Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Hiking and Camping in the Tolkien Group

Good lord it takes me forever to write about my adventures sometimes. Here's a recap of a trip we went on over Labor Day Weekend!

The "event" of the weekend would be a venture with the VOC about 3 hours north of Vancouver to the VOC's Brian Waddington Hut on Long Lake in the middle of the Tolkien Group.

The Tolkien Group is a cluster of mountains north of Pemberton, BC, so named because all of the mountains in the cluster are named after characters from the Lord of the Rings books (like Shadowfax, Aragorn, Gandalf, Frodo, and Peregrine Peak).

Bright and early on Saturday August 31, Dave and I set out from our home and picked up Amin (who you may remember from our rock climbing excursion in Squamish in July) and Amir - both VOC members. The four of us made the trek from Vancouver to Pemberton, where we met up with the rest of our large group of VOCers and we all began the car-following train to our trailhead.

The trailhead was about 30 minutes past Pemberton, where we turned off the main road onto a dirt road and then onto an extremely hairy logging road. I mean, seriously hairy. Don't go onto this road unless you have 4 wheel drive, and definitely don't do it with a low-riding car! I was tense the entire time we made our way up the road, half-expecting the entire bottom of Dave's Kia Sportage to get ripped off. When most of the cars had made it safely to the top of the logging road, we parked, strapped on our boots, and made any final adjustments to our packs.

There were also several cans of paint being carried amongst the group - there was a big project awaiting all of us at the VOC hut: We were going to give Waddington Hut a fresh coat of paint!

As we started out, our big group of 20ish people broke off into smaller groups of 4-5 people each as we set off towards the hut. The logging road wound its way up a bit further still from where we'd all parked, so we continued to follow it for awhile till it ended and our path turned into a meadow of tall plants and grasses. I had to use my trekking pole to push aside all the plant life that was encroaching on the very narrow path through the meadow.

Hiking in Pemberton, BC

Eventually the meadow gave way to a rising wooded path with some switchbacks and rocks to navigate as it led us up to Long Lake and the VOC hut. We made sure to make a good amount of noise as we hiked, to discourage any bears from eating us. No, really.

Finally coming out of the woods and in sight of Long Lake, there was this little stunt we had to pull across a wobbly and narrow bridge:

Approaching Long Lake, Tolkien Group
.  i'm actually yelling at dave, "don't take a picture of me!!"  .
.  he didn't listen  .

Here we're finally arriving at the stunning Long Lake, and if you look closely you can see the VOC hut at the exact opposite end of the lake:

Long Lake, Tolkien Group, Waddington Hut
.  see the logs at the bottom of the lake? that's how clear the water is!  .

Long Lake, Tolkien Group, BC

Long Lake, Tolkien Group, Shadowfax
Dave went for a swim in Long Lake... it was too chilly for me!

Swimming in Long Lake, Tolkien Group
Even though the hut itself has plenty of room for sleeping well over 20 people, Dave and I had brought our tent with the intention of sleeping outside. We set it up next to the lake and then stood back to admire how picturesque it looked:

Tent set up next to Long Lake, Tolkien Group

So Saturday after we hiked up to the hut, relaxed a little, took in the beautiful surroundings, set up the tent, and painted for a bit....

Painting Waddington Hut, Tolkien Group
.  tryna catch me paintin dirty  .

... We decided around 5pm to attempt a hike up Shadowfax with Amin, Amir, and another VOCer named Jeremy. This was certainly easier said than done. In fact, it was so difficult to maneuver that there aren't even any photos of it, because there was no opportunity for photo-snapping.

Hiking Shadowfax from Waddington Hut involves bushwhacking up an avalanche path on the south slope of the mountain, through nearly impenetrable, thick growth. It was so dense at times that we couldn't even see one another and had to keep calling out, "Where are you?? How did you get there?!"

It seriously seemed like it would be impossible to get through the thick growth and Dave and I kept looking at each other like, "This is insane and only trace amounts of enjoyable. What the hell are we doing this for?!" But eventually we made it through the growth and began the next part of the hike, up a much more open field of large granite rocks. We made our way up this for a little while, pausing every once in awhile to admire the view. I don't know why we don't have any pictures of this! Sorry.

