Hike: Elk Lake Walk-In/Wilderness Campground

Guys, put this on the record: Dana and I went backpacking and we didn’t get rained on. It was a first!  And it was glorious!

I’m back with another backpacking trip recap – the only thing Dana and I were missing was my sister, Haley.  She brings the best backpacking treats!  Oh, and Penny, our loyal Mexican cocker spaniel, but I’m not so sure I want to tent with her.  🙂

We just got back from a two night stay at the Lower Elk Lake hike-in campground.

We headed out to Kananaskis at our usual pace, leaving the house at a healthy 9:30 AM. It was forecasted to be a super hot day, so I was a bit nervous about how I would handle the heat (I’m quite fair-skinned – you could say I glow in the dark).  We pulled into the trail head parking lot around 11:00 and got started pretty quick.

The first couple of kilometers are along a forestry/access road, but don’t let that discourage you. We were treated to beautiful big blue skies, the occasional lovely breeze, and glorious wildflowers along the way.  Although there are hundreds of wildfires burning in British Columbia right now, it wasn’t too smoky or hazy for us as we hiked out towards the BC/Alberta border.  Just after you cross the border, there are two trails that take you down to the Lower Elk Lake campground: one takes you by the Alpine Club of Canada cabin but this route adds a kilometer.  As we took that trail last year, we decided to turn right at the Y and take the slightly shorter trail for a total hike in distance of 11 kilometers.



Although the sun was hot and we worked up a sweat, I wore a hat and drank lots of nuun-infused water (electrolytes!) and didn’t get heat stroke. So that was a win!

We were setting up camp by 2 PM which is pretty crazy. We love Elk Lake because it’s such an accessible hike for all levels, yet incredibly beautiful.  Most of the other campers at the site were from BC (Fernie!), and there was only one other AB couple.


Dana and I had a pretty lazy afternoon, him reading in his hammock and me reading in the bug-free zone of the tent. We even got hot enough to head down to the glacially cold Lower Elk Lake, and go for a bit of a dip.  Brrrr!  Felt pretty awesome after getting so sweaty hiking in though.  


Since there are no campfires allowed right due to the fire ban and we were tired from the heat and the hike, we had a pretty quiet night and headed to bed around 9:30.

A bit of marital humour for you all. Dana has always dreamt of sleeping with the tent fly off, feeling the cool evening breeze and seeing the stars.  Since I sleep so poorly when we backpack, I would much prefer to have the fly on so I can feel cozy and protected.  As a compromise the first night, Dana got to keep his side of the tent’s flap open so he could feel the air.  Joke’s on him!  We both nearly froze that first night as the cool mountain air blew through the tent all night.  Lesson learned:  Kaitlyn is always right.  😉

We were treated to another beautiful day on Saturday, although it started off a little overcast and grey, perhaps from the wildfire smoke. It wasn’t cold though!  A very warm breeze was blowing and we were warm enough when we started our hike to the Petain Creek waterfall.  


We headed off on our hike around 9:30 and enjoyed the warm weather, arriving at the waterfalls in time to eat our lunch.  Our next stop?  Hiking from the waterfalls up to the Petain Basin.

We weren’t super prepared/knowledgeable about the Petain Basin hike, and the trail definitely seemed less utilized (although it is marked). It’s a “stair climber” for sure!  500 m elevation gain over 2 kilometers!  Up, up, up we hiked – it was so steep in places I couldn’t believe it.  I didn’t mind the parts through the forest, but eventually up near the top there is a lot of scree.


I really, really dislike scree (small loose rocks that slide like marbles when you step) and scrambling. There was some internal self-talk for a large chunk of the scree.  I was doing okay for a bit.  I felt if I could scramble up to the top, once we got to the Petain Basin I’d be fine.  Of course, mentally I was also freaking out about how I would crawl down the way we’d came when we were heading back.  Although I had my poles with me, for large parts I was bear-crawling/rock climbing up.  My feet started to slide a bunch and I couldn’t get a solid hand-hold on anything it seems.

