I decided to do the Elk River Trail one more time as an overnight backpack this year in hopes of getting the sunrise photo that I had sought for a couple of years. During the early part of the year, I couldn't get to the lake on time before the sun rose and that was due to the very early sunrise during the early part of summer. Currently, the sunrise occurs around 7 am, so that would give me more time to hike to the lake.
There were 5 vehicles at the parking lot already and one particular vehicle; a white truck looked familiar. It may belong to one of the park staff which patrols the trail and that I had met a couple of times earlier this summer.
I paid my $10 backcountry fee at the self serve station then I was off at 8:40 am. I wasn't in a rush to get to the campsite since the hike in is not arduous nor long. The air was chilly and I moved at a slow to moderate pace which was enough to warm me up. All the deadfall has been cleared so the trail was in good shape except for the muddy sections. All the creeks have dried up; the ones which crossed the trail and those which were spanned by footbridges. I stopped only once at the Beaver Dam to take a reflection shot of the mountains. The sunlight spoiled the chance of any good photographs along the way but it was nice to see the light and feel the heat from the sun.
I reached Butterwort campsite in ~ 2 hours of rather leisure hiking. There was only one tent on the gravel flats and it looked like the same tent in the same location that the park staff likes to pitch. I pondered about continuing on to the second camp but with the vehicles I saw at the parking lot, I figure most people might be there. The second camp has limited space and I liked the spaciousness of the Butterwort camp. The only drawback is that it is a further hike to Landslide Lake. I decided to pitch my tent in the forest since it would be warmer at night than camping out in the open.
The sun was quite hot on the open gravel bar but when I entered the forest, the air felt cool and damp. I passed by the stinky pit toilet with the door wide open and looked around for a spot to pitch my tent. A couple of spots were ribboned off with a written note about tree hazard. I chose a nice spot beside a fallen tree and a steep bank which rose up to the forest. The area is wide open but this spot provides the most privacy.
Camping out in the dark forest
This is one of the first time that I've camped in Strathcona Park and was able to easily peg my tent with the stakes. The dirt ground was soft and the tent pegs easily went into the ground. With my tent up, I headed to the warm gravel bar to eat my lunch. The sun felt nice and warm. I fetched water from the river nearby and sat on a log to eat and warm up. Afterwards, I put my food in the metal Food Cache. At least the pit toilet and Cache are close by unlike the second camp, where you have to walk away from camp and uphill to reach both. The two carabiners were difficult to get out of the holes which kept the lid locked. After fiddling around with it for a while, I noticed that the right side of the lid, the carabiner slid into the holes more easily when entered from the left side whereas the left side of the lid required entering the holes from the right. They should have designed these cache with the same locking system as the garbage bins that uses a push-in latch. Speaking of garbage bins, the inside of the food cache smells almost as bad as the pit toilet for some reason.
The rather tame looking Elk River by the gravel bar.
I headed back to the gravel bar and sat in the hot sun to pass the time away. That is the problem when arriving at camp too early. Nothing much to do except wait until tomorrow. Around 2 pm the park staff showed up and he remembered my name. I chatted with him for a short while. He had to pack up and be on his way out. He told me that I had the entire place to myself as there was no one around. Not even at the second camp. This surprised me since I told him there were cars in the parking lot. Maybe people headed up to Elkhorn or to Rambler Peak area. Before he left, I asked him if he is finished for the season. He told me that he still has 4 weeks left. Next year, he starts his patrol in May. I told him I might be around next June to hike the trail and may see him then.
The sun went down behind the tall mountain by 3:40 pm. The air slowly cooled down and the light dimmed as if someone switched off the light. When the sun was out, I had my cooked dinner lying on the rocks to thaw out. I had my cooked brown rice, broccoli and carrots vacuumed packed and stuck it in the freezer. I took it out of the fridge around 6 am and after 8 hours it was still partly frozen. The rocks remained warm even after the sun went down so I just lay the pouch on the rocks to warm up my meal.
Waiting for my dinner to thaw out.
One thing good about this time of year is that all the mosquitoes and blackflies are gone. Not a single biting insect to disturb me. There was a monarch butterfly which flew about. It eventually landed on my hand. I watched it for 5 minutes as its siphoning mouthpart probed my skin.
I was surprised to see a couple arrive at camp. They told me they got a late start because they intended to hike Comox Glacier but the guard wouldn't let them by. I told them that the Comox Main logging road is open on weekends only and to contact Timber West. They went on to the second camp. About a half hour later, a group of 3 guys came by. I chatted for a while before they left for the second camp. It was all quiet after that.
