Strathcona Provincial Park is the oldest provincial park in BC. Spanning 250,000 hectares across Vancouver Island, the park offers some incredible trail networks, and even more off-trail hiking and climbing adventures. Despite having my grandparents living near Comox, I had never visited the park until this summer. My good friends Liam and Hilary had moved to Campbell River and offered to have my girlfriend Anna and I up for a few days of beer, hiking, and fishing. Along us was Jake to make a nice group of 5 for the adventure.
The route from right to left
We rolled in to Campbell River nearing midnight on the 28th of August. After some morning shenanigans, we headed out to the Mount Washington parking lot at one of the most accessible parts of the park. The first two hours involved some beautiful hiking on relatively flat terrain. The trail winds its way through yellow cedar forests and marshy ponds with boardwalks. The first notable stop was a quick break at Lake Helen Mackenzie which opened up views of the Mount Albert Edward ridgeline. From there, we headed on to Circlet Lake, as I slowed the group to eat hundreds of fresh mountain blueberries and black huckleberries. We arrived at Circlet Lake at 4:00 pm and were surprised on how many tent platforms there were. I count at least 50 beautiful cedar tent platforms that had been constructed in the past year or two likely. It makes sense since this is such an accessible backcountry destination, but it still surprised me. Liam and I tried our luck fishing in Circlet Lake despite seeing no signs of fish. To my surprise, I pulled in a 2 pound rainbow trout 15 minutes later. I had enough food for the weekend, so we let the beauty go and carried on to the next destination, Moat Lake.
Starting the hike
Headed to Circlet Lake
Whiskey Jacks with Liam
Strathcona Park mandates designated camping zones which limits camping off the ridge of Mount Albert Edward. This makes sense as all of the facilities are at places like Circlet, and helps out the backcountry environment. We later found out that camping at Moat Lake was technically not allowed, however we were able to camp on some rock platforms and not damage any of the ecosystem. While the typical traverse opts to head directly to Albert Edward, we wanted to go the longer route to Castlecrag Mountain and Mount Frinks the next day. The evening at Moat Lake was beautiful and the swim was lovely. There is an island at the lake that is surrounded by the park but is private land. There are rentable cabins there and even a motor boat for world class fishing. Liam caught another hefty 2.5 pound rainbow trout before we crashed for the night.
Views across to the Forbidden Plateau
I woke up just after sunrise the next morning with blue skies and an incredible view of the lake. Since no one was up, I decided to give the fishing a try. With no wind on the lake, I was able to see some giant trout swimming in the deep blue water. I quickly caught a large 3 pound trout on my little lure. By this time, the others had woken up and Jake and Liam came down to check out the action. Minutes later, I witnessed a 4-5 pound rainbow trout take my lure and I was thrilled. I was able to bring the guy in, get a couple photos, and then release him for another day. I cannot believe how large these fish are! After doing some research, it looks like they are a species of Kamloops trophy rainbow trout that were stocked almost 80 years ago in the lake. The lake has freshwater shrimp and a solid snow cover that keeps the fish active during the winter and allowing them to grow to their large size. Rumors of 10-15 pound trout have been caught in this rarely visited lake.
Huge trout I caught! It was fat.
Incredible camp spot
After this excitement, we packed up and headed uphill to Castlecrag. The first part was steep, but soon after it levelled out into a gorgeuous plateau. We walked along a gorgeous single line track in heather with 360 views. After crossing a boulder field and gaining some steep elevation, we found ourselves at the bottom of Castlecrag for a lunch break. At this time, the clouds had moved in. We dropped the packs and ran to the summit which was a five minute detour. Views were incredible and we could see our next objective in the background. Hilary unfortunately got stung here by a wasp
. We started heading over to Frinks and the wind started to pick up. By this time, we were ~800m elevation gained that day and the loose shale and 75 km wind really slowed down progress. As we got near the summit, the rain started and it was moving fully sideways. As a peak bagger, I went up and tagged the true summit while everyone else started heading into the abyss to what would be Mount Albert Edward. Visibility was at 15 feet and now it was pouring sideways. The ridge to Albert Edward was exposed and the wind must have been 100km an hour plus here. This was the least excited I have ever been reaching the peak as I knew it would be a tough descent down the opposite face with no proper trail. Mount Albert Edward is a very popular destination and sits at 2093m making it the 6th tallest peak on the island. The first hour downhill we were off trail despite having our gps track and it was treacherous. The wind knocked me over a few times and it was miserable. We discussed debating on pitching a tent in some of the less open places, but we agreed as a group that the smart decision was to get off the high mountain. We eventually found the marked route and made our way down. Once at treeline, the wind became less intense and we were able to laugh a bit more while being drenched. We found a plateau at 1400m, set up camp, and fell asleep pretty early. Jake's clothing was pretty wet which made for a poor night but he made it through.
Frinks cairn at 1970m
Approach of the M.A.E
Summit of Mount Albert Edward. Last photo of the day.
Of course we woke the next day to blue skies and saw that we had stayed in a great place. We descended on mossy rocks down to 1200m into a valley before heading back up 200 meters on some rough trail. It reminded me of classic North Shore backcountry terrain as we navigated bluffs. We finally made it up and quickly arrived at the lovely Ruth Masters Lake. Crystal blue water. After filling up, we ran into a solo hiker going the opposite way. He had done some huge traverse on the other side of Buttle Lake the previous day(s) and was planning to hike out to Comox Lake via the forbidden Plateau trail network. Sounded like an incredible trip with huge elevation gains and off trail bushwhacking. We made our way up above RM Lake to the col between an unnamed ridgeline and Augerpoint Mountain. We decided to not do this side trip so we could make it back to the town for some food. The next few hours were relatively straightforward with awesome vies towards Mount Myra and other significant peaks in the distance. The trail drops steeply down to the valley below and we made it back to the car around 3 PM. The valley down was a mix of different trees and plants and I continued on eating my fare share of blueberries. We were relieved to get to Hilary's car that she had dropped off on the end terminus a few days before. We headed out later that night for some celebratory beers and burgers.
Sun! Where we woke up on day 3
Ruth Master's Lake
Views from what we had done the day before
Mount Myra above Buttle Lake ( I believe)
I had never heard of this trip before, but it looks decently popular for islanders. If you get a chance to do a 2-3 day trip next year, I would highly recommend this one for those who are advanced. As we saw, the weather completely changed the difficulty of the trip. I am fairly confident that an unprepared group could have had a disastrous outcome in our day 2 situation. The trip is comparable to the Howe Sound Crest Trail and the extra jaunt around Mount Frinks and Castlecrag make it a bit longer, but more fun. After Mount Albert Edward, it really becomes a well flagged route / rough trail until intersecting with the Augerpoint Trail to Augerpoint mountain. Hope you enjoyed this report and that it ends up on your list for next year.