Munro Lake, 23 May 2021

Opinion:
Well, I have to say that this trail doesn’t have a great deal going for it. It’s steep, and when it’s not steep it’s rooty and muddy. Plus there are no views, while the sounds of the firing range and/or quarry are constant companions. And yet, I still want to hike this trail again on a clear day to understand why it persists in guide books. Be aware that the lake is still snowbound and the temperature dropped several degrees in a very short distance so be sure to bring warm layers!

Fact
Parking was easy along Quarry Road, with plenty of room to park at the roadside when the small pullout fills up (it only takes about 3 cars). The gravel road was in good condition albeit with a few potholes, though they didn’t pose any issues.

The trail was easy to follow with old orange and red markers nailed to trees and occasional flagging tape for guidance. Trail junctions were signposted, mostly with hand-written signs but there were a few newer, carved wooden signs (marking elevation at various points plus one that gave a distance and elevation to Munro Lake). It was quite a narrow trail on the first section, where ferns, salmonberry, and other greenery have grown almost head high, so please be patient and step aside for uphill hikers if possible rather than squeezing past.

The trail had multiple well-graded switchbacks but over the years many of these have seen much less use than the shortcuts that have worn in by many hikers ignoring the trail. Please try and stick to the trail: the switchbacks actually make it a much easier hike! Once the climb levelled off, the trail deteriorated into a mess of slippery roots and occasional mud.

Hard-packed, icy snow began a few hundred metres before Munro Lake which was really unpleasant to hike on. Once at the lake, the snow was softer and made for much easier travel. Snow depth looked to be about 1-1.5 metres at the lake, which was still totally frozen over. Given the poor visibility and trail conditions, we made Munro Lake our turnaround point. I suspect the snow caught out quite a few hikers as a large group of backpackers (in 5 tents, I think) were camped in the forest at around the 2.6 km mark (about 760 m).

Flowers: large-leaved avens, piggyback plant, columbine, trailing blackberry, western starflower, false lily-of-the-valley, alpine white marsh marigold, skunk cabbage, salmonberry, foamflower, bleeding heart. Leaves of queen’s cup and bunchberry.

Wildlife: a couple of noisy squirrels, several wrens and varied thrushes, a deer (buck) on Victoria Road, a salamander pulled out of the moss by another hiker. A few bugs near the trailhead but none higher up. We heard a pika in the lower section of the forest on our descent, presumably in an unseen boulder field.

Distance: 8.0 km
Elevation gain: 805 m
Time: 4:25
Route on AllTrails

Key moments

  • πŸ™‚ Finding the alpine marsh marigolds made my day, the highlight of the trip for me.
  • πŸ™‚ A varied thrush singing right above our heads.
  • πŸ™‚ A few moments of total silence in the forest.
  • πŸ™‚ The mist among the trees was calming and atmospheric.
  • πŸ™‚ Seeing the snowbound lake beginning to thaw at its edges with mist hanging low over the snow.
  • ☹️ The sound of gunfire from the firing range and the noise from the quarry were really intrusive and hard to escape until we were almost at the lake.
  • ☹️ The mud, slick roots, and hard-packed snow were awful hiking. Thankfully those sections weren’t too long.

Story
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: this was our Plan B hike. Plan A was Mount Fromme but that was out of the question given the recent adverse bear encounter that had closed the trails there. This Plan B had similar stats, plus we felt it needed an opportunity to redeem itself after our miserable soaking last June. Thus, a little drive east through Coquitlam and its neighbouring port namesake saw us passing all the new developments on the way out to Minnekhada Regional Park, trying not to startle a young buck cruising the road, and parking up just beyond Deiner Creek on Quarry Road.

Getting out of the car I immediately noticed the flowers in the roadside ditches: piggyback plant, large-leaved avens, and western columbine. It’s just second nature these days. I swatted a couple of mosquitoes as I laced up my boots and with the usual InReach message sent, we were on our way. A minute up the road I turned back to collect a canister of bear spray from the car, feeling that we needed not to be caught without it should we end up in a similar situation to the hikers on Mount Fromme. I wasn’t expecting any issues but Minnekhada and Burke Mountain are well-known bear hotspots in the Lower Mainland, and we figured that it would be better to be safe than sorry.

