For more information on my past Stein Trips check out this blog entry from 2013.
August 11th, for me and about 180 starters is one of the biggest days of my year and is happening tomorrow at 10am and I still need to eat dinner drive to Lakeview Trailhead and finish preparations for Fat Dog 120. But currently I am in Princeton relaxing with friends enjoying a great meal at Thomosina's and enjoying chatting with old and new runners that are there as well for dinner. This young man, Alex Gibbs, introduces himself and references knowing me from my previous Stein blog. Then onto goes onto say, "hey have you heard they are doing maintenance on the Stein Valley Trail for the next couple of years and that work has started!"...Me, "Really??!!!" The seed is planted.
Fat Dog goes off without a noticeable hitch and Nicola and I are now ready to enjoy the last 3 weeks of her 1st year summer break from Massage Therapy School, which she heads back to on Tuesday September 6th.
First we pack and head to the Bugaboo's and get 3 days of good weather. We knock off the classic East Ridge of Bugaboo Spire and leave the range with our tails between our legs as the first snow of the winter happens the same night. Not stoked on the foreseen weather forecasts to be playing in the Rockies (based out of a tent), we drive back home.
After a quick unpack, repack with a plan to go do another alpine adventure in Rogers Pass, we find out the area is closed to small groups because of bears, we repack and head for a 30 hr adventure in a new to us local provincial park. Monashee Provincial park was a great excursion and it's the first time (in a few years) we chat about doing the Stein in a Day.
So we came home from Monashee Provincial Park, I right away got on the computer and started looking for new shoes as my Altra Olympus 2.0 had just seen their last days as I blew the side of my left and right one on this last trip. And at the same time I knew I wanted a different pack for the Stein so that my fuel could be up front on my chest all day. Dave Cressman, answered my late night Facebook message and told me he had the UD Fastpack 20 in my size in stock and would ship it to me. He instructed me to call him in the morning at 10am with CC# and all will be handled. Dave and his Distance Runwear crew knocked it out of the park and at 12:00pm on Monday I was playing with my new pack and new Altra Lone Peak 3.0 that Liveoutthere.com provided same quality service.
So the plan was to leave Tuesday am, handle our own car drop, camp in the early evening at the Lizzie Lake Bypass Trailhead (1km up Lizzie Lake FSR), carry all of our needed "Mandatory Gear" (and yes FD120er's even more then your packs weighed), including some 6500 calories each and get our asses back to our other vehicle full of chocolate milk, beer, pizza, another tent with mats and sleeping bags and pillows and drive back the next day retrieve our other car and drive home. All in all it made for about a 55hour round trip.
So the plan was to take advantage of the night being clear knowing that it was supposed to cloud over as the morning broke and possibly rain some. Not the best forecast but it was still supposed to be mild with only a couple mm's of rain and with my previous knowledge of the trail I had very little concern for what the weather might throw at us given the forecast. Given that I feel I know the first 5 hrs and the last 5 hrs very well, we decided to do those sections in the dark and began our adventure at 12:30am. Within the 1st 500m, I impaled my right quad into a sharp branch beside the trail that punctures my leg well enough to leave DNA all over the wood. Ouch. The adventure has already begun!! We continue on and in a couple minutes are down on the washed out logging road and started the march. Thanks to Richard So and the VOC armies that have been out to cut back the alder on this road and make the first 11km's or so a very enjoyable warm-up to our day ahead. We were informed that the last 1.5km to Lizzie Lake was not brushed yet so we put our heads down and knew we were close to the forest at Lizzie Lake. Picking up the trail in the forest at night was fun and we made good time to the Lizzie Cabin where we went quickly inside to fix something. As we left I debated whether I should put on more clothes as I had a a bit of a chill but the next uphill to Arrowhead Lake had me warm in no time. This section is all straight forward in the dark if you know where you are going, otherwise not quite as fast but you could follow a GPS pretty accurately looking at my GPX file versus the PDF map. We are now about 4 hours in and have the toughest spot of navigation coming up even in the day light you need to travel cairn to cairn as the trail tread is very minimal to help lead the way. But just as we lost the trail for the first time the fog, mist, clouds had started to roll into this exposed area making our headlamps pretty useless for finding cairns 100 feet away. So we wondered, me with a sense of direction and an internal voice saying stay left and high. Reading my old trip report today looks like my memory served me correct. This KM was not our fastest but we were able to find Cherry Pip Pass just as the dawn broke the sky. It worked out well putting us about 1 km behind my minds schedule.
