This July I have been on a mission. I cleared my weekend calendar and wrote a list of my SPP dream hikes on the back page of my Island Hikes 3 book (hikers bible fyi!). Over the past few years I have managed to explore a few faves: Kings Peak, Washington-Forbidden Traverse (multiple times now) and last summer Mount Septimus via Bedwell and Cream Lakes (amazing btw!). Just a tiny drop in the SPP bucket.
Strathcona Park is an absolute gem. The first Provincial Park in BC, Strathcona has held it's status since 1911. Stretching over 250,000 hectares, the Park protects a massive wilderness area in the centre of the Island. Home to the highest peak on the Island, the Golden Hinde (2200m) and countless other spectacular mountains, the terrain is rugged, wild and absolutely breathtaking. Snowcapped peaks, endless aqua-marine alpine lakes and streams, and watersheds filled with massive ancient trees are just the norm in this supernatural part of the world.
And it is all right in our backyard. It is hard to believe it is all contained on our little Island. Peeps come from all over the globe to explore the ridges, peaks and lakes at the heart of the Park. I felt it was time that I make time to do the same. Unfortunately the first couple of July weekends were rained out so I have had to do some cramming:)
Last weekend Kim and I both had a 'big day on feet' scheduled on our 'training plans'. We were both looking for 9-10 hours of trekking and running and good elevation so we looked for a new adventure in the Park. The last time we had done a big hike in the Park was Kings Peak...which we were shocked to realize had been 8 years ago! Time to make some new memories!
Wow. Wow Wow. Let me put it this way...you have to go and see it for yourself;) OK...let me try and create a picture for you...
We were on the road by 4am and on the trail by 6am. Best to start early when you are heading into new terrain and planning on a big day. Running in the mountains and off the grid requires different types of preparation, equipment and skills than heading out to your local trailhead. You can never be too cautious and it is always best to prepare for the worst case scenario- because you never know. The weather can change quickly and dramatically when you are in the alpine- regardless of the weather report you read before you left home. There is no cell coverage after you leave Campbell River- that is about an hour from the trailheads in the Park...and who knows how many hours from there. A bad fall, sprained ankle or allergic reaction are a different story when you are 6 hours from assistance. Best to be prepared IMO! Here is how I typically pack for a long day hike or trail run off the grid:
Pack: 2 litres of water/water purification tabs, snacks PLUS extra for the day, clothing 'in case you had to stay the night' such as a toque, gloves, extra longsleeve, shell/windbreaker, longjohns, space blanket, headlamp (on really big adventures a bivvy sack)...first aid kit, allergy meds, knife, fire starter/lighter, duct tape, compass, map, whistle, GPS. I use Motion X on my iPhone and a portable battery pack that keeps it charged for 10 hours. Motion X allows you to use GPS functions and see our location on a map - without cell service or data. You just need to download the map files to your phone before heading out and voila! There you are on the map! It is awesome - my favourite ap for sure. I recently purchased an inReach unit as well - which I will post a review on shortly. Basically, it allows you to communicate your location, send messages and initial an SOS in case of emergency. You may be off the grid and in the middle of no where- but you will be able to communicate and SAR will be able to find you in a worse case scenario. Well worth the investment for the peace of mind.
Once we hit the trail it was straight up on the 'highway to heaven' of calf searing vertical terrain. Bloody steep out of the gates, we gained 1200m in 5kms up to the Ridge. On the way up we were in the shelter of an old forest, with big trees and a shag moss carpet to guide us. After 2 hours of steady marching we arrived on the North Ridge and enjoyed a 180 degree view of the mountains across Buttle Lake. Other than the big mine scar, the view was spectacular. We were just under the clouds and would be hiking up into the mist after this view.
After a few minutes on the Ridge we came across some tents and snoring campers, with their boots laid out to freshen up:). We snuck quietly by and continued on the trail as it turned upward through a fantastic alpine meadow. We were blown away by the explosion of colour! Our timing must have been absolutely perfect because we were given the most amazing show of flowers! The wild heather was in full bloom and a carpet of flourescent pink was laid out as far as the eye could see. Magnificant!
We stopped to take photo's thinking this was the show. But no. It was just the beginning. Over every new knoll there was a new mountain meadow and another painting of wild flowers awaiting us. Alpine lakes (even a heart shaped one shown above!) dotted the Ridge and the ribbon of rocky singletrack stretched out before us...over the next knoll...into the next meadow...and so on and so on. It was a never ending scene and we were happy to be stuck in it for 10kms on the Ridge. Fantastic!
After about 16kms and 5 hours we reached the South Peak of the Ridge...the terrain flows straight down to Cream Lake from there and we could see Mt Septimus straight across the Valley. It was awesome to put the pieces together and orient myself with the area. The clouds kept us cool and we were damp with mist for most of the hike. But every now and then the clouds would float by and the view would open right up for us- revealing the hidden peaks and vista's that surrounded us! 360 degrees of spectacular scenery! At one point the mist cleared and we realized that we were close to a serious cliff edge- where the ridge dropped off dramatically to the valley bottom over 1000m below. Woah. Don't want to put your tent there. FYI: don't go too close to the East edge if the weather socks you in...
We enjoyed a few minutes at the South Peak, but the mist and wind started to chill us quickly. So, we turned back to follow our path home...running on the more flowy sections of trail and all of the downhills. Once we hit the steep descent we were able to open things up and run downhill on the loamy forest path. It was a lovely 4 hour run back to the car... After 9 hours on trail and some wicked vertical, our feet were in need of some love and we became obsessed with reaching the creek at the traihead. Ahhhhhhhh....glacial cold but soooo good! We sat on the rocks in the sunshine, with our feet hanging numb in the creek and enjoyed some stub and grub while letting that post adventure bliss settle in. A perfect day:). Thanks Kim:)