Century Sam Lake

Century Sam lake is a spectacular alpine lake located in the shadow of the Comox glacier. While the hike is steep at time it is relatively short. Unfortunately access to the trail head can be a pain. The first hurdle is that it is accessed via private logging roads controlled by TimberWest and generally the area is gated off. Access can be checked through their website, you want to check the status for “Comox main”. The last hurdle that is the last KM or so of road is in poor shape and has a number of large washouts which will require a decent 4×4 vehicle to get past. If you do not have a vehicle capable you can walk but this will extend your hike somewhat.

Assuming you can gain access to the trail head there is a lovely hike starting relatively flat following a creek through some mature forest and a few slide paths before getting into a step section of forest that you will make your way through until you reach the lake at the top. While the lake is stunning one of the other attractions is a snow cave which is often formed in the snowfield just beyond the lake.

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Crossing the steam near the trail head

The lake is filled from a snowfield and the Comox glacier (I assume) which sits above the lake which gives it that stunning “alpine” lake colour from the particles suspended in the water.

Looking down onto Century Sam lake

Looking down onto Century Sam lake

One of the big draws of this hike is the “snow cave” that is formed in the snowfield at the far end of the lake. While this is a stunningly beautiful feature use extreme caution if you decide to explore inside of it, there is no knowing when/if it will collapse.

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Water coming down the side of the surrounding mountains with the snow cave in the background

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Melt water pouring out of the cave entrance, notice the collapsed snow and ice

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A large ice arch formed in the remaining snow and ice

Inside the cave while eerie and ominous is a pretty amazing place once you get past the constant deluge of cold water falling from the ceiling.

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Looking out towards the entrance of the cave

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A fellow explorer standing in one of the cave entrances

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Melt water carves it’s way through the ice and rock towards the cave entrance

Century Sam is a trip well worth taking assuming you are able to gain access to the trail head. It is one of the more unique hikes I have done on Vancouver Island and given the relative ease of the hike given the nature of the scenery it is certainly very rewarding. The trail is usually in good condition as it is maintained by Comox District Mountaineering Club and is well marked for the most part.

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Marble Meadows

Marble Meadows, just a short boat ride and a mere 1400m of steep switch backs and you will arrive at your destination. Approach challenges aside Marble Meadows promised spectacular alpine views into the heart of Vancouver Islands mountains and Strathcona Provincial park. While the approach was as grueling as expected the views did not disappoint.

We started off by making the 1km journey across Buttle lake to spend the first night at the Phillips creek before starting the seemingly never ending uphill battle to our campsite at Limestone lake in the morning. The area around Phillips creek was stunning and was a welcome surprise and other than the many mice around the camp site is was one of the nicer ones I used considering the relatively easy access.

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Looking down Buttle lake from the mouth of Phillips Creek

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Looking down Phillips Creek towards Buttle lake

The next day it was an early start to tackle the 5.5 hour grind up to out campsite at Limestone lake. We gained about 1400m of elevation but until you get to the meadows you really don’t get any rewarding views other than the switch back just above and below you. Limestone lake is one of 3 lakes in the general area and like most alpine lakes was quiet beautiful. As soon as we dropped our packs it became immediately apparent that we traded the amazing views for an unbelievable number of bugs who from what I could tell have never eaten before. Bugs aside it was a stunning place and after camp was setup it was time to take in our surroundings for the next few days.

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Reflections in a nearly calm Limestone lake

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The last of the sun touching lighting up the ridge above camp

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Twilight tones outline the mountain ridges surrounding camp

The following morning we decided to tackle Marble Peak that over looked our campsite. This involved a number of increasingly exposed scrambles but with each one the views of the area only got more spectacular.

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Scrambling up a small gully on Marble Peak

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One of the more rewarding views on the way up Marble Peak

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Another exposed scramble with the 3 lakes in the background, Limestone lake is the smallest one on the left

Not one to sit around camp, especially with all the bugs around it was time to do a bit more exploring before the sun set. While it seemed we missed some flowers there was still some colour left in others.

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The sun slides behind a stand of trees by camp with a small patch of wildflowers in the foreground.

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Golden light illuminates the stalks of wildflowers

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Looking down onto another group camped at Globe Flower Lake

One of the more spectacular things to see when in the alpine is the stars. Away from the lights of the city you get an unobstructed view of the stars and it always blows me away just how bright they are. If you get the chance to spend a night or two in the alpine away from the glow of artificial light do yourself a favour and get up to take in the all night sky has to offer.

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Home under the stars

The following day we spent some exploring the limestone area we had seen from the trip up Marble Peak. While it was fascinating to explore the area and examine the various rock formations and fossils it was not overly conductive for photos. Fortunately we had another nice evening to take in the surroundings near camp.

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The sun sets over Marsh Marigold Lake with the Golden Hinde in the background

The following day was a relatively quick (and easier than the approach) hike back to Phillips Creek and a nice boat trip back across the lake while it was still nice and calm unlike the journey over.

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Boating back from the Phillips Creek trail head

Marble meadows like all the hikes I have done in the alpine of Strathcona provided some spectacular views but it certainly makes you work for them. It seems that Marble meadows is really just a hint of all the other adventures that are hiding just over the next set of hills. Looking into the heart of the mountains  in Strathcona is both alluring and beautiful, it tends to draw you further in the more time you spend exploring the never ending adventures it seems to offer.

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Supermoon

Last night there was a so called “supermoon“, a supermoon is when the moon is (slightly) closer to earth due to the shape of it’s orbit in conjunction with it being a full or new moon. While not totally uncommon this phenomenon only occurs about once every 14 months.

