Hike: Picklejar Lakes

Thanks for the pics Rozie, Dana, and Megs 📸

Two Sundays ago, we got out with a few of our friends to hike up to the Picklejar Lakes in Kananaskis. It was supposed to be a 30 degree day but didn’t amount to that heat thankfully.

According to the Alberta Parks website, Picklejar is 8.2 km return/450 m elevation gain. Somehow the hill climb seemed spicier to all of us!  The trail, although not maintained, is well-trafficked and in good condition and we passed lots of people on our journey upward.

People had kids and tiny toy dogs with them so that gives you an idea of what kind of trail to expect.  Also lots of folks with fishing rods (or axes as Rozie thought initially… haha).

We made it up to the second lake before a bit of a storm started blowing in. Somehow none of us had packed a raincoat, so continuing on to the third and fourth lakes seemed unnecessary.  Rozie had packed a plastic bag but there was no way five of us were going to fit in it if the heavens decided to open up.

It was quite smoky that day and my lungs were feeling it by the time we were heading back down. The views were pretty, but I wish we could have seen them without the haze hanging on the mountain peaks.

My great uncle always tells us about Picklejar Lakes when we see him, and now I’ve got big respect for his hiking skills because the climb up there is a lung and leg burner! I’ll be taking his trail recommendations with a grain of salt now.  🙂

Hike: Peyto Glacier (on the Caldron Lake trail)

This post should have been called “Hike: Caldron Lake” but I’m a bit of an acrophobe apparently so I’ll leave the Caldron Lake hike for another year. I had flagged the Caldron Lake hike in our hiking book as it sounded pretty epic, and even better, not well traveled.  It’s been a busy year for Canadian parks with the free Parks pass, and Dana and I are always happy to explore a quieter trail.

We got a reasonably early start on Friday, leaving Calgary around 8 AM. Dana and I both (oddly) had miserable sleeps the night before so we really could have gotten on the road sooner… We pulled into the Peyto Lake viewpoint parking lot around 10:30 and got going pretty quickly.  It was amazing to both of us how busy the viewpoint was, but not surprising given the brilliant blue beauty of Peyto Lake.

When you so tired but #hikingislife

The Caldron Lake hike is interesting because the trail is a there-and-back, but you lose 350 meters elevation right from the viewpoint down to the lake level almost immediately (~2.5 km). It takes about 30 minutes to descend.  Which is great and all, but you know you will have to climb that same 350 m at the end of your day too in order to get back to the car.  Gulp.

The Caldron Lake trail is unmaintained and although there used to be a bridge to cross the river, there isn’t one now. (There is a sign at the top of the trail warning hikers about the bridge being washed out.)  Laughably, as we crossed the flats, there were some small streams to jump over and I figured that was the water the bridge previously crossed.

You eventually go inland a bit to skirt the river, then come back down to the flats where there are rocks and boulders as far as the eye can see. We could see the ridge we needed to ascend to get up to Caldron, so we worked our way over towards it where there was a waterfall, only to realize the river was flowing too fast there to cross.

We hiked downstream about 0.5 km to where our crossing would hopefully be a bit safer and switched into our Vibrams. Vibrams may not be the coolest shoe in town, but they are AMAZING for water shoes!  Dana crossed first and left his pack on the shore then came back for Penny, and carried her across.  I was nervous to cross as I could see the water was moving fast and knew it would be so, so cold.  Dana came back to help me across, and very carefully we made it to the other side together.  The water was indeed glacially cold and mid-thigh on me, with a threatening amount of force behind it.  My heart was pounding!

We toweled off and had our lunch, then worked our way up the boulders to where a rough trail was hidden along the top. We made it to the next stream crossing with the same pattern: Dana taking his pack across, then Penny, then helping me jump across on the slippery rocks.  Then it was time for the ascent up the ridge.

I had been nervous about the ridge since it had first come into view.  Dana took Penny’s leash so I could use my poles and just focus on the climb.

