My adventure to the Canadian Southwest, which I initially described here, was a great success! It took me over a month to compose and polish the trip journal, but here it is.
Photo highlights are posted here.
Apparently I wasn't the first to explore this area.
BC was fairly unfamiliar territory to me; nothing much beyond a few ski trips to Whistler years ago and family road trips. So, the first challenge of my journey was to familiarise myself with the region and then hone in on a specific location to become my target. My search began at the Seattle Public Library, where I found a copy of A Guide to Climbing & Hiking in Southwestern British Columbia
by Bruce Fairley This book was from 1986, but mountains don’t change that much, right? It was just like a BC version of the Becky guides: comprehensive coverage of all the peaks and high routes in the region, with semi-vague directions for each. This was a good starting point to become more familiar with the various mountain ranges and to help narrow down some search terms to seek out on the googleinterweb. My goal was to find a location that I could reasonably reach with via bike and loaded trailer. I settled on Tricouni Peak because it seemed like it had a fairly established route, good directions were available, and there seemed to be opportunities to explore lakes and other peaks NW of Tricouni. The next challenge was locating appropriate maps. It seems that Canada has not totally gone metric, I found a mix of topo maps in with topo lines and elevations in feet or meters, and the logging roads apparently still use mileposts.
With a plan in hand, a collection of maps printed from various sources, GPS loaded with topo maps from http://www.magicmaps.ca/, overnight pack and trailer packed, and a favourable weather report, I was ready to go.
In the morning, I finished packing up a few last-minute items and rode to the office with all of my gear loaded onto my bike. After work, I pumped up the tires on the nifty dial-a-psi compressor in the bike room before pushing my rig across the street to the train station. I got my bike and trailer all loaded onto the Amtrak Cascades baggage car, and was soon on my way northbound at 79 mph (max). We arrived in Vancouver right on time at 22:50. What the train schedule doesn’t tell you is that it can take an additional 45-60 minutes or so to go through customs after arriving in Vancouver. Since I had to go to the baggage car to retrieve my bike and re-attach the trailer, I was last in line to go through customs.
Lion's Gate Bridge at 00:30
But soon I was out of the station and left to navigate the wilds of Downtown Vancouver as midnight approached. Despite the lateness, I still wanted to make northwesterly progress tonight, and I had been eyeing Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver as a potential good place to camp that was well out of the city and on my way towards Squamish. I consulted a bike map that Amie gave me and decided to take the waterfront trail along False Creek to Stanley Park and the Lions Gate Bridge; this seemed like the safest route at this hour in an unfamiliar city, and I anticipated minimal pedestrian conflicts. The ride along the waterfront trail was lovely, although navigating through Stanley Park was a challenge. Riding over the Lions Gate Bridge was a lovely treat. I saw lots of interesting wildlife along this ride, including an Owl at Stanley Park, several skunks wandering the trail north of Vancouver, and another unidentified furry animal along the beach in West Vancouver.
I reached Lighthouse Park around 1:00am. This park was kind of strange, there were signs warning of bear sightings on all of the trails. There was nothing indicating that camping or overnight stays were prohibited, except for a warning that the gate would be locked at night (it was wide open at 1am). I rode through the park’s trails looking for a promising place to camp. While pushing my bike through these trails, I discovered that my bike, trailer, and overnight pack combined were really heavy! It was difficult to push my rig up a moderately steep incline, which led to concerns about the logging roads that I would encounter the next day. I found a decent campsite along the Barred Owl Path trail, were I suspended my hammock and promptly occupied it.
An unusual sight in Lighthouse Park
I woke up around 7:30. Decided to just snack for breakfast and get on my way as quickly as possible. As I was packing up, a guy with a cane, wearing all white, and with 3 Jack Russell Terriers on leash came up the trail and stumbled into my camp. With a funny British accent, he said I was “an unusual sight in the park” and his dogs were very interested in my bike trailer and yesterday’s laundry that I hadn’t packed up yet. I left the park around 8:30, passing by more people with funny British accents. I rode north along Marine Drive and merged into traffic on Hwy 99, a.k.a the Sea to Sky Highway. I was glad to be hitting the highway early in the morning; the highway is chiseled in between a scenic inlet to the west and steep cliffs to the east, so the right of way stays nicely shaded throughout most of the morning, also traffic was still fairly light. The highway rolls up and down with several climbs of a few hundred feet each, followed by rewarding descents. The shoulder is pretty good for most of the way, with only a few short stretches of sketchy shoulder width. Midway through the longest uphill push, I saw what I thought was litter on the side of the highway, but it turned out to be a stash of unopened cliff bars, energy drops, and Gatorade packets! I’m not sure if someone forgot them here, or left them as an easter egg for someone, but I helped myself to all but one of the items. I arrived in Squamish around 11:30. Looked around for a good place for a light lunch and found a place called Sunflower Bakery & Café and had a yummy Mediterranean wrap.
