Grant Creek Circuit, 13-20 Aug 2022

Opinion:

A five star trip with a few one-star moments. Another stunning week of exploration in the South Chilcotin mountains that was inspired by last year’s visit to Lorna Lake. Hiking here never gets any easier as much of the area we explored had no trails, but the rewards were immense: endless mountain views, stunning turquoise lakes, vast open passes, flower-filled meadows, and a wildlife encounter to remember forever. It’s truly a landscape worth immersing yourself in, provided you have the skills, gear, and experience, and we came away with incredible memories and hat-full of ideas for future adventures.

Fact

Getting there and costs
We drove the Hurley Forest Service Road to Tyax Lodge on Tyaughton Lake. The road was in decent shape and posed no issues. As ever, be aware of some bumpy sections and a few stretches of loose gravel and rocks. Our initial plan was to take a floatplane to Lorna Lake, explore, and get picked up again a week later, but the plane was involved in an “incident” (i.e. it crashed) and we were switched over to a helicopter drop-off and pick-up. Fortunately the landing zone was in the Grant Creek valley, which we were planning to visit anyway. Unlike last year, our flight departed directly from Tyax Lodge. I don’t know if that’s a permanent move or temporary while the floatplane is out of service. The cost was $1450 per flight (plus a $10 per person trail maintenance fee). Split between our group of four people, we ended up spending about $770 each. Given that the helicopter flight lasted less than 20 minutes, that works out about $20 per minute of flight time! Only you can decide if it’s worth it and if your conscience needs you to buy carbon credits. The flight departures were on time, although we had an anxious glance or two at the sky during the few minutes after our designated pick-up time had passed before the helicopter appeared! For both flights our route followed Tyaughton Creek over Lorna Pass and then up the Grant Creek valley. We noticed other helicopter drop-offs approached from Sluice Creek. Not sure what difference it makes. In either case, just seeing the landscape from the air was a wonderful experience.

Route and Camping
We spent seven nights in the backcountry: two in the upper Grant Creek valley, two at Lorna Lake, one at “Teco Lake”, and two at Powell Pass. Only the camping at Lorna Lake had any facilities (a nice clean outhouse and a metal food cache) so top-notch leave no trace skills are vital here! However, it was not always easy to find good camping and inevitably we ended up on more sensitive ground than is ideal at Grant Creek and Powell Pass. Limiting our stay to only two nights should have helped minimize any damage. The camping at Powell Pass has no trees so food storage may be an issue – bear-proof storage is mandatory. We buried our Ursacks under piles of rocks some distance (and across a creek) from where we were camped and from where we ate. Burying them won’t stop a bear but it should stop rodents, and all our food bags survived intact. There were enough trees to which we could tie our Ursacks at Grant Creek and Teco Lake. One downside to camping in upper Grant Creek was the helicopter drop-offs. I don’t know how many flights they have per day but we had two or three helicopters show up each morning, which would be a rude awakening if you were having a lie-in.

Each campsite – except Teco Lake – had good water. Lorna Lake was a bit silty – we noticed a slight slowdown in our water filter. Teco Lake was not a good water source: it was shallow with a silty/muddy bottom, and the outlet creek from the lake was dry. However, we found a small creek about 800 m north with just enough flow to fill our Platypuses. Our advice is to fill up at Grant Creek before stopping at Teco Lake (if approaching from the south).

Our itinerary is listed below – it wasn’t the itinerary we had planned which we’d left with family and friends. However, we’d built in enough flexibility to be able to change things up on the fly, and had pre-warned our family and friends so they wouldn’t get too concerned if we suddenly appeared to be going in a different direction. (Very important when exploring a wilderness area.) The book and map from Trail Ventures BC were once again absolutely vital in helping us plan and prepare. Don’t even think about visiting this area without buying both. Online trail updates were sparse, though we found some updates on the Bridge River Valley Trails website. We had three InReach Minis in our group for communications.

Trail conditions
We hiked on trails wherever we could but much of our exploration was over trail-less terrain. Good trails existed between Lorna Lake and Tosh Creek along the Big Creek trail, to/from Lorna and Elbow Passes, in upper Grant Creek to Iron Pass, and from Powell Pass into the Powell Creek valley. The trail between Big Creek and Elbow Pass passed through a very wet swampy area that was difficult to cross – hiking poles were invaluable to enable vaulted crossings. (Most of the mountain bikers we met had wet feet.) The trail through the Tosh Creek valley was intermittent or faint and very hard to follow thanks to significant deadfall and copious dwarf birch and willow. This trail passed through some swampy areas (which must be much worse after rain or early in the season) and open dry meadows – in both instances the trail was often faint or difficult to discern and we lost it on multiple occasions. Surprisingly, somehow, we often did manage to locate a trail (perhaps even the actual trail!), sometimes still evident at ground level as we walked through the knee- to head-high birch and willow. I’m guessing that animals still use it, judging by the number of deer, bear, and moose prints that we saw. It was very, very difficult to hike; I cannot imagine bringing a mountain bike on this trail.

