Stein Valley Traverse Trip Report, August 8-14, 2011

The timing for this trip couldn’t possibly have been better. It began immediately after the most stressful month of my entire life, and at times I was scared I wouldn’t even succeed in prepping for the trip… but things pulled through and boy was it worth it.

We all met up Sunday night at Sam’s place, for dinner and planning. The plan was to spend three days in the alpine, one day going to Elton Lake, and the remaining three heading out via the trail along the Stein River. After an amazing dinner prepared by Sam’s parents with delicious potluck items and an amazing view of Mt. Currie out Sam’s front window, we went to sleep. I think we all slept pretty well that night.

Day 1: Alpine Dream

We woke up after an amazing sleep at Sam’s place. Sam’s parents made a big breakfast for us and drove us out to the trailhead. We arrived at the trailhead full of energy, excited for what was to come.

The entire group, ready to go!

The hike up the valley was amazing. We crossed a log over Lizzie Creek. Most of us did this au cheval style, but Adriana just walked it!standing.

Greg crossing the creek

The hot humid weather got to us as we climbed the valley. Every so often we turned around to look down the valley. Every time it felt impressive how far we’d come.

Lunch break in the shade

After about 4 hours of hiking, we stopped for a lunch break. The spot we chose was in the shade when we got to it, but eventually the sun reached it.

We went for a quick dip in Lizzie Lake and continued on our way. We met a few hikers at Lizzie Hut (who happened to be firefighters) coming the opposite direction, who had spent 9 days trying the same route we were about to try and had turned around.

Heading up Lizzie Creek to the hut.

We headed south up the valley for an unintentional side trip to Long Lake.

Leaving the hut. Line and Bruno happy.

Long Lake. Looks cold.

Kathrin happy.

Realizing we had gone in the wrong direction, we traversed around the end of the valley towards Arrowhead lake. There was thin snow on top of boulder fields, so we potholed through the snow a lot. We crossed a creek above a beautiful waterfall.

The waterfall.

At this point we saw Arrowhead Lake—a beautiful icy alpine lake. We all simultaneously threw down our packs indicating our instant, silent consensus to camp here.

Arrowhead Lake.

While unpacking, Bruno noticed he had left his sleeping bag at Sam’s place in Pemberton. He used his pack to cover his lower body, and his down jacket to warm up his upper body, leaving only a tiny gap in his midsection.

Line and I chose to bring a tarp, and share a 1-person bug net. It was difficult to set up both the bug net and tarp at the same time, but whenever the bugs were a problem, the weather turned out well.

After we ate, it was time to think about a bear hang for our food. 6 days * 7 people * 1kg/person*day + overpacking = 45~50kg of food. We stuffed most of it one pack, which we lowered off the edge of a cliff. It landed on a ledge, so I walked down and pushed it off. I don’t think any bear could ever get to this food.

No pictures of the bear hang. It was getting dark when we set it up, and in the morning we didn’t think about it. Darn.

Day 2: A “Difficult Trail”

When we woke up we were pretty hungry. All our food was hanging off a cliff (except Line, who had brought a bear-proof bag, and quietly ate her food as we engaged in ridiculousness). So we pulled the 3mm cord a few feet, only to find that the pack hadn’t moved but that the cord had stretched. The solution turned out to involve some extra 5mm cord and a prusik. The pack got stuck multiple times on overhangs and branches, but eventually we succeeded in pulling it close enough to a ledge to get it. By this point there were four starving hikers pulling on the rope.

We were in whiteout for almost the entire day. This was supposed to be the most scenic day, but all we saw was panoramic white fog. We navigated by map and compass. We passed within a few hundred metres of a few peaks, such as Tabletop, without bothering to summit.

Avoiding cornices.

After hiking around Caltha lake, we passed near a moraine, and then up some scree. When we hit the col, we were presented with a view of Tundra Lake. We were pretty much blind at this point, and what we could see looked pretty technical. The south side of the lake was cliffs bands and steep snow all the way around.

