Friday, August 1, 2014

Elk River Trail

Holy moly.  I found another piece of heaven in Strathcona Provincial Park this past weekend...

Working away on my little 'run the park' July mission, I chose two more adventures from my seemingly endless 'wanderlist'.  Saturday I drove out to buttle lake with two friends, Chris and John, to scurry up a wee mountain- Crest.  It was a good grunt and pitched straight up right off the start, similar to Flower Ridge.  The beginning of the trail followed a lovely cascading creek and took us past a few massive cedars and Doug fir's...mossy shag...loamy forest path...perfect.   The trail builder kindly carved in calf releasing switchbacks to the otherwise 100% slope of the mountain, which allowed for a steady push to the top.  Less than two hours to the top, with 1000m and 5kms under out sneaks. The 'summit' of Crest Mountain was a mini version of the moonscape terrain we found on flower ridge.  Repeater tower and logbook at the top- we were surprised to discover that we were the first people to the top so far this year!  I shouldn't be surprised, actually.  With so many trails and so few people in the Park, it is not uncommon to have these supernatural vistas all to yourself.  After a few pics and snacks we got to run back down- leaping rocks, roots and loam and pretending we could run like Kilian...

BUT...the real gem was yet to come...

On Sunday I once again hit the alarm, grabbed my kit and cruised back up to SPP.  Flying solo, I opted for a more popular trail from my wanderlist... Elk River to Landslide Lake.  Have you been there yet?  Well, pencil it in this summer if you can... It is another must do IMO.  The ERT is really a relative highway compared to other treks in the Park- similar to the trails up and around Paradise Meadows.  Of course there are masses of gnarly roots, slippery rocks and endless ups and downs.  But, the trail is very well maintained and does not gain significant elevation compared to most of the summit trails on the Buttle Lake side of the Park.  

About 850m of elevation were gained over the 12.5kms to Landslide Lake and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that much of it was runnable.  Technical yes- but runnable.  The trail began with a friendly grade and groomed terrain which was the perfect warm up after 90'mins in the car.  After a few minutes the switchbacks turned downhill and accompanied the Elk River for the next kms.

Home to some top the last remaining Roosevelt Elk, this is a very special place indeed.  Giant towering cedars, Doug firs and Hemlocks created both the blanket of roots below and the shady canopy high above.  A green and golden shag carpet covered every surface.  The undulating trail wove in and out of this magnificent forest, crossing mountain creeks, slide chutes and revealing tiny water falls the entire way.  

Eventually the canopy opened and the trail headed onto the rock.  Mount Colonol Foster's jagged ridges towered above and stamped a dark silhouette against the perfectly blue morning sky.  A beautiful waterfall was pouring out of the lake above and I could see my final destination.  

Another km of gentle climbing and I was there... glacial fed Landslide Lake.  Spectacular.  And I had it all to myself. Although the parking lot was full of cars down below, the campers were still sleeping 5k back at the campsite and the mountaineers were likely picking their way along the high ridges above.  

I found a sunny spot on the lakeside and enjoyed a moment in the sweet morning sunshine.  Absolute pristine and pure silence surrounded me.

Then I got thinking.  

How awesome would the lake look from higher up?  

My map showed a trail continuing around the east side of the lake and up above the glacial waterfall at the foot of C Foster.  How could I come all this way and not go to the end of the trail?  

Well... After the groomed trail I had been frolicking on for two hours, I got a bit of a surprise.  I don't think many peeps have been around that way yet this year!  Either that or I was on the wrong trail entirely.  Let's just say I wish I'd had my machete with me.  45minutes of thrashing through salmon berries and slide alder earned me a few new scratches, wet shorts and a double mud soaker.  It was one very long km but I made it to the waterfall. Meh!  I don't recommend that leg unless you have your machete with you or you are en route to the peaks!

On the way out I was lucky enough to cross paths with some hikers... It turns out I had dropped my little balled up windbreaker on the trail about 5 k in... and my car key was IN that jacket!!  I had no idea I had dropped it and was seriously grateful to the hikers for letting me know where they had placed it.  Wowza!  Lady Luck!

Spot my jacket??

What an awesome day.  I can't recommend it enough.  Technical trail runners, day hikers, campers and mountaineers will all find the same energy amongst the trees, waterfalls and mountains of the Elk River Trail.  I hope you get to feel it too.

Happy trails, SS

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