Of course I burst into tears in a sheer moment of terror where I was certain I would slide down the mountain to my inevitable demise. As I clung to a single stable rock, curled in the fetal position, hyperventilating/sobbing,  Dana calmly reasoned with me (while standing upright like a normal human being) and then when I finally stopped crying, helped me maneuver over to what seemed like the only large flat safe rock on the entire mountain.

 

[No joke, as I write this post on Monday, my forearms hurt from the death grip I had on that rock.]


Anyways, although we had made it quite far up the slope, I was shaking so badly that I didn’t think I could carry on any further. It killed Dana I’m certain, but after he went a little ways ahead to see how far was left (too far for me), we decided it was best to turn back and head for the campground.  Dana talked me down the scree slope and helped me with my footing, and then I was fine and nearly laughing about the whole thing by the time we got to the forest again and the sun came out from behind the grey sky.


We were both happy to be heading back to camp as the elevation gain and kilometers were catching up with us, and we were pretty tired and hot. Around kilometer 15 we ran into an Elkford local who regaled us with hiking adventures of years past, and eventually we got back to the campground for another glacially cold swim and some cool beer (Dana) and delicous salt & vinegar chips we packed in.  We hiked about 21 kms on Saturday.

Dinner was Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai (6/5 stars – seriously) and some wine. Another night we were in bed by 9:30!

Sunday we were up around 7:30 again and packed up camp pretty smoothly. I brought my AeroPress coffee maker this weekend and it was amazing to have a great cup of coffee in the wilderness.  We headed out around 9:30 and were back in Calgary by 2:00.  Other than Dana nearly losing a knee cap on a hidden broken tree branch, the return trip was beautiful but uneventful.


I can’t say enough good things about Lower Elk Lake – so convenient for us Calgary folk and such a pretty spot too!


After a nearly 45 km weekend, suffice it to say I’m definitely taking a rest day off from crossfit today and instead doing some restorative yoga after work.  Hope you are enjoying July so far!

Flashback Hike: West Coast Trail August 2010

Continued from yesterday’s post


The next morning dawned on us early and we set off to catch the West Coast Trail Express bus to Bamfield.  It’s a six hour drive, and although I’m not prone to motion sickness, I was painfully close to barfing the entire trip because of the windy logging roads.  Our bus blew a tire at one point too.  Thank God some kind soul had a Gravol to knock me out.

We sat through the mandatory info session at the WCT trailhead that day, then camped the night at the trailhead campground on the beach.  It was beautiful!  They warned us at the info session to keep our eyes peeled for (fresh) water and fill up whenever possible, as there was a shortage of water due to the month without rain.  Joke’s on them!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Around 4 AM, we awoke to rain drops pitter-pattering on the tent.  Dana hustled me along and got us packed up (dismantling a tent in the rain is now one of our specialties), then we headed out.  It rained and it rained.  We puddle-hopped as much as we could to preserve our dry-ish boots.  My Ropers were quick to let in the dampness.  All comedy aside, it was beautiful in the forest.  We ran into quite a few people on their last day (you can hike the trail north to south or south to north), and they looked keen to leave the Trail behind.  Not us – we were clean and pretty dry still!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Okay, so I was a little damp too.

It rained and rained some more.  The previous bone-dry path soon filled with rain and became a little river for us to walk in.  The creekbeds, which had been pretty much dry the day before, began to flood.  We made it to Michigan Creek and there were several hikers who said others had turned back because it was too dangerous to cross.  Not Dana and I.  Not after we’d come that far.  We undid the belts on our hiking packs, and crossed the surging river.  The water came up past my waist and threatened to push me out to the hungry ocean.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Dana loaded up!

Fortunately, we made it across and there was a campsite pretty close by.  Ridiculously cold and soaked to the bone, we set up the tent and then I proceeded to climb inside and curl up naked and shivering in my sleeping bag.  I could not get warm.  Dana was more resourceful and worked on getting a fire started.  He brought me something warm to drink.  Eventually, the night ended while I dreamt of a glorious helicopter evacuation, and the next day began.