Around 7 pm, I took a walk to warm up. The sun was still hitting the mountains on the opposite side. I walked back along the trail to the stand of birch trees then took a rough path which was a dried creek bed that leads to Elk River. There wasn't much here except a grove of birch trees and vibrant moss to photograph.
A stand of birch trees; not too common in the park.
I went into the tent and slipped into the sleeping bag between 7:30 and 8 pm. It was quite dark and there was nothing much to do. It didn't get very cold last night under the cover of the forest therefore no condensation formed on the inside of the tent walls. For some reason it didn't get pitch dark and I saw light above the forest. I realized later than a full moon had shone. When the moon had drifted away, the night was so dark I couldn't see my hand in front of me.
I didn't have much problem getting up early. I never sleep well on the ground despite the fact that it was very quiet with only the noise of the river in the background. I wish it was like this in the city. I can't stand the noisy and polluting traffic. I got up about 4:45 am and retrieved my food from the Cache. I was on my way with my headlamp lighting up the forest path. This headlamp had become unreliable during the past couple of years. It seems to work when I'm at home but when I needed to use it on the trail, the light wouldn't turn on; it had failed me more than three times in the past. I thought there was something wrong with the on and off switch. I had taken it apart and didn't find anything wrong but I left the rubber pad off which had covered the on/off button and it seems to work fine now. I didn't bother bringing any backup light so I was at the mercy of the headlamp and if it failed I'd just have to stay where I was until it got light.
Hiking with a headlamp is quite challenging since it only lights up the area in front of me; like a tunnel vision effect. There is a wide angle mode but the light isn't that strong so I used a brighter but more concentrated beam. The problem with some trails like the Elk River Trail is that sections of it blends in with the surroundings because of the debris on it and I had to stop and see where the path goes. A few times I almost got misled and I also wondered if I was on the right track but its just a matter of stopping and looking around carefully. It's a different story when hiking during daylight and I can see the trail and surrounding area at the same time. Despite this, I managed to make it to the second camp in 45 minutes. Once past the camp, the valley was slowly lightening up and when I reached the area past the footbridge it was almost light enough to do away with the headlamp but I kept it going to spot out the rock cairns before the path enters the dark forest which switchbacks up past the waterfall and heads up towards Landslide Lake.
I was not in as good shape as earlier in the year and felt a bit tired when I reached Landslide Lake at 6:45 am. It was good to see the mountains again. There was a slight breeze blowing; just enough to stir up the water and prevent a nice reflection but I knew where a portion of the water was protected with some logs laying in the water so I made my way over along the shoreline and set up my camera. Thank-goodness for my 180* fisheye lens which is able to accommodate the entire scene in view; although there is some noticeable distortion. I took a few test shots to get the exposure and composition about right then I waited for the sun to come up. There was blueberry bushes behind me so I picked some to eat. With my back turned away from the lake, I didn't see the sun hitting the mountains until I happened to turn around. I was surprised that the sun had come up so fast. I had estimated that it would take ~2 hours to hike to the lake from the first campsite and that gave me about 10 to 15 minutes to spare so the timing was just right.
Sunrise at Landslide Lake
I had finally got the shot that I wanted and dreamt about; a nice sunrise photograph of the top of the mountains lit up in orange from the low angle of the sun and balanced by a nice reflection of it. That made it all worthwhile just to get up early. I lingered around for about 10 minutes then made my way to Foster Lake at the foot of Mt. Colonel Foster. I remembered this path as being quite narrow and skirts along the left side of Landslide Lake. The little uphill jaunt in places got me tired. I would have expected a more level trail but whoever laid this path down did an unnecessary job of having the path go up then down in places. At the far end of the lake, the path heads down and leads out onto the creek which was flowing at a subdued rate.
A tight spot along the trail near the creek.
The route up the creek bed. Mt. Colonel Foster in sunlight.
View down the creek bed to Elkhorn Mtn
I initially thought that the creek was dry since I didn't hear it running when I was photographing Landslide Lake. I hiked up the bouldery creek bed and eventually headed left onto the terminal moraine. As I was hiking uphill with my head down concentrating on the tiring ascent, I surprised a black bear just off to the side. The only thing I initially heard and caught a glimpse of was black fur running down and across the creek. I stopped and looked but didn't see it until it came out from behind a boulder and scrambled up the steep embankment and disappeared into the bush. Upon further inspection at the matted grass, it appeared that the bear had bedded down and I was probably no more than 8 feet away when it saw me and sped away. Considering the speed at which the bear moved, if it attacked I wouldn't have had time to get my bear spray out of the holster however grizzlies are more dangerous than black bears so I wasn't worried.
