Paddling, Hiking and Climbing Marble Meadows

I’ve heard so much about Marble Meadows in Strathcona Park so it was finally time to get out there and see what it was all about. August 12-14 some friends and I headed out there to camp for 3 or 4 days, summit Marble Peak and Mount McBride and check out the scenery.

The plan for this trip was to drive up to Buttle Lake after work on the Friday. We’d paddle across the lake and spend the night in the campsite on the other side. Saturday, we’d hike up to the meadows and possibly get up Marble Peak if there was time. Sunday we would bag Mount McBride. Monday would be an easy walk down to the lake and paddle back to the cars. Easy, right?

Off we go

We headed off towards Campbell River after work. We had all our gear packed. The boats on the roof. Our packs in the back. The food stowed. At least I think we had all the gear. Dave asked if I remembered the tent. I definitely remembered the tent. I wasn’t sure about the poles.

The weather looked great as we headed down the road to Buttle Lake where we would launch our kayaks. We were meeting up with 2 others hiker pairs at the lake and would hook up with another pair in the morning.

The light was fading as we packed our gear down to the lake. One tip I learned; Make sure you know all your gear fits into your boat if you’re planning on using one. I was 99% sure but was still a little worried as I tucked my pack, ice axe, crampons, helmet, food and sleeping gear into the hatches of my boat. I didn’t pack the spray skirt as I thought the weather would be calm and the paddle would be an easy one. I almost regretted that decision later.

A beautiful kayak across Buttle Lake

The sun went down behind the mountains as we were getting onto the the water. 2 of our group headed out to scout out the Philips Creek campsite while the others and I finished organizing and got onto the water. The sky was clear and the water was glass calm. We glided towards the opposite side of Buttle Lake. I snapped a few pictures of the scenery in the low light. Any I took with moving boats in it were blurred a bit but a couple came out with a ghostly effect.

2 people from our group had been to the campsite on the other side of the lake before and knew the river mouth we were heading for. We took a shorter route this time than they had taken previously. Our launch point was much closer to the river mouth and campsite than the previous trip. When the air is warm and the water glassy, a longer paddle is no problem. Paddling into whitecaps and a stiff wind is no fun thought and you never know exactly what the conditions are going to be.

Kayaking across Buttle Lake

Kayaking across Buttle Lake

Directly across from the park we started at, Philips Creek comes down from the mountains. We were heading for the creek mouth to pull our boats out of the water and set up camp. The provincial camp site there has camping areas and fire pits. 1 other group also called the campsite home for the night. They had paddled all the way from McIvor Lake that day. After a bit of guitar around the fire, they retired early. We would have had a great relaxing evening by the fire if it had not been for one problem, or many small ones depending on how you look at it.

A small nest of problems

After hauling our boats up into the campsite and moving them from being directly on the path to the rest of the campsite, we set up camp and got a fire going. It was fairly warm out but it’s always nice to have a fire going for more light and warmth. We needed some fuel for the fire. Roaming around the campsite and surrounding area we found more than enough little branches and wood laying around. In that search though, one in our group ran into a hornets nest. Luckily she got out unscathed but now we had a problem. None of us are fond of getting bit by a hornet so what do we do about the nest? We could just leave it and possibly forget and get bit or we could remove it somehow. After a lot of brainstorming and a few failed attempts we had our foolproof method.

While I hung back and tried not to get bit (I swell up like crazy from those damn things), two of the guys managed to get the nest into one of our pots and stuffed it straight into the bottom of the fire. So long hornets. No one wanted to open to lid to check whether anything was left. Apparently it’s ridiculously hot in a pot in the fire so they were toast after a minute. No more hornets nest. No more hornets. And a good nights sleep for me.

Hornet Cooking Fire

Hornet Cooking Fire

Holy switchbacks, batman

I was under the impression that the hike up to Marble Meadows from the campsite was fairly steep. I did not realize that it would be ridiculously steep. I’ve never seen so many switchbacks in my life. I’m thankful for the switchbacks because they made the steep hill bearable but there were still a LOT of them.

While I was happy about the switchbacks, I was not happy about my feet being ground down by the heels of my boots. I had hiked before in the boots but never with a 4 day pack on, up and intense hill with a fast crew of hikers. This was a test that I had not completed yet and it was not going well. The shape of my feet, my Wigwam wool socks and my Scarpa Baron boots were not a good combination and my feet were paying the price.

My grand aspirations for the weekend of getting to the top of Marble Peak and Mount McBride were slipping away with every step that I took on my very unhappy feet. My goals turned from running around in the mountains for 4 days to getting up to the meadows and still being able to walk out after. I assumed I would be having some issues with my boots so I packed a bunch of blister prevention but even with a few layers on, I was still having issues. Once the damage is done, you’re toast. Complete prevention is the way go to.

