Marmot Ponds to Tyaughton Creek trailhead: 13.5 km, +200 m, -930 m, 5h
I thought I would drift off to a blissful sleep as soon as I put my head down, but instead I laid awake for far longer than I felt I should have. Was it too quiet? Surely after a week in the backcountry I wasn’t lying there listening to every noise? Alas, my ears were all too receptive to those small sounds, and it took a passing rain shower to finally lull me to sleep. I stirred as it got light just before 4:30 am and peeked out of the tent to see cloudy skies. Satisfied I wasn’t missing an epic sunrise, I closed my eyes again just as the the dawn chorus began. The first sound I heard before I drifted off was the nasal call of a nuthatch.
I came round again just after 6 am and began packing away my sleeping gear. The grass was sopping wet as I pulled on my boots, as was the tent. Overhead were patches of blue sky and clouds and I hoped the sun would break through and dry off the fly sheet. I retrieved our food bags and walked over to the tarps, the pools of water that had collected on them covered with a thin layer of ice. Looking up I could see that the slopes of Fortress Ridge were decorated with fresh snow, and I waited for the sun to light them up for a lovely morning photo. Alas I waited in vain so I had to make do with a cloudy photo instead. Mist drifted over the peaks near and far, and the sun found a gap in the clouds to shine on the snowy mountains to the south.
Maria and Brenda joined me and we enjoyed our final breakfast on the trail, admiring the view of the ridge above us. We finished packing up our backpacks and were ready to leave by 9:15 am. One last photo op, one last look around at our camping spot, and we set off down through the meadows to begin our journey back to the car. A short, steep climb soon had us out of breath before the trail levelled off in lovely open forest, globeflower and other early spring plants decorating the forest floor.
The trail dropped down a few short but steep descents over slick mud that required concentration, but was mostly very easy going, especially with our now noticeably lighter packs. We passed pocket meadows, then through the tremendous section of old-growth whitebark pines covered in green wolf lichen. I tried again to photograph these old trees, with little success. A muddy and boggy section followed before we emerged onto a huge, stunning meadow filled with flowers. Our pace slowed as we took the time to photograph as many as we could. The variety of paintbrush colours on display was particularly striking, varying from pale peach or yellow through orange to vibrant, intense reds. Scores of lupines, arrowleaf balsamroot, and cut-leaf anemone filled in the gaps between the paintbrush.
The meadows opened up even as the trail petered out to leave us stranded in a sea of flowers
A short stretch of forest followed (where we’d met the mountain bikers on our way in), spotting fresh bear prints in the mud, before we came to our next meadow, a steep slope carpeted with an amazing array of flowers. So many lupines, so much balsamroot! Nodding onion and death camas now caught our eye along with larkspur and tall, pink and blue forget-me-nots. The meadows opened up even more as we reached the point that had taken us by surprise on our inbound trek, the trail petering out to leave us stranded in a sea of flowers.
At least we knew where to head so we picked our way down through the meadow as carefully as possible, and found the trail once more just before we entered the trees. Now we started the big descent in earnest, switchbacking down the slope in delightful open forest, knee-high grass carpeting the ground. Bear prints were common in the mud and they all seemed to be going the same direction as us. Then we noticed a tree stripped of its bark, most likely by a bear, that we didn’t remember seeing on our first day. We made sure to keep calling out as we didn’t want any furry surprises!
The forest thickened as we continued downhill, winding through the trees, over a couple of small creeks, all the while accompanied by spring flowers such as western meadowrue, globeflower, Sitka valerian, and bunchberry. Gradually the forest opened up again to aspen and grassland, and we were halted in our tracks by the biggest, greenest, and – most alarmingly – freshest bear poop we had ever seen. Really, it was huge and would have filled both of my boots (what a disgusting thought…) Of course I took a photo but who wants to see that? (Actually, you’d be surprised…) Our noise-making became a little more frequent after this sighting.
The biggest, greenest, and freshest bear poop we’d ever seen. I took a photo but who wants to see that?
