I had a few spare days this week and I decided I really wanted to get back in the Stein Valley one more time. I had done the full traverse in 8 days in both 2011 and 2012 and now I wanted to see how fast I could crank it out.
My wife dropped me off at the Lizzie Lake logging road at 4:15pm on Monday (Aug 13) and then the plan was to hike the 12km/+1000m up the washed out logging road to the proper Lizzie Lake trailhead. I planned to start in the wee hours of Tuesday to see if I could break the 35 hr, 45min fastest known time set in 2003:
That 2003 effort started at Lizzie Cabin - a bit in from the true Lizzie Lake trailhead. I hoped to beat their time while starting from the true trailhead, expending energy the night before hiking up the logging road (which was drivable in 2003) and dealing with significantly more overgrown trail than 2003 due to the numerous forest fires and creating vast alder/fireweed/devils club zones.
Unfortunately for me, I had a prior obligation that meant I needed to arrive in Lytton by 3pm on Wednesday for a pickup by my wife. I hoped to start at 3am from Lizzie Lake on Tuesday morning, but I made good time up the logging road Monday evening (4:15pm - 6:45pm) and decided completing the hike was more important than the record, so I started right away. I hiked up to the Lizzie Cabin (7:45pm), over White Lupine ridge (9pm) and to Caltha Lake (10pm) for the night. By the time I was near Caltha it was getting much too dark to hike through the cliff bands/boulder fields without any moonlight.
The Lizzie logging road is brushy but still decent walking. At the lower washout(s), cross the creek using trees that are done instead of taking the detour. In this spot the creek meanders up against a cliff, so you either need to cross it twice, or go up and over the cliff. The detour over the cliff really sucks, so 'scootch' across the first crossing on a log and then on the second crossing an even better log will let you scootch or walk across. 10min vs. 30min.
The trail from Lizzie Lake to Lizzie cabin has ample blowdown, but the trail is obvious enough so no real complaints here. Beyond the cabin the walking is excellent to Caltha.
I got hiking as soon as it was bright enough to do (5:30am) and hiked around Tundra Lake (7am), across the east side of Tundra mountain to the main ridgewalk (8am). The ridge took 2 hours, and then I descended to Stein lake for noon - 2 hours ahead of schedule. It was great hiking, but now I was committed to getting to Lytton in the next 27 hours which was a bit daunting.
The hiking east of Stein lake is good for a while until the upper cable car. Then it goes from brushy to horrifically brushy. I lost my bear spray in here (likely tugged out of my pocket by some alder) and consoled myself by saying all the grizzlies are in the alpine and it should just be black bears in the valley. Then literally 5 minutes later I heard a crash and saw a lone adult grizzly about 50' away running off into the bush...hmm.
This was also the point where the excessive heat was really getting to me and I started to feel a bit nauseous. I kept hiking since I had to make it to at least log jam camp to have a chance of exiting in time for my pickup the next day at 3pm. As things cooled off I started to feel a bit better and wandered into Cottonwood creek at dusk (8:15pm). Some other (westbound) hikers left a nice note at Cottonwood saying the 1996 fire burn zone was so horrible then spent 7 hours trying to get through and then had to turn back.
Stein Lake to Upper crossing is good trail. Upper crossing for a few kms in somewhat brushy/not too bad (fireweed/devils club). Then the 1996 fire zone is really really overgrown with alder for 10km until you reach Grizzly creek. At the risk of sounding dramatic, some people would intensely despise the condition of this section. Then it goes back to moderately overgrown with fireweed until cottonwood.
Nice campsite a few hundred meters east of the upper cable car, about 50m east of where the original cable car is. 'Lookout' camp (at Avalanche creek) is also a nice spot although supposedly packrat prone (but not in my experience). Cottonwood is a nice camp. Logjam is a bit dismal.
I got started from Cottonwood at 5:30am feeling pretty good about having only 30kms and 8.5 hours in which to do it. The first 8km to Ponderosa was nice walking - perhaps a bit of a tease as it goes back to fairly brushy from Ponderosa until near the suspension bridge. I made it to the suspension bridge at 10am feeling pretty good, but also realizing the scorching heat + lack of shade was going to be tough. I slowed down from there as I had 5 hours until my ride showed up and I didn't want to heat stroke a few kms from the finish. I was also way too low on electrolytes. I stopped for a AMAZING cool down bath in the Stein about 10 minutes from the Lytton TH and then finished at 2pm.
Because I hiked a few hours the evening before and then slept, the whole thing ended up taking 43.25. If I could have structured the 26 hours I actually spent on the trail around one night of sleep instead of two, then I would likely have bested the 2003 FKT of 35 hrs. I also think my 14.75 hours from Caltha Lake to Cottonwood Creek (5:30 - 8:15pm) on Tuesday stands as a pretty fast time for this section. I'm quite happy with my decision to get started a bit early though because making my pre-scheduled pickup was already a bit stressful with little margin for trouble.