Climbing Spur Road 200 above the Squamish Valley
Left Squamish around 13:00, heading north into Squamish River Valley. The Squamish River road was a pleasant ride, paved for a significant distance, nicely shaded with a tree canopy, scenic views of the river and nearby peaks, and not too much traffic on a Saturday. I Reached Spur 200 (High Creek Falls) around 15:00; this was my turnoff to the Tricouni trailhead, situated at 4,000′. I was currently at about 250′, so I had quite a bit of climbing ahead of me. Spur 200 was ridiculously steep and the surface of loose coarse gravel didn’t help matters. I redistributed weight by taking my pack off of the trailer and wearing it on my back; the intent was to put more weight on my driving and steering wheels to help with the climb. I also let some air out of my tires to help with traction. Despite this, I ended up pushing by bike about half of the distance, which was a challenge in itself because the bike tires wanted to skid sideways away from me. I found that pulling the handlebars from the front while walking backwards was actually easier, but still no picnic. Around 19:30 I reached the 2000′ level, and had enough of this. Pulling the trailer any higher in elevation seemed counterproductive and I didn’t want to pull it any further, but I also wanted to camp near a water source. I found a trickle of a stream on the uphill side of the road just shy of the 5km sign, and deemed it a campsite. Although I was pretty much camping on the road, there was a nice flat boulder to cook on, some trees that met the spacing requirements for my hammock, and a rather nice view down the valley thanks to recent logging activities. I cooked dinner as it was getting dark and retreated to hammock about 22:30.
Up at the second lake a large totem pole was installed. The snow-thunder spirit laughed at the puny steel bracket attaching it to the rock.
I woke up around 7:30. There was a huckleberry bush within reach of my hammock, so I had breakfast in bed! I had made too much dinner the night previous, so I also supplemented breakfast with leftovers. Thankfully, I would no longer need to take the trailer any further than this point, so I stashed the trailer in a bush, repacked, and left around 9:30. I tried riding my bike further up the road with just my pack on my back, this wasn’t much easier or faster than just hiking but it would let me coast downhill on my return trip. At ~2500′ elevation, the road became even more steep and the gravel even more loose and large (more like boulders), so I stashed the bike and hoofed it from there. About 4 cars passed me on the way up, all with BC license plates; it seems that Tricouni is a somewhat popular hiking and scrambling destination amongst the locals. I reached the end of road and trailhead at 11:30. There were no information signs or any other evidence of government-sponsored improvements, but the trail was well worn and easy to follow. However it was muddy, which I had been warned about on this trail report
. By 13:00 I reached the first lake, the one with the island, and ate lunch there.
Kitchen with a view at 5600'
While the main route to Tricouni Peak heads east from this lake, I wanted to head northward towards a basin where the maps showed an abundance of lakes, where it seemed like a good place to camp for a few nights and explore. All of the lakes were mostly frozen over. Based on the lack of footprints in the snow, it appeared that I was the first one up here in a while. Upon reaching a saddle diving the High Falls Creek basin with a separate drainage into the Squamish, I pulled out my maps. At this point I seemed that most people headed due north to the large lower lake in this basin. I decided to instead head east to a different lake that looked interesting, perched on a shelf at about 5600′ elevation.
Strung my hammock inside this tuft of trees
Reached that lake around 16:30. This was a perfect place to camp: minimal bugs, a stand of trees to hang my hammock, nice kitchen furnishings, and an amazing view! The only problem, there was still snow on the ground and the lake was mostly frozen over; that didn’t stop me from taking a very quick dip in the lake to clean up. I made dinner in the daylight for a change, and ate it as the sun disappeared behind ZigZag peak on the other side of the Squamish valley, at precisely 19:45. While I was eating dinner, I saw another party of 3 come in through the valley below and head to the large lake. Later I could see their campfire in a small forested island in a sprawling sea of snow. Crawled into the hammock at 21:30.
The top of Tricouni Peak
I woke up around 8:00 and ate oatmeal, packed my summit pack and left camp around 10:00. Today’s plan was to summit Tricouni Peak, and then maybe another peak if there was time left after that. The main route to Tricouni would have been out of the way from my lake, so I plotted a shortcut based on topo maps and my observations of the ridgeline yesterday. I arrived at Tricouni summit around noon. From the top I could see the Whistler/Blackholm Ski Area, Mount Garibaldi, and a bunch of impressive-looking peaks to the north. I headed back the way I came and returned to camp at about 13:45. Lunch time! An afternoon nap in the hammock seemed awfully tempting, but I decided to continue scrambling.
Garibaldi in the distant left, Trcouni towards the center, and Seagram at right
At 15:00 I headed NE to investigate Seagram Peak, and reached it after only an hour of scrambling. Along the way was another high alpine lake at almost 6000′ in a picturesque cirque with glacier-smoothed granite boulders and cute heather patches; this would have been a nice place to camp too, although the lake was completely frozen over except for a spot near the outlet. From Seagram Peak I went to investigate another point along the ridge to the north. Viewing from afar, the point itself looked impossible to scramble, but once there standing at the base of the steep part, I identified an easy route. At the local maxima I was treated to lovely views to the north and Tricouni to the south; in hindsight it looked like is probably possible to traverse the ridge crest between a saddle just below Tricouni and Seagram Peak, which would have saved some time versus going back through camp. I was thinking of continuing to Cypress Peak, and it looked like piece of cake from here, but it was getting late so I turned around and was back to camp around 17:45. I took a dip (more like a sponge bath) in the icy lake and then cooked dinner. I was cozy warm in my hammock by 21:00 before it was completely dark.
