Sunday, August 26, 2012

Howe Sound Crest Trail Trip Report

Elevation Profile. It doesn't look so bad on paper..
When David and Tyler started talking to me about doing the Howe Sound Crest Trail, I got really excited. I have a list of North Shore Peaks that I have been wanting to summit for a while and this seemed like the perfect way to get a couple of them in one go. Many people choose to do this hike in 2 days and it is possible to finish in one day if you move quickly over the 28km. We opted to do it more leisurely, starting after work on Friday and finishing Sunday, spending 2 nights on the trail. We figured that this would allow us to do some detours, such as hiking up Brunswick Peak, the tallest North Shore Mountain (just under 1800m). In the end, we didn't hike Brunswick, since the travel between the Lions and Brunswick Lake ended up being slower than 1km per hour due to some navigational errors.

Our first of far too many views of the Lions
We started off at Cypress Bowl Parking area around 6:30pm and followed a basically wheelchair accessible trail through the wetlands at the top of Cypress. Just after passing the trail for Mt. Strachan, the improved trail turned into a tangle of roots and steep switchbacks. We reached St. Marks Summit in time to get out to the lookout and watch the sun go down with some nice sausage, cheese, dip and wine. Unfortunately, the fresh baked bread was left in the car so we had to make do with wraps. It was really pretty watching the light fade over Howe Sound and the Sea to Sky Highway below. Since it hasn't been too warm recently, it was clear all the way to the island and we were able to spot the lights of Nanaimo, Duncan and Ladysmith with ease.

Arriving at St. Marks, 5km into the hike
Looking out over Howe Sound to Vancouver Island
It feels remote, but Vancouver is just around the corner!
St. Marks Lookout over Gambier and Tantalus

Saturday started out slowly with a photo shoot of the amazing views from St. Marks. We made up for the slow start with some quick hiking up and over the multiple pumps of Unnecessary Mountain to the Lions Lookout where we stopped for lunch along with the hordes of day hikers. We decided against summiting the West Lion as we had another ~10km planned for the day. 

Lions Lookout. Our lunch spot
The Howe Sound Crest trail dips down towards the watershed from the Lions lookout then takes a 90 degree turn back underneath the West Lion before a narrow ledge that climbs up between the two Lions. From here you get a whole new perspective on the North Shore mountains. We were able to see the peaks that we intended to traverse that day. In the distance we could see Sky Pilot and Diamondhead/Garibaldi in Squamish and farther north to Black Tusk.
East (illegal) Lion looking down to Capilano Lake
Looking north from between the Lions. The trail follows the closest ridge
The trail takes hikers along the crest, dipping below Thomas (Tyler's) peak, up over James (Jenny's) Peak and then give you the option of bypassing David's Peak or going straight over the top. We went to the top of all of them. Some errors in our map reading took us to the top of Thomas Peak where we realized that there was no good way down the other side and had to backtrack down the scramble we had just come up. Later, on James, there was a cool walk along a spine in the ridge that had a rope for help. I felt much safer holding onto the rope as the mountain dropped steeply away on both sides!
Lucky the rope is there
Bushwhacker extraordinaire 
We hiked up David's peak after a bushwhack looking for the trail lead me and Tyler up a very steep wall of bushes. Eventually we found the trail and took a snack break at the top. It had been 4 hours since we had left the Lions and it felt as if they hadn't got any farther away than they had been 2 hours prior! 

How are the Lions still so close??
David on David's Peak with Brunswick Mountain in the background
Thankfully, after a steep down-climb of the north side of David's peak, the trail flattened out into a much more manageable trail. Although it was quite overgrown, it had a better grade and allowed us to cover the distance from David's to the emergency shelter at Magnesia Meadows very quickly. 

Looking back at the Lions from Brunswick. Alpine glow!

After refilling water by the shelter, we continued on along the side of Brunswick Mountain. Here the trail became much more well used and easier to follow. We arrived at the turn off to Brunswick Peak where we had intended on ditching our packs and going up to check out the top. Nobody was thrilled with the idea as it was getting late and we were pretty tired already.

It was a good decision. We made it to Brunswick Lake just in time to find tent sites before firing up the headlamps. We had an amazing dinner of butter chicken in the dark by the lake with the sounds of a waterfall in the background.

Sun setting over Howe Sound
Brunswick Mountain dwarfing the tent
We awoke to a clear morning and stunning peaks all around us. The last 8 or 9 km of the hike was well trodden and allowed us to make good time to Deek's Lake where we stopped for a brief swim. After the swim it was all downhill on a trail that turned into a logging road that lead to Porteau Cove. We met Tyler's dad on the logging road as he had hiked up to meet us.

The weekend was a success. The trail offered stunning view around every corner and allowed me to stand on top of some of the peaks above my house. It was definitely the most technical hiking I have ever done, and was pretty challenging with a big overnight bag. Nonetheless, I had a blast and can't wait for my next adventure!

Breakfast by the lake 
Hiking past Middle Lake

Waterfall in Deek's Creek

Thanks to Tyler's dad for the ride! It felt great to sit down

Juan de Fuca Trip Report

The Juan de Fuca trail is a 47km marine trail that spans from China Beach to Botanical Beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It is farther south than the more popular West Coast Trail and is much different, according to Kyle, who has done both. The Juan de Fuca trail was originally used as a telegraph line maintenance trail. This trip was my first ever experience with a backpacking trip. I was pretty nervous as I had never done any hiking that lasted longer than 8 hours before, and definitely not with an overnight bag. I wasn't able to find a good pack for the trip so I ended up with an old backpack from the closet, the same bag Angela had traveled around Europe with a month earlier. Although it wasn't ideal, it fit everything (barely) and it didn't break during the trip, which surprised me a little.