Although we gained about 600 m, I was so focused on how utterly terrified I was of the ridge drop-off that I didn’t even notice my heart pounding or my lungs burning.  I only stopped to cry once, but at least I wasn’t clinging to a rock this time.  Of course the whole climb I thought about how terrified I was to get back down the mountain.

Penny was such a trooper and basically pulled Dana up the mountain. While we were climbing, Dana had his eye on where we thought the path to Caldron Lake went – basically over the waterfall.  I was such a nervous wreck when we got to the top, we decided to head down to the Peyto Glacier first.

It was unbelievably windy at the top!  Some gusts almost knocked us over.  We checked out the little weather station and shack, but were getting so windblown that we found shelter in a little crevice and had a snack. We made the decision to head back as between my fear of heights and the apparent storm clouds that were looming, starting the hike back seemed like a wise decision.

Funny enough, the ridge hike back down was way easier and less scary. There were just a few loose rocks, but overall I felt pretty confident in my footing and abilities.  We crossed the stream again but decided to stay up on the ridge as long as we could so that perhaps downstream the return river crossing would be less fast and deep.

We chose a spot to cross and followed our routine. Unfortunately, as the day had gone on, the river was flowing faster and slightly deeper.  Dana crossed once with his pack and Penny.  Penny was not pumped about being carried, but she seemed to understand the danger of the situation and stayed pretty still until he came close to the bank.  I was going to cross after them, but Dana urged me to stay put so he could help me across.

I’m so glad he was there or I might not be writing this recap.  I undid my pack straps and had my poles out, but the current was so hard and fast, and I was waist-deep in the river.  I couldn’t seem to place my poles because of the strong, freezing current, and moving my feet seemed impossible.  At one point I for certain was about to topple over, but luckily Dana was there to grab my arm and help me get grounded.  Let’s just say I was a little shocked after that crossing.

I should have packed my spare clothes in Dana’s dry pack bag, as the shorts I was wearing were drenched, and my shirts were wet up to the belly button. And my spare pants got wet too in the bottom of my bag (from when I nearly fell in).

At least it was a warm and windy day, so once we got moving, most of my clothing dried out.

After we’d left the viewpoint, we hadn’t seen a single other hiker all day. We ran into our first hiker at the cairns on the other side of the forest path, and then two more on the ascent back up to the viewpoint.

Although being alone in the world on an epic hike for the whole day was a cool experience, had we needed help in a first aid situation, it would have been a hard hike back to the viewpoint alone. So if you’re considering this trail, make sure you have a plan in place and let someone at home know where you are hiking for the day and when you expect to be back.  There is no cell reception.

The ascent back to the car was just as hard as we’d thought after a full day of adventuring, but we made it back with Penny pulling Dana the whole way up. I think Penny was asleep before we left the parking lot!  And Dana not shortly after.  🙂

It was a 16 km day, despite not getting to Caldron Lake, with 1000 m elevation gain, and we were all so tired. I felt like the hike was exhausting, but compounded with the stress of the ridge hiking and the river crossings, it was just a brutal hike!

Hike: Wild Side Trail (Flores Island)

Somewhere along the way this year, backpacking went from being Dana’s hobby that I (un)willingly tagged along for, to a pastime that I also look forward to tremendously.

A few weeks before Dana and I left for our whirlwind 2017 BC road trip, I stumbled across a blog post with a round-up of under-the-radar hikes/backpacks (of course I can’t find the post to link to now). The Wild Side Trail on Flores Island was listed.  Some quick googling educated me that Flores Island is accessible from Tofino by a 30-40 minute water taxi, and that the trail doesn’t require advance reservations.

Since we… enjoyed (I say with reluctance)… the West Coast Trail last summer, I figured another coastal island hike would be right up our alley. Although both trails have that in common, we vastly preferred the Wild Side Trail although the West Coast Trail is certainly a commendable adventure.