Leaving camp on a cloudy Monday
I woke up early, around 6:30. I watched the sunrise hit distant peaks to the west, but high clouds quickly rolled in and the sun never made it to camp. I was all packed up by 8:30 and began descending to the Tricouni trail. The trail was still as muddy as ever. I reached the trailhead around, devoid of vehicles, around noon and started hiking down the road. I rendezvoused with my bike an hour later and began an exciting and rapid coast down Spur 200. Back at the 5km mark, I found my Bob trailer faithfully waiting in the bushes and hitched him to my bike, and then things got more interesting. I continued the rapid descent, keeping all attention completely focused on the road in front of me so I wouldn’t hit a boulder or patch of loose gravel and wipe out, although this did sort of happen a couple of times. I had to stop periodically to let my disc brakes cool. I’m not sure how heat tolerant they are, but when I checked I almost burned my finger and I could see the heat radiating off of them.
Nice beach on the Squamish
Upon reaching the bottom of the Squamish River valley and the main road, it was 14:30 and time for a bath and repacking effort. From the road, I walked across the gravel bar for quite a while until I found the river at a nice sandy beach. This river seemed like a hot tub compared to the icy lake. As I was washing up, I noticed a bunch of large salmon frolicking in the river; spawning behaviour I think. I tried not to disturb them. I reflected on how the native people here must have been doing this for centuries. I also thought about how lazy these salmon were compared to our Columbia and Snake river salmon, since the ocean is an easy 15 or so miles from here.
I rolled into Squamish around 18:30. The town seemed pretty dead on a Monday evening, but a I found a place called Zephyr Cafe that was open; had a yummy veggie lasagna & beer. Then I went looking for some potential campsites near town; one vacant lot just on the outer fringe of town seemed promising, except it was already occupied by a large bear roaming around eating blackberries. I moved on. Eventually I found a trail along the river that seemed pretty quiet. It didn’t feature any abundantly lovely campsites, but it was getting dark so I just sought out two appropriately-spaced trees where I could set up my hammock and at least not completely block the trail. I drank a can of beer by the river as dusk fell and was asleep by 22:00.
Heading southbound on Sea to Sky Hwy
Woke up at 7:00 to owls madly hooting overhead. No bears paid me any visits, but plenty of mosquitoes found me. The bugs were worse here than anywhere else on the trip so far. I packed up quickly and rode into town. Went back to Zephyr for breakfast and mocha. Although the breakfast burrito looked tempting, I was about to start on a long ride and didn’t want greasy food sitting in my stomach, so I had the quinoa cereal, which was delicious and perfect! Before hitting the Sea-to-Sky Highway, I located a bike shop that I had spotted earlier and had my tires filled back up to 60psi and lubed up my dusty chain.
Interesting rocky viewpoint
The ride along Hwy 99 was delightful. It is more interesting southbound because you are on the water side of the highway as it rolls up and down along the dramatic shoreline. There are numerous little pullouts at rock outcroppings and other unofficial viewpoints that you wouldn’t notice at 100 km/h but are quite inviting on bicycle. The best of these was where a large cut had been blasted out of a rock outcropping for the highway; there was a gravel shoofly that led to the old roadway grade around the point, which led to a secret roadside shrine which was very elaborate, peaceful, and complete with bench and lovely view. Since I was not in any hurry, I made many stops to enjoy treasures such as these.
Soon I was back in the snooty neighborhood of West Vancouver. I passed Lighthouse Park where I camped the first night, and had no desire to go down there again. I stopped at a busy beachfront park for lunch, and I felt like a ragamuffin with my dirty gear, occupying two benches and eating my peanut butter crackers.
After climbing the Lions Gate Bridge, I took a quick detour into Stanley Park to change into some less stinky clothes before cruising into Vancouver. With a few hours to kill, I really wanted to ride the Skytrain; I’m still fascinated with the linear induction propulsion that the Expo and Millennium lines use. Only problem was where to stash my bike? Supposedly there was an Easypark garage in Gastown that had secured bike parking, but I found that it was really only for monthly subscribers and the staff working there were unhelpful. Instead I found a pub with an outdoor patio and convinced the manager to let me keep my bike there for a couple hours in exchange for getting some food and beer (such a sacrifice…). The salmon burger was amazing. I had just enough time to ride Skytrain out to the Skybridge and back before retrieving my bike, giving the manager a healthy tip, and riding the short distance to the train station.
At the train station I had to shove all of my gear through the X-ray machine for US customs. Compare this to the Canadian customs a few days ago when all they asked me was how long I was staying and what the “medieval looking thing” was strapped to my backpack (answer: Ice Axe). The train ride back to Seattle was pleasant and the train was only a few minutes late.
Upon arriving at King Street Station, I fetched my bike, repacked it, then rode the 6.5 kilometres home.