, and we gritted our teeth as the branches scraped along the length of the car, like fingernails on a blackboard.
At 11 km we drove through a shallow ford, not mentioned in the driving directions, and then crossed a boulder field which had clearly blocked the road at some point recently, given the piles of rocks on either side. At 13 km we reached the end of the road, with a few cars already there. I didn’t like the look of this as a place to sleep, as the boulder slope above the road clearly dropped the occasional rock or two. We turned around and parked in a pullout about 100 m back down the road. Somehow we’d had the energy to keep going from home to the trailhead more or less in one go. Rather than pitch the tent, we decided to test out sleeping in the car.
Well, that wasn’t as comfy a night as I was expecting. I’m far from the tallest person in the world but there was barely enough room to lay out at full stretch. I guess our CR-V isn’t as big as we thought! Plus the parking spot wasn’t quite level… We came round as a car crept passed on its way to the trailhead. Time to get up perhaps? Another few minutes won’t hurt. And so we drifted off again to be brought round by a second car, which had turned back and was parking in front of us. OK so maybe we hadn’t really bought ourselves much time after all as it was 9 am before we hauled ourselves out. But it was a mostly peaceful night, apart from the wind in the trees next to us.
We ate breakfast in the sun as it crept over the ridge top and packed our overnight packs for the journey in. We planned to head up to the lakes and camp, spend a day scrambling the neighbouring summits, and then return to the car on the third day. With our spirits high we set off along the road. The end of the road was marked by a handful of large boulders that tumbled down a couple of years ago. Between them a gap large enough for ATVs to pass through had been cleared – we were prepared to meet folks on ATVs but thankfully we only encountered a couple. Then the road crossed a large debris fan, or rather a large debris fan covers the road (the main reason the boulders were left in place) before a steep, loose climb.
Turning a corner at the top of the hill, the road levelled off and we enjoyed a relaxed sunny walk. We crossed two more debris slides before reaching the former trailhead. Here we turned off onto a narrower road maintained by a local ATV club. Despite being a firm road for wheeled travel, it made for pleasant hiking too, leading us through unlogged forest and only passing through one large cutblock (which did at least give us a glorious valley view). The gradient was gradual and we made steady progress.
The trees began to thin out as we reached the subalpine and the enormous avalanche slopes of the upper Barkley Valley. It’s odd how it’s called the Barkley Valley, but the creek flowing within is called Elliot Creek. Why not Elliot Valley? Who knows. Alas shortly before we emerged from the forest, Maria’s IT bands began to play up big time. Checking the map we realized we were close to the ATV cabin and its small camping area. We decided to aim for that and reassess the situation.
It soon became clear that our original plan for the weekend was a no-go: Maria was in pain, and we still had more than half of our elevation gain to come. But no matter, we were at least at a place where we could camp for the night, and as long as Maria wasn’t carrying a heavy pack, she could still hike. To be honest, the camping area by the cabin was far from ideal. There were a couple of flat spots that would take our tent, but one was really close to the campfire area (where meals were clearly cooked), and the other was in the path of the ATV parked under the trees just beyond the cabin. In the end, we opted for the site near the fire and set up our tent as far away as possible, though we were a little nervous given that we were in grizzly country.
With our home for the night established, we still had plenty of time to hike up to the lakes. We ate some lunch and continued along the ATV track, now in wide open meadows thanks to large avalanche paths. Barely five minutes had gone by before we heard a loud gunshot that echoed around the valley. We scanned the slopes by saw nothing, and after calming our nerves a little, we carried on. The scenery was stupendous – glorious wide open meadows swept down from the peaks in all directions. The trail crossed Crystal Creek tumbling down from the Twin Lakes (still far above us), head-high fireweed all around us. I joked alliteratively about getting a face-full of fireweed, ‘cos I’m all about the puns! :-)
We came to the turnoff up to Twin Lakes and I was surprised to see that it was still an ATV track. I was under the impression that the ATVs wouldn’t be able to climb the steep slope up to the lakes, but I was wrong. On the plus side, it meant that the gradient was still not too bad – certainly not as steep as it could have been if it had been established by climbers! Also the trail was out in the open, surrounded on all sides by vast meadows. My suspicions were confirmed when we saw our first glacier lily seed pods. Looking around I could see that the slope above us would be a huge carpet of yellow as the snow melted. I have to come back here at that time to see those thousands of cheery yellow flowers in bloom – I think these slopes would be more impressive than those we saw on Gott Peak back in 2010.