After two hours of hiking, we reached the junction with the Tyaughton Creek trail where we paused for an early lunch, picking a fallen log in the shade to sit on, and celebrating the fact that we had already covered more than a third of the distance. Moving on, we enjoyed a gradual descent over the next kilometre or so, with a few small climbs mixed in for fun, passing through open pine and aspen forest, and dry, grassy meadows full of flowers. My feet were happy that the grass was dry this time!
A pair of newly-fallen trees forced us to detour around off the trail a couple of metres, briefly interrupting our rhythm. We hiked at a steady pace, enjoying the easy trail and being surrounded by so many flowers. The day had warmed up as we had descended to lower elevations and we were glad of the alternating hot sun, cool breeze, and shade to keep us comfortable. Lupines filled the gaps between the trees, the warm air filled with their scent. Bald-hip roses added their sweet rosy scent creating a heavenly hiking experience.
As with yesterday, we noticed that many of the flowers we’d seen in bud on our hike in six days ago were now blooming, especially the nodding onion whose single nodding buds were bursting out into over a dozen small flowers. Columbia lilies were blooming all around us, and paintbrush, too, seemed more abundant compared with a week ago. Conversely, we also noticed that some varieties that were peaking then, such as death camas, were now beginning to fade. The life of a mountain flower is but a short one!
We had a couple of kilometres of uphill, most unwelcome at the end of the hike
The trail descended towards a deeply incised creek, and we passed some fresh bear poop before coming to a rotten log still swarming with ants where it looked like a bear had ripped into it in search of tasty morsels. Fording the creek we began to climb again. Checking the GPS we noticed that we had a couple of kilometres of steady uphill, which was most unwelcome at the end of the hike and as we were beginning to tire. Had we noticed this descent on our way in? I couldn’t remember but it made me realize that my cheat-sheet of distances and landmarks was woefully incomplete, with a single entry covering the 8.5 km between our lunch spot and the trailhead! Another lesson learned. It’s not that the uphill was tough, or even entirely unexpected; rather, had we been aware of it we might have managed our energy levels slightly differently, perhaps resting for a few minutes and topping up our lunch with a snack to give us a boost up the hill.
The uphill continued gradually but inexorably for the next couple of kilometres, traversing large sloping meadows and meandering through open forest filled with yet more lupines. Eventually we reached the high point of the climb at the park boundary and stopped to catch our breath, even though we knew we were close to the car. We hadn’t actually stopped for a rest since our lunch spot two hours earlier and welcomed the chance to drop our packs for a few minutes and have the snack we should have had already.
We looked at each other as we pulled on our packs, knowing we were almost done, those familiar mixed feelings rising again. Our spirits were high despite feeling tired after the long pull uphill, and with renewed enthusiasm we set off down the steep trail towards the car. Down and down we went, switchbacking a couple of times before the final descent, breaking out of the trees above the parking area, glad to see the car was still there and intact. Moments later we dropped our packs by the car, only five hours after leaving Marmot Ponds. I unlocked the car so we could change out of our boots and – most importantly – retrieve our well-earned beer!
We toasted an amazing trip. The sense of wild was strong, simultaneously intimidating and exciting.
Ah! That first sip of beer after finishing a trip is always the best. Despite a week in the car, the beer was actually still cool enough to enjoy. We clinked our cans together and toasted an absolutely amazing trip. As always, it was hard to believe it was over, yet our first day already seemed so long ago. It had been a tough week, physically and mentally, but we had experienced some utterly sublime hiking, witnessed the most incredible and vast views, and found such peace and solitude. The sense of wild was strong, simultaneously intimidating and exciting. Our souls craved that space and I felt full with the safe completion of our trip, grateful that our planning and preparation had paid off.
We crammed our gear into the car and I sent the final InReach message to our family, before beginning the drive back, thankful for the easy logging road to get used to the idea of travelling faster than walking pace again. Passing the Tyaughton Creek forest recreation site where we’d camped after the drive up, I felt it looked so much nicer, and much less forbidding than on that first day. (Would I camp there again though? I suppose if I had to, then, yes – it really wasn’t that bad.) The road led us uphill and we turned right onto the main Mud Creek forest service road, relaxing into the drive and enjoying the scenery. The road was quiet and we wiled away the drive chatting about the trip. We passed a few pieces of heavy machinery that we didn’t remember seeing last week, but none of us thought anything of it.