However, at this point it had taken us much longer than we'd expected to get through the first leg of the excursion and we were still a good distance from the summit. Dave and I were having concerns about how long it would take for us to complete the hike because neither of us had brought our headlamps with us, so the amount of remaining daylight was a concern. The idea of trying to come back down that insane avalanche path in the dark was utterly unappealing, as you can imagine.

So even though we'd just put in the bulk of the hike's effort by getting through the growth of the avalanche path, Dave and I decided to turn around and head back down the mountain while our 3 hiking partners continued up to the summit of Shadowfax. Luckily we found a better, much MUCH easier path to walk back down the mountain, so... that saved us some time and energy. Here's a very approximated outline of the Shadowfax hike for me and Dave that day:

Map of hike up Shadowfax from Long Lake, Tolkien Group
 To put it into non-Google-Map perspective... we headed up/down in this direction:

Hiking Shadowfax, Tolkien Group, BC
That night we made dinner in the hut with the rest of the large group. We had macaroni & cheese with chopped up pepperoni sticks, which is just a really easy dinner to make for backpacking since pepperoni sticks don't need refrigeration. It's always interesting to see what other people bring for their camping food. Some folks bring all sorts of little containers of seasonings or oils/dressings, some bring lots of veggies, some go surprisingly gourmet. Dave is mostly a "just add water" type of guy when it comes to camping food, which is fine with me - I'm not picky. As long as there's something sweet for dessert, like hot cocoa and/or a candy bar :)

We decided at the last minute to sleep inside the hut instead of outside in our tent. It was going to be pretty chilly outside, and there would also likely be quite a bit of moisture on the tent from our breath's condensation and the dew outside. Since there was space for us in the hut, it wasn't a big deal for us to throw down our pads and sleeping bags in there instead. So after a little bit of time around the campfire, we headed inside to doze off. 

The next day everyone began to get up at about the same time - between 7 and 8AM most people were up and about, preparing breakfasts, drinking coffee and rubbing sleep from our eyes.

After a hot breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, Dave, Amin and I set off for our planned morning/afternoon excursion of attempting the Mt. Gandalf-Mt. Aragorn loop:

Mt. Aragorn-Mt. Gandalf Loop, Tolkien Group, BC, Mountains

The hike to Mt. Gandalf began by taking a trail southwest from the VOC hut, passing another smaller lake before beginning the ascent up a field of granite rocks.

Approaching Mt. Gandalf, Tolkien Group, BC
.  we walked towards the end of this lake and then veered right, up mt. gandalf  .

Climbing Granite, Mt. Gandalf, Tolkien Group, BC

Climbing Granite, Mt. Gandalf, Tolkien Group, BC

We paused in this bowl-shaped field for a break:

Bowl, Ascent up Mt. Gandalf, Tolkien Group
.  click to enlarge... or miss out  .

Field of granite, Mt. Gandalf, Tolkien Group, BC
Field of granite, Mt. Gandalf, Tolkien Group, BC
After our little water/photo break, we continued to make our way up!

Field of granite, Mt. Gandalf, Tolkien Group, BC

Soon we were getting into scrambling terrain, so we donned our helmets and started being extra cautious about where we were stepping/holding on.  And naturally the higher we got, the trickier things became...

Scramble, Mt. Gandalf, Tolkien Group

Scramble, Mt. Gandalf, Tolkien Group

After awhile we finally made it to Mt. Gandalf's rocky summit. It was more or less a flat field of granite slabs, spread out on top of a mountain with extraordinary views all around us.

Summit of Mt. Gandalf, Tolkien Group, BC

Summit of Mt. Gandalf, Tolkien Group, BC, Granite

Summit of Mt. Gandalf, Tolkien Group, BC
.  amin took TONS of pictures... i haven't seen any of them yet though!  .