Upwards and onwards we plodded, finally reaching the point at which the ATV track ran out, a mere 50 m below the lower lake. We picked our way up on the faint trail (remarkably faint considering how well established the ATV trail is) and climbed the rocks above the outlet creek to get our first view of Lower Twin Lake.
We were utterly blown away by what we saw. The lake exceeded all my expectations based on what I’d seen from other photos. It was larger, more impressive, and greener than I thought it would be – a gorgeous jade green. We stood for a good 10 minutes admiring the view and taking photos. In doing so I realized why none of the previous photos really captured the sense of scale – most cameras do not have a wide-enough lens to get the lake in one shot. Even our ultra-wide angle lens wasn’t quite wide enough! It really was a most beautiful lake, surrounded on three sides by steep slopes. Indeed I looked around wondering which direction the trail led, as both possible directions looked equally forbidding. We were also blown away by the cold wind that whistled past our ears. Suddenly we were glad to be camping down by the cabin – it was freezing up here!
We saw a faint trail crossing the grassy slope to our left, so we hopped over the creek and picked our way over a tricky mess of muck and boulders to reach it. It was barely a boot’s width and it was a little bit intimidating crossing such a steep slope, even without snow. Thankfully it’s south facing so it should melt out sooner than the other side of the lake. We had to watch our step thanks to a couple of marmot burrows. Definitely not a good place to turn an ankle…!
Looking back over the lake was stunning – Elliot Peak rose steeply up to one side, the lake was hemmed in by a narrow rocky lip, and drained by a tiny outlet. Farther beyond we could see the Joffre Group across a sea of peaks. We’ve seen our fair share of gorgeous lakes, but this one really ranks among the top ten. We had to work quickly with our photographs as clouds were drifting in, making it feel even colder. I don’t think I’d really taken on board the elevation of the lakes – 2100 m – nor the recent snowfall, so we actually felt relieved that we hadn’t hauled our gear all the way up to the lakes. We’ll save that for warmer weather :-)
Tearing ourselves away, we carried on over a flatter meadow, crossing the creek linking the two lakes and making our way up over the rocks. Here we encountered the first remnants of recent snowfall which obscured most hints of a trail. The way was obvious enough though we were still grateful for a couple of cairns to guide us through the short maze of rockfall. Cresting the rise we were greeted by the sight of the upper lake. Surrounded by rugged, rocky slopes, it really reminded us of a tarn in the Lake District. While not as obviously spectacular as the lower lake, especially on this now-overcast day, it was still a lovely lake. The slopes of its shore were shallow and invited lounging around. Were it not such a freezing cold day we would have been tempted.
One of the pictures I had in my mind of the upper lake was of a large permanent snow field that extended to the water’s edge. The snow patch was still there but it was only a shadow of its former self. This year’s long dry summer had worked its magic up here too, as everywhere else. We crossed the snow and headed for the northern shore of the lake and the descent into the unlogged Melvin Creek valley. We lingered as long as we could to take in the view, but it was too cold to hang around and we reluctantly began to retrace our steps.
As we turned back we were struck by the way the slopes rose up above the lower lake, like a pair of horns on the south side of the lake. It looked such an inviting scramble… something else for our return visit! A series of piercing marmot-whistles caught our attention, and we looked up to see a pair of eagles cruising the upper slopes of the meadow above the lower lake, clearly on the lookout for an easy meal. Those marmots are loud when they want to be! It was wonderful to see the eagles swoop by only a few metres off the ground before catching the next thermal and soaring up high once more. Within moments they were two dots high in the sky.
