Sunday, 12 February 2012

Four Dutchmen trek a wintry Sunshine Coast Trail

A few weeks ago we were contacted by Cornelis Douma. He was in Alberta, awaiting the arrival of his long-time chums coming from Holland where they grew up.

He had been researching "long distance hiking trails" in Canada and homed in on the West Coast Trail and the Sunshine Coast Trail. The SCT won out because it didn't require making reservations, nor did it cost anything to use it. Special bonus there were free huts along the route. And while the easier lowlands sections were snow-free, he and his friends wanted to do a seven day trek through the rugged snowbound mountains in the mid-section of the Sunshine Coast Trail.

Early February they flew into Vancouver and stayed at the Cambie Hostel. They had rented a car to make the trip up the Sunshine Coast to Powell River. Its trunk barely accommodated the bulky backpacks and gear, but it worked.

Ward is putting the last of their belongings into the car. Next onto two mini-cruises heading north across the fjords on two ferries.

At Earl's Cove the visitor information map provided some ideas what they were heading toward.

What about bears?

When they arrived in Powell River Friday night, they did some shopping and pitched their tents in the downtown oceanfront campsite and park at Willingdon Beach.

Saturday morning the caretaker dropped them off at the bridge across Powell River.

Anton, Jens, Cornelis and Ward are rearing to go. 80 klicks to cover.

They took rests along the way because those packs were loaded...

... and finally arrived at Haywire Bay regional park where they were warmly welcomed by the caretakers. They even insisted on feeding them dinner.

Sunday morning they set out, encountering an area of massive blow-down. They were thankful the trail crew had come through here and cut a way through with the chainsaws.

On the edge of Lost Lake they felt they knew where they where they were heading. The multitudes of red metal markers were always visible and reassuring that they were on the right track.

They passed  around the top end of  Inland Lake, which is also wheelchair accessible.


 They had a snack time at the beach. Looking down the lake they could see Mount Mahony with its shoulder ...


which they had to climb to get to Confederation Lake Hut.

They ascended Confederation trail through old growth so big their jaws dropped.

 Some of the ancient trees had fallen across the trail in the past and a passage was cut through the big trunks.

At last they found their first snow ...

... and the edge of  frozen Confederation Lake.

The snow-capped peaks of the Rainbow Range sparkled in the distance. The shadows were growing longer and the trekkers had to make haste to reach the hut at the far end of the lake.

They tramped on and found an ancient cedar that had been hollowed by a fire probably caused by lightning.

The hut was clean and the trekkers appreciated having a roof over their head.

Monday proved to be a big day, 11 hours of hiking, to get across to Tin Hat Mountain where the next hut was awaiting them. That was a tough grind. A new hut halfway in between, down at Powell Lake will indeed be a welcome addition to the chain of huts.

They descended 2000 feet.

down to the former Fiddlehead Farm in Giovanni Valley and had a break in the old orchard. Tin Hat is lurking above in the distance.

They saddled up again, and began the long 4000 foot climb...

A few bridges made crossing of creeks a breeze, but the climb was epic.

Along the way they met Eagle and Terry who had been out doing trail work with Richie and Bob, in anticipation of the trekkers coming through. Here Jens (left) and Cornelis (right) were reassured the route was cleared and easy to follow, albeit a substantial climb to Tin Hat Hut.

They powered on and reached the hut by moonlight. Because the hut is insulated and it had been a sunny day it was cosy inside.

They slept like knights of the cherished snow and woke in the morning to the sun spilling in through the window of the cabin.

Quickly they rose and caught the moment of the sun lifting free above the Knuckleheads Range
Cornelis and Ward enjoy some quiet moments as they contemplate the possibilities of breakfast and the day's trek ahead.

Nature calling does present a bit of a problem. Luckily a snow shovel allows for digging free the door to the pit toilet.
Returning to the hut, it is now time to plan how to get from Tin Hat hut to the next shelter in the Smith Range.
One final picture on Tin Hat with their route laid out ahead of them through the wooded corridor that threads through the cut-blocks in the distance. Elk Lake or bust.

Ah, a power bar at the base of Tin Hat. They made good progress coming down the mountain, and are almost out of the snow again. 
Within another half hour they have reached the treed trail corridor they looked at from above. It is an historic railroad grade, PR PAWS cleaned out and converted into a four kilometre-long section of the Sunshine Coast Trail.

They are in good spirits and since it is still early in the day, they cool their heels for a while.
Eventually they pass through patches of old growth cedar and Douglas fir, and master the snowy north slope that rises to Elk Lake. 

