Saturday October 4th 2014 saw Dean and I making a early morning attempt at one of the most visited peak in Strathcona Park. No, an extra early start. I was in the Subaru and on the road by 5 am. Dean and I were heading up to Raven Lodge, embarking on a Paradise Medows to Mt. Albert Edward hike. The round trip would be taxing, mentally and physically.
Total Horizontal Distance: 34 km
Total Elevation Gain: 1923 m
Starting Elevation: 1097 m
Maximum Elevation: 2093 m
Vancouver Island's geopgraphy is such that there is no mountain significantly higher than 6000 ft (1828 m). Mt. Albert Edward is one of the mountains that exceeds this altitude. It's also considered by many to be one of the easiest 6000 footers to summit, it's a walk up. Following the established route means there is no exposure, minimal scrambling and very little route-finding. The barrier to most hikers is the horizontal distance required to make the summit.
Usually this peak is done as an overnighter or a two nighter. Hikers hike to Circlet Lake and camp overnight, before making their summit attempt. Though many choose to do this as a multi-day hike, it is possible to do it as a very long day hike. Dean and I chose the latter.
We were geared up, leaving our car behind at 7:20 am. The sky was overcast, enshrouding the summits and ridges of our destination with heavy grey cloud. Dean was adamant that we would find better weather Several times he comment how he, "was sure the cloud was about to burn off and the sun to pour down". He wasn't entirely wrong.
Because our intent was to do the total distance of the hike in a single day, we didn't doddle. We were skirting the north shore of Helen-Mackenzie Lake within 45 minutes, and at the pond by Circlet Lake at the 2 hour mark. The route was easy to follow and had little elevation gain/loss. At first we were hiking through overcast skies but before long there was a small amount of precipitation falling, though we didn't put on our rain gear. We were generating so much heat that we figured we would end up soaked if we wore our rain gear.
Once past circlet lake the route becomes slightly more rugged and the elevation gain begins. We climbed up the hill and out of the mists. For a short time we had a view of the surrounding landscape: including views of Gem Lake, Moat Lake and the dozens of tiny tarns below. The surrounding summits remained engulfed in mists and we couldn't even see our destination.
We climbed more, up into the clouds above. Although I wouldn't say that there was a well defined route, the route is visible in many sections. Once in the mists the route was more challenging to follow, there were cairnes every which way! Large cairns, small cairns, everywhere cairns, cairns cairns. The mist was exceptional and driven by wind. Visibility was less than 30 meters,, the mists wafted past us, millions of droplets suspended and gusting by us. My visibility was made worse as moisture droplets were forming on my glasses, obscuring my vision. Before long we both put on our jackets and they two began to drip with the moisture blowing past.
We continued along the ridge, guided by a GPS point as we couldn't see any geographical marking on the ride and the small group of ptarmigans we past en route were no help at giving directions. earlier in the day we had joked about the Sasquatch cave at Love Lake, perhaps fueled by this dialogue, when shadows loomed in the fog my heart stopped... if only for a split second. Two figures moved toward us and they were revealed to be human, and not at all saskwatchean. The two men were on their way down the ridge, having sumitted earlier in the day. I gave them some Moleskin and we were once again in our way.
We reached the summit (2093 m) at 12:30. We signed the ACC summit register and peered over the edge into the abyss of fog. Looking down the edge of the summit we just make out the blurry shape of a cairn to the south. We worked our way to it and used it as a backrest and wind break as we ate our lunch. I'd like to say that the cloud lifted but it did not. several times during lunch the sun tried heartily to sear through the cloud, the warmth was noticeable.
As we descended from the summit there reached a point where we again dropped below the cloud. Basking in the sun we had various views of some of the surroutnding landscape; Jutland, Castle Craig, Gem Lake, etc. We also passed to groups of hikers making their way toward the summit.
At Whisky Meadows we decided an an alternate route. I wanted a different route back, hoping this would help reduce some of the psychological fatigue that often accompanies an out and back hike. It worked, plus it didn't add more than a few hundred meters to the route we walked. We passed by Kwaii, Crouteau, Lady and eventually Battleship Lakes. We made good time and wasted no time as we wound our way back to the car. Eventually arriving back at the car at 6pm. Although we could have been faster, we did th 34 kilometres in 10.5 hours.
Although I am in no hurry to do this hike again, it is a very long haul, I was blown away by the palate of colours in the landscape. All manner of greens and browns accompianied by every imaginamble value of gold, orange and yellow, all this mixxed in with reds and purples made for a stunning walk. I will do this hike again but I will try it in early spring, on snow.