With the days getting shorter and the weather colder, we were determined to fit in as much as we could before the end of September – once October comes, it feels like winter is just around the corner.
With two perfect weather days falling on our weekend, I suggested an all day hike in Strathcona Provincial Park (30 minutes drive away) to Jean Robert to ‘make the most of the sunshine.’ He wasn’t too enthusiastic, especially when I mentioned starting at 6.30am. I convinced him that we wouldn’t ‘get the chance again!’ (this is a common theme when you live abroad/travel a lot) and we compromised to 8am.
A hiking test
The dream was to hike to the summit of Mount Albert Edward, the pointy mountain you can see (above) from Mount Washington Alpine Resort (also Vancouver Island’s 6th highest peak). Realistically though, the most we’d hiked all summer was about 5km and one of those ‘hikes’ involved walking from one pub to another – not exactly the most strenuous of trips shall we say!
Mount Albert Edward is a 32km return trip, which most people do as an overnight trip. Not feeling like spending the night, we set off from the parking lot with the aim to just go as far as we could. It was a test of sorts, to see how much we would enjoy a long hike…and also, whether we could actually do it.
We took our 30-litre backpacks full of food (well, cookies and energy bars) to test ourselves that little bit more. Oh, I didn’t mention the other reason not to hike to Albert Edward – there was a pretty big storm just 3 days before, with quite a lot of snow. The mountains were having a bit of a cold snap.
Icy boardwalks On the Circlet Lake Trail
The trail into Strathcona Park starts off on the Paradise Meadows boardwalk, which was all well and good until we discovered that wood can be very icy in the early morning! About an hour in we reached Lake Helen MacKenzie, serene and quiet at 9 am in the morning. Onwards from here, the route went up and over a lot of tree roots and through a fair amount of mud.
A switchback trail took up to the Ranger Cabin, approx 4km from the parking lot where we had started. This is where the landscape turned very pretty; colourful scrubs and hundreds of varieties of mushrooms bloomed everywhere, with Mount Albert Edward as the backdrop.
Reaching Circlet Lake
From here, we lost elevation as soon as we’d gained it; we were hiking uphill and then downhill almost straight after! A bit frustrating, but I kept myself entertained by looking out for the cougar that had been seen in the area recently (with a cub). Reaching Circlet Lake at lunchtime – 4 hours in – was fantastic, by all of the accounts I had read online this was a pretty average time. It was a beautiful place to stop for some food and a power nap, though we did get told by another hiker after we woke up that they’d just seen a bear nearby.
Hiking back down
Circlet Lake is where most people camp before heading up to summit Mount Albert Edward. We continued on a little further up the route to the mountain, but at this point, it gets pretty rough and harder to follow. It was also 2.30pm by this time, and we needed to head back down if we wanted to get back to the car before dark. Wouldn’t want to see that cougar at dusk!
We were only 5km from the summit of Mount Albert Edward as our furthest point. From Circlet Lake it is a 10km direct hike back to the parking lot, but we took the longer route back via Kwai Lake, to complete a circuit of sorts. We passed several lakes on the way back, as well as some workmen in the middle of nowhere replacing some of the boardwalks.
A four-kilometre killer
The four kilometres from Kwai Lake back to Lake Helen Mackenzie were a killer; two big climbs and lots of mini ups and downs. By this time our knees were hurting, wistfully thinking of the nice, flat boardwalk from earlier in the day. It was also pretty muddy, but by this time I didn’t care so much and just stomped through it all. Our hiking boots are officially awesome by the way – we both had mud up past our ankles but our feet were completely dry all day. Amazing!
The last couple of km ended up being the hardest of the day though, especially with the sun threatening to set on us. We reached the car at 7.30pm (no cougar in sight), missing sunset by about five minutes. Nevertheless, ten hours of hiking and we’d done it! 23km! We were both pretty proud of this achievement as we’d never really hiked together before, especially with equipment and some elevation.
Sunrise to sunset
One of the most memorable parts, for me, was experiencing the whole day from start to finish. Waking up and watching the sunrise, putting on gloves and thermals to hike, getting back down to one layer in the midday heat, putting it all back on in the evening and finally, seeing the sun set. Thinking that we basically walked the whole day is pretty cool too. Now we know we can do it, though 10-15km in a day is preferable to 23km.
An easier way to the alpine
I would recommend Strathcona Park (Forbidden Plateau/Paradise Meadows) to others wanting an alpine hike, especially if you’re interested in summiting a mountain. It’s a bit of a cheat in some ways, as you don’t have to climb up all the way from sea level – the long ascent is covered by car before you even get to the parking lot! Regardless, this is a lovely area to be, especially in autumn.