View from Summit of Mt. Gandalf, Tolkien Group, BC

After resting and drinking some water on top of Gandalf, it was time to continue our trek towards Mt. Aragorn. This involved heading across a "knife's edge" type of ridge that then dipped down into a col that stretched between Gandalf and Aragorn. 
Scramble, Mt. Gandalf, Tolkien Group, BC, mountains
Once we were down in the col, we kind of decided not to try to head back up the other side of it to Mt. Aragorn, and instead began the process of deciding how to get down the rocky, steep face of the col to continue our loop back to the hut.  Dave and Amin had read trail guides describing how to get down the face of this thing, but standing there looking at our options, it didn't really look like there were any safe routes down.

After spending about 20 minutes walking back and forth across the top of the ridge trying to identify the route that would be the least likely to end in our deaths, I was kind of starting to freak out. While I was definitely having fun, it had also been a quite stressful hike/scramble for me up to that point. You have to be mentally on quite high-alert the whole time you're climbing over narrow ridges and boulders high up in the air, and it had left my nerves pretty frayed. I wasn't prepared to turn around and go back the way we'd come, but the choices for moving forward down the col were not looking very good. Confession: I shed some tears at this point because it was inevitable that I was going to have to do something that frightened me. But eventually Dave talked me through it all like a champ, and all three of us made it down the rocky face alive.

Here's the view from halfway down the col, just past the "terrifying" parts:

Col between Mt. Gandalf and Mt. Aragorn

And here I am after my successful descent:

Col between Mt. Gandalf and Mt. Aragorn, Descent
.  alive  .
The rest of the hike was much easier in comparison - a few more granite rocks to navigate...

Mt. Aragorn summit in background, Tolkien Group, BC
...Before our terrain turned to a grassy downward sloping meadow that eventually led us through some woods and back to our hut:

Brian Waddington Hut, VOC Hut, Long Lake

Brian Waddington Hut, VOC Hut, Long Lake
.  click to enlarge  .

Brian Waddington Hut, VOC Hut, Pemberton

That evening we did a little more painting of the hut before making dinner and enjoying the camp fire in the company of the rest of our large group. Early the next day, Dave, Amin, Amir and I all set off from the hut before everyone else did - we wanted to make sure we were back in Vancouver early enough that we could all get some work and errands done. We made our way down from Long Lake, Waddington Hut fading into the distance behind us. Back through the woods and the tall meadow that we started through...
Hike to Long Lake, Tolkien Group, BC

Well it took me a month to finish this blog but I hope you found the recap and photos worth the wait! It was certainly an adventure, and now I can put "crying on a mountainside" onto the list of things I've done in Canada.  We may head back to Waddington Hut in the wintertime - the hut and lake will look amazing under a layer of snow!

Want to read more hiking adventures? Click here ~> aka Bailey Hiking Blogs

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  1. wow. stunningly gorgeous. awesome adventure!

  2. Bailey - this hike looks AMAZING. What a beautiful place! I can't imagine doing all that climbing at the top of the mountain - you're so extreme! :)

  3. A nice blog Bailey. Very detailed and well-written. BTW, I shared my photos with Dave, I think.

    1. Amin! You found my blog :) I will get Dave to show me your pictures, I can't wait to see them all!

  4. Yep, I am reading it for a while now. It is great Bailey!

  5. Love the landscape!! We are in awe!

    What a pretty blog.

    Love and good morning from Germany,

    Birdy and Bambi

  6. omg. if we knew each other better i would give you my 15 min rant on how i absolultely totally want to go and do these sort of things. BC is such a playground and i haven't even conquired the Grouse Grind, the Chief let alone any of the terrain you went through. but i also know that i don't think i can't do it. i'm alwasy afraid i'll get tired or want to quit part way.... :( so beautiful...

    A Beautiful Zen

    1. I haven't done the Grouse Grind yet, let's get it done!! Maybe we can do a Vancouver blogger field trip up a mountain :) No pressure to go all the way up - even though I know you can do it!

  7. gorgeous landscape! on my wishlist now :)


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