July 12th to 15th. BackpackingLight Timberline adventure

I have run all the days into one continuous post, all written a day after leaving the wilderness. The Fitbit data is for the whole day. Anyway ……

Day 1

We all  met at 8 am at the Chateau Rouge at 8am for introductions, a pre trek gear check, briefing and handing out of anti bear spray. Nine of us on the trek plus two guides.

It was confirmed that the route was not going to be as previously discussed online because of the heavy snow cover above 11,000 ft. The new route is shown in the photo below.

It was planned that day 1 would be the long hard day, day 2 would be the largely off trail day, and days 3 and 4 relatively easy days.

Ok , so far so good, let’s get going. But no, the office had screwed up and the emergency satellite phones were not there. On their way by FedEx! Well they eventually arrived about 1.30 !! We then had to drive about 1/2 hr to the trailhead so it was not until about 2 that we started, and this was meant to be the long hard day with over 2000 feet of elevation gain and loss.

The scenery at the trail head was not impressive. It was in the middle of an enormous fire burn area.

It took an hour or so to get up above the tree line.

And onto the plateau. By this time it had clouded over so it was not too hot or bright. We traversed across the plateau then dipped down to avoid a snow field which we crossed just before it fell into a ravine.

The pink is apparently a bacteria! Then our first creek crossing.

And back up onto the plateau again.

Eventually we got to the edge with a great view into the distance.

and could see the lake we were aiming for below 1000 ft or so below us.

By now we were really running out of daylight hours so Pat, our leader started to really up the pace. Unfortunately he had not done this trail before, so he missed a junction and we went 10 mins on passed before he noticed that the sweep and the tail group were not with him. Chase, the other guide who so far was acting a sweep knew the trail and had stopped at the junction. The side trail to the lake was uphill again, by this time I was getting pretty tired as were most of us. Then, as a little kicker in the tail, when we got to the lake we were on the wrong side and had to do a major river crossing of some 30 m to get across of up to knee high water. All this took time but fortunately the designated clearing we were aiming for was close at hand. We arrived with an hour of daylight remaining and rapidly put up our shelters and the cooked a quick dinner. I had zero appetite and only managed a third of my designated calories. As it was bear country the remains had to go in a Mylar bag and carried out. There were mercifully very few bugs. We then had a quick lesson on the use of bear bags, quite dark by now and I found my headlight batteries were dead so the replacements had to be found and used. Then bed time.

Fitbit: 24k, 2940 vertical ft gain, 7300Cals


After a bad nights sleep I woke to this few from under my shelter.

Before breakfast I wandered down to the lake, bear spray in hand as ever. Great views around the lake.

And a look at the crossing we had made the previous evening. No it was not possible to use stepping stones or logs to get across, and once you realize you are going to get wet feet anyway it is much simpler, safer and quicker just to wade straight across.

Still not hungry so just two candy bars for breakfast. They were meant to the previous nights dessert!

We had a leasurely morning as for some reason they, the guides, thought it would be a short day. We inspected each other’s shelter systems  which were a mixture of tents and tarps, but of which mine was definitely the most rudimentary (hard core). Then we packed up and set off on the off track day uptje valley we were in, over the head wall sand down to a lake in the next valley. On the way we had a lesson on compass navigation. Unfortunately this did not stop us having to do a major back track to avoid a piece of undesirable terrain.

Here we are topping up with water at the river that enters the top of the lake.

Here we are above the tree line again after the hard bushwacking and talus scrambling had been done. One of the group had never been through this sort of terrain before and had a hard time of it. I gave her a lot of help and guidance for which she was very grateful.

And looking ahead to the col we needed to get over.

And here is the view back from the col.

And forward, showing the lake beside which we would be camping.

Here is the view from lake level.

This my shelter setup for the night.

It was late afternoon when we arrived, but still warm enough that I was able to manage a quick swim in the lake. No rush to beat sunset which was nice, and again remarkably few bugs but I did have one visitor.

My appetite recovered, I managed a full dinner.

Fitbit: 16k, 1130 vertical ft gain, 6700 Cals

Day 3

A much easier day ending in some traversing minor snow fields and another open camp site. Here is view before we descend into the valley, our destination is a lake below the obvious snow shute  down the mount in the centre of the picture.

Here is the trail on a flat part of the bottom of the valley

Fortunately we did not have to wade the river in this valley.

Here we are approaching one of the several little  snow fields we had to cross. One slip and we would have got very wet.

And here is the view up from our final lake.

A good jigsaw puzzle picture.

Dinner time

And alpine glow

One thing not shown is the thunderstorm that deluged us just as we arrived at this campsite. Much rapid deployment of shelters. It proved to me that my poncho tarp by itself is not adequate rain protection, I was very glad to have my full rain gear on while setting up the shelter. Once it was up it kept the rain off well enough that I think I fell a sleep for a while while waiting for the storm to pass over, and as you can see pass over it did and we had a pleasant evening.

I tried to swim in the lake but it was shallow a very very cold so a wade and a splash was all that I managed.

Fitbit: 19k, 1040 vertical ft gain, 6300 Cals

Day 4

I awoke to a nice sunrise and the siluette of someone who had not slept so well.

Then the sun made its way gradually down into our valley while the moon looked on.

After a early breakfast

We broke camp and by 8.45 , it was meant to be 8.30 but there is always one laggard, we were on our way back down the valley to the trailhead. Not a very interesting walk though there was one nice rapids we got close to.

The walk out was slow because one of us, not me, strained a knee. However by 1 we were back in the burn area

and shortly thereafter back at the trailhead

Today the afternoon thunderstorm not not hit us.

Then it was return the bear sprays, fortunately unused, goodbyes and we went our separate ways.

Fitbit: 22k, 240 ft gain, 5400 Cals.

Some post notes.

Only two of us hiked in shorts. There was a general paranoia about sun and bugs but I got away with never using sun cream or lip salve though I did wear a hat at all times, and the first night I did use some bug spray, and my legs did not get banged up. Just a couple of very minor scratches.

I was warm enough at night. The last night was the coldest and I wore socks and thermal underwear. Previous nights much less. Though I was not cold I was not always comfortable, a thicker sleeping pad would have been nice, as would have been a toque that did not keep coming off and a sleeping bags whose zip did not keep working undone. No major sleep apnea episodes. In general I must have got enough sleep because I never felt the need to nap.

The guides were a study in contrasts. Pat the lead guide was an old veteran, Chase was not yet able to legally drink. Pat was a retired geophysicist, Chase the son of the owner of BackpackingLight and very experienced at what seemed a very young age and totally reliable. Pat gave all the instruction, Chase came round camp to check everyone was all right.

My fellow hikers were, with two exceptions, experienced hikers, aged 35 to 65, with light weight equipment. The exceptions were a lady and her nephew for whom the trek was a graduation present. As last minute participants they missed many of the email discussions on what to bring so were less well equipped and consequently had heavier pack weights. Larger tents, and use of bear canisters were two main items. But they managed, enjoyed it and learnt a lot.


Pat, the lead guide is on the far left.

As for me my learnings were more subtle, like the capabilities and limitations of my poncho tarp shelter system, that I can hold my own fitness wise in the mountains, that I can still acclimatize to higher altitudes, how to protect food in bear country, that hiking with just one other is still my preferred way to go.

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