Back on the trail we picked our way up the bouldery section of old logging road, enveloped in a canyon of fresh spring greenery. We turned up the hill onto a narrower trail as we entered the provincial park, wending our way up through salal and open forest, passing the giant boulder crudely spray-painted with religious graffiti and following the line of Deiner Creek. On our rainy day last June, the creek was a torrent but today it was much mellower, providing a more soothing sonic backdrop compared with last year.

The smell of woodsmoke caught our attention as we climbed and we noticed a couple of tents pitched on a flat spot below a small cliff. I guess people will do anything to get out and camp somewhere on a long weekend, anywhere to have a campfire, even a dank little hollow in the forest. It wouldn’t have been my first choice of spot, especially so close to the trail. Speaking of which, the trail thankfully turned below the tents and began climbing in earnest away from the creek, becoming a narrow path through head-high salmonberry, ferns, and other shrubs. The bright green was a feast for our eyes, especially on this dull day, and the addition of spring flowers such as starflower and false-lily-of-the-valley was even more uplifting, despite the steep upward slog.

The trail wound back and forth, mercilessly up, but mercifully much drier than last year with only a few slippery spots to contend with. We met a few hikers on their descent and tried to tease out of them what the conditions were higher up but I don’t think they understood our questions, and it later became clear that they hadn’t reached the lake. The trail left the open alder-dominated slopes and now ascended in darker evergreen forest, surprisingly well-graded for much of it with a decent (by Coast Mountains standards) footbed. Alas, many of the switchbacks had shortcut trails blazed through by too many unobservant or lazy hikers, some of which were very badly eroded, but all had the unfortunate effect of drawing your eye to follow them rather than staying on the trail. We did what we could to follow the actual trail, which was so much nicer to hike than the shortcuts. I wish BC Parks had the funds and the inclination to do something about this as the original trail is still good!

As we climbed we hoped we would leave behind the sound of sporadic gunfire from the nearby firing range and the constant rattling and rumbling noises from the quarry that gives the road its name. So far it wasn’t working…

After just under an hour, we came to a marked viewpoint, which – to our surprise – actually had a view! Through a narrow V in the trees we could see out over the Pitt River to berry fields, patches of woodland, and a golf course. A few minutes further up the trail we reached the next landmark, a mossy boulder field where we paused a moment to check out the lack of view. We were nearing the cloud base and we could see mist in the treetops ahead.

It wasn’t too long before we were in the clouds, which now added a wonderful mysterious atmosphere to our surroundings. A side-trail led off to a promised view point but we figured that there’d be no point taking that option now that we were surrounded by mist! More bright green foliage lit up the understory adding a much-needed splash of colour. Spring was beginning to make its presence felt with the first leaves of queen’s cup, bunchberry, and creeping raspberry decorating the forest floor, joined by a few yellow violets here and there for contrast.

A sign pointed to Munro Lake indicated that it wasn’t too far off and that we only had 140 m of elevation left to climb. Indeed we could see the terrain levelling off, much to our relief. The downside was that it now became rootier and muddier, although still not too bad and definitely better than one section of the Lynn Loop we’d hiked on our way to Norvan Falls a couple of weeks ago. We heard voices up ahead and soon came to a level spot where at least five tents were pitched just off the trail. We exchanged hellos with the campers and continued on our way, passing through more misty forest, now mostly old-growth cedars and hemlocks. I was enjoying the atmosphere of the forest, and decided I didn’t mind not having a view or even a pretty lake to admire at our turnaround point. By now we had finally left the noise of the valley behind and could enjoy the peace and quiet of the forest, broken only by the song of a wren and the scolding of a Douglas squirrel.

I checked the map and could see that we were now only a few hundred metres from Munro Lake. I could feel the coolness of the air and pulled out my jacket when we stopped to top up our energy levels with a snack. Sure enough, a few minutes later we encountered our first patches of snow, initially easy to avoid but it soon became continuous leaving us no option. We followed the line of dirty snow through the forest, hard-packed and icy from the steps of many hikers, and I began to wish I’d brought microspikes. Careful footwork was necessary to make it safely through to the lake, and our poles were invaluable. But as soon as we reached the lake, the snow changed from icy to slushy (though still firm enough to walk on), much to our relief.

