Upper Paradise Creek to Marmot Ponds: 6.5 km, +385 m, -330 m, 2h 45m
As expected, it was a cold night but I slept well, perhaps due to the accumulation of sleep deficits over the past few nights. I peeked out of the tent just before 4:30 am to see clear skies with only a few clouds. Zipping myself back inside, I slept on-and-off for another couple of hours before I decided to start moving. I packed up my sleeping bag and mat, which helped me warm up before I pulled on my cold boots and stepped outside onto the frosty meadow. The remaining clouds had vanished, the sky above us was pure blue, and the sun was gradually making its way down the slope towards us.
These are the mornings we live for when backpacking
I retrieved our food bags before wandering around with the camera to photograph some of the frost-covered flowers. Slivers of ice coated the bowed-over cinquefoil and skunky Jacob’s ladder flowers. Our water source was soon in the sunshine, which I visited next to photograph the abundant globeflower and marsh marigolds, and then filtered water for the day. By the time I walked back to the tents, Maria and Brenda were stirring and it was time to sort out some breakfast. The sun had now risen over the ridge, bathing us in delicious warmth as we ate breakfast and sipped our tea and (terrible) coffee. Blue sky, warm sun, and no mosquitoes: these are the mornings we live for when backpacking!
We packed up our frosty tents and were ready to leave by about 9:45 am, sorry to leave such a wonderful spot on such a fine morning. We walked back through the meadow to cross the creek (noticeably lower at this time of day) and picked up the obvious trail – which promptly disappeared. The most likely route ahead looked like it crossed the creek again but we didn’t feel like doing that so we pushed our way through low shrubs and trees to rejoin the trail further up. We began our climb out of the valley, a steady plod over shale fragments, with frequent stops to look back at what had become “our” valley. The mountains behind us were beautifully lit by the morning sun.
The mountains behind us were beautifully lit by the sun. Ahead the clouds had begun rolling in, some with an ominous look to them.
As we climbed, we found a few fossils among the stones, mostly bivalve shells and a couple of belemnites. To our surprise, we could see that more flowers were blooming since we had descended this trail only four days earlier. It took a little over an hour to reach Castle Pass where we were greeted by a strong, cold wind. The clouds had begun rolling in already and some in the distance even had an ominous look to them. We dropped back down the trail out of the wind to paused for a snack and to enjoy one last look at the Paradise Creek valley.
Bracing ourselves, we crested the pass again and began descending into the next valley, Cardtable Mountain and Fortress Ridge dominating the views to our left and ahead of us. The heavy grey clouds over towards the Taylor Basin area had us wondering if that weather was heading our way; all we could do was shrug and hope that it wasn’t. We continued hiking the narrow, side-sloping trail over barren slopes dotted with oh-so-many flowers: white thistle, purple sky pilot, and many small yellow flowers. It was much easier hiking this direction with lighter packs, and we covered the ground easily. We crossed several deep water-carved rills, before passing through thickets of small whitebark pine and sweet-smelling spruce, and emerging onto the lovely grassy flower meadows.
A few snow pellets fell around us but the worst of the weather seemed to be staying to the south; we could only naively hope that it might stay there. We crossed into the next large meadow, relying on flagging to guide us over the globeflower-lined willow marshes and lumpy grass. Fortress Ridge loomed high above us to our left as we came to the patch of trees that lay between us and Marmot Ponds. Raindrops began to dot the small tarn on our left and we had to make the decision whether to follow the obvious flagged trail into the trees or to try and retrace our bushwhacking route from our second day. We quickly decided to follow the easier trail, which duly led us on a pleasantly-meandering path through the forest, and emerged above the camping area, exactly where we had started walking on the day we’d left Marmot Ponds! I made a mental note to let the folks at Trail Ventures know, but I later read the description in the book and it mentions the path we just followed. If only I hadn’t picked up the wrong photocopies….!
Within seconds, an intense snow and hail shower caught up with us. We disappeared into the tents as quickly as we could.
The rain was light but it was enough to begin wetting our clothes. After only two-and-a-half hours, we dropped our packs at the same camping spots as on our first day and began setting up our tents. And not a moment too soon: within seconds of tightening the final guy ropes, an intense snow and hail shower caught up with us. We disappeared into the tents as quickly as we could and laid on our sleeping bags while the hail and wet snow hammered on the fly.
Thankfully, within half an hour it had moved on and, as the silence descended once more, the hermit thrushes began singing again. Apart from that, the only sounds were some cawing Clark’s nutcrackers and the gentle burbling of the creek. We tentatively crawled out and knocked the accumulation of slush off the fly, re-tightening the guy ropes to ready the tent for the next squall.
