While it has been some years but here is another story about a tick off my to do list!
In 1999, around this time, I was introduced to the Headwaters of the Stein Valley. I was on a 5 day backpacking trip with my then first year classmates of the Outdoor Recreation Management program at Cap College. We had a great time and I remember that trip clearly with highlights of a small black bear, a larger black bear, and an even larger grizzly bear feeding on the same blueberry patches only 500m or so from our campsite at Caltha lake. The next day we climbed up the ridge above and peered down on Tundra Lake and the Stein Valley proper.
With two failed attempts to cross the entire Stein, due to weather, trail conditions and or a combination with the wrong head space, this route has been left on the back burner since 2005. With one visit since that time to the eastern entrance for a 40km total out and back training run, the whole upper, middle and part of the lower valley were still complete unknowns. In 2009, major natural fires were allowed to burn in the Stein Valley causing major fire damage and in the end major regrowth of weed species and first growth plants in and along the trail. With continuous park funding shortfalls this section of trail is yet to see any maintenance since that time. With this information in the bank and the knowledge from recent crossings that talked of at least 10km of bad bushwhacking, I convinced my girlfriend Nicola to spend her weekend with me knocking off this goal.
She accepted, with my one stipulation that she could not whine about the conditions encountered.
To keep things simple for ourselves we managed our own car drop leaving North Vancouver at just after 4pm Saturday evening and both driving independent cars to Hope for dinner at Joes, a great little fancy resturant in town. After filling up we continued our drive up the Fraser canyon and into Lytton where we followed the road to Lillooet. Before that however, we needed to catch the short Ferry across the Fraser Rivre to drop a car off at the Stein trailhead. We quickly left the one car and hopped into mine for the next two hours to Lillooet Lake and the Lizzie lake trailhead outside of Pemberton.
Arriving at about 1030pm at the Lizzie Lake forest service road I quickly set up our tent and we crawled in for a comfy nights sleep in a 4 man tent.
With a great sleep under us we got up around 545am, made breakfast, and taped my feet. We were ready to go at 647am. Off we went walking the 1km of drive-able road as I wasn`t sure to its condition and knew Nicola's car would have a harder time coming back up to get my car at the end. With the washouts on the Lizzie lake road, a bypass trail was made in the last many years. However, it was unneeded as there were two trees down that you could walk across to gain one side of the river, to then cross back over to gain the road above the washout.
Once on the roadway, the trail is obvious but is more like a single track trail now with the jungle encroaching. About 1km after the first washout the bushy alders starting blocking our sight line of the trail so we just put our heads forward and started walking into the jungle. At first it was dry but as our elevation increased we reached the dew point and the bushy forest began to provide us with a cool shower. Soaking wet head to toe is the way I would describe this section and it lasted another 11km all the way to the forest at Lizzie Lake itself. Thank god. No whining. 2hr30min
We quickly followed the trail up and away from the lake and towards the Gates of Shangri La. A hanging rock garden that is the entrance to the Lizzie lake cabin and the valley that opens you to the Alpine. 45mins. Some downed timber to crawl around and over but well flagged.
After checking out the cabin and the outhouse structures we made our way towards Arrowhead lake and the alpine section of the traverse. We made quick time to arrowhead where we had our first Fizz stop of the day, which involved both Nicola and I drinking 500mls of Fizz to keep up with our water and electrolyte needs. We continued along at a good pace gaining the higher alpine above Arrowhead lake and were upon Heart Lake in no time. Staying left and gaining the ridge above Heart Lake we saw our first 2 people of the trip. They were on a day hike from the Lizzie Lake cabin. We did not cross paths but saw each other from over 1km away. We continued up the ridge before gaining the bench that worked us towards Cherry Pip Pass and Caltha Lake. Following the broken alpine trail cairn to cairn was essential, just stay high and left if you are going to error on this section. Eventually we picked up a more worn path down into Cherry Pip and again are left to follow cairns and traverse towards Caltha lake on a so so trail. Lots of scree hopping and side hilling on meadows. Eventually it flattens out and we headed towards a water source flowing down from above Caltha Lake on route to Tundra Lake. We stopped to fill our bladders. It was around 1pm. We filled and fizzed up, heading up the climb behind Caltha Lake. We gained the vantage that had left its mark 14years earlier. 145pm (7hrs approx into our day)
As we stared down onto Tundra Lake the forecast for sunny skies looked questionable with dark storm clouds rolling by overhead. This is the commitment spot of the trip because once you drop down and around Tundra Lake you are in the middle of nowhere and the terrain is very technical. About 20mins into our decent to Tundra Lake we noticed two people up ahead. They were backpackers and they were in for a 9 day trip across what we were hoping to do in 2. They looked at our 18liter backpacks with jealousy and said, "wow you guys are moving fast". We quickly passed each other and we continued along the Lake. At this point the lake forced us to climb up about 500ft, over a cliffy pump that plummets into the lake. With this out of the way we descended to the ridged area at the end of Tundra lake where most 9 day trippers would camp. We quickly launched into the next section where we worked our way up onto the ridge above stein lake that we would traverse for the next 8kn down to our campsite for the night. Gaining this ridge was a lot of work, error to the left and stay high. Once on the ridge it is evil and goes up and down, up and down, reminding both Nicola and I of a worse version of Skyline I, II finish of Fat Dog. We eventually see the last pump and instead of heading over it we got to traverse it and start the steep descent to the Stein river and eventually lake. This section was steep, the kind of steep that just puts a pounding on your quads and with probably at least 200 trees down made for a lot of up, over and under. The trail was well marked on the descent and we eventually made it to the river but at that point we had to go back uphill and work our way towards the cable car across the river. Upon reaching camp that night at 730, we had been on our feet for 12hr and 45mins and only covered about 35km. We made the decision at that point to only eat one of our two dehydrated dinners, as we were wanting to keep one in case tomorrows 65km or so took longer than expected and had to spend another night on the trail.