We continued into the day light traversing the rocky meadow over to Caltha Lake where again we missed the left turn off towards Tundra but soon enough realized our error and just overland traveled to intersect it and continued the climb up to the ridge marking the entrance to the Stein Headwaters and the view down to Tundra Lake, the best blue in the world.
The next section is 10.5km of boulder hopping and ridge walking. It is not quick and when you finally get to the downhill to Stein lake it is not quick either. Constantly looking for the trail and or the faded markers. Eventually once low enough into the forest the trail becomes more obvious but its grade is unrelenting with steep straight down running. Once you hear and see the river you start heading back up river towards the lake and the first cable car crossing of the Stein River. Quickly across and to our first actual planned break of the day to check feet, change socks, have a can of coke and get back at'er. 11hrs 38mins in 38km of ~95km done. Just some 58 kms to go. We had made back 22 mins on my mind goals and were still on pace to get'er done.
Let me back up one second, just before the campsite at the east end of Tundra Lake we stopped to put on more kit as we were going to be exposed for the next several hours on the ridge and better to be warm then cold and wet. The reason we had come to make this attempt was because the trail clearing crews for the 2016 season were to have been done all sections of the Stein by August 24th. The initial km's to Tundra Lake are outside the park boundary but once along the lake shore I started to notice new pulaski work on sidehills and then where we stopped to kit up there was fresh saw dust. I was excited, as I had contacted the senior park ranger for the area but had not had a response nor was there any updates on the BC Parks website as to how the work has/had gone this summer. Anyways the Cairn reconstruction and pulaski work was an awesome sign of what was to come. The descent to Stein lake 3 years ago was brutal once you got to the forest, I swear in this 3km section at least 400 trees were cut and a bunch of trail re-establishment had been done. Great work.
So from Stein Lake, you know only have roughly 60km to go down river to get out of the Stein Valley. Well what that doesn't say is that it feels more uphill then downhill getting out of the valley. There is some really nice flat run-able terrain but every km of flat is matched by another km of scree slope ascents and descents, and did I mention the light rain continued most of the day to make the rarely traveled rocks of these trails extra slippery with it black lichen. Painful on the feet, but I would rather climb then descend or run flats so these uphills were reprieve for me. The trail work continued to be noticed and loved as not only had it been cleared of trees across the trail but it had been brushed as well making travel very obvious. From Stein Lake to Cottonwood Camp is roughly 30km and then 30 more km to the end of the trail so these were the natural sections to break the route into.
Not my photo but to get a sense of the cable cars!
Getting to Cottonwood Camp takes awhile when you don't want to run the flats but I did my best with Nicola in her role as positivity pacer now to motivate me to move, whether that was walking faster or running cause we should. We made good time through both or proficiency of moving well enough and not wasting anytime. It was about 630pm when we got to Cottonwood, but it was raining, the forest is kind of open so I said lets just carry on till we get to a more protected part of the forest to have our next aid break. So 20mins or so more down the trail we sat for 5-10minutes, ate a PB&J wrap, another can of coke and set off to get this thing done.
