Making the most of a long weekend means different things to different people. For Family Day Weekend 2016, I jammed in a daytrip for each of the three days, including an overnight camp at a familiar trailhead in Seward. Don't fret, though; I spent at least one of those days with my family! On the first day, we did a beginner snowshoe trip to Lake Helen Mackenzie. On Day Two, I led an intermediate snowshoe trip to Mount Allen Brooks. For the final adventure, we cranked up the intensity at Stowe Peak, in the Prince of Wales Range.
The line of Ramblers snaking along
Our trip to Mount Allen Brooks started at the early hour of 6:00 am, as we headed up to Raven Lodge. The morning brought poor conditions: dark clouds cast a dim light on the landscape, a light rain was falling, and a stiff breeze passed through us all as we stood outfitting ourselves, signing waivers , and waiting for everyone to arrive.
I started the day with minor trepidation. This was my third attempt of Mount Allan Brooks; the two failed attempts were in less favourable conditions, but on this day I was less than fresh, as my hips were bruised from hauling my son around in the pulk sled the day before. It's not often that I start a hike fatigued from an effort the day before -- unless a tent is involved. However, I had a good feeling; the day before, I had noted that there was a cut track all the way to and across Lake Helen Mackenzie. Beyond that.... we would have to discover!
Total Distance: 14.9 km
Starting Elevation: 1066 m
Maximum Elevation: 663 m
Total Time: 7 hours
We had a group of eleven for the day, including several former Ramblers, some guests, and even a number of new members! All in all, a great mix of new and old friends hitting the trail together. Hiking with a large group often causes bottlenecking on a narrow trail, and valuable time is lost as everyone waits for the lead person to start moving. It’s only seconds at a time, but on a long trail trip this can add up to an hour or more. However, with snowshoeing, a large group can sometimes make the day faster, or at the very least easier! The trick is to make sure that everyone gets a chance to be out front breaking trail. This ensures that no one gets too tired before the end of the day. Phil and I were both concerned about burning ourselves out on this easier objective, and sacrificing our planned attempt at Stowe Peak.
We were on the trail just after 8:00 am, following the summer route to Lake Helen Mackenzie. Once we were away from Raven Lodge, in the midst of Paradise Meadows, the shelter of the low-laying landscape and trees protected us from the wind. The light rain seemed more of a mist now that the wind wasn't driving it. Visibility remained limited, but not terrible; it was more of a Romantic mist, engulfing the landscape.
Snowshoe track crossing Lake Helen Mackenzie
At the lake (1135m), we discovered at least three tents set up, with campers just emerging as we approached. We paused for photographs and a quick break before heading southwest across the lake, following the well-booted path (no doubt the route was broken in by the backpackers and skiers that passed our group on our simple snowshoe the day before). As we rounded a small peninsula at the south edge of the lake, I was delighted to discover that the path continued beyond the lake. Wending our way up the treed slope toward the Elma/Allan Brooks col, we passed two different groups of campers, already packed up and descending; either heading home, or with some new destination in mind. We climbed the 100 metres and reached the col (1240m) before 10:00 am; we were making great time, and I was confident that we would reach our destination!
Fog climbs just above us throughout the day
South end of Lake Helen Mackenzie
The oh-so-loved broken track abruptly ended shortly after reaching the col; from there, we broke fresh track to the summit. The summer route leads to the Forbidden Plateau Ranger station, where you step off trail and ascend the toe of the ridge. We deviated from the summer route, using the contour of the landscape to guide us westward toward the station. Our aim was to access the ridge without losing any elevation. On our way to the toe, we eventually came upon a skin track created by backcountry skiers. We were able to follow these to our goal and up the slope. As we continued walking in the soft snow, several participants took a turn breaking the trail.
Our biggest challenges for the day were in gaining the lower shoulder, and making the final push to the summit. Though the skin track set a great route up the slopes through the trees, it provided nothing more than the assurance that we were on the right track. With each step up the slope, we sunk six to ten inches into the snow. The snow was in poor shape; one of my least favourite conditions is when the snow doesn’t support weight, but collapses only under significant load. Today, there were many moments like this. Even with my 200 pounds, the snow only compressed after three-quarters of my weight was stacked on top. Walking in these conditions makes me think about people using a Stairmaster in the gym; it turns the effort into thousands of leg presses. One. After. Another. I'm very grateful for my hiking club! Many of the members took their turn out front, and this made the ascent quick.
Posing for some shots
At the shoulder, we paused for a well-deserved snack break. Standing on the ridge, we had a view of the skin track we were following; it traversed an open glade below us and progressed up into the trees. We looked to the summit, but it remained enshrouded by the low-hanging mist; the cloud seemed to climb with us throughout the day. As we ate, we felt the familiar chill of the stiff breeze we had felt earlier in the morning. We finished our snacks, and layered up before carrying on.
The final approach to the summit climbs a forested bump before descending 20 metres and climbing back up to the main summit. As we emerged from the treed hillside to the top of the bump, I was surprised by what we found. I thought the skin track was made the day before, but it wasn’t! We found a group of five backcountry skiers skinning up and admiring the peekaboo view of the lake and Paradise Meadows below, and Mount Washington in the distance.
most of the group posing for the summit shot! Well done Ramblers
It was only a few more minutes before we reached the main summit (1510m). We stayed just long enough to capture some photos before the stiff breeze chased us off the summit. We descended to a lower, more protected place to eat lunch, and I took advantage of the break to talk with a friend that I have not hiked with for a long time. It's great to get reacquainted, but I regret not talking to a few more of the guests.
Ken on the long path home
We set out for home shortly before 1:00 pm. We stuck to the beaten track, and the combination of broken trail and descending made for a pleasant, and quick, trip back through Paradise Meadows. Regardless, after my trip the day before, and the hours of walking today, I was happy to take my time.
We arrived at the lodge just before 3:00 pm. Tired and cool, we were ready to sit down and relax. We congregated in Raven Lodge for a quick set down and some warm drinks. Phil and I didn’t sit long, but beat a hasty retreat. We made our way to Campbell River to get some food before heading to the Sayward, where we camped at the base of Bill’s Trail for an early start at Stowe Peak. I slept well and had dreams of hiking in the good weather we had forecasted for the next day.