Ah, the lake. Still a mostly unbroken expanse of white snow, with a few pale turquoise patches where it was beginning to melt out, and a dark peaty line where a creek flowed in. The mist hung low over the snow with a view of the opposite side of the lake coming and going as the mist swirled. It wasn’t picturesque but it was atmospheric, and that seemed to be the theme of the day. It was cold though, and we were glad of our layers. We saw a few hikers in shorts and t-shirts: they didn’t linger and soon returned to the relative warmth of the forest.

I sized up a few photos and wandered around the edge of the lake for a short distance to find alternative views, which required a bit of a detour around the inlet creek that had melted out a section of meadow. I scanned for marsh marigolds but the only spring growth was a few skunk cabbage spears barely poking up from the ground. Winter was still very much in control here! Maria had brought a flask of tea and was sipping it gratefully while I sought out my photo-ops. This would definitely be our turnaround point for today; there was absolutely no point continuing on towards Dennett Lake.

For once, the decision to get back underway was easy and we retraced our steps into the dark forest. Maria made the mistake of pointing out a small melted-out meadow with more skunk cabbage. I went over to investigate only to find a gorgeous little patch of fresh white alpine marsh marigolds blooming right in the middle of this little patch of green. Of course, I had to photograph them too, which required some very delicate footwork to avoid damaging the meadow. As we returned to the trail, a varied thrush sang loudly in the trees above us and we stopped to listen, its long notes filling our ears and echoing through the forest.

And then we were back underway for real, back over the slick snow and onto the slick roots and mud. Hiking uphill in these conditions is always easier than going downhill, and even though the gradient was slight, we still needed to take care with every footstep so as not to fall. But those roots are tricky and Maria’s foot slipped on one, leaving her with impressive bruise to show for it. Twenty minutes after leaving the lake, we passed the campers once more who had since packed up their gear and looked ready to begin their descent. After the stillness of the lake, they sounded loud to our ears and we moved on ahead hoping to put some distance between us.

The descent began in earnest and we zig-zagged back and forth on the switchbacks, pulling off on one with a short spur to have some of our lunch before we ran out of steam. Onwards and downwards we went, the group of campers now beginning to catch up. A short while further, we stopped again to finish our lunch, and despite what I said above about the shortcuts, we actually hoped that the campers would follow the obvious worn route straight down the slope rather than try and follow the trail as we had, given that the trail was narrow with little space for COVID-safe passing. Sure enough, that’s exactly what they did! And alas, that did mean that the shortcut would become a little more obvious.

With peace restored we continued our descent at a more comfortable pace. We should know better than to try and outpace a group of 20-somethings! Down and down we went, enjoying the good trail while it lasted. By now we were wanting to just get back to the car; the gunfire was now more frequent and intrusive, while the quarry was still clanking and grinding away. The good trail ended and we descended the final few hundred metres of elevation on the steep green path, my legs now beginning to turn to jelly, probably as much down to yesterday’s bike ride as today’s hike. At least, that’s what I told myself!

Eventually we passed the campers under the cliff which meant we weren’t far from the trailhead. A few minutes more and we emerged onto Quarry Road where we gladly dropped our packs and pulled off our boots. Job done. It wasn’t a pretty hike, and I find it hard to recommend it, but we enjoyed the atmosphere and the sight of the frozen lake was a different kind of scene compared with recent hikes. My highlight was the marsh marigolds, but the varied thrush song was a close second.

2 thoughts on “Munro Lake, 23 May 2021

  1. Gorgeous description Andy, even if you wouldn’t really recommend the hike. It sounds like a pretty good equivalent hike to Mount Fromme…as you wouldn’t have seen the view in that mist anyway.

    Those alpine marigolds are lovely!

    I felt the same about the Coquitlam Lake View trail in that area. I liked the trail, but the sound of gun shots really take away the calming forest atmosphere don’t they!

    1. Thanks Josy! Yes, the firing ranges near both of the main trailheads for this area of the park are seriously off-putting. We did the Lake View trail last year (on a dull day so didn’t bother with the viewpoint itself) in the early part of the first lockdown which meant the range was closed – it was bliss!

      I definitely want to save Mt Fromme for a clearer day as I think it has some unique views so I’m quite glad we couldn’t go there at the weekend.

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