What better way to spend the end of the year than by avoiding the extended family drama by hiding away on the trails of Golden Ears? My sister and I set out to conquer several items on our list.
After some concerns about the park gate being closed on the 24th, we were relieved to hear that it was open again in the morning of the 25th. Our plan was to go up to the Stephen Canning Memorial lookout on Alouette Mountain. Actually just beyond that to where a small tree on the side of the trail has been decorated with a variety of Christmas ornaments. Unsure of how much snow and ice to expect, we took microspikes with us but opted to leave the snowshoes at home.
There was a bit of light patchy snow at Mike Lake, but the incline trail was mostly snow-free. So up we went (and up and up, I swear that trail is exponentially steep). At the top there was between 3 and 5 cm of snow along the Alouette Mountain Fire Access (AMFA) trail. I'd been hoping to take the RMOC's Memorial trail up, but we couldn't find any signage and the only thing that looked like a trail had some trees down across it. So we continued up the old rail grade.
There were several trees down across the trail between the top of Incline and the switchback, but none of them were bad enough to impede progress. At the bottom of the Shortcut 1 trail, the snow was probably just over 5cm deep. We weren't the first people along the trail, so we had some footsteps to follow, but walking in the snow is definitely slower than our usual progress.
We headed up the Shortcut 1 trail, which always feels much longer than 0.78 km. Clearly the previous hiker knew this trail very well, because the footprints made all sorts of curves to follow the actual path. If we'd been relying solely on markers we would probably have been stumbling over all sorts of obstacles.
Emerging onto the upper level of AMFA, the snow was definitely 20+ cm deep. Someone before us had thought ahead to bring snowshoes (we didn't) so we jumped in their footsteps until we reached the picnic table at the memorial lookout. This is where the previous hikers had turned back, which meant getting to the Christmas tree would mean 50m of breaking trail through the snow. I made my way out, but almost missed the tree because it was almost entirely shrouded in snow. I brushed as much snow off as I could and got a few photos before we turned back.
Now at some point here, my sister's microspikes fell off her backpack. We didn't realize until we were back down at the bottom of the Shortcut 1 trail. She went back up the shortcut, but we were concerned with time and daylight so she didn't go all the way back to the memorial.
We got back to the top of Incline and decided due to time that we'd have to suffer going down Incline rather than the 2-hour trek along AMFA back to Mike Lake. I wasn't especially looking forward to that, and suggested we take the Knee Saver trail to avoid the steepest part of Incline. We followed footsteps along there and ended up on the Donkey Spool trail. We'd never been on it, so we followed it back until it met up with AMFA and then turned around and went back to Incline (emerging at the bottom of Knee Saver as we intended).
My sister headed back to the memorial lookout hoping to find her microspikes, but no luck. On the way down there were more footprints heading west from the top of the Shortcut 1 trail, so she decided to follow them to the RMOC Memorial trail and took that down to the top of Incline.
We were again worried about the gate being locked from the snow the day before, but it was open. Our plan was to go along the Alouette Valley trail (from the gate if it had been closed) and find Mike Falls. With the gate open, we parked under the Hydro ILM line and joined the Alouette Valley trail by walking back along the road a short distance.
So Mike Falls were mentioned in one of the early development plans for the park, and then seemingly never mentioned again. The only other mention I'd seen was a (now unavailable) Hydro ILM document that mentioned the old ALLCē trestle across Mike Falls was in the area of the ILM. So we weren't sure if we'd be bushwhacking along a creek or if we'd even be able to locate the falls.
We located them, featuring prominently at the junction of the Alouette Valley trail and the ALLCo horse trail. It seemed pretty apparent that the Allco trail was following the old railway grade and the trestle would have crossed the falls from there. We decided to follow the rail grade south along the Allco horse trail. There were a few trees down, but nothing impassable.
We reached the point where the grade stopped a short while later. It begins to curve slightly and then suddenly stops as the ground drops down quite a bit. The Allco trail continues off to the side just before the end of the grade, but another trail seemed to lead down from the grade. So we followed that.
