Monday, June 1, 2015

Backyard Bliss: Mount Albert Edward

 *Updated: July 31, 2015 with summiting details from summer AND the low down on the Ranger Cabin.
**Interested in Backcountry Running?  Be sure to read my article for the tips and gear needed to get you there safely!

 Ready to go on another backyard adventure?  Follow me!

NE aspect of Mount Albert Edward.  1700m, May 30

Mount Albert Edward is hard to miss.  If you have ever driven up to Mount Washington you will remember the unique profile of this mountain to the west of Raven Lodge.  Its long drawn out scree ridge ends dramatically in a ski jump style peak before falling off into the abyss below.  The Grinch himself would surely be proud to call this summit home.  Mount Albert Edward is one of only 16 peaks belonging to 2000m+ club on Vancouver Island.  At 2093m, it is the 6th tallest peak on the Island and it stands guard at the eastern entrance of Strathcona Provincial Park.

If you are ready to venture into the back country and climb your first peak, Mount Albert Edward may be just what you are looking for.  Merely 16kms from the Paradise Meadows trail head on Mount Washington, AE is the perfect way to enter the world of summitting Strathcona Park peaks.  And everyone, including their grandma, grandkids and dogs seems ready to do so.  From dusty 1970's external frame packs to tourists in slacks and pumps, you can see anything along this almost-too-accessible route, lol.  Most hikers take at least 2-3 days to summit AE and set up camp at either Circlet or Kwai Lakes.  There are lovely overnight use areas along the edge of these pristine lakes, with tent pads designed to keep wear and tear to a minimum.  If you don't get any farther than camping at the lakes, you will still get to enjoy an unforgettable sub alpine wilderness experience.  It is approximately twenty kilometres round trip to Circlet, with the option of adding loops to visit the other nearby lakes.  A trek into Circlet is a magical introduction to back country adventure.  With such easy access, there are always other hikers in the area and this can be comforting for those new to back country camping.

If it is possible to get there and back home in a day, however, you won't see me with my tent.  Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love spending nights in the mountains.  But the destination has to be outside of fast packing reach to get me slogging the miles under a multi-day pack.  There is something about moving fast and light and covering great distances in a single day that calls to me.  It always amazes me to discover where my sneakers can take me in a single day.  And depending on how you define a 'day trip', you can cover some serious ground in 8, 10, 12, or more hours and still get home to a hot shower and your own bed. 

Let's go on a run then, shall we?

This weekend I wanted a good, long adventure to sink my sneakers in to.  I wanted a sunrise in the mountains and a few hours of solitude under my feet.  I decided to go for a run to say hello to an old friend, Mr. Edward.  Unseasonably warm spring weather has opened the alpine up early and I decided to go and find out where the snow level was.  I planned my route, packed my kit and set my alarm for a ridiculously early hour.  It is hard to convince accomplices to join me on these alpine starts so I often find myself flying solo.  I get it.   Sleep is one of my favourite things in life.  But getting up early to catch a mountain sunrise is up there on my list too and I have never once regretted skipping a few hours of sleep for one yet.

 Good morning, magic.  This is why I get up early.

5am on trail.  I ran off into the wild, slowly waking up to the sound of my feet on the trail below.  A light frost had just melted off the boardwalks and a sweet morning mist rose up from the Paradise Meadows around me.  Shades of silver and grey soon picked up flecks of gold and pink as the sun rose towards our part of the globe.  It was better than sleeping in.  It was exactly where I wanted to be.

 Into the wilds of Strathcona Provincial Park

The first kilometre of the trail is literally wheel chair accessible and provides a unique access to the sub alpine meadows of Strathcona Park.  Everyone and anyone can now get out of their car and instantly enter this special biogeoclimatic zone.  It is a beautiful thing, but I am always amazed how many people in the Comox Valley have yet to experience it.  As Vancouver Islanders, we tend to take our rock for granted and often forget how lucky we are to have access to true wilderness right at our tip toes.  Get up there people.  Visitors come from all over the world to hike in this park and tell their friends back home. You should too.

I wanted to get up as high as possible before the sun broke the dawn, but I was deep in the woods, still a few minutes away from Lake Helen Mackenzie when the first rays arrived.  I felt the alpenglow approach before I actually saw it.  I stopped dead in my tracks and grabbed my camera from it's sling case across my chest.  Stripes of intense orange-pink fire painted the trunks of the mountain hemlocks all around me.  That magic light only lasts for a few minutes and there I was, completely immersed in it's warm glow.  I wasn't on top of a mountain for the sunrise.  But I was exactly where I wanted to be.

