Golden Hinde traverse
Strathcona Park - Elk River to Phillips Ridge
Aug 1-7, 2015
This trip began as an idea over beers in the backyard. "Honey, how do you feel about doing the Elk River traverse to the Golden Hinde?" I had to explain what this entailed and, in hindsight, I'm surprised she agreed to do it. The trail is a week-long backpack through some of the most rugged and remote parts of Strathcona Park. Add to this an ascent of the highest peak on the Island: the Golden Hinde. I was surprised she said yes. Maybe it was the beer. Then again, as they say, timing is everything!
We knew itíd be a challenge, even though weíd been building up towards a long trip like this for the past few years. It had been one of the driest years on record, and we werenít sure if this was a good or bad thing for a trip like this. Aside from reading other trip reports, we didnít know what to expect since neither of us had hiked any parts of the route.
Fast forward three weeks. Weíre at home and weíd be reminiscing about the trip, again in the backyard, over more beers. We made it! Plus an ascent of the Golden Hinde half way. What an amazing trip it was, through such a rugged and unforgiving yet beautiful place. There were a lot of ups and downs, both literally and figuratively. But this is one trip you wonít forget.
Thanks to Ross and Jeremy for providing intel on the trip. Enjoy!
Day 1 Trailhead to Elk River forest camp
The day began in Qualicum Beach, where we left in the morning with two cars. We drove past Campbell River and down Buttle Lake to the Phillips Ridge trailhead, parking one car at the Westmin parking lot. It was full of cars, presumably others were out to bag the Hinde over the long weekend. Before leaving, I hid a couple beers in the nearby creek for the finish, a nifty idea I picked up from another trip report. I sure hope no one saw me!
We then drove back up Buttle Lake and west towards Gold River to our drop off point at the Elk River trailhead. We arrived at about 10am and got suited up. The weather was hot and clear, and the forecast was for most of the same for the week ahead. We were glad to have the first day mostly in the woods, which afforded some relief from the heat.
After some gentle switchbacks near the start, the trail snakes along the Elk River for several kms. This part of the hike was beautiful and worth a trip on its own.
We made it to the gravel bar and, with lots of time left in the day, decided to go to Landslide Lake, which we had never been to before. After stashing our packs just past the turnoff to the Elk River Pass trail, we hiked up the kilometre or so trail up to the lake, past some beautiful waterfalls. Was it ever hot!
Coming over the final hill up we could see the lake. What a sight! A beautiful turquoise green lake at the foot of the dramatic peaks of Colonel Foster. We made short time of jumping in to cool off.
We descended the trail back to the turnoff, and made our way up the valley towards the second campspot identified in Hiking Trails 3. I expected a bushwhack based on other trip reports, but was pleasantly surprised to find the trail obvious and easy to navigate.
As we ascended, we consumed the last of our water, knowing there was a crossing of the Elk River soon, where we could refill. After dropping down to the river, we were shocked to find it completely dry! We knew it had been a dry year, but this was not expected. After some discussion, a decision was made to double back to the gravel bar campsite as neither of us knew the area and was willing to risk dehydration exploring further. Luckily, about fifty meters down the trail, I found a small tarn in a marshy area just off the trail. We refilled our bottles and were back on our way up the trail, relieved at the thought of not having to retrace our footsteps all the way back down to the gravel bar.
We crossed the dry riverbed and passed an area where the slide damage from avalanches was clearly evident. The campsite was located between two slide paths, nestled in a grove of old growth trees. Just as we arrived, the sound of running water could be heard. Hallelujah! We ditched our packs and headed toward the sound. Not a hundred meters upstream we found running water in the riverbed. We followed it to discover it mysteriously disappeared into the river bed. Glad to have found running water, we drank our fill and headed back to camp.
This turned out to be a really nice spot, nestled in a steep valley amid old growth spruce and hemlock trees. There were a few bugs but nothing too bad. We weren't sure what to expect with the bugs, especially after our trip last year to Kings Peak. The mosquitoes were bad, and I mean really bad. As in north Saskatchewan-like. In preparation/fear for this trip, we packed massive amounts of bug spray and coils to ward off the little winged devils.
Day 2 Elk River forest camp to circle lake
After a hot breakfast, we carried on, following a trail up the valley. The trail led up along the banks through bush and more slide paths, and then back across the river and up the opposite bank. There was no snow anywhere.
As we made our way up the pass, our progress slowed. The upper valley is covered with loose and sharp rocks, which require careful attention to navigate. I managed to slip and fall into the creek at one point, but luckily was unscathed.
As we ascended to the final bowl to the pass, we came across a tent, likely two climbers that passed us the day before going to Rambler. Their tent was placed on what is usually a lake surrounded by snow. It was now just a brown puddle. We plodded on.