Here they reach another hut and make a fire in the outdoor pit to help dry out their wet gear. Then as evening falls they scramble up into the sleeping loft and prepare for the night.

Wednesday morning they wake and are still in great humour. They put their snowshoes to good use as they power on to Coyote Lake. Which way to go?

Thattaway for sure.

They see the gathering clouds, harbingers of a warm front sweeping in from the Pacific, but aren't really aware of what lies in store for them.

Behind them and below the Horseshoe Valley spreads out with its large lakes, and the famous Powell Forest Canoe Route. But that's another journey...
Soon they will not take any more pictures because the temperatures have risen quickly and the rains will have begun.

Rain on top of snow is trouble, and you must guard to stay dry and stave off hypothermia. But that's not on their minds just yet. What a great day. Snowshoe till you drop.

After an arduous slog they make it as far as Coyote Lake campsite before nightfall. Here they pitched their tents in the deep snow. That was the challenge they had been looking for, snowshoeing through a winter wilderness.

Happy lads, aren't they. The tarp they carried does come in very handy now. The men spend a night in the open. A roof would have been useful here.

Dreams of a sugar plum hut on Walt Hill dance through their heads.........

Though they mastered Walt Hill hauling up and over its rugged hogback, they never reached the hut. It never materialized. They had misread the guidebook and didn't realize until late in the afternoon that this hut was a future project, scheduled for construction after this year's snows are gone.

No problem. They knew they couldn't stay up on the mountain in the driving rain, and no shelter, no means to get warm. They knew they had to come out a day early. They knew they had to haul butt. As quickly as conditions allowed they descended the steep southern edge of Walt Hill and dropped down through Suicide Pass.

Now free of snow and no longer in need of their lumbering snow shoes they wheeled on down the old railroad grade until they reached Conchie Road. From there, their headlights guided them out to Duck Lake road at its junction with Granite Lake road. They called their PR PAWS support team, and though a day early, they were lucky arrangements could be made for Matt who was home to come and pick them up. They stayed put where they were and Matt found them and had them out of the bush in half an hour. 

He dropped them off at the motel, where they were alert enough to entertain visitors for a while. Everyone was safe and sound. What an adventure. Ah to get dried out again, and warm. Such a luxury.

They were thrilled to have triumphed over some of the most trying and dangerous conditions a person can encounter just about anywhere. Rain and snow can quickly lead to lethal exposure. This type of weather can not be taken lightly. Being out in it you realize you have to respect what it can throw at you. They felt the huts made it possible for them to complete their challenge. Without them such an adventure would not have been possible.

Friday they met Matt and Eagle for lunch in town. How about that? Delicious French soup, and scrumptious sandwiches.

Ward, Jens, Eagle and Matt chow down.

 Many thanks to Matt, the hero of the day.

Anton, Jens, Cornelis and Ward showed their resilience, and regaled us with details of their adventure. They are the first known hikers to trek the Sunshine Coast Trail in winter conditions, trekking for six days, and covering roughly the middle half of the trail. They decided to stay another day and take in the culinary and cultural delights that Powell River has to offer. They will be back, they said, to take in the remaining sections of the Sunshine Coast Trail, and the Canoe Route.
Then we told them about mountain-biking, kayaking, mountaineering, horseback-riding, etc, etc, and the first brewery opening up in Powell River...


Ean Jackson said...

Way to go, guys!

Ean Jackson said...

Way to go, guys!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great blog Eagle. Amazing how much time you put into your ''Pussy Trail'' ;-) It's wonderful to read about our adventures online, especially from the guy who started the whole thing and persuaded us NOT to do it. I guess sometimes being stubborn can pay of... We went snowboarding for 2 days in Whistler/Blackcomb: unbelievable, it's like being in the Himalaya's !!! Tonight is unfortunately our last night in Vancouver and we will be flying back tomorrow-evening. Thanks again to you and all the others for making this greatest adventure of my life (so far) possible !!! Greetings from that crazy stubborn Dutchman Anton Krist.

kbs said...

A fine tale of local winter adventure. Well done!

Devo said...

Great story.


Dan and Becky said...

Hi There,
I really appreciate this post. My Husband and I are planning on trip on this section of the Sunshine Coast Trail. Your blog has been really helpful with knowing what to expect. We do not plan on hiking through the snow since we are going in August, but we are still expecting a challenge. Would you be willing to give us some tips?