 Catching light in the woods.

I ran past Lake Helen Mackenzie at the 3km mark and turned off the beaten path towards the Ranger Cabin.  Mount Brooks was hit next by the magic light up ahead.  It was lit up like a house on fire and begging to have its photograph taken, I had to oblige.

Red topped Mount Brooks catching the sunrise.

This area of the Park is a trail runners dream.  I can't be believe more runners don't get their kicks up in Paradise Meadows.  The trails are only moderately technical with fun roots and rocks and ups and downs to play amongst.  The grade is perfect for easy running with very few sections too steep to keep a good pace on all the way out to Circlet Lake.  There are multiple looping options for routes that wind around beautiful sub-alpine lakes including Kwai, Hairtrigger, Battleship, Lady, Mariwood and more.  There is the 16k out and back to Cruikshank Canyon.  There is the 23km Forbidden traverse to Mount Becher via McKenzie Meadows.  And then, of course, there is the rest... the beginning of endless days and peaks and routes that can take you deep into Strathcona Park and leave you wondering how on earth you are still on Vancouver Island at all.

Still waters and morning mist in the meadows.

I ran past the Ranger Cabin with my first views of Albert in the distance, less than an hour and 6kms from the trailhead.   I wondered what the Ranger Cabin was actually used for these days?  I have never seen it open nor any sign of life within.  In all of my years adventuring through the Islands various Provincial Parks I have only run into one or possibly two Park Rangers patrolling our precious lands.  Budgets and governments and contracts and the need to protect our precious wild VI spaces is another blog...

BC Parks Ranger Cabin

*Update: July 31, 2015.  I slept over in the Ranger Cabin!  One of life's mysteries has been solved lol!  This past month, I was lucky enough to become friends with the current BC Parks Operator and had the chance to spend a memorable night in the cabin.  I packed my sleeping gear on my back and ran into the park just before dusk to visit my new friend.  Classic BC Parks Cabin, complete with the usual critters:).  Turns out that BC Parks has always had a presence up in Strathcona, with the Ranger/Operator walking the Circlet/Helen Mackenzie loops on a daily basis from spring until fall year after year.  I have just never run into them up there!  Great to know that BC Parks is keeping boots on the ground in this high use section of the park (THE highest use by far), and we can only hope that the budgets and work will grow in the future.  

Please #respectthewild and learn about Back Country Ethics before you go into our beautiful wilderness areas!

Running through paradise.

Past the Ranger Cabin and Hairtrigger Lake, the sub alpine forests give way to the Whiskey Meadows.  They are absolutely loaded with mountain heather and on the verge of bursting into spring blooms right now.   Be sure to get up there in the next few weeks for one of the best shows of the year when the ground becomes covered in a fluorescent pink carpet. 

My kind of mirror.

Near the 9km mark the trail drops downhill and you know that Circlet Lake is near.  Mountain streams trickle across the path and delicate spring plants follow them where ever they go.  The Circlet Lake turn off is marked by a small pond to the right and a stack of steep contour lines straight ahead.  The lightly undulating trail from the parking lot comes to an end and the climb to the summit begins here.  

Just past the Circlet Lake turn off, I passed the fork that leads to Castlecraig and Mount Frink in the south.  For a brief moment I considered changing my plan and going for the 5k loop with 2 summits...calculating distance, elevation, snow and time.  I quickly decided to leave this loop on my list for another day and continue with my visit, as planned, to see Mr. Edward.

At 7:00am I was already two hours into my mountain run and you were likely just waking up to your Saturday morning coffee.  Moments after leaving the Meadows, I found myself scrambling up a gully full of loose rock, sand and shale.  I realized quickly that I should have taken the little climbing trail to the right.  I knew it wasn't right, but I was in the gulley and going for it.  I followed the foot steps of another hiker with similar poor judgement and clawed my way up to the sturdy rock above.  Once on top,  I took my time getting my bearings and searched for cairns in the distance.  I spotted the rock piles to the right and trucked overland to get back on trail.

  Headed up AE near the start of the icefield, looking south east.

Back on track, I found myself above the tree line, and walking the familiar Vancouver Island bumps of granite with a view to die for.  Oh Albert Edward you really are a charmer.  Your ridge line is just begging to be trekked.  