Day two of hiking was less rainy; however, the puddles and mud on the trail remained.  Perhaps due to the puddle skipping on the first day or my poor choice in hiking footwear, my knees started to swell up and were incredibly sore.

Side story: one of my friends at the time had given Dana and I some WCT gifts before we headed off.  The most hilarious item was one of those silicone funnels that allow women to pee standing up.  I used it a few times on the trail on day one with great success.  Imagine, peeing without having to take off your pack!  At one point on the beach on day two, I was already past modesty and too tired to walk up to the tree line to pee.  It was pretty warm on the beach and I’d been chugging water all morning.  I asked Dana to turn his back and whipped out my handy funnel.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t properly positioned and I proceeded to completely, uncontrollably pee my pantsApproximately 2 L of pee in one of my only two pairs of pants.  I started sobbing hysterically.
At that moment, Dana turned out towards the ocean and considering walking in with his pack on.

To pass the time while hiking, I daydreamed about being evacuated and not having to hike anymore.  My sparkly engagement ring only mildly distracted me from the pain in my knee.  Our goal for the night was Tsusiat Falls, and although we made it there just fine (aside from the unfortunate pee incident), to descend to the beach level where the campsite is, you need to climb down three tall ladders.  My one knee hurt so badly that I couldn’t bend it, so ladders were pretty darn impossible.  Dana did two trips down the ladders – once with his pack, and then once with mine while I struggled down the ladders.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tsusiat Falls is ridiculously beautiful – a popular spot right on the beach, with driftwood piled around campsites, and the falls providing fresh water to the camp.  It was a sunny evening at least, and we had the good fortune to run into a paramedic who was able to tape up my knee the next day so we could carry on.  Dana gave me some painkillers and I slept pretty dang soundly that night.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Day 3

Day three started off early so we could time the tides to walk on the beach.  It was a bit foggy to start, but very scenic as the sun was slowly rising.  No rain, thankfully.  My one knee was still terribly sore and I was hobbling pretty badly that day as we hiked.  As the day progressed, the pain got worse and climbing over roots and disintegrating boards in the forest became almost impossible as my knee didn’t bend.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As we neared the Nitinat Narrows ferry crossing, we decided that we should ask to be evacuated.  Knowing that the south end of the trail was more challenging – more ladders to scale and big roots to climb over – evacuation seemed wise, although I’m sure Dana just wanted me to stop complaining.  The ferry operator told us he’d take us back to Nitinat when his shift was over, and so we enjoyed an unbelievably fresh crab lunch while we waited.  We hopped in the boat again and he ferried us up the Narrows to the Nitinat Reserve.  I was ecstatic to be finished the WCT.  I couldn’t wait to get back to civilization.

To our shock, when the operator pulled up to the dock at the reserve, there was no formal evacuation procedure.  As we looked around, we asked him what to do next.  He advised us that some hikers camp or stay in the (shady) motel on the reserve, then hike or hitchhike out of the reserve to get out to the main road.  This wasn’t the helicopter-to-Victoria evacuation I’d dreamed of!

In a bit of a daze, we walked up to the Nitinat general store and proceeded to get in line.  Out the window of the store, I could see the motel doors eerily blowing in the wind.  As Dana and I brainstormed what our plan would be, a little old lady behind us in line overheard and asked us where we needed to get to.  She turned out to be our saving grace, and offered to drive us to Nanaimo (her home) if we’d buy her a pack of smokes.  Next thing you know, we were in her car headed out of Nitinat.  I was asleep in the backseat within minutes (so trusting, I know).  Dana tried to visit, but also fell asleep as the car rumbled along on the gravel.  We woke up in Nanaimo, and the kind lady fed us some fruit salad, then offered to drive us the rest of the way back to Victoria.  We could have kissed her.

