Vancouver Island (British Columbia, Canada) is well known for coastal trails such as the West Coast Trail, Cape Scott, North Coast and the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. What isn't so well known is that Vancouver Island also offers some incredible alpine hiking. I recently returned from a 4 day backpacking trip in Vancouver Island's Strathcona Park and I thought that sharing the trip might inspire visitors to the island to explore a little more than our coastal trails.
Day 1 - An early start and a 150 mile drive to the trail head with a few friends, put us on the trail at about 10:00 a.m.. It was mid July and the trail reports said that there was still lots of snow in the area. Our destination for day 1 was Circlet Lake which is a popular campsite for hikers looking to climb some of the peaks in the area. Our plan was to go up Mt. Albert Edward on Day 2 which is the snowy peak on the left in the picture below.
As the elevation increased, the snow became deeper and I was thankful for the smaller pack and trekking poles. Post-holing and falling flat on your face is far less traumatic when wearing a small sized pack! The trails (and creeks) in the area were well hidden in snow and there were no signs of previous footprints to follow. My hiking partner seemed to have an uncanny ability to lead us in the right direction, often coming out exactly on the trail when we came to a clearing that wasn't covered in snow.
Fortunately, there was a small strip of lake shore that wasn't covered in snow. Most of the tent pads in the area were still buried. The raised tent pads were a blessing because during the mid-day melt my tent had a sizeable moat around it! The picture below is an early morning shot of my Seedhouse 1 before the melt had gotten into full swing.
We managed to find the food cache and dug a hole to provide access to the top level. This food cache is 5 feet tall!
Day 2 - Beautiful sunny day for our hike up Mt. Albert Edward. Finding the first part of the trail was difficult because of the snow cover and steep terrain. This is a non-technical climb that involves some scrambling in the lower sections and my hiking partner once again proved to be a master at locating the trail. Half way to the summit the trail splits to take hikers to various peaks. Two of our group went to Mt. Jutland and two of us continued on up Mt Albert Edward (Albert Edward is the peak on the left in the picture below). For safety reasons, we arranged to meet back at a designated spot and time after our summits. We returned to our base camp together.
The trail was well marked with cairns and this Inuksuk marked the top of one of the ridges. The weather in this area is generally very unpredictable with rain, fog and snow always a possibility and can make trail location very difficult. We lucked out with a perfect day that saw blue skies and warm temperatures (a little too warm for my liking). The Outdoor Research pack towel that I always carry became a dual use item on this trip and provided a little shade for me on the open slopes.
Continuing on, it's a steady grind to the summit.
At 6,867 ft., Mt. Albert Edward is the 4th highest peak on Vancouver Island. Needless to say the view was spectacular! I was a bit surprised that the elevation change really affected me. I guess going from my home at 130 feet above sea level to almost 7000 feet in a 24 hour period is a shock to the lungs but I was surprised that I felt it that much! The picture below is from the summit.
Day 3 - Many people do this summit as a day hike but we decided to make it a 4 day trip to allow us some time to explore the area. Our third day started with clear blue skies and one of the best reflections that I've ever seen. We were heading across the valley to set up camp and explore the area around Kwai Lake. It was a quick hike and allowed us plenty of time to hike to some of the many lakes in the surrounding area.
Appropriately named Lake Beautiful was one of the stops we made on our way to the lookout at Crookshank Canyon. Many of the lakes in the area are full of fish and my one regret on this trip is that I didn't bring my fishing gear... next time! At this point I broke the screen on my camera so no more pictures!!
Day 4 - Was an easy walk out past a few more beautiful lakes. We finished our trip with a fairly leisurely walk through Paradise Meadows which took us back to our car. Our entire trip was less than 30 miles and can easily be done in two days but taking 4 days really allowed us time to explore the area and relax. The GPS track below shows our route (small green tent symbols mark our campsites).
This was one of the most enjoyable trips that I've taken in years; largely because we allowed ourselves time to enjoy the area. The weather was spectacular which is always a significant factor on any trip. My only regret was wearing my heavy weight Gortex hiking boots. I decided that because of the snow melt the Gortex boots would be better than my low top hikers. HUGE mistake as the Gortex boots leaked like a sieve and were really heavy... never again! My hiking partner wore his low tops and carried a spare pair of trail runners and his total footwear weight was less than my boots! My only salvation was a last minute decision to throw the outer shell of my Feather Friends down booties into my pack. I wore them the entire time I was in camp and they were fantastic in the snow (even without the down inner boot). My total pack weight at the start of the trip (with food and water) was just under 22 pounds. A little heavier than I had hoped for but I had to allow for the fact that there was still over 3 feet of snow in the area and the weather can be unpredictable even after the second week of July. The nights were quite cold but I was well prepared so the cold wasn't and issue.