The climb to Dorrie Col from Iron Creek looks vertical from a distance but was actually quite straightforward, if a bit of a tedious scree plod. The descent to Sluice Creek was harder than anticipated. Maybe we picked a better line last year or maybe it’s because we were carrying overnight packs this time but we found the descent on steep scree to be challenging and even a little nerve-wracking at times. The section of forest between Sluice Creek and Lorna Lake was a maze of deadfall, at least near the lake. It was quite open closer to Sluice Creek, and we even found a few axe-blazed trees from an old marked route. However, there was no discernible footbed at any point. Last year we were fortunate enough to find some game trails but we took a different route this year (guess who forgot to make sure last year’s track could be viewed on our GPS…?).

It was a great place for solitude. With the exception of having a few helicopter loads turn up while we were camping at Grant Creek, we met very few people. There was a group of six backpackers at Lorna Lake (who camped at the north end of the lake) and we met a cheerful group of five near where the Big Creek trail crossed Grant Creek. The rest were mountain bikers, about a dozen or so (not including the various helicopter loads).

Creek crossings
None of the creeks we crossed had bridges so we had to wade. As the book and map point out, all of these creek crossings are major crossings that could be impossible under different conditions. The pair of sagging logs that spanned Big Creek on the Lorna Pass trail last year have gone, probably swept away by meltwater or last winter’s storms. Fortunately, there had been no recent rain so all creek crossings were relatively easy and never more than knee-deep. Just be aware that the creeks can rise significantly during the day, especially if it’s sunny or warm: for example, crossing Sluice Creek late in the afternoon was a very different experience from crossing it early the next morning. Sandals or other water shoes helped with grip and to protect our feet. We had to wade across: Iron Creek, Sluice Creek (near the open flats mid-valley and again – twice – along the Big Creek trail), Big Creek (near Lorna Lake and on the descent from Elbow Pass), Grant Creek, and Tosh Creek. The unnamed creek at about 9 km draining the bowl above Tosh Creek was fast-flowing also required a wet crossing.

Weather
The weather was kind to us. We had fine, often sunny, days with only a few short spells of light rain. The weather pattern was mostly clear skies at night and in the morning with clouds building during the day and often dissipating again by the evening. Winds were quite strong at times, especially near the passes and on top of peaks but not as bad as last year. Temperatures were mild and at no point did it get anywhere near freezing at night. The implications of this are that the bugs were bad to terrible. Mosquitoes were annoying enough on their own (although not maddeningly so, and especially when compared with our trip to the Rockies a few weeks earlier) but the horse flies were without doubt the worst we have ever experienced. They were abundant and hungry, and we frequently had to fend off half-a-dozen simultaneously. I had so many bites from them. On the plus side, they were often quite easy to swat…

Wildlife
Wildlife sightings were pretty good although not exactly plentiful. We saw a young grizzly bear feeding at the side of the road near Gold Bridge plus a mother and two cubs in the upper Tosh Creek drainage (as well as paw prints along Sluice Creek), several deer, marmots, chipmunks, ptarmigan, grouse, voles, and birds of prey (bald eagle and an unknown hawk), and a single mountain goat. We heard but never actually saw pikas. We also saw tracks from moose and wolves (plus many from deer, goat, and bear).

Flora
Flowers were abundant and widespread, with some of the finest meadows we’ve ever seen – and that’s saying something after the stunning displays on our Egypt Lake trip a month earlier. Paintbrush was particularly abundant, followed by arnica, lupine, and broad-leaved willowherb. The other species we identified were (in no particular order): alpine pussytoes, golden fleabane, alpine willowherb, rosebay willowherb, pink, white, and yellow heather, Douglas’ campion, Davidson’s penstemon, lance-leaved stonecrop, autumn or four-part gentian (not sure which), glaucous gentian, bird’s-beak lousewort, bracted lousewort (wood betony), small-flowered paintbrush, white alpine marsh marigold, silky phacelia (sky pilot), skunky Jacob’s ladder (also sky pilot), moss campion, spotted saxifrage, white bog orchid, Sitka valerian, dryas, cut-leaf anemone, western anemone (in flower and as moptops), purple mountain daisies, slender cinquefoil, mountain sorrel, alpine bistort, pink wintergreen, orange agoseris, fringed grass-of-Parnassus, mountain larkspur, white thistle, edible thistle, three-flowered avens (mostly gone to seed), sulphur buckwheat, western meadowrue, yellow monkeyflower, strawberry (including berries!), alpine buttercup, plus at least four other flowers that we’ve yet to identify.