That night we put our lightweight camping option to work. This included a one person tent, 2 neo air thermarests and a single MEC rectangular synthetic sleeping bag to use over us as a quilt. It worked like a charm with us sleeping toe to head and head to toe. Waking at about 545am again we were on the trail by 655am with a little foot care, a Probar each for breakfast, and water filling.
Quickly we were on our way down the Stein River, we knew that this next section would be nice but soon to come would be the dreaded 10km section of bushwhacking and trail searching. While we made it to the second cable car, we soon started to encounter some bush on the trail but overall not to bad. We were surprised. Continuing along we came across some small sections that were shitty but we just kept pushing on and eventually it got better. What? We haven't gone 10km yet, WTF? Are we just lucky and someone has been in here and done maintenance? Is it going to be like this the rest of the way? I hope so.
While eventually after High View camp the trail conditions lived up to their reputation and for the first time of the trip the bushwhacking got a little painful. Branches scratching at your ankles, sticks jutting out poking you in the face, if you kept your head down you would walk into the downed trees hanging above the trail, up and down and over, up down and over, duck. SO many trees down, continually searching for the trail around the next fallen tree, walking down trees like they provide a pathway above the forest floor. Up down and over, up down and over. Bushy trail, back into a clearing,yahoo. This continued on for the next 6hours while we past over two more cable cars, filled water straight from the cleanest forest streams and searched for pieces of flagging or the next trail marker. Many sections were unbelievable spectacular and others were just something in the way of the next view. This section of trail is not a give away with much uphill and downhill and all rather steep. Route finding was easier with 2 sets of eyes then just one and a good sense of when you are off trail is needed, head back to the last known point and re-establish where the dam thing went.
At Cottonwood camp we stopped for one of our longest breaks of the trip about 20mins while I worked on my feet. Blisters on my toes and heels have been an issue for me for the past two years and this trip was no exception. I quickly re-taped what needed to be done, padded up 2 heel blisters with mole foam and we were on our way. Boy it was hot at this point in the day, about 3pm in the afternoon and we had 30km or so left of the trail. As we headed towards Ponderosa Camp, you could hear the rolling Thunder in the distance. At about 415 the first of the rain started to fall, we took shelter under a boulder and waited 10mins for this wave of the storm to pass and then continued. Upon reaching Ponderosa camp we filled water at the creek and just before we left down the trail, I decided to put a stop to our day(10hrs). My feet were sore, my ITB was sore and I really didn't feel like getting soaked on the bushy trail in the rain. So by 515 we were sitting in the tent enjoying the storm outside around us. We ate our last dinner, shared a Camino bar and headed off to bed at about 730pm.
Knowing that we needed to make it to communication by 12pm Tuesday, we were up early and on the trail at 630am. The trail was wet from the storm the night before and we were soaked in minutes of leaving camp. Glad the next stop was the car. 22km we traveled in about 4hr35mins and of which only the last 6km of the trail were in good shape. This was a section of trail familiar to us from our run some years ago but at the slower hiking pace we noticed the Petroglyphs that we had not seen last time.
We got to the newly repaired suspension bridge quicker then I thought we would but that just meant we had further left to go from it to the finish then I had thought reading the map the night before. All good, we will get this done. Quietly we walked past 2 sleeping tents in this section and then with 1km to go we passed 3 young men just out for a morning swim in the Stein river.
Before we knew it we were in the parking lot cracking a cold beer at 11am in the morning. Its noon somewhere. What a great trip. And a nice tick off the list. I will train to cross this terrain faster but I might go do trail maintenance for about 10years first. Go enjoy this classic piece of BC Wilderness.
I was born and raised in North Vancouver. And in the last 6years I have been busy exploring all the amazing infrastructure that exists in my own back yard with regards to my interests of running and climbing.