Two weekends ago my brother-in-law J. and I hiked out to Panther Lake to see if we could scout out a route back to the Cruikshank Canyon lookout trail and Lake Beautiful. After bushwhacking our way to a lunch spot on the east side of the lake and a relaxing lunch being harassed by gray jays, we reassessed the terrain and decided that a better option would be continuing on to Aston Pond before looping back to Johnston Lake.
There’s a little used (but still very passable) trail that leaves the well trodden Kwaii Lake loop just below Murray Meadows and traverses the Forbidden Plateau, eventually emerging at the old ski hill below Mount Becher. This through route isn’t nearly as popular as the loops to Kwaii and Mount Albert Edward beyond. It’s a long haul for a day hike to do the entire route and you’ve got to arrange vehicles at both end so it gets complicated. For this reason, the Forbidden Plateau is definitely a lot less travelled.
A day hike out to Johnston and Panther Lakes is very doable and takes you to a part of Strathcona Provincial Park where you’re likely to be the only one around, especially at this time of the year. Such was the case on our hike, though the day was less than ideal and the weather was iffy. After Murray Meadows we saw no one.
From our lunch spot we worked our way up to the high point of land along the south side of Panther Lake. From our vantage point it looked like it might be fairly easy going but there was a fair bit of scrambling up and down steep slopes. The ridge was broken regularly by gullies. We eventually made our way into a bit of a series of wetland that looked to lead up into the area around Aston Pond. Here the going was much easier, though some bushwhacking was still involved. Eventually we came out onto the shore of Aston Pond.
This was by far the highlight of the day. The pond is hemmed in by a steep bluff on one side and several boulders add a unique look to the pond. I haven’t seen anything quite like it in this part of the park. With the fog rolling in and out it was a moody, but peaceful place. Hard to capture well in a photograph. I worked at getting the rocks just right but without going into the water it was hard to do it justice.
From Aston Pond we made our way to the base of the bluff before finding a couple of routes up gullies to the top. Nothing too technical, but nice to be going up rather than down. Great views of the pond below!
It was quite open on top of the bluff and we were easily able to find the through trail again and begin to work our way back to Murray Meadows. We took a short detour to Johnston Lake (since we were there) and then continued on. By this time the weather had really settled in it started to rain. Definitely time to call it a day.
It was a long slog out, but Aston Pond made it worthwhile. I’ll be visiting again next summer!
Read more about the Strathcona Wilderness Institute’s guided hike to Johnston Lake.
Make sure that you’ve got a good map and are comfortable doing a little bushwhacking and route finding. Be prepared to spend the full day out hiking and bring plenty of food, water and appropriate clothing and gear. The through trail passes on the east side of Panther Lake—we figured that an easier way to get to Aston Pond would be to leave the main trail when it starts to climb just at the end of Panther. Locate the wetlands that feed down into Panther and follow them up to Aston Pond. You’ve got the choice of retracing your steps or climbing the bluff and rejoining the through trail at the top. A straight hike out to Johnston Lake is approximately 22 km return.