My advice? Don’t baby your boots when you’re testing them out. Work those things in as hard as you possible can while you’re testing and before you’re out in the mountains. No one wants to find out it hurts to take every step while they’re out for 4 days in an amazing place.

Hiking switchbacks

Hiking switchbacks

Little by little with a truckload of positive talk from the little guy in my head, we finally broke through the tree cover and crested up onto the meadows. What a place.

You could see further up into the mountains one way and down onto Buttle Lake the other. A very worthwhile objective itself. Just after getting up onto the meadows we found ourselves a little lake to set our gear around. We had thought about hiking it all the way in to the cabin at the lake but after thinking the additional distance we’d have to go just to get near the cabin, we decided to set up our tents around the little lake. After taking the nice obvious spots right next to the water, Dave and I were forced to look a little further for a good one. We ended up finding the nicest spot of all, sheltered, flat, and dry.

Turns out I did remember the tent poles so we were actually able to set up the tent! With camp set up and even more padding on the blisters I already had from climbing up to the meadows, we set up off for the top of Marble Peak.

Meandering Marble

I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it to the top of Marble. My feet were very sore from the climb up. My legs and back were as well. I hadn’t had a pack on much this year and this was a heavy start to the year for big backpacking. However far I made would be worth it.

The weather was good. I could see all the mountains around and i was very happy wandering around on the hill up toward the rocky peak taking photos. I made it about three quarters of the way up through the trees and a little bit of snow. After that the trail got rocky and steep with a bit of scrambling and exposure and I didn’t feel up to going any further. I would be pushing my luck on any steep scrambling at this point.

Buttle Lake from Marble Peak

Buttle Lake from Marble Peak

Break time

I took the time near the summit to take in the view, rest my legs and snap a few photos. On the way down, there was just too many to take photos of. I wasn’t sure how much I was going to take on the way up to McBride the next day so I was being conservative with my photos. Looking back on the trip, I didn’t even go through one of my 4 SD cards so I could have spent a lot more time taking photos. I meant to take some video as well but just ran out of sitting time. It felt like we were moving the whole trip and I was the caboose on people train so I didn’t have any time to stop and set up a video.

After some good stories and camping antics after the others returned, we hit the sac to rest for the long day ahead of us.

Time to summit McBride. Sort of.

We rose early the next day. We were eager to see what the weather was like and summit Mount McBride. It was only 7 or 8 kilometers away but the route would wind its way over the hills to get there.

We certainly couldn’t take the flying crow route and would have to find our own. Since the weather was treating us well, we could see McBride in the distance. That didn’t make it any closer to walk to but it made route finding much easier. I doubt we would have made the speed we did if the weather had closed in. I had my GPS with me but it was more just to take the track and as an emergency measure. I try to rely on it as little as possible. Electronics are so fragile and a bit of water or a little slip would render it useless.

We had split into two groups by that point. The eager beavers were up ahead and the second group was hanging out taking it a little easier. 2 of the guys in the first group had wanted to make it up McBride and all the way back to the car that day so they were itching to keep moving. I’m glad I hadn’t been in that group. Even with a lighter pack on, I don’t think I would have been able to keep up.As we got closer to McBride, I wondered what would happen as they day wore on. My feet looked terrible and were still sore from the day before but because of all the padding I had put on and removing the insoles in my boots, they felt much better. I didn’t want to miss out on an awesome summit because I had sore feet but didn’t want to hold the group back by being slow.

Marble Meadows from McBride ridge

Marble Meadows from McBride ridge

Crossing the meadows and up onto the ridge between McBride and the Red Pillar, my feet were getting more sore. The steep uphill sections were tough as they pulled on my heels more and more. Along the ridge just before heading up the last stretch to the summit, we had to make a decision. We had a dog with us and she wasn’t doing well either and my feet weren’t good for much longer. I wanted to hang out in the col while the rest of the group bags the summit and then picks me up on the way back. There was more than enough to take photos of so I’d be content for an hour while they hit the summit and hiked back down. They didn’t want to leave me there and were hesitant to push on as a group. In the end we decided to call it a day. We could head back early and hike all the way out to the boats and cars.

Wheaton Hut in Marble Meadows

Wheaton Hut in Marble Meadows

Longest downhill ever

The weather was perfect on the way out to McBride but couldn’t make up it’s mind on the way back. It would rain for a bit and then dry up. Then it would start raining again. We had all the gear we needed so it wasn’t a problem but it was a pain to take out the jackets every 5 minutes and then take them off 5 minutes later. I need a go go gadget jacket that pops out of my bag on command.