It was about here where I heard my wife utter the words no hiker ever wants to hear: "Hey, your boot sole is coming off." A few weeks ago, the sole had started to come off at the heel, so I glued it back with instructions from a cobbler. Well, so much for that. The glue was coming undone. I carried on, thinking it couldn't be that bad since I had used the proper glue, clean surfaces, etc.
There was a steep final push to reach the pass itself. This was a hot slog, as the sun was high by now and the bowl was getting really hot. The sun really reflects off the rock in there, amplifying the effect. It felt like one of those folding mirrors people used to perch on their necks in the 70s to get a face tan. We took our time, moving between large boulders affording periodic shade.
At last we reached the top of the pass, where the first glimpse of the route in days to come could be had. Alpine meadows, mountainous ridges, forested groves, and blue and green lakes.
After lunch, we headed down through into the trees below the pass. There was a clear trail to follow until about half the way down, where it began to fade away. We managed okay by moving to the left to avoid bluffing out at cliffs. We came out next to a large dead tree in a beautiful alpine meadow with small streams and tarns.
Next, we reached a narrow alpine lake, which made for a fantastic swim. We could see the Golden Hinde off in the distance from there. It looked steep and a long way away.
We continued on past the lake and down a creek bed, which drain into a large circle-shaped lake. I low-fived a tree on the way which was clearly begging for it.
At the bottom of the creek we navigated below some cliffs, which turned out to be a bit of a bushwhack.
We camped on the grassy shore of the lake in a really scenic place. Oddly, we could hear the occasional car driving on the highway to Gold River, all the way out here.
Once at camp I did a closer inspection of my boots. I could see that they were in a lot worse shape than initially estimated. To my horror, the sole had come completely undone at the heel, and other parts on the sides were also starting to separate.
In my infinite wisdom packing for this trip, I opted to bring only a small tube of crazy glue, thinking that could get me through any problems. Well, to my further horror, the tube of crazy glue had gotten punctured at some point in the trip and was leaking. Fortunately, there was still a bit left, so I used what I could on the sole and it appeared to bind well. I crossed my fingers as we had dinner and went to bed under the last light of day.
Day 3 Circle lake to Mt Devoe ponds camp
We packed up early and made for the ridge above the lake. The ascent didn't take long, and we found ourselves heading south along the ridge with a few mild ups and downs, and good views of the Golden Hinde and Behinde.
The route took us near the peak east of Mt. Devoe, where we had a snack while surveying the path to our next camp - two small ponds below the col between the peak we were on and Mt. Devoe to the east. We could see from there that they still held water, which helped to allay any final fears of not finding water on the trip.
We descended a steep trail down the mountain to the col, and carried on from there towards the ponds. The trail was obvious at first, but began to disappear as we got further down. We ended up descending down a dry creek bed, before getting that feeling of being off track. I turned on the GPS to find that we had gone too far down. We bushwhacked 50 meters up a steep bank in the proper direction, and came out at two ponds at the foot of some cliffs. This was a really beautiful spot, and one of our favourite parts of the trip. We pitched the tent, swam, ate the plentiful wild blueberries, and dined on Thai chicken curry and couscous.
After dinner, I inspected my boots, and was happy to see that the super glue was holding on the sole. However, it was clear that the soles were now becoming unhinged in other parts. The glue was disintegrating all over! I donít think the moisture from hiking in wet meadows was helping.
I was getting pretty concerned by now, and kicking myself for not bringing more glue. Then I realized that the Synmats we had just purchased a few weeks earlier came with a repair kit and glue. Maybe that would work. I applied the glue to the worst spots, and fashioned some crude staples from safety pins in our sewing kit to secure the sole to the boot. I bound it all together with rope and crossed my fingers, hoping for the best. By then, we were at least two full dayís hike to get out in either direction.
Day 4 Mt Devoe ponds camp to hikerís tarn
This day began similar to the day prior, with a quick ascent to another exposed ridge. But this time I was doing a jig around every bit of water, hoping to avoid getting any more water on my boots. We couldn't find a trail up, but the route was pretty obvious Ė just get to the top.
Once there, we headed south along the ridge, which consisted of a series of bumps. This was really enjoyable hiking, and the most remote section of the trip. The landscape here is beautiful and rugged. It shows in the shrubs and trees that endure the harsh climate at other times of the year.
One scenic part there is a trail running atop a tiny col between two bumps, where it drops off on each side.
The route to the Golden Hinde circled around the base of The Behinde, now visible to our left. To get there, we would have to turn 90 degrees westward at the bottom of the ridge and descend down through a wooded col, then back up on a steep scree field.
The descent to the col was longer than initially estimated, but the trail was clear, going into the woods at least. Once near the lowest point of the col, the trail disappeared and we had to thrash through a couple hundred meters to reach the giant rocks at the bottom of the scree field.