Distance: about 77 km
Elevation gain: 3230 m
Time: ~8 days

Key moments

  • 🙂 A pair of wonderful wildlife sightings: watching a mother grizzly bear and two cubs from a safe distance was an absolute breathtaking experience, while observing a mountain goat scale sheer cliffs was heart-stopping, at least for this acrophobe!
  • 🙂 Alpine camping simply cannot be beaten: the peace and quiet, the sound of the running water, and the freshness of the air
  • 🙂 Standing knee-deep in flower-filled meadows not knowing where to look or step
  • 🙂 Filtering water by an alpine creek or a lake is always time to enjoy a few moments of serenity
  • 🙂 Washing my face in a cold mountain creek is one of my favourite things about alpine backpacking
  • 🙂 The creek crossings were invigorating and leant an air of real adventure to the trip
  • 🙂 Sitting on a rock with my feet in the creek, gazing at my surroundings on the final day
  • 🙂 Admiring the stars on a mild, crystal clear night
  • 🙂 The aching beauty of our surroundings, and the joy at being in these places
  • 🙂 Experiencing so many moments of deep peace and stillness – so many opportunities for simply being, outdoors
  • ☚ī¸ The horse flies…
  • ☚ī¸ The intense disappointment on reaching Teco Lake only to find it so unappealing
  • ☚ī¸ Constantly losing and rediscovering the Tosh Creek trail while negotiating deadfall, swamp, and bushwhacking was exhausting and demoralizing

Itinerary and Summary

We planned a circuit taking in various points of interest to the west of Big Creek, building in enough flexibility to adjust our itinerary according to our energy levels and interests. This was vital as we did make a few changes to our original plan, and they were definitely changes for the better, making the trip more enjoyable or at least less of a sufferfest!

  • Day 1: Drive to Tyax Lodge and fly in to upper Grant Creek, explore Iron Pass
    4.5 km, 410 m, 2 h 55 m
    A relaxed couple of hours’ exploration to begin acclimatizing to the altitude and to check out a few views
  • Day 2: Explore Grant Pass, upper Tosh Creek to Powell Pass
    10.5 km, 455 m, 6 h 45 m
    A gentle introduction to the area, exploring meadows and tarns, plus scoping out potential camp spots for our last two nights
  • Day 3: Grant Creek to Lorna Lake
    11.5 km, +765/-910 m, 8 h 45 m
    A tough day to get up to Dorrie Col and down to Lorna Lake, with a highlight of Dorrie Peak and a low point of the descent to Sluice Creek, which was much harder than expected
  • Day 4: Loop from Lorna Lake to Lorna Pass and Elbow Pass, then Big Creek trail back to Lorna Lake
    13 km, 565 m, 7 h 5 m
    A wonderful loop of mostly easy hiking to attain an incredible view over Lorna Lake
  • Day 5: Lorna Lake to Teco Lake
    6.5 km, +120/-90 m, 2 h 45 m; 1.7 km, 50 m, 45 m; 1.4 km, 80 m, 2h 30 m = 9.6 km, +250/-230 m, 6 h (total)
    As close to a rest day as we’ll ever get…
  • Day 6: Teco Lake to Powell Pass via Tosh Creek valley
    14.5 km, +390/-160 m, 10 h 5 m
    Where do I start? Ugh – this was an utterly exhausting and demoralizing day as we fought our way along an overgrown and often non-existent trail but we finished on a high when we saw our camp spot
  • Day 7: Powell Creek Valley and Marian Lake
    9.5 km, 315 m, 4 h 50 m
    A relatively easy day of exploration through many meadows that sparked ideas for future trips
  • Day 8: Powell Pass to upper Grant Creek, helicopter pick-up back to Tyax Lodge, drive to Pemberton and camp at Nairn Falls
    4.5 km, +120/-225 m, 2 h 25 m
    Alas, all things must come to an end but the mellow hike back to our pick-up point left an indelible impression thanks to the distant sighting of a female grizzly bear and her two cubs

That’s a lot of days in the backcountry, which was absolutely fantastic and we loved every minute. Well, almost every minute… Our initial stay at Grant Creek allowed us to pack some food in a bear-proof canister which we left behind to collect on our last day. This saved us from over-filling our Ursacks (which barely hold 7 days’ food) and meant we could sleep easier knowing they were cinched tight and less likely to be disturbed.

The map below shows our route with some of the landmarks labelled, including camping spots, creek crossings, passes, and high points that we visited. Each creek crossing shown was one we had to ford and I can’t stress enough that the safety of these crossings depends on the conditions at the time. Heed the advice in the Trail Ventures BC guide book.

It’s going to take a while to get round to writing up this trip (especially as I haven’t started on last year’s trip either…!) but bear with me – I’ll get there in the end.

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