After bailing from Jasper and the Canadian Rockies, three days of driving west and north through British Columbia brought us to the southeast tip of Alaska and the town of Hyder. At this point in the trip we hadn’t really done any planning or research beforehand, so didn’t really know what to expect as we rolled into Stewart and Hyder, two towns straddling the border of BC and Alaska. If driving through the nearly-vertical, glacier-clad gorge to get here wasn’t spectacular enough, we got to see some grizzlies feeding on spawning salmon at Fish Creek right out of town!
Fish Creek was plump full of spawning chum salmon; you could hear their splashing before you could even see the river. There’s an elevated wooden observation path where you can walk above next to the river and watch as grizzlies occasionally come by to snack on salmon. I’m not really a wildlife photographer but it sure was fun watching the bear!
Interestingly, grizzlies usually just eat the skin and eggs of the salmon, leaving the rest of the fish to rot or be eaten by other animals. Sometimes the skinned salmon is still flopping around as the grizzly walks off with its skin!
After watching the bears for a while we continued driving up the road from Hyder. A long winding dirt mining road took us all the way along and above the giant Salmon Glacier, the fifth largest glacier in Canada.
We drove down from the Salmon Glacier and stopped again at Fish Creek for one last look at the grizzlies, then returned to the Canadian side of the border, camped at a nearby little lake, and hoped that the grizzlies wouldn’t feed on us that night!
Towards the end of July after our fantastic trek in the Height of the Rockies Provincial Park we ventured on to Banff, in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. The Canadian Rockies are undoubtedly some of the most impressive mountains on the planet, like a mix of the rugged spires of the Dolomites and the wilds of Alaska or Montana. As you drive down the highways it’s just hit after hit, one awesome mountain after another. We had hopes to do some backpacking treks in Banff and Jasper National Parks, but unfortunately this proved to be nearly impossible due to a stifling new 100% backcountry reservation policy now in effect in those parks (read my rant about that at the link below). So, with no option to do any of the treks we wanted to do, we spent our time doing some day hikes instead before moving on.
In July we drove over the border into British Columbia, Canada and headed east towards the Height of the Rockies Provincial Park in eastern BC. The trek I had in mind is a somewhat obscure one involving several hours of driving along dirt forestry roads to access a seldom traveled trail which eventually fades into a convoluted off-trail routefinding adventure, finally arriving at a spectacular series of high lakes in a rugged glaciated basin.
Just as an update, a week ago we went on a 5-day backpack trip in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington — a big loop to Spectacle and Spade Lakes. After that we had hopes for a sunny weather forecast and another trek in Washington, but alas the weather deteriorated and the forecast for the next week was rain, rain, rain. Also if we wanted to stick to our loose schedule for the summer, the mid-July date said it was time to move on. So although there’s SO much more I had wanted to do in Washington, we hit the road again and are now in the Canadian Rockies! We’re in Fernie at the moment and plan to work our way north through the range for the next 3 weeks or so, of course doing lots of backpacking and hiking along the way.
As we continue traveling and backpacking on our big summer road trip, I’ve realized that it’s unfeasible to keep this blog up to date with my photos and trip reports. So, unfortunately, just as we’re starting to get into the more exciting backpacking trips, the photos and reports will have to wait until autumn when we’re back… or perhaps until some long rainy down days… but hopefully that won’t happen too often!
Now that I’m back home from our summer road trip I’m finally able to process my photos properly on my big monitor, so in the coming days and weeks I’ll be posting photos and trip reports from all our adventures!
This one is from July, on Sauk Mountain, a small hike with a big view over the Sauk River valley in western Washington state. I hiked up here in the fog with little hope for light, but right at sunset the clouds parted enough to let some through! The next day we drove over the spectacular North Cascades highway then up into Canada. I felt bad leaving Washington since there’s so much more hiking and backpacking I want to do in the Cascades, but with a weather forecast of just more and more rain, we knew we needed to keep moving on. I guess I’ll just have to return someday!
In mid July after having done two backpack trips on the Olympic Peninsula, we were excited to do some more in the Cascades; however, most of the treks we had researched in the central and northern Cascades were still snowbound on the higher passes and lakes. We studied the maps looking for a trek we could do under 5,000 feet elevation and concluded that the Alpine Lakes Wilderness fit the bill. This area boasts many interesting lakes and rugged peaks, and is generally lower elevation than the more northerly ranges. Plus, I’d never visited here before and was eager to check it out!
I realized that we could probably connect two intriguing lakes with one long triangular loop circuit: Spectacle and Spade Lakes. We planned on five days: one day hiking up along the Cooper River to Spectacle Lake, a rest day there, a long day over Waptus Pass to Spade Lake, another rest day there, and a final long haul out the Waptus River back to where we started at the Salmon La Sac trailhead.