It looked like a long way up from the bottom, with little reprieve from the mid-day sun. It took a long half hour to reach the part where it narrows to a creek.
I'd read in HK3 that this is a tricky part, and that the best route is to cross over to the left side of the creek. Since the creek was dry, it wasn't obvious where we were supposed to go, so we continued up the creek bed.
Once at the top, it became obvious that we had followed the creek too far. We were now in a gully surrounded by rock walls in all directions. It was totally impassable.
Determined to not have to go back down, we looked for any way through, and discovered a small opening in the rock, just barely big enough for us to squeeze through without the packs. Normally, the creek would be rushing through this hole, but with the dry weather it was just a trickle, allowing us to get through. Elizabeth went through first, and I passed her our packs. A few scratches later we were both through and on our way.
At the top, we navigated past some massive boulders to a small lake at the foot of The Behinde. By now we were pretty hot, which was cured by a quick dip. This lake, unlike the others, was pretty cold.
From here, we could see the trail we'd need to take next, which went up and around the top of the bowl that surrounds the lake. It was farther away than it initially looked, so we wolfed down a snack and plodded on knowing that there was more to go to reach the hikers tarn.
Starting to feel signs of fatigue, we traveled to the highest point on the top, where the trail turns north. It follows a mellow ridge topped with small light rocks, which renders the feel of some kind of lunar landscape.
The Behinde, now to our left, was now closer than ever. I can't help but wonder if it has the name it deserves, given just how gnarly and cragged the peak is. Definitely not like the kinds of behinds I see on the covers of tabloids while waiting in the grocery store line.
To get the hikers tarn at the base of the Golden Hinde, the trail ascends up to a ridge which was surprisingly steep to get to. Once atop the ridge, we moved quickly east edging closer to the Hinde. It looked impossibly steep. ďAre we supposed to climb that?!Ē We tried to stay positive, realizing that this day was far from over.
The hike along the ridge gave way to a long, slow descent on loose rock towards the hikerís tarn, which was now visible in the distance. We were coming into hour 10 of the dayís hike, and the pounding was starting to take its toll on the knees. I'm not sure why there isn't an easier route to the tarn, one that cuts across the slope in a direct line, thereby bypassing most of the hike up to the ridge and scree field.
Finally reaching the hikerís tarn, we set up the tent in the first flat spot we saw. We spent 11 hours of the day getting there, so we were glad to be done.
The tarn was nothing like the campsites thus far, but rather is a rocky and forlorn place, with no afternoon sun or signs of any life. It also is where we saw the most garbage left by others, strewn about and in between the rocks.
We had a late dinner on a rock overlooking Mt. Burman and started to think of bed and warm sleeping bags. We hadnít seen anyone else in four days by now, so imagine our surprise at hearing voices.
We looked up to see three people descending the first gully on the right of the bowl. It's amazing how well sound travels in some places. We assumed from the discussion that they had gone past the main gully on the descent to end up there. We felt bad for them as we could only assume they were camped at Burman, or worse, further along the trail. Regardless, we were entranced watching them, the first people we'd seen in days. They descended and disappeared over the ridge towards Burman into the twilight. I sure hope they had headlamps!
Day 5 rain layover
I don't put a lot of faith in 7 day weather forecasts, as things can change in such a long time. But this time the forecast was spot on. We were supposed to have seven days of sun for our trip, with the exception of one day of overcast conditions on Wednesday. We awoke that dawn to dense fog, which turned into 14 hours of straight rain and wind.
I was initially hopeful for a clearing, but by mid-afternoon it was obvious the day was a write-off. All we could do was hope for clear skies in the morning to summit. Either way, we had to leave the next day or risk running out of food.
We were tent bound the entire day, which was a mixed blessing in hindsight. We lost a day, but were able to rest our legs and catch up on sleep. We also ate little food since we slept for most of it. It was a reminder of just how treacherous the alpine can be in mid-summer. The risk of exposure is real even in mid-August, and the high wind makes it a real challenge to stay dry and warm.
Day 6 Summit to Carter Lake
We awoke at 5am the next day and looked outside to discover that the fog was gone. Not a cloud was to be seen! Seeing an opportunity to make for the summit, we scarfed back energy bars and hot coffee, and headed up the mountain. It didn't take long to reach the second gully, which we found to have only a slender section of snow left in it. We made our way up the gully on the rock on the right side, which turned out to be trickier than it looked. There were a couple of exposed moves, where a fall would have been disastrous. I can only assume that the gully is easier to hike up when it is slow filled, as the trip reports I read said it was class 3 or 4.
About halfway up, my wife had had enough, and said to continue without her while she waited. Not ready to throw in the towel, I made my way further and reached the summit a few minutes later, which actually consists of a pile of rocks. At last, standing atop the highest point on the island! I had an amazing view for about 270 degrees, with the exception of the view southward, as the fog was rolling in by now on that side.