When the weather finally cleared, we saw the north side. The first few hundred metres were as bad as the south side. Since I was one of the few with an ice axe, I scrambled along a few ledges looking for good routes. We made it through, though the terrain certainly wasn’t something you’d expect to find marked on a map.

Line looking over the water.

Somewhere around here the weather cleared and we got a good view of the surrounding peaks, which might have been worth a day trip (Caltha, Tundra, Pyramidal). We were upset that we missed our chance to climb them. I would definitely like to go back and do some of these!

Where we came from.

Pyramidal Peak

Hiking around Tundra Lake

After this section we continued along the side of the lake. It was mostly boulder fields, with a few bushy sections, and some snow. We eventually had to hug the shoreline, which meant putting all our weight onto trees and swinging across rocks, in other words fun.

Hugging the shore.

The map called the north side of the lake a “difficult trail”. That is an inaccurate statement. There is no trail. If you go here expect heathery/snowy/bouldery sidehilling.

The campsite was beautiful. It had an open air outhouse facing the lake, which is the best view from any outhouse I’ve yet to see in my entire life. All the campsites from here on had bear caches (giant metal boxes), so we didn’t need to do bear hangs.

Bruno and Sam.

Pasta water. :)

Day 3: The Best Day and the Worst Day

“We’re on a floating island!” –Bruno.

The camping area dropped off on three sides, and the fog made it look as though we really were floating in the clouds. After a quick breakfast, we were off. The weather cleared up after a few hours and we were presented with a view of everything around us—the Stein River far in the distance, a gully up ahead, and a ridge to our left, beautiful peak. We just *had* to climb the summit. So we went as close to the ridge as seemed useful and dropped off our packs.

First view of the ridge

After a short snowclimb, and an easy scramble, we gained the ridge. We scrambled over to the summit. At the ridgetop we could see far into the next valley, a beautiful view. We could also see where we had to go.

Tundra Peak

Kathrin scrambling down from the summit.

Greg at the summit. You can see the ridge we would walk along in the background.


We split up after the summit. Bruno, Sam, and Adriana took the low route, whereas Greg, Kathrin, Line, and I scrambled straight up to the ridge and followed it along. Travel up here was easy, and we had a continuous panorama. We met up about an hour later.

We walked a long ways along the ridgetop, going up and down over bumps, lots of views. Eventually we heard thunder. There was a massive thunderstorm visible to the north, and it was heading straight for us. We had a long ways to go along the ridge. This worried us, so we moved as fast as we could.

Ridge walk

Eventually the trail descended down the side of the ridge, rather than going up and over as we had thought. In a few hours we lost 800m of elevation on sidehill. Kathrin fell a lot, but got up every time full of energy.

A long way down

Eventually scree and dirt turned into trail and forest. As we got lower, mosquitoes came out. They took what energy was left from us. Eventually we hit the river. Most of us were extremely tired and dehydrated. The last water source had been at Tundra Lake. Line and Adriana successfully downed an entire of litre of water here.

By the time we got to camp it had started raining. Line and I set up our tarp as well as we could, adjusting it many times to get rid of pooling. The rain scared away the mosquitoes. Dinner was super good.

Greg went for a quick dip in the lake despite the rain. I think he enjoyed it.

Day 4: Fields of Blueberries

We were expecting to do Elton Lake on day 4. We looked hard for the trail, and could not find it, despite extreme persistence. We weren’t willing to bushwhack all the way, so we just started heading down the valley after a late start.

Sitting under a bug net to escape the mosquitoes.

We packed up and got moving. The trail was very pleasant at this point. We crossed multiple cablecars, and constantly stopped to pick at the plethora of blueberries at the side of the trail.

Same and Bruno on the cablecar.