Suddenly we rounded a corner and were confronted by a large impressive mountain looming over a logged hillside, now a few years into greening up once again. I braked to a halt, partly to take a photo but also as I realized that we were not, in fact, on the correct road! We were off the printed map, so that was no help, but the GPS had enough info for us to realized we’d only gone and overshot our junction by 9 km! We turned around and drove back along the road (now recording a GPS track too…!), keeping a careful eye on the road so as not to miss our turn this time. Thankfully it was easy to spot come from this direction and we turned down the hill onto the Tyaughton Lake Road, around the switchbacks and over the Tyaughton Creek, climbing again towards the turnoff to the Taylor Creek road where we’d hiked out two years ago.
Soon we were back by Tyaughton Lake, passing the lodge, pulling in briefly to check out the Friberg FRS, then Mowson Pond, before heading for the BC Hydro campground at Gun Creek. To our delight the campground was now open and we pulled in to see if any spaces remained. Sure enough there were a few and we pulled in to one within earshot of the creek and unpacked again. Surrounded by ponderosa pines and Douglas firs, a few nodding onion and ripening Saskatoon berries, we set up our tents for one final time to dry in the hot sun and warm wind. Douglas squirrels chattered away, feasting on fir cones while ruby-crowned kinglets darted around in the undergrowth.
With our homes set for the night, we walked down to the creek among cottonwoods and aspen to filter some water and enjoy a good wash to freshen up. Oh, that felt so good! It was bliss to be feel so comfortable and warm, even moderately clean. Soon enough it was time for dinner, accompanied by more celebratory beer. After, we decided to stretch our legs with a gentle walk out onto the sandy flats of the old Minto townsite, somehow adding another 4 km to our day. (Umm, why?) It was so windy out on the flats that I almost lost my hat a couple of times, and we were glad to be back at the campground once again. We sat around long enough to make plans for the morning before settling into the comfort of our tents for the last time.
Epilogue: Day 8, Sunday 5 July 2020
Well that was a lovely night’s sleep. I was comfortable, the night cool enough to need my sleeping bag only as a duvet, the sound of the creek so therapeutic. We stirred around 6 am and began packing up, feeling lazy and enjoying the fact we didn’t have to pack everything perfectly into our overnight packs. The tent was totally dry! The sun soon rose over the ridge and instantly began to warm us up, the scent from the cottonwoods filling the air. Yesterday’s squirrel was back on the same branch, munching away on a fir cone, while nuthatches called in the trees.
We pulled out of the campground just before 8 am and enjoyed a quiet drive alongside the turquoise reservoir before turning onto the Hurley FSR. The drive was quiet and uneventful – bumpy of course – the road lined with flowers with occasional mountain views. Driving back towards Pemberton offered sights of some spectacular mountains, that looked especially dramatic against the blue sky of the morning. Within an hour we reached Railroad Pass, noting the dozen or so cars parked at the Semaphore Lakes trailhead, then another half-dozen near the Tenquille Lake road, before enduring the steep bumpy descent to the valley. Turning onto the paved Pemberton Meadows road we floated our way back into Pemberton reaching the village a little after 10 am.
Since Mile One was not open yet, we called in at Mount Currie Coffee Company for a hot drink and a snack and to pass the time before we could order our burgers. As soon as Mile One opened, we lined up for our first real food in a week. Sitting on the patio looking up at Mount Currie on a glorious sunny day, we savoured every bite. Delicious! Then it was back on the road for a steady drive back down to Squamish to drop Brenda off at her car. Now it really felt like the trip was done – we said our goodbyes and finished off the drive into Vancouver.
It wasn’t long before we were parking the car back at home and hauling all our stuff up to our apartment, laying out as much of it as possible on the balcony to air. Then I began the long task of loading all the photos and GPS tracks onto the computer before we kicked back and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon, revelling in the experiences we just had.
What a fantastic trip that was, and we all agreed that we can’t wait to go again! Time to start planning for next year…