The creek which drains from Foster Lake into Landslide Lake.
Foster Lake. Even a fish-eye lens barely gets in all the scenery.
The air was cold at Foster Lake and since I was sweating I felt a bit chilled. The water level appeared to be quite high but there wasn't much outflow. There doesn't seem to be any signs of ice caves so I didn't bother heading over around the lake. Either they must have collapsed or didn't form this year. I filtered some water and picked a few blueberries. One small bush had the most largest and juiciest blueberries I've ever come across. I only picked a few; I left the rest for the bear who happened to be around the area somewhere. I didn't stay long since I didn't bring any food with me except some protein and carbohydrate drink which didn't fill me up and I was getting quite hungry.
View from the terminal moraine of Foster Lake looking down to Landslide Lake and Elkhorn.
I made my way back along the path to the north end of Landslide Lake and took a few more photographs. I headed over to where there was a pool of water where I can get a nice reflection of Elkhorn Mtn in the distance. There are signs that people have camped here (illegally). Someone had a constructed a fire-pit which I tore apart. I flung pieces of burnt wood into the bush. This is the second time that I had to tear apart an illegal fire-pit in this area. In early June when I was here, I mentioned this to the park staff but I guess he never bothered to look around the area to find this spot but he was grateful that I had dismantled the fire-pit.
Landslide Lake from the east shoreline.
This pool of water never dries up but provides a nice reflection although the soft mud makes it difficult to access.
Elkhorn Mtn reflection
Last views of Mt. Colonel Foster before I head down.
Waterfall draining from Landslide Lake.
I hastily made my way down the trail and wasn't looking forward to the 1 hour 30 minute hike back to camp. I met the couple who had stayed at the second camp. They had just started along the trail and it was getting close to 10 am. The sun would be overhead and in front of the mountains; a bad time to take photographs. I made it back to camp around 10:45 am and wasted no time filtering water and eating. The sun was shining on the gravel bar but I still felt a bit chilled from the sweaty clothe. A girl dropped by as I was eating. She's apparently running the trail but carrying nothing. She mentioned she has someone trailing her carrying water. I cautioned her that there are sections of the trail which are quite muddy and slippery.
I rested for a while until I got my energy back then took my tent and ground sheet out on the gravel bar to clean and dry. I packed up and left by 1 pm. It would be about a 2 hour hike back to the car but I wasn't looking forward to it since I was quite tired. I did pass quite a few people heading up the trail. It certainly was a lot busier so I had made a nice decision to hike in on Monday. Besides the tiring hike back which seem to go one forever, my back was starting to ache and I developed a slight headache which seems to occur with regularity on my hikes. When I finally reached the parking lot, I counted 10 vehicles there; certainly busier today.
I was glad to end my hike; after 8 hours of walking it was just too much for me. I didn't really enjoy myself and wanted it to be over. I probably should have stayed another day and rested at the camp but it would be boring with nothing much to do and I only paid for one night anyways.
With the afternoon ahead of me, I felt tired from all that walking and lack of sleep so I didn't drive back to Comox. I headed down Buttle Lake to a pullout which was shaded from the hot sun. I went down the steep dirt bank to the rocky shoreline and made my way to the constructed shelter I made months ago. It was still in good shape and provided some shade from the sun. I ate my dinner there until the sun went behind the mountains around 6 pm.
The Day After:
I slept in my car and fell asleep somewhere around 8 pm. The bright full moon had come around sometime in the night and lit up the place. It disappeared behind the mountains and the area went dark again. Mine workers drove by around 5 am as I had predicted. My frequent stays at Buttle Lake had me knowing the routine of when traffic would come and go. The bus carrying workers went by around 7 am just as I thought. I decided to hang around for lunch so I walked about along the shoreline in the chilly morning. The water level was low and the sun took a long time to rise up and clear the trees. I had discovered some garbage that people have left behind. Three empty cases of beer cans and a few energy drinks. Some idiot party-goers left their crap behind. I got all the cans and flattened them down with a rock to make it more compact. I counted 60 cans; mostly beer. I carted them away and dumped them at the trash bin on my way out.