To take advantage of this I went down to Pipers Lagoon as I figured it would offer some of the best views in Nanaimo. It seems that a number of other people had the same idea and there where a number of other people and photographers who had the same idea.

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The moon rises over horizon.

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As the moon rose the tide receded leaving exposed rocks behind.

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Once up the moon continued to dazzle

 

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Hiking from Paradise Meadows to Wood Mountain

Early this summer I hiked from Paradise meadows (Mt Washington) to Wood mountain (Old Forbidden ski area), this was a trip inspired last year when doing another hiking trip I saw a sign indicating a trail over to Mt Becher which previously I had only been to in the winter. The hike starts off walking though Paradise meadows out towards Kwai lake.

_D8C7318_webEasy walking along the boardwalks through Paradise Meadows

Stopping for lunch always somehow sends out a silent signal to let all the grey jays (whiskey jacks) in the area to flock to you. This time there where a number of juvenile birds that  seemed not only hound us for food but also the parents.

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Once you are nearly at Kwai lake the trail gets a bit more adventurous, this is where you turn off of the established trails in the core area of Strathcona park and start to head towards our camp for the night at McKenzie lake. While the trail was clearly not traveled all that much it was still easy to follow despite the small snow patches. Even though the trail was clearly not maintained anymore it was still easy walking through a mixture of sub-alpine forests, meadows and past a number of streams, tarns and lakes.

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Before arriving at the McKenzie lake campground there was a real treat as we had to walk through a swampy meadow that had a number of wildflowers out in bloom which added a lovely splash of colour since the weather was rather dull.

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The campsite we stayed at is located on McKenzie lake but Douglas lake is only a short walk away and looked to have spots for a few tents. We had a bit of a cool wind coming off of the lake and seemed like Douglas lake would have been more sheltered from the wind but since we had already setup at McKenzie lake we stayed there.

Both of the lakes where bigger than I expected and similarly beautiful to other alpine lakes I had visited in the region.

_D8C7552_webLooking out over McKenzie lake from camp.

_D8C7537_crop_webLooking down McKenzie lake to the further point from camp.

Although the weather had not been ideal on the first day there had only been some minor rain but starting early on day 2 that seemed to change. A rain storm soon settled in for most of the day as we hiked back to the car we had left at the Wood Mountain parking lot. Before leaving camp I spend a little big exploring and taking in some of the sights and scenes around the lake.

_D8C7582_webLooking out from camp while waiting for the rain to hopefully let up

_D8C7521_webA nice cluster of Veratrum viride near Douglas lake.

Hiking out of McKenzie lake was one of the highlights of the trip as we enjoyed a brief (but welcome!) period of sunshine while we hiked through more of the meadow we had to hike into the camp site the previous afternoon. It did require some careful navigation and a leap or two to navigate some of the swampier areas.

_D8C7606_webKyle demonstrating his excellent sherpa skills while helping carry bags across one of the trickier crossings.

The remainder of the hike was done in rather poor weather conditions which resulted in a real lack of photos although the scenery certainly did not disappoint. After leaving the meadows outside of camp we quickly got into old growth forest that continued until we reached the old ski area. Hiking down the Mt. Becher trail was certainly interesting since I had previously only done it in the winter.

This was a wonderful one night hike that I would not hesitate to do again, I think the biggest downside to this is the requirement to juggle cars as you need to leave one at each trail head but in reality the drive between them is not that long. The first day was a little long (~16km) but the hiking was easy and mostly flat, the 2nd day was shorter in distance but did involve more up and downs until you reach the main Mt. Becher trail at which point is is pretty much all downhill until you reach the parking lot.

Here is a map to give an idea of the route and distances involved, the total distance covered was just over 27km (~16km on day 1 and ~11.5km on day 2)

map

Additional information:

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Carmanah Valley

Carmanah Valley has always felt like a bit of a magical place to me, where else can you walk among giant trees that have been standing for several hundred or even a millennium. Just trying to think back to what was going on in the world when those trees had started growing is a fascinating experience. The sad truth when it comes to this is that these trees and habitat are extremely rare. There is less than 2% of this type of old growth habitat still left in BC, and the rough and bumpy road required to access this park winds through the swathes of clear cuts that demonstrate the immense scale of the forest industry.

While there is not much of this habitat left we are lucky to have what we do have as it is truly specular. Spending time amount these living giants is not something that can easily be described and is best experienced for oneself if at all possible. Other than access being a little tricky due to the fact you are required to travel on rough logging roads for about 2.5 hours (one way) to gain access to the park. Once reached the park offers easy walking and lovely camping if desired with some of the most spectacular views I have experienced on Vancouver Island.

_D8C6644_webThe Heaven Tree

While there is a trail much of it is no longer maintained and some of the boardwalks and wooden structures are starting to show the side effects of being located in a rainforest.

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One of the more famous attractions of the park is the “three sisters”, a trio of huge sitka spruces arranged in a triangle with a platform that allows for visitors to gain a unique perspective of these huge trees.

_D8C6592_webLooking up between the “three sisters”

If you are planning a visit there are some great camping opportunities if you are will to hike down to the gravel bar that is near the three sisters. What more can you ask for, camping among ancient giants next to a lovely river.

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Carmanah is a unique jewel and will leave a lasting impression on visitors, if you are able to make the trip out that way you will not be disappointed. The only downside is that after seeing these giant trees “normal” trees just don’t have the same impact they once did.

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