It meandered around a slough of some sort (with an unidentified wooden structure and several pipes visible, and two metal dams/gates of some sort) before curving back and descending to the Alouette River. It appeared to continue on the other side. We later saw a sign indicating that this was a continuation of the Trapper horse trail on the east side of Alouette River. In this area we also saw two trees labelled "SURVEY HUB SPK" and some numbers.
We went back to the rail grade and decided to follow the rest of the Allco trail down to the river. It was quite muddy in spots, and it turned into a bit of a stream before emerging on the banks of the Alouette River. This trail also fords the creek and continues in Allco Park on the eastern side of the river.
We ended up back at Mike Falls, and followed the Alouette Valley trail almost all the way to Mike Lake Road before turning around and heading back to the car.
Looking at it later, where the railway grade ended abruptly on the Allco trail is likely where the trestle started to cross over Alouette River to the main Abernethy & Lougheed Logging Company camp (which is currently the Alouette Correctional Facility, just north of Allco Park).
When you're looking for a locomotive that disappeared in the Mike Lake area, I suppose it makes sense to start by looking around the lake. So we started out on the Lakeside Loop trail. It was mostly fine until we came to the end of a boardwalk and were left standing in the woods with no visible trail and no visible flagging. We did pick up the trail again a short time later, but it was incredibly poorly marked in the part that goes through MKRF.
From there we decided to follow AMFA into MKRF a bit until we came to the A81 road. Mirror Lake is somewhere around there, so we headed down A81, and then A80. That met up with A50, which I knew made its way back to AMFA. So we headed up A50, past a very old rusted gate, and then back onto the rail grade/road of AMFA.
From this point, it became quite icy along AMFA, especially beyond A4 where the trail narrows and starts going up and down. I would probably recommend microspikes of some sort for this section.
The next thing I wanted to see was where the rail line had branched to go to the North Alouette River. We did find the spot, but it looked pretty overgrown and snowy, so we opted to just keep following AMFA instead of bushwhacking. We did however do a little bit of bushwhacking to keep to the edge of Whiskey Pond. I'm a bit confused about the pond, since allegedly two rail lines converged there and kept going for a ways, but from my observation they both just went into the water.
From that switchback we continued along AMFA until we reached the Donkey Spool trail, then followed that rail grade a ways and made our way back down to Mike Lake.
We started out on a bushwhacking adventure following some old rail grades, eventually emerging back out onto a trail near the main road. Looking to do something involving fewer branches whipping us in the face, we opted to head up the Eric Dunning trail, then up to the top of Incline, and take Switchback trail and Eric Dunning trail back down.
Eric Dunning trail had one treacherous section in the first half where water washing over the rocky trail had frozen into a slippery sloped icy waterslide. It failed to send us to our deaths though, so we continued on. We didn't really reach any snow until just before it joined up with Incline trail.
Continuing a day of poor life choices, we opted to take Knee Saver instead of going directly up Incline. The snow had been packed down by several people hiking it, and turned into hard snow-covered ice on which we carefully tread. In retrospect, microspikes might have helped, but the ice seemed pretty hard so even they might have had trouble getting a good grip.
After carefully making our way uphill over ice-covered trails, we decided to continue our plan and head downhill over the ice-covered Switchback trail. It was mostly fine as long as we were careful to check our footing. Found quite a bit of old logging cable here, which is guess indicates a continuation of the rail grade from Donkey Spool. Unfortunately the bottom part of the Switchback trail was blocked by a fallen tree. It would have been possible to bypass it, but it looked like there was another trail leading down to the left, so we followed that instead. It did get us back to Eric Dunning, but was definitely not any sort of official trail.
Holidays are over now though, so back to work and school for both of us. Our list of untravelled trails keeps growing though. Hoping to tackle the Memorial trail and Whiskey East at some point in the coming months.