We started by dropping our packs off at the Cooper Lake trailhead, driving back to Salmon La Sac to park the truck, and hitchhiking back up to Cooper Lake to save a few miles. The hike to Spectacle turned out to be more challenging than we expected; after Pete’s Lake the trail seems to be in complete neglect, passing through a burned forest with seemingly hundreds of downed trees to negotiate. The trail was obviously well engineered at some point in history, but now appears to be non-maintained, perhaps on purpose? We wondered if the powers that be decided that Spectacle Lake had grown too popular, and that they’d let the trail be reclaimed by nature for only determined hikers to tackle. Or maybe it’s just too much of an uphill battle (no pun intended) to clear out all the fallen burnt trees. Anyhow, after much unexpected frustration crawling over logs and bashing through wet foliage we finally stumbled over the ridge into the Spectacle Lake basin late in the evening, grateful that we planned a whole day to relax and enjoy the scenery.
We lucked out and had beautiful sunny weather during our rest day at Spectacle, wandering around the lake shore and enjoying several dives into the frigid water.
Day 3 turned out to be a tedious 11-hour march: back down to Pete’s Lake, up and over Waptus Pass, down to Waptus Lake, and up to Spade Lake. We were both feeling pushed almost to our limits by the time we finally dropped our packs and set up our tent.
Spade Lake seems to be a fairly seldom visited lake, despite the close proximity to the hordes in Seattle — likely because it’s such a trudge to get there no matter which way you go. The lake is ringed with huge granite slabs, with snow-clad Mount Daniel rising beyond. Campsites here are few and far between; we managed to find one single spot flat enough to place the tent on, using sticks and rocks as anchors. But what a view!
Again we lucked out with a bluebird sunny day for our rest day at Spade Lake! In the evening we hiked up a nearby ridge to get a fantastic view of the ultra-rugged Bear’s Breast Mountain.
Finally on day 5 we endured the long haul all the way from Spade out along the Waptus River back to our truck at Salmon La Sac. Never before have I experienced a backpacking trip with such a dicotomy of grueling, boring hiking and beautiful relaxation. 3 days of tedium for 2 days of bliss. Was it worth it? Of course! Would I do it again? Ummm, maybe not!
Mount Olympus is the king of the Olympus Peninsula in Washington; laden with thick glaciers, the 7,980 foot peak soars above the surrounding rainforest valleys. Some of the finest views to be had of this remote mountain are from the High Divide trail which follows a high ridge opposite the Hoh River valley — that is, when the notorious Olympic Peninsula rain stops long enough to see it. In early July right after our Olympic coast trek we spent 4 days backpacking a loop route from the Sol Duc valley via the High Divide in Olympus National Park, hoping to catch a view of Olympus.
After a first night at Deer Lake we hiked up to the High Divide ridgeline and relaxed for a few hours on the summit of Bogachiel Peak while waiting for the clouds and fog to hopefully lift off the next section of the trail. We were excited when the clouds started breaking up, revealing glimpses of rugged snow-capped peaks across the Hoh River valley. Each time we saw a big peak through the clouds we’d think “Wow! That must be Mount Olympus!” only to see another even bigger peak moments later! After a while the clouds fully lifted, revealing Mount Olympus and its glaciers in all their glory.
We enjoyed dinner and sunset views up on the High Divide trail, then descended to our tent at Heart Lake. The next day was socked in with fog and rain all day, which made us all the more grateful for the great weather we had during our High Divide walk the previous day.
So we spent the 4th of July tentbound at Heart Lake — no fireworks or parties, only rummy and mountain goats to keep us occupied!
Finally on our last day we packed up our wet tent in the rain and walked the last eight miles down the Sol Duc valley back to the trailhead, admiring the lush forest all the way.
At the end of June we did a 4-day backpacking trek up the wild coast of the Olympic Peninsula from Rialto Beach to Sand Point, in Olympic National Park. This was a fairly demanding hike with many rugged and rocky headlands that could only be passed at low tide, along with the ever present coastal fog and rain. The tough hiking and weather was rewarded with secluded wilderness beaches, picturesque sea stacks, tidepools, and the company of seals and bald eagles.
In late June we visited my uncle and cousins in Ashland, Oregon for a few days, then made a quick drive up through the state. Our first stop on the way was Crater Lake National Park, where we hiked with my uncle up a crumbly peak to the high point along the rim of the crater. This spectacular caldera lake at over 6,000 feet elevation was formed when the Mount Mazama volcano collapsed about 7,700 years ago, and subsequently filled with water. The lake is the deepest in the United States — 1,949 feet at its deepest.
From Crater Lake we took a scenic route past the Sisters mountains then up towards Mount Hood where we spent a night near Trillium Lake. Early in the morning I walked to the lake, which was shrouded in fog. As I sat there peacefully at the calm and misty lake, a bald eagle silently swooped down and grabbed a fish out of the lake in front of me! The ease and grace of the eagle’s catch was awe inspiring… and then it came back a few minutes later and did it again, making it look like the easiest thing in the world. So magestic. Welcome to the northwest!
Later in the morning the fog lifted, revealing a glorious view of Mount Hood above!
After leaving Tahoe we drove west to the coast then spent several days walking and hiking in the magnificent redwood forests of Northern California. Words and even photos can’t really do justice to the sheer immensity of these giant trees and the raw feeling of power they emanate as you walk amongst them!