The route back was a bit different than the one we had taken that morning. We were trying to skirt the ridge we had gone over on the way out to save a bit of energy. I think the bushwacking and sidehilling we did on our “easier” route took more energy than the initial trip. I can never complain about a trip with 2 different routes though. When you’ve spent all this energy to get out to a beautiful place like Marble Meadows and the last thing you really should do is take the same route out and back. That said, it is safer to return the way you come since you know exactly how to get back where you started. Different routes are more interesting though. Knowing the lay of the land a little better than when we had arrived made it easier to find a more direct route, albeit a tougher hike.

After a bit of bushwacking and sidehilling we popped out at Wheaton Lake and then just up the hill beside it to the cabin. A youth group was staying in the cabin for the weekend and was just leaving for a hike out in the area. We talked with the leaders for a few minutes and tucked into some much-needed food. 2 in our group were out of food so I shared my copious amounts that I had packed for that day. If we were heading out that day, I wouldn’t need as much. The less I had in my bag the easier it was to carry.I’d imagine on fresh legs our track back would have been the easier one but it didn’t feel that way. After the epic switchbacks the day before and our 3/4 hike up McBride, my legs were not happy with me. I made a quiet cheer when camp came back into view. We could rest for a bit before heading back down to the boats. I thought the downhill back to the boats would be a piece of cake after the epic climb just the day before. Downhill makes it easier, but it’s still quite the distance back to the lake!I got into a good grove on the way down the hill as we passed a few more groups heading up into the meadows for a few days. With almost no stops for rest along the way, I was reduced to counting down from 1000 for the last few kilometers to keep my mind occupied and not thinking about the mess I used to call my feet.

A wet paddle

I’ve never been so happy to see my kayak. After a quick dismantling of my pack, the boat was packed and I took great satisfaction when it came time to sit down. I felt like I hadn’t sat for weeks. Now all we had left an easy paddle across the lake and we’ll be in a nice warm car on the way home. Here’s where I wished I had my kayak skirt.

The wind had come up and a stiff breeze blowing down the lake. My legs were so tired by this point, if I had to paddle the boat with my legs, I would have been toast. It wasn’t so bad actually using my arms for something for once in the last few days. The wind and the small whitecaps made sure a steady stream of water was landing in my lap. I learned quickly to put my hips to the leeward side of the boat when a wave hit, tilting the side toward the wave up higher, preventing a big slosh with more water in my lap. Thankfully, it only took a couple of decent sized waves to figure that one out. I was mentally adding the kayak skirt to the list of required items for any trip that included a kayak. For some reason I thought it would be nice and calm for both paddles. Apparently I was thinking of paddling across a puddle instead of a large lake kilometers long.

After an awkward exchange of friendly waves with people on the beach who we thought were our friends that had landed just before we did, we had our gear packed up in the car and hit the water for a quick swim. It was definitely cold but felt good to be slightly cleaner than very dirty after sweating copious amounts the last 2 days.

We mowed down some greasy fish and chips in Campbell River and we were on our way home.

Aside from the sweet new blisters I had earned on that epic climb up to the meadows, it was another great trip in the bag.

Gear for this trip

Gear went well this trip. The only big thing I found I should have brought was the skirt for the kayak. If it had been windy on the way over to the campsite on the first day I would have got soaked and likely been chilled all night. We were lucky to have calm weather for the paddle over. It didn’t matter much that I got soaked on the way back. It would have still been more comfortable and warm to have had the skirt though.

Here’s the list of things I brought:

MSR Hubba Hubba Tent

Mountain Hardware Lamina -7 sleeping bag

Exped Downmat 9 sleeping mat

Osprey Aether 70 pack

Black Diamond Contour Elliptic Shock Compact trekking poles

Snowpeak LiteMax stove and MSR iso-butane fuel

Platypus 3.0 Litre water bladder

Scarpa Barun hiking boots (These are being replaced as they don’t fit my feet and as I mentioned above. They gave me me sweet blisters.)

eVent Mirage Jacket

Mountain Hardwear Zonal synthetic jacket

North Face Venture waterproof pants

Icebreaker Merino Wool short and long sleeved shirts and full-length leggings

Necky Narpa 16.5 kayak

Salus Eddy life jacket

Food

I like the bag meals for ease of use and how light they are but I don’t feel so great after I eat some of them. I’m going to try and bring more real food on the next trip. It does require more planning but if I feel better because of it then it will be more than worth it.

Here’s the food I brought:

3 Bag meals

Oatmeal for breakfast

NutsCliff bars

Dried Fruit

Tea

My buddy had a spare bag meal of eggs that I had on the last day to try them out and they were surprisingly good. I might have to get some of these instead of boring old oatmeal.

Other trip reports from Marble Meadows

http://citizenclass.ca/entries/tales-from-the-trails/marble-meadows