I didn't linger as I knew my wife was waiting for me, and probably worried sick. I snapped a few pics, signed the register, and flipped through to see how many had come up so far this year. About 25-30 people had already summited.
Not wasting any more time, I headed back down, much to the relief of my waiting wife. We slowly descended the gully, this time taking the opposite side down, which turned out to be a less harrowing experience.
Once onto the SE face, we almost ended up going too far down and missing the trail into the lower bowl. Judging by the number of paths leading down in that direction, it looks like this is a common mistake. I empathized with the party of three we saw two days prior.
We arrived back at the tent 4 1/2 hours after starting the ascent. I would have liked to have spent more time on the summit, but c'est la vie. We packed up camp and headed down towards Burman Lake, knowing that we still had a full day of hiking to make up due to the rain layover.
We headed south and through the drop down to Burman lake and back up to the ridge, regaining all the elevation we had lost. Along the way, we found a really nice camp spot by two tarns, with a fantastic view of the Hinde. I think this would make for the most ideal spot to camp before summiting, rather than going all the way to the hikerís tarn.
Looking back, most of the Hinde was now surrounded by fog. To my disappointment, we would not see it again for the duration of the trip.
The trail followed Burman ridge awhile further before dropping along a ledge towards Schjelderup Lake. The descent was a really unique and beautiful section with interesting geological features, another highlight of the trip. Fortunately, there were some little hikers before us who left some tiny cairns for us to follow. But they were a little hard to see from afar.
Schjelderup Lake was another nice spot with well used campsites. The hike around ended up being longer than it looked and was just shy of an hour. Once at the south end, we scouted another campsite and headed up the trail leading to Carter Lake. We passed another small lake en route, which looked like it might have a nice campsite further along the north shore.
Now tired and hungry from the long dayís hike, we dropped into Carter Lake, another gem of a lake. We were glad to find it to be warmer and more sheltered than the tarn camp. There was lots lot signs of camping but we found only one good flat spot for a tent there. The fog continued but fortunately didn't materialize into rain.
Day 7 Carter Lake to Phillips Ridge trailhead
The last day arrived and we were up early and on the trail by 7:30. The moisture from the lake had made everything wet, more than any previous spot. I guess this is the trade-off for the warmth and shelter provided by the lake.
The shoreline along Carter was another slow hike, but not as bad as Schjelderup. The trail after the south end of the lake dropped some unexpected elevation before crossing the creek and climbing back up to Phillips Ridge. The route was well marked but steep. The combination of wet underbrush and mud made for a grumpy climb. By now, my boots were wet and Iíd decided to let fate decide whether they were going to make it out in one piece or not.
Once up on the ridge, we climbed further to get up on the first bump, which was followed by more ups and downs. The GPS came I really handy here. While the cairns were easy to follow in most parts, some sections were obscured by fog.
I'd read before about the infamous Phillips Ridge bumps, and to be honest, they werenít bad at all. At least they were nothing unlike what we'd experienced on the trail thus far. In fact, the geology of the ridge made it some of the most interesting hiking yet. It's as though each bump and dip held new surprises in the rock, and ancient formations I had never seen before. Hiking on the ridge really gives the feeling that our time on earth is so ephemeral. How any millennia was this place in the making?
Along the ridge, about where the trail turns 90 degrees to the east, we met a guided group of four on their way back to Arnica. An injury had cut their trip - the same traverse as we had taken - short. We chatted for awhile while they had lunch, and got good intel on where to get a good post-trip meal in Campbell River. After chatting some more, we got back on the trail and disappeared into the fog.
The trail seemed to go on forever to get to Arnica Lake. By now, our knees were starting to hurt. Thoughts also began to turn to post-hike activities, like cold beer, fried food, and hot showers.
We reached the Arnica Lake campsite to discover it empty in disrepair. One of the tent pads was damaged, the signs were broken, and two of the bridges over creeks were smashed up. Still, the lake was nice, and had the first signs of fish that I saw all trip.
We had a bite to eat and moved on down the east side of the lake. I'd read about the infamous switchbacks on the trail down to the parking lot, mostly how there were many and the trail was unnecessarily long. To make it interesting, we started counting them on the way down, thinking how many could there be? Well, after a long 2 hour descent, we counted 80 switchbacks. With a total 800 meter drop in elevation, that equates to 10 meters per switchback. I wondered what the trail builders were thinking back then, making it so long. The only good thing was our knees and feet were so sore, the added distance meant more distance but less pounding down the mountain.
We got to the parking lot at 4:30, after hiking for 9 hours. We felt surprisingly good, likely in large part due to the rest day. Still, our feet and knees were sore, and we were glad to be done.
As for the beers, they were still there. I had initially feared that the day of rain might have washed them down the creek. But they hung in there, much like my boots, to the end. And neither survived much beyond that.