Soon after, we reached a beach at the side of the river. The current slowed down at the side enough for us to take a swim and wash ourselves off. We spent a lot of time unwinding at the creek. We knew that we had an extra day, so we just spent a long time relaxing here. We dried out all the gear that had gotten wet the previous night, we took a good nap in the sun, and we practised skipped rocks into the water, trying to hit various things on the other side.

Creekside nap.

After the nap, we pushed on to Highview Camp, where Adriana and Greg both saw a bear in the distance. The camp lacked flat places (room for one tent), had no water, no outhouse, and no bear cache, so we pushed further.

Soon, the trail started to look a little rough. There were a few places where Devil’s Club had taken over the trail, so we pushed through. Eventually we reached Avalanche Creek, and the Mid Canyon Camp, which had water, a bear cache, an outhouse, and a pretty good view of the valley. So we opted to stay here. We found a torn up gaiter with a note on it, which we read and promptly forgot about.

The gaiter.

The tarp Line and I set up looked beautiful, like a true tent! The mosquitoes were bad, and Line was happy sleeping with just a head net, so I wrapped the massive bug net around my entire body. Line said I had cocooned. We were ready for a good night’s sleep. Ha, ha, ha.

Interlude: Chasing Rats

Not too long after getting into bed, we heard uproarious laughing coming from Bruno, Sam, and Kathrin’s tent. I wondered what was going on, but decided it was more important to sleep. So I did.

I woke up to the feeling of something crawling on my legs. I jumped. Maybe Line bumped into me? If it’s a critter then I *must* have scared it… Whew.

Then I felt it scurrying on my head. *Audible yelp*. “What was that?” Uproarious laughter coming from the tent.

Then Line let out a scream.

I piled out of bed, and saw a rat on the run. They *MUST* be scared.

Then I heard one chewing at my shirt (which was sitting next to me). I got up and grabbed the shirt. It didn’t move. I swung the shirt at the rat and it ran away. Contrary to my thoughts at the time, it wasn’t scared at all.

By this point I was pretty determined to get rid of the rats. So I got out of bed (still in my underwear), and grabbed a ski pole, and waited. I chased the next one. I nearly hit him with the ski pole and he jumped about a foot in the air and kept running. He ran into the bush, and lost him fiddling with my headlamp. I wandered through the bush for a few minutes before deciding he was gone. Kathrin’s description of this part is fairly hilarious (if only in retrospect).

Line asked if I had gotten him. I told her I had, confident that the rats would realize that we weren’t average hikers who would just let them go at our stuff. Victory!

They came back again. I ran after a rat with my pants half on, which doesn’t work too well, and obviously lost him. More wandering around the bush looking for rats. We briefly discussed doing a “rat watch”, here I told Line that she could sleep while I stay awake watching for rats.

So I did. For a long time (probably an hour or more), I sat on top of my sleeping bag. I had gotten cold by this point, so I put my clothes back on, and I just sat facing the foot of my bed, waiting for rats to show up. At one point I looked towards the head of the bed, and there was a rat hiding behind Line’s backpack, quietly chewing. So I ran after the thing. Unfortunately I had to run around the tarp to get at him, so he escaped.

I decided to move all our stuff between us, so the rats couldn’t sneak up again. Line was fast asleep. I gingerly reached over, grabbed her boots, and moved them. When I brushed against her she woke up the most terrified I have ever seen anyone in my entire life. It took me a while to calm her down. I was a little worried myself by this time. To be honest I’m still hesitant to talk about this.

Eventually Line got up, and offered to rotate. I was completely mentally exhausted, so I asked if I could sleep for about 20 minutes. I fell asleep right away, and was woken up some time later. At this point we were both pretty sick of this, so we got up, packed our stuff, ate, and were ready at 4:00AM. It was still dark so we watched the stars. At around 6:00 we woke up Sam and told him we were leaving, and then got on the trail. Neither of us had slept for more than 20 minutes the previous night.

Nights like these you remember for your entire life. That amount of cursing, screaming, and crying is… I don’t know what to call it. I guess this qualifies as “Type III” fun. I don’t ever want to see someone that scared again.