Of course we had no where in Victoria to stay, but she dropped us off at our original hostel and they offered us a rental house.  That night, we had a celebration dinner of Delissio pizza and watched a Jackie Chan movie.

shanghai noon

It felt so, so good to be back in civilization again.


As this post is published, we’re heading to the airport to fly to Victoria for our second attempt at the notorious West Coast Trail.  This time around, I’m a hiker, a crossfitter, and (I think) a much stronger person in general.  I can’t tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to this trip – a week in relative solitude, hiking, with my favorite person.
Keep your fingers crossed for relatively dry weather and don’t step on any spiders, okay?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Flashback: That time Dana wanted to hike the West Coast Trail

Also known as:

  1. How to test your very new engagement 101
  2. Do you really want to spend your life with that person?
  3. You should actually like backpacking before attempting an epic 7 day backpack trip
  4. The true meaning of “soaked to the bone”
  5. When “they” say you can get evacuated, it isn’t what you pictured.

As I wrote about in Dana and I’s long-winded romantic tale, we’ve been together pretty much our whole lives for about 10 years.  Dana, being a geologist, has always had a soft spot for mountains, hiking, and adventure.  Someone had told Dana about the epic West Coast Trail (my sources tell me this person was none other than Ron Clarke) and he was dying to go hike it.

DSC00449

Dana has always been a mountain man, along with his fellow geologist buddies Paul and Scott.

In spring 2010, Dana had completed his geology degree and started his first legit adult job. This naturally means a lot of things, but the important thing is that he now had disposable income since he was still somehow technically living at home.

For me, his then-girlfriend of four years, that meant an engagement ring and a proposal. I had the ring picked out and everything.  For Dana, disposable income meant buying all the backpacking gear a man could possibly ever want (okay, and maybe a secret ring too) and planning his dream West Coast Trail trip.

(After writing about all of our hiking adventures over the past couple summers, the next portion of my story seems funny, but I’ll tell it anyways.)

Since people who care about each other at least try out each other’s hobbies (in theory), I went on a few introductory hikes with Dana.  One was Yamnuska, a K-Country classic.

yamnuska amateur

Another one that I always chuckle about was the Ink Pots hike , as I recall being immensely sweaty, wearing my Ropers (horseback riding boots) as hiking boots, and thinking a checkered button-up was suitable hiking apparel.  I hated every minute.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Look at my perfectly styled hair!  Ah, we were so young!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We did the Crypt Lake hike in 2009 – clearly I was overjoyed.

We also attempted a lovely backpacking trip, Lake of the Hanging Glacier, as WCT practice. It’s 18 km round trip, 700 m elevation gain, which in 2016 seems like a normal day’s hike for us.  However, it was a beastly hot day, we got a late start, and the mosquitos were the worst I’ve seen in all my life.  As soon as the tent was set up, I hid inside (naked) with a pounding headache in the blazing heat and (again) resented Dana for making me go hiking.  The next morning, we hightailed it out of there as fast as we could.

I’m really selling myself, aren’t I?

So this brings us to the end of the summer in 2010 and our infamous West Coast Trail trip.  I was a chunkier person then and had hired a trainer three weeks before our departure, praying it would be enough to get me strong enough for the hike.

I did some stair climbing at the gym and some cable pulls, and called it a day.  I was ready to get engaged – er -I mean hike the WCT.

Finally, the day arrived to fly down to Victoria with our overstuffed hiking backpacks.  When we arrived, we dropped off our luggage at Ocean Island Inn and set out to explore.  I wasn’t certain if Dana had The Ring, but I was certainly praying he did.  Why else was I on this godforsaken trip?

To my massive enjoyment (and relief), Dana proposed in the rose gardens behind the Legislative buildings and we were ecstatically happy.  I momentarily forgot about the WCT and was just excited and in love.

Victoria WCT20100829_07


Tomorrow we leave for our 2016 WCT trip – tune in for another post and read about our infamous 2010 adventure!