The trip was part of a string of trips spanning 2 weekends and a week that I had off. Our first stop was Bowen Island for the notorious dock dance. After some waterskiing, dock dancing, boat stealing and croquet, Kyle and I hopped on the Nanaimo ferry early Monday morning to begin the trip.
Some extreme croquet action
View of the North Shore Mountains from Patrick's yard
Nothing says healthy breakfast quite like
 ferry ice cream
We spent Monday doing a bit of rock climbing in Nanaimo, then drove west to Port Renfrew on a road that we expected to be unpaved, and were pleased to find was pavement the entire way. We arrived ahead of schedule which allowed us some time to organize our lives after being on Bowen and leave all the extra food that we had brought in the car instead of carrying it all the way along the trail with us. We caught the trail bus to China Beach along with a bunch of hikers who had just completed the trail and were going back to retrieve their cars. All they could talk about was how hard Bear Beach to Chin Beach was and the wonders that are icebreaker clothing, "it doesn't even smell!"

We spent the night at the China Beach Provincial Park campsite. It felt strange to be surrounded by car campers and large RV's with our tiny 2 man tent and only our backpacks. It felt even stranger to have to hang our food when everyone else could just throw it in their car. We spent the evening exploring the beach before heading to bed. I was pretty stoked to get the hike started the next morning! 

China Beach looking west to the Olympic Peninsula 
The tent looks so small in such a big campsite.
We had a really lazy start and left the campsite around 10:30. We had about 1km of road before we even started the hike. After some camp fee faff, we were off. The trail started off gently and after what felt like nothing, we had arrived at Mystic Beach, the first of many beaches along the hike. This was the only sandy beach that we encountered and it had a great ropeswing. We had also read that there was a cool waterfall. It was a bit of a disappointment, but not enough to skip the photo op. 
Juan de fuca trail map
Getting pumped to do some hiking
0 km, looking happy
Rope swing!
What a pathetic waterfall

 The rest of the day was mostly in the forest. Despite the fact that it was marked moderate on the map, I found the 5.7 km from Mystic to Bear Beach deceivingly tough since it was so steep up and down. We snagged the first campsite we saw and had most of the afternoon to hang out, nap and cook dinner. Since we had started that day I had been very envious of Fred, Kyle's duck that he carries with him as his mascot. I was extremely excited when Kyle found a carved wooden moose that was missing an antler. I bugged him into giving him to me and we named him Bruce. My mascot envy had been satisfied.

Suspension bridge over one of the many creek crossings
Cool log with stairs carved in
Entertaining graffiti on the sign
Bruce the Moose!
 Wednesday (Day 2) was the part of the trip that looked like it was going to be the hardest. Although we only covered 12.5km, it was slow going, with lots of steep up and down that was hard on the knees. I can see why people like hiking poles! 

Hiking along Bear Beach
We started the day off walking along Bear Beach which was really cool. I was hoping to see a whale on the trip but its hard to walk on the beach with a pack without staring at where you put your feet. Packs make it easy to tip over. It shocked me how much the pack throws your balance off. It takes quite a bit of getting used to.

 At our campsite on Chin Beach, we collected a whole bunch of firewood and had a nice warm campfire. It was a clear night and we were able to catch the beginnings of the meteor shower and spotted some good shooting stars.

Chin Beach campsite
Chin Beach in the morning
Thursday was by far our longest day. We had planned on hiking 17km to Parkinson Creek but when we reached Little Kuitshe Creek at 4pm (14km), we realized that Parkinson had no camping and the next campsite was another 6km instead of 3. Instead of stopping at Little Kuitshe, neither of us wanted to be the wimp, we decided to keep going to Payzant Creek, the next campground. This extended our day into a 20km mission that was a bit more than I had bargained for. 

Looking back to the Olympic Peninsula. Amazing weather!
Definitely a rain forest!
It was a very fun day anyways. The first section we hiked was from Chin Beach to Sombrio Beach, graded as difficult on the map. Being early in the day with lots of energy, we didn't really notice. We encountered some midday fog after a bright sunny start, but that burned off into a bluebird afternoon with great views. 

Looking back towards Sombrio Point
We had lunch at Sombrio Beach and followed the water until one of the last trail access areas so that we could hike along the shore instead of the forest for a change. Although the section after Sombrio was apparently moderate, this was one of the slower going parts of the entire trip due to steep hills and deep mud. I got to try out my gaiters for the first time, they are awesome. 

For the last few kilometers, we decided to follow a rocky shelf that was just above the water. It was beautiful. I was surprised that the trail hadn't had more options to walk along the water like this. Unfortunately, the shelf ended abruptly and we had to bushwack up a bear trail and clamber over logs before we found the trail again. It was at this point where I was loosing coordination and desire to continue. Luckily, we were only about 800m from the campsite. What a relief!
Fantastic views in the afternoon
Rocky coastal shelf
40 km! Now time for bed.
Friday (Day 4) was a nice easy day. We took it slow along the flat boardwalks that felt a lot more moderate than whatever we had been calling moderate the day before. The trail ended just after Botanical Beach, a spectacular tidal area full of life, including a large heron. We were pretty keen to finish for the trail so we didn't stay long. It felt great getting back to the parking lot, especially since we had to add an extra 2.5 km to the hike to get back to the truck in Port Renfrew. We celebrated with some well deserved fish and chips. I had such a fun time hiking (minus the blisters) and am pretty stoked to get out there and do some more of it in the near future. Thanks for the awesome birthday present Kyle!

Buoys marking beach access
Nice boardwalks!
Made it to the truck
Fresh Port Renfrew Fish and Yam Fries