Day 5: Day 4 Part II

Line and I wandered along the trail happily whistling and singing and occasionally yelling “hey-yo!” to scare off potential bears. We hiked for about an hour. When we found a nice rocky ledge we put down our sleeping bags and Line fell asleep instantly. I set up our bug net and I was asleep soon after.

We woke up a few hours later because of the heat, and relaxed until the others showed up at 11:30. We quickly continued on our way. It wasn’t long before mosquitoes were on us again.

The rats ate through the wall of Bruno’s tent, and chewed away his brand new shirt.

At one point we lost the trail, so Sam suggested climbing a tree. I started climbing a tree but it was so dry that the tree snapped as I was climbing. Welcome to The Interior!

We stopped to push a big log into the water. This was pretty fun.

Pushing the log in.

We crossed a small cable car which could only hold one person at a time.

The small cablecar.

The trail got very rough very fast. There was some bushwhacking involved, and many times we lost the trail and had to backtrack. We were really, really tired, but we pushed on anyhow. After a few more kilometres, we reached a big creek with a massive waterfall and a big cablecar. We crossed it, quickly admired the waterfall, and then went on. By the time we got to this point we were really tired. I mostly felt like my body could go on for a lot longer but my mind was about ready to crash.

The waterfall.

Cottonwood Camp looked like civilization. It had a picnic table (right next to the tenting spots—a terrible place for a picnic table) and an outhouse with a roof. Line and I looked at the weather and decided to sleep under the stars.

I was so tired that I didn’t even want to eat supper, I just wanted to sleep. But we did anyhow and it felt good. Sam made powdered cheesecake, which he shared. When we got into bed we were asleep instantly.

Day 6: A Long Walk

We slept like rocks, and got going at 11:00AM. The trail was well maintained at first, but quickly deteriorated. There was a really tall grass (about 7 feet tall). There were plenty of trees at head height—perfect for whacking me in the face (this is why they call it bushwhacking, the bushes whack you!). There was Devil’s Club. We were energetic to start, because we thought it would be easy trail from here on out, but we quickly realized this wasn’t true.

It seems that they keep all the areas accessible by helicopter really well maintained. All the trails near any cable car or campsite were like highways. However, in between the camps the trails got pretty overgrown.

Eventually, around Ponderosa Shelter, the trail got nice again. We bumped into two day hikers, and crossed a suspension bridge.

Crossing the bridge

We walked along to Earl’s Cabin, a run down old hut, and camped nearby. This is where we spent the last night, about 12km from the trailhead.

Day 7: I Don’t Want It to be Over

We set off on the last day with plenty of energy. People had a good laugh at the breakfast food I had left: a melted-then-frozen block of chocolate/caramel/peanuts/sunflower seeds, and about 100g of butter, which I downed happily. :)

The rest of the walk was kind of silent. We all had energy, and we all felt good, but we didn’t want it to end. Every quip of humour was appreciated, but the thought went through our minds that this was the end of an emotionally gripping journey. I’ve got to say, it was a *fantastic* week. Everyone was close. I’ve been touched by this trip… it will sit in my heart for a long, long time.

A group of worn-but-energetic hikers after seven days in the wilderness!

We had a lot of time to kill at the trailhead. We played silly games for several hours as we waited for Sam’s parents to pick us up. Head spinning, voile-slingshot, tree climbing/jumping, pole balancing, stick spinning, ski-pole baseball, stare-very-closely-at-the-grain-in-the-wood-of-the-table and more!

Head spinning.

Then we took a river-powered ferry. On the way home we stopped at the Home Restaurant in Hope for burgers, pie, and beer. I would recommend it if you’re in Hope and hungry.

Everyone on the traverse, from left to right: Jeff Taylor, Greg Dennis, Sam McKoy, Adriana Muja, Kathrin Lang, Line Veenstra, Bruno Godin

Written by Jeff Taylor, Edited by Adriana Muja

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