Not long later with the current weather the headlamps came back on and we continued to plug away at the km's with the next major landmark being the Suspension bridge and the final ~13km to the finish. We moved well through here with a mix of running flats and downhills and power hiking everything else. Before the Suspension bridge there were some fresh downed trees that made us lose the route but we got back on it soon enough and closed out the final km to the Suspension Bridge. We had just over 2hrs to get this final
As soon as we got across the bridge we got to the part of the trail that is managed by BC Parks for maintenance and not by the contracting company that had done the rest of the valley. To my/ our disappointment this section still has not seen a brush saw in 8years at least and has not been cut of downed wood so far this year. Instantly I got in a funk and was frustrated by the conditions and was also getting cold and wet again. Nicola suggested putting on my jacket and changing my attitude but I still found the next 7km frustrating with regards to trail marking, trail maintenance, what a pour representation of what lies ahead on the route for people heading the opposite direction. Parks is spending good money to repair the upper trails but the trail that gets you there is in crap shape, what gives. I plan to go back with my saw this fall and change that once I hear back from the senior ranger and am given an ok.
Not my image but giving a sense of why you can't just run along the side of the river. Up and over scree fields is the name of the valley bottom game.
Anyways I was starting to smell the barn door but was starting not to want to eat my food and knew with 2 hours to go I needed to keep eating a little at a time and drinking as much as I could. I just kept asking Nicola what time it was and kept trying to push through this section. We lost the trail several times and my patience with outloud bursts of frustration of which were draining on Nicola cause she just wanted me to spend my energy running and not whining. We got the last big climb and descent done at the bottom of the Devils Staircase I gave a whoop and new we only had 3 or so km's to go to wrap this us and we were going to get it done. The next 1.5km were my fastest split of the day with legs that felt great, once we hit Loop Camp and had time in the bank I just shut it down and walked the rest of the way in, coming to the trail head at 12:07am.
We had completed this 12 year old goal of mine and the only reason was because of our partnership. We were a great balance of skills all day with me as navigator and Nicola as pacer. Nicola could have crushed the bottom section of the valley hours faster then I traveled it, but she gives me the respect to say she wouldn't have made it to the valley without me finding / knowing the route. \
Anyways, the snow fell last night but if it melts and warms back up I would highly suggest getting after this asap as only more trees will fall in the next 10 years before it gets its next major trail overhaul????.....
Gear used by me:
UD Fastpack 20L (brand new to me never used it before this, it was amazing)
Garbage bag liner for pack
Altra Lone Peak 3.0 with Dirty Girl Gaitors (brand new to me never used before this, they were awesome)
BD Carbon Poles
2 Liter Bladder
500ml UD SOft Flash
TNF Waterproof/ seam taped with hood UTMB jacket
Button up Short Sleeve
TNF Better Than Naked Shorts
Injinji Sock 3 pairs (1 pair not used)
Smartwool 200gr L/S shirt (not used)
Mtnhw Windstopper Toque (not used)
Sugoi Windmitts (not used)
Arcteryx Wind Pants
2xU Compression Tights
Fingerless Canadian Tire Bike Gloves
Oakley Running Glasses (not used)
Petzl Myo (main light with spare batteries)
Petzl Tikka (backup)
Iphone 5 / Inreach
Goal Zero Spare battery and dual charging cord
Polar RC3 GPS watch (needed to be on charger in pack from 10hrs in till the end)
Sportshield (used so much I ran out/ need to find something even better, the ring of fire was a little sore at the end)
Small first aid Kit
small bear spray
bear banger and launcher
about 7000 calories worth of food had about 1000 left at the end (ruffles, pb&j wraps, fritos, 2 small cans of coke, nature valley bars, gels, chews and waffles.)
2 tubes of Nuun
Great trip report. I just came across this. Very fun to read as I've been in a Stein a lot. Such a great place.
I was through the Stein traverse in 19 hrs 51 min last week, details and a satellite tracking link are in my trip report:
An update on the trail: The eastern-most 13 km between Lytton and the Suspension bridge were improved a lot this summer by the same crew that cleared the rest last year (see the latest conditions report on the parks website).
However, the upper valley got a fair bit worse because a wind storm shortly after you were through tossed quite a few big trees down (maybe a hundred or so). It's still pretty good going and WAY better than it was pre-2016, but there's enough new wood down that other hikers didn't believe me when I said it was all from the last 12 months.