The patches of snow under my feet grew larger and the spaces of rock between them shrunk to nothing as I climbed closer to the ridge.  There was still a thick layer of spring snow icing the ridge above and I knew I was getting close to the end of my adventure.  Without any traction on my feet or an axe to stop a fall I knew there would not be a summit for me.  The never ending abyss falling away on either side of the ridge made it an easy decision for me.   I was simply happy to be right there, resting on the shoulder of Mount Albert Edward in the beautiful spring sunshine, exactly where I needed to be.

I will have to return in a month or so, however, once the snow has melted and my sneakers can be cleared to complete the climb to the summit.  I dragged my DSLR up here, experimenting with how best to carry it while running, to try and capture some mountain magic. know...mountain magic can't exactly be captured...all good things it seems, truly ARE, wild and free.

 Hey there, handsome.

5 hours run/trekking and covering 24kms and 700m to the 1700m point of the climb.
 Strathcona Park brochure.
 Paradise Meadows/Albert Edward Area Map

PS The snow is at about 1700m on the East side, as of this weekend.  Plenty of mountains in the Park to explore at that elevation. 

PPS: Do you trail run with a DSLR?  What pack/system do you use?  My camera drove me a bit nutz, moving up and down on my back for nearly 6 hours.  I need to tweak my system... suggestions are appreciated!

Happy Trails,

*UPDATE: July 31, 2015.  I have 'run' to the summit of AE twice since this original post in spring and can't get enough of the views from the top!  Once the snow has cleared off of the ridge, it is a very straight forward trek to the summit and takes about 1-2 hours from the view point at the start of the ridge.  It is straight forward unless, that is, the weather moves in.  Mountain weather changes very suddenly and it is very challenging to travel up high if you cannot see more than a few metres in front of you.  Be VERY cautious travelling to the summit in poor visability, because there is a very steep drop off into the abyss below on the NE side of the ridge- as you can see in the photo above.  Always travel with a map and compass and bring a GPS track for back up in case of poor visibility.  Just last week 4 hikers got lost on the upper ridge.  This seems crazy, when you see the photo above on a good, clear day.  However, thick fog/clouds changes the experience dramatically.  Best to check the weather and be prepared for anything:).

Socked in at the summit and no visual reference of the massive 1000 foot void below...don't go too close to that edge!

At the end of the world... Girls + Mountains = RAD


Matthew Lettington said...

I enjoyed reading your introspective comments about the light emerging across the landscape. I made this trip myself as a dayhike, though in much warmer and drier conditions. Further, I didn't try to run it, I'm not into running anymore.
This is my post about my trip, including a few nice photographs of the day. The clouds were a below the peaks of the various hills in Strathcona creating some truly memorable moments.

Not all DSLR's are the same, they vary a lot based on weight and lens. My D800 and 28-300 come in around 5 pounds. I use a Click camera bag, it attaches to the straps of my backpack's chest harness. For you I may suggest an cross the shoulder bag, modified. You can carry it on your back and then adjust the strap to loosen it and have it swing to the front to access the case.

Sarah said...

Hey thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts Matthew! Looking forward to reading your adventure tale as well! Thanks for the suggestion on the cross the shoulder bag- I am looking at that as well as a waist pack to add to my running gear. I am going to check out the Lowe Pro adventure packs as well. I take my D40 into the hills so it isn't too much to handle running up and down the mountains! Happy Trails,

Tiffany Cunha said...

Hey Sarah! Great blog entry and fantastic day trip. I will certainly be following your blog. Funny how you said that you find it hard to find others to wake up at the crack of dawn to do crazy adventures like this. I was having a similar conversation with a friend the other day about how we scare off many people dragging them out on crazy adventures running and hiking (as we were doing a 31km run to Sooke). Happy trails! You might like a day loop we did from Circlet Lake a couple years back if you haven't done it already.

Anonymous said...

Lovely. Rebecca and I were tempted by AE last weekend. But we stuck to our Kwai lake plan. Must pack more food and try it out as run. I have only done the camp and climb version. Lisa.

Keith Iskiw said...

Do you happen to know what the current FKT on Albert Edward is? thanks Keith

Sarah said...

Hi Tiffany! My apologies for the late reply to your comment! I have had some issues seeing comments! Got it sorted now. Glad to hear you are enjoying the blog! And yes, I love the lolipop loop from Circlet! Happy trails!

Sarah said...

Hi Anonymous! So sorry for the late reply- getting comment issues sorted out here on the blog. I hope you had a chance to return! Happy Trails:)

Sarah said...

Hi Keith!
Sorry for the slow reply! I know there has been chat on facebook about the AE FKT and so you likely have all of the deets now! Happy Trails!