We picked our way back over the rocks, down past a pretty waterfall on Crystal Creek and back to the lower lake. By now the clouds had thickened and the day felt overcast but just as we were about to leave the lower lake, the sun peeked through a crack in the clouds and lit up the lake and the red rock at our feet for one last glorious burst of colour.
We began our descent with the whole valley ahead of us, its classic glaciated U-shape so plain to see. Patches of sunshine lit up the burnished gold meadows. We quite enjoyed the trip back down into the valley with such incredible wide open views at our feet; just the two of us in this expanse of wilderness. It was so calm and peaceful.
We strolled into camp as the sun dipped below the peaks to the west, and we wasted no time sorting out some hot food as the temperature dropped. As we stood around eating our rehydrated dinner, alternating sporkfuls of food with sips of red wine, the hunters returned. We had to do a double-take as one of them had a rack of antlers poking above his head. They dropped their backpacks, rifles, and spotting scope, and came over to introduce themselves.
Remember that rifle shot we heard earlier in the day? Well, that was these guys – a single shot that took out an old buck (apparently from over 100 m). The rack was proof that they’d taken a sufficiently old animal. The rest of the day where we’d been hiking they’d spent the time butchering the animal, leaving the carcass up in the alpine for the scavengers to find. On their backs they were carrying the rest of the deer, which they unwrapped and laid out on black plastic to allow the meat to continue cooling. We’d never more felt like eating venison in our lives… :-)
To our surprise, the hunters’ dinner was pretty much the same as ours: a rehydrated backpacking meal. Since we had a full bottle of wine (we had planned on spending two nights here) we offered some to them (for which they were extremely grateful :-) and in return they gave us some (very tasty) venison landjaeger made from the rewards of last year’s hunt by a Swedish friend of theirs. We chatted for a bit – they told us about the snow that had fallen a couple of nights earlier and had since melted. As the night cooled off the meat, they wrapped it up again and took into the cabin (thankfully!). We brushed our teeth and found a tree to hang our food bags before crawling into the tent.
One chilly and restless night later and we awoke to blue skies and drifting fluffy clouds. Dreams of bears seeking fresh venison punctuated our sleep, and we were pretty glad to see the morning. Our food bags were untouched (always a relief) and as the sun peeked over the ridge, we made a hot drink and munched our breakfast. The hunters were up and about and before long had their ATV loaded ready to go. We wished each other well and they set off back down the trail. With them cleared out we had chance to look inside the cabin properly. Enough space for 2 people easily, maybe 3 but the sleeping area was just on the floor with no protection from scurrying mice or pack rats. As in the Stein, apparently the pack rats are notorious here as well. So we were more than happy to sleep in our tent, but if the weather were worse, the shelter provided by the cabin would be welcome.
The forecast was for rain but we didn’t know how soon, so we packed up our dewy-wet tent and loaded our backpacks. Of course we didn’t really want to leave this gorgeous valley, but it was time to go. We shouldered our packs and began our journey back to the car. The sun kept us company all the way back to the car, a couple of hours of pleasant hiking later.
Normally that would be the end of the trip but we still had a day left of our weekend and we had a couple of ideas in mind of what to do with the rest of the time. We still wanted to camp out for a night and we explored a new place for us, driving up the Callaghan Valley road to Madeley Lake. The lake was pretty enough, but was clearly a bit of a magnet for the party crowd. Maybe on a quieter weekend. We drove back down the bumpy logging road and enjoyed the smooth descent from the Whistler Olympic Park, pausing long enough to admire Alexander Falls and do a bit of bear watching.
We called off at Alice Lake to see if there were any camp sites available and – remarkably – there was. We put up our tiny little tent in the middle of the usual oversized provincial park camp site just as the light faded, and we ate our last backpacking meal in peace. Well, mostly – apart from the kids running back and forth, and the loud inane chatter from the site next door… Eventually they piped down and we were able to settle down for a more relaxed night.
There was a little rain in the night but the sky was clear again by the time we crawled out of the tent. Other campers had their fires going already and the smoke drifted through the trees. Smoky sunbeams shone through the forest, and we had the whole day ahead of us with nothing planned… Sometimes that’s just what you need.