This is a late report of a hastily planned solo trip I did this summer to Kakwa Provincial Park, to escape the forest fire smoke that was blanketing Southern BC at the time.
I was originally gearing up for a backpacking trip to the South Chilcotin Mountains during the first week of August. A couple days before I was set to head out, a change of winds brought all that horrible smoke from the Interior wildfires down to Southern BC. The forecasts predicted the smoke would stick around all week, and images from webcams in the South Chilcotin area already looked like an apocalypse. So I scrapped those plans and scrambled to find an alternative. Northern BC looked to be the only region that was relatively smoke-free... I ended up picking Kakwa in the Northern Rockies, a place that had been on my radar as a backpacking destination for quite some time.
Day 1: 8/2/17
Kakwa Park can be accessed via the Walker Creek Forestry Road, about 135 km east of Prince George, or 70 km west of McBride on Highway 16. From here it is another 73 km along the forestry road to the trailhead at the Bastille Creek bridge. From the trailhead it is a 29 km hike or bike ride to Kakwa Lake, where there is a public cabin.
After a long drive up from Vancouver, my heart sank when I reached the Walker Creek FSR turnoff... a sign at the turnoff indicated that the road was closed at 16km due to a washout. It was beginning to look like this was a waste of a trip! I continued on up anyways to check out the state of the road, and fortunately it turned out that repairs had already been done on the washout, so the road was drivable the entire distance. The first half of the forestry road was actually in pretty good shape, but the second half gets fairly rough (though I did see a VW Golf that made it to within 2 km of the trailhead). It took me about 2 1/2 hours to drive the entire 73 km from Highway 16 to the Bastille Creek bridge. Porcupines can be a problem in this area, so before setting off I wrapped chicken wire around my vehicle to keep the critters away.
Most visitors bike the 29 km to Kakwa Lake, however I hiked in on foot. By the time I hit the trail it was already 4:30pm, so it was too late to hike the entire distance in one day. The trail follows an old mining road that runs parallel to the McGregor River for the first several kilometers. Sections of the trail have been washed away by the river so some bushwhacking is required. There were a few sections that were a bit muddy and wet, but with the super dry weather over the summer they weren't too bad.. I suspect the trail would be much more unpleasant after some major rainfall. Amazing views of the surrounding mountains can be seen on the way up.
About 7 km up the trail I had my only bear encounter of this trip. Two black bear cubs that looked at least a year old scurried up the trees when they heard me coming... fortunately the mother did not make an appearance! Two day later, a pair of bikers coming up had a brown bear encounter nearby, so this seems to be a very active bear area.
At 12 km I arrived at the Buchanan Creek crossing where the park boundary is. The old bridge is washed out so you need to get your feet wet here to cross the creek. The water was a little over knee deep.
By now it was almost nightfall so I set up my tent for the night on the gravel bar alongside Buchanan Creek. One of my favorite parts of camping in the wilderness is the opportunity for stargazing, far away from the city lights. Unfortunately during this trip it was almost a full moon, so most of the stars were washed out by moonlight. However that first night I did catch a glimpse of the Milky Way in the early morning hours, after the moon set.
Day 2: 8/3/17
The next morning I woke up early to complete the final 17 km to Kakwa Lake. The trail continues on along the old mining road and involves a long, gradual climb that is a little monotonous after a while. As you pass Wishaw Lake, remains of the former mining operations in the park can be seen. Some sections of the trail are quite overgrown now.. need to make plenty of noise to avoid surprising any bears here!
Finally, I arrived at the campsite at Kakwa Lake. John Vogt (who wrote the excellent trail guide for the area - http://www.kakwa.jjv.ca/
) and his wife Joan were back once again as park hosts for a month-long stint, having flown in from Prince George earlier that same day. There are two cabins at the lake, one for the park hosts, and one for public use. The guestbook in the cabin shows that this place gets a lot more visitors during the winter months than in summer. I spent the rest of the afternoon just relaxing by the lake, which is incredibly scenic with the tall mountains in the distance overlooking the lake. Late in the afternoon I was greeted by some unexpected wildfire smoke which started to pour into the area - however it did not last long, as that evening the winds abruptly changed direction when a thunderstorm rolled in, blowing it all back out again. That was the last of the smoke for duration of this trip. I was very happy to have a dry cabin to sleep in that night.
An evening thunderstorm:
Day 3: 8/4/17
It was still overcast the next morning. That day I decided to do a day hike to La Glace Lake, which is approximately 16 km round trip. The trail is well marked for most of the way, with a couple of knee deep stream crossings. A kilometer or two before the lake the trail markings seem to end when you reach a wide open meadow. At the opposite end of the meadow there is a short, steep forested section where some bushwhacking is needed before finally arriving at the picturesque glacial lake.
That night back at the cabin there was a total of six people spending the night there. In addition, a group from Alberta rode in on horseback and stayed at the nearby horse camp that weekend. By Kakwa standards, it was quite crowded up there! The sky was mostly clear that night and the Northern Lights were briefly visible above the moonlit lake.
Day 4: 8/5/17
With clear skies the next morning, I woke up early to catch the sunrise.
That day I tagged along with John on a loop hike up and over Mount Ian Monroe and around to Babette Lake. The direct approach up Ian Monroe from Kakwa Lake involves a bit of bushwhacking through sections that were pretty steep, but the view from top sure is worth the effort!
From there the descent down towards Babette Lake isn't as steep, and in the meadows lots of wildflowers were still in bloom. After following game trails for a bit eventually we joined up with the Babette Lake Road.
Looking back at Ian Monroe from Babette Lake:
Day 5: 8/6/17
The night went quickly and I slept very well, and awoke to another sunny day. On the hike out I made fairly good time and was back at the car in about 8 hours (though having a bike would have made the trip out much faster). For a "Plan B" option this turned out to be a pretty awesome adventure. But with only five days in the park, and three of them spent just getting to and from Kakwa Lake, I barely scratched the surface of what Kakwa has to offer. Definitely a place I need to return to someday!