Knowing that we would probably experience more of that weather, we found a spot in the meadows where we could set up our tarps next to each other while keeping the closed ends pointing into the wind. Now we could contemplate some lunch and we ate under our cheerful yellow firmaments with a great view looking up at the basalt columns on Fortress Ridge. We made a hot drink, followed by shortbread, then filtered some more water and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. Much as I enjoy pushing myself on a long day of hiking, I also enjoy kicking back and relaxing in a beautiful spot. And this certainly was a beautiful spot! At one point I heard a soft bird call and looked up to see a hermit thrush barely 3 metres in front of me, possibly the best view I’d ever had of one of these small, speckled birds.
The weather continued to tease us during the afternoon. As the sun came out, we shed our layers, but as soon as the sun went in those layers were swiftly pulled back on again thanks to the keen wind.
I stretched my legs by exploring the area and found myself watching a yellow-rumped warbler flit between the bushes and the shore of a small pond. My attempts to get a decent photo were distinctly unsuccessful, but as I remained still, another landed in the tree behind me and perched for long enough for me to get a few shots, a few of which were actually sharp. I was delighted! As I wandered the area some more I noticed many overturned rocks near one of the ponds, which, while not recent, were very obviously the work of a bear searching for food. The array of flowers tempted me down on my hands and knees for close-ups, mostly cut-leaf anemone and forget-me-nots.
While not imminent, I had the presence of mind to dig a couple of pre-emptive cat-holes for when the need arose. I set off in search of a good private spot and began wielding the trowel, very quickly realizing that doing this ahead of time was a genius idea as there was no way I’d be able to dig into this ground with other more pressing matters at hand. The soil was extremely dense and full of tangled grass roots, and it took quite a bit of effort and patience to perfect my technique to excavate a hole of the desired dimensions. Satisfied, I place the top sod back into the hole and placed a rock over the top, ready for use at the appropriate time.
For the next hour we watch snow and rain showers pass by, the snow swirling in the air between us and the basalt columns of Fortress Ridge
I finished my task not a minute too soon. The light rain that had started to fall quickly turned into heavy rain mixed with wet snow as I made it back to the tarps. For the next hour or more we watched snow and rain showers pass by, thankfully from the comfort of our shelters, the snow swirling in the air between us and the basalt columns. That was our cue to make another hot drink which segued into an early evening dinner. We were trying a new meal tonight, and not one from a foil packet for once. We’d found a promising backcountry pesto-noodle recipe on the website of an experienced backpacker and guide (check it out here) and decided to try it out on our last night. It was okay, I guess. We decided it needed more basil and sun-dried tomato and less Parmesan (which stuck to everything).
The snow and rain continued on and off through dinner and beyond to our final cup of sleepytime tea. We sat and chatted about the trip and reminisced on the past few days, all of us saying how much we’d enjoyed it. I think we had all been a bit apprehensive beforehand about how we would manage on a seven day trip that also happened to be our first backpacking trip of the year, but we had survived – even thrived! – and we remarked how we had got better at our routine over the week. The last night on a trip is often tinged with sadness but also with the anticipation of only having to carry all our gear for one more day.
The clouds cleared over Mount Sheba, revealing its freshly-coated snowy slopes
Eventually the rain subsided, leaving a lingering mist in its wake that drifted across the peaks of Fortress Ridge. The cold descended and it was time to crawl into our tents, though I couldn’t resist hanging around outside one last time to get some misty mountain photos. The clouds cleared over Mount Sheba, revealing its freshly-coated snowy slopes and ridge. Once again, we were glad that we had opted for this route rather than Mount Sheba. As the light faded, we could see blue sky on the horizon – the promise of a clear night, perhaps? All the fury of the storms faded away to birdsong echoing across the meadows. Hermit thrushes, nuthatches, and a Douglas squirrel or two made their presence known. I knew I would miss the peace and quiet of such moments – the stillness and the birdsong – when we returned to the city, so I stood awhile to absorb as much of it as possible before reluctantly crawling into the tent.
As we laid in our sleeping bags we could hear a chorus of (at least four) hermit thrushes and the occasional thrum of their wings as they flew by. Listening intently to their plaintive whistles I decided there are few sweeter sounds than the song of the hermit thrush on a calm peaceful evening. It was another beautiful moment.
The promise of a colourful sunset faded into the night and the mist descended onto Fortress Ridge again. As Maria looked out of the tent one last time before we settled down for the night, she noticed the near-full moon rising over the ridge behind us. It looked spectacular and we looked forward to spending a moonlit night in the tent, our last night on the trail.