Buntzen Lake, 20 Feb 2021

Opinion:
Far from the most exciting hike but it was the right choice for a winter’s day when we didn’t feel like battling the crowds on the North Shore. An easy trail, good hiking, and some nice views out across the lake made for an enjoyable couple of hours. The downside was the tedious drive from Vancouver, which is why we rarely explore this area.

Fact
Lots of parking available today even though one of the lots was closed off. The beaches were closed and blocked off with metal fencing due to ongoing reservoir upgrades, with warnings about fluctuating water levels. It looks like during the week the North Beach area is completely inaccessible but gaps in the fencing were open at the weekend. Washrooms were open and had hot running water and paper towels. Masks were mandatory (as expected under the current provincial health order) so remember to bring yours with you (and try not to drop it on the trail as you walk!).

We followed the lake trail all the way round. The trail was in excellent condition with a good foot bed all round, just a bit rocky in a couple of places. No mud to speak of with a bit of running water on the trail in a couple of short sections. Any recently-fallen trees have been cleared so there were no obstacles. The counterclockwise circuit around the lake was still one-way (and will be for the foreseeable future) and was clearly marked. However, that didn’t stop a few people from either ignoring it or just plain not noticing. There were warning signs up about a recent cougar attack on an unleashed dog.

Not much wildlife: we saw a pair of ravens at the North Beach, hanging around a couple of hikers hoping for handouts or leftovers and a small flock of pine siskins. We heard a couple of flocks of squeaky kinglets, and a few wrens. The very first signs of buds were showing up on some of the salmonberry, alder, and red huckleberry.

Distance: 10 km
Elevation gain: 220 m
Time: 2:30
Route on AllTrails

Key moments

  • 🙂 Moments of total silence among the luminous green of the forest.
  • 🙂 Babbling, tumbling, and rushing streams.
  • 🙂 Beautiful reflections across the lake, a ruler-straight snow line on the mountains above.
  • ☚ī¸ Nothing really: not even the rain bothered us today. Okay, the boring drive was the worst part of the day :-)

Story
After last weekend’s early starts we treated ourselves to a lie-in this morning, in part because the weather forecast wasn’t very promising, and in part because we didn’t feel like dealing with the crowds at the ski resorts. As it turned out, the weather wasn’t as bad as predicted and, after our lazy breakfast, we collected our gear and headed out for an easy hike around Buntzen Lake near Port Moody.

Some days we find that we just want to walk. My Mount Seymour experience last Monday coupled with our lack of mid-week wanders had us in the mood for the simple pleasure of putting one foot in front of the other without having to work too hard, and the 10-km loop around Buntzen Lake fit the bill perfectly. We pulled into the parking lot and turned into one of the many available spaces, possibly the hardest decision we’d face all day. With our usual InReach message sent, we set off towards the south beach area of the lake and, after a quick comfort stop, began the anti-clockwise circuit of the lake.

We were halted almost immediately by two groups of hikers walking the wrong way, who thanked us for waiting but didn’t seem to realize they were travelling the “wrong” direction. Never mind. Off we went across the bridge (over a creek bed that I’ve never seen water in) and entered the strip of forest between the service road and the lake. Thankfully it’s a big enough strip that you rarely notice the road, and a view out over the lake is always a pleasant distraction. Beyond the lake we could see snow-covered peaks near Mount Seymour, a true horizontal line drawn across the trees, white above and green below.

For the next hour we wandered through the open luxuriant-green forest on an easy trail, a bit of uphill and downhill here and there, over many bridges across small creeks of varying degrees of flow. Some gurgled, some burbled, others babbled and rushed, which, apart from our footsteps, was the only sound in the forest. It was bliss. We passed a few other groups of hikers, and without fail each was courteous in their trail manners, allowing us plenty of space to get by. It was nice to see people out enjoying being outdoors.

A short ascent took us up by the service road only for us to descend steeply again to the north beach, a gap in the metal fencing opened up for the passage of weekend hikers. We peered at the view down the lake through the blue metal grid of the fence, the calm water reflecting the steep slopes of Eagle Ridge above. A pair of ravens cronked nearby, and we saw them on the ground near a picnic table where two hikers were eating a snack. I was pleased to see that neither hiker offered any food, but it was clear that the ravens were quite used to finding something to eat in the area, even if it was just cleaning up after the hikers had left.

We crossed the suspension bridge at the north end of the lake, the snow-decorated peaks across Indian Arm reflected perfectly in the water, and began our journey back south. This side of the lake was a little more interesting with denser and more varied forest, plus the lake views include the intimidating Eagle Ridge above. We hiked up to the top of that ridge last year on a gruelling 10-hour day, and neither of us is keen to do it again in a hurry.

The trail led us through cedar, fir, and hemlock forest with occasional openings below the power lines. Salal was everywhere, especially out in the open, and moss-covered bluffs rose up steeply to our right. We walked onwards, climbing to cross the noisiest creek of the day with the delightful name of Umbrellawort Creek. All the creeks and streams around the lake are named for various plants, most of which are native to this part of the world and not uncommon even around the lake itself. But umbrellawort seemed an odd choice given that its range doesn’t extend this far north. Not that we cared. Downstream of the bridge it cascaded over a series of small steps, the sound filling our ears for a few moments. As we climbed further, the land levelled off between steep moss-covered bluffs, reminding us of other local trails such as Petgill Lake and Mount Gardner.

The trail led us over an impassable headland before dropping down again to a small beach with a great unobstructed view over the lake. Eagle Ridge was reflected perfectly in the still water; at least until another hiker threw a rock over our heads and into the lake. Thanks… Twice more he did it, oblivious to the fact we were trying to have a peaceful moment by the lakeshore. I congratulated him on his timing as we left but I still don’t think he understood. Oh well, what can you do? Insert shrug emoji here.

We meandered on, passing a log-filled cove where the trail was lined with the skeletons of salmonberry bushes, the first hint of green buds appearing on many of the stems. A short while further we emerged from the forest onto the pumphouse service road for the rest of the way along the lakeside. We noticed the clouds seemed to be drifting lower down the mountain slopes and felt the first light drops of rain. We paused for one more photo-op at a small outcrop, Eagle Ridge now largely invisible, though decorated with tendrils of cloud, and the lake now dotted with raindrop ripples. Very west coast, and very atmospheric.

By now we were within sight of the end and it wasn’t long before we turned off the road to cross the shallow southern end of the lake on the floating bridge, the rain now quite steady, though thankfully light. Beyond the bridge we passed through what always feels like a maze of tall salmonberry on our final leg back to the car. In the spring, this area is ripe with the scent of skunk cabbage, but today the only scent was that of wet moss. A few more minutes – which for some reason always feel like the longest minutes of the trip – and we were back at the car, sitting in an even emptier parking lot.

It had only taken us two and a half hours to complete the circuit around the lake, but it was time so very well spent, and so very peaceful. We had views we hadn’t experienced before, and the sparse one-way foot traffic made for a relaxing wander. Back in the car, I sent our final InReach message, we changed out of our wet gear, and began our drive home with one final stop for fish and chips from the Cockney Kings. We stopped in a nearby park and ate our dinner in the car, the rain pattering on the windscreen steamed up by our hot food. It reminded us of the many times we’d done something similar back in the UK, and it felt like a very British way to end our hike!

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