Due to a small missing toothpaste mishap at the Surf Junction Campground, Dana and I were nearly late catching the 10:30 water taxi to Ahousaht. Luckily we caught it by the skin of our teeth, and off we jetted for Flores Island.  (Although we found out after that the 10:30/4:00 water taxi times shown on the Wild Side Trail website are just a rough guideline – there are usually taxis going back and forth all day.)  We rode out with two day hikers who ended up keeping us company for the first couple of kms.

When you reach Ahousaht, you can buy Wild Side permits at a booth right at the dock. The young man working there warned the day hikers about a wolf attack on a dog the previous day, so we were very conscious of the wolves for our stay.  To reach the trail head, you first walk about a mile through the reserve.  The map was a bit unclear, but walk through the new development and go right to where the pavement runs out, then follow the rough road to the trail head.


We were treated to a gorgeous bluebird sky day and the kilometers went by relatively quickly, with the day hikers along to chat with. I worked up a sweat as it was a hot day out, with lots of beach walking.


Depending on the tide, you can hike in the trees more, but Dana and I stuck to the beach as much as we could. The sand was totally different from the West Coast Trail – in a good way! – and it made for easy hiking.  We couldn’t get enough of the beautiful views.

There was one cool part of the trail, near the path for the emergency shelter, where you could cut through a cave to get to the other side. Depends on the tide – super cool though!


We ran in to just a couple people that entire day (again, very different than the West Coast Trail), and when we set up our camp on the beach, we were the only ones on Cow Bay. We set up our camp near the creek, with the protection of some trees to block the wind off the ocean.  We did have one other party show up later in the day, but they camped on the tent pads near the bear locker, so we had the beach to ourselves!

Dana needed to fix our camp stove (handy husband that he is), but then we set off to explore the bay in our bare feet. The nearest outcrop was actually 2 km away but we had such a great time exploring and cooling off our feet in the water.

We found a few semi-warm pools of water the high tide had left behind and were excited to have a little bath, but didn’t realize there were little biting shrimp-os* lurking in the water. (*probably not actually shrimps, but we’re landlubbers) So much laughter was had as we jumped around looking for shrimps on each other.  We kept referring to them as the Lachyrmos Leeches (from Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” books).

By the time we got back to camp, we were more than ready for dinner. After filling our grumbling bellies, we passed the rest of the evening sitting on the rocks watching the ocean and relaxing.  Such a beautiful place!

As is typical on backpacking trips, I had an annoyingly broken sleep that night, but we woke up to yet another gorgeous blue sky day with the sound of the waves crashing in the bay. It was hard to be grumpy waking up in paradise!

We had our breakfast and coffee then very slowly and reluctantly packed up camp. It was so hard to leave!  If we didn’t have a hotel booked that night in Tofino, we definitely would have stayed another night on the bay.

I think we got rolling around 10:00 but we had a very relaxed pace as we soaked up the sun and the views and perused tide pools for marine life on the way back. Some other backpackers had warned us about crossing the creek at high tide, but we went a bit upstream to where the wolves had crossed, and we were fine.  The cold water felt so refreshing with the heat of the day and our tired feet!

We decided to spend an hour on the beach there and I even ventured in for a swim. It was so, so cold!  The fine powdery sand felt so nice though and the sun definitely had heat to it.

Eventually Dana herded us onwards down the beach. The forest exits off the beach were not always obvious though, plus we were enjoying the beach so much, that we did some rock scrambling and wading around rocks (with the tide in) so we could stay on the beach.

I never wanted the day to end. We had so much fun!

When we got back to Ahousaht, catching a water taxi back was no issue and I even made friends with a reserve dog. I thought he might come home with me, but I don’t know how Penny would feel about that…

In summary, we loved the Wild Side Trail and can’t recommend it highly enough. Plan for two nights at least!  If you’re considering the West Coast Trail, try the Wild Side first just to see what a kinder, gentler version would be like.  The West Coast Trail is gritty and hard, and because of its length, it can beat you down mentally and physically.  The Wild Side is its shorter, more light-hearted cousin (and no ladders!).