Kwai Lake Hike

It’s been a late year for hiking in the sub-alpine on Vancouver Island. I thought I’d check out the “back-country” of Paradise Meadows, Strathcona Provincial Park today before the rain moves in later in the week. My original plan was to complete the shortish (about 8 km) Lake Helen MacKenzie loop but trail conditions were fairly good up to the lake (a little snow and lots of mud) so after a solitary lunch (usually unheard of in mid-August at Lake Helen MacKenzie) I decided to push on to attempt the longer Kwai Lake Loop. This would add about 7 km to my day but the air was super fresh and I was feeling up to it.

Snow Near Hairtrigger Lake
Hard to believe it’s mid August, but with this year’s record snow pack, there’s still quite a bit of snow in the sub-alpine near the “ranger” cabin at Hairtrigger Lake in Paradise Meadows, Strathcona Provincial Park.

Trail conditions deteriorated from late spring to early spring as I climbed up from the lake level to the “Ranger Cabin” near Hairtrigger Lake. This stretch of trail is nasty at the best of times and it didn’t disappoint with lots of mud and roots and snow patches. At the top of the low ridge between Mount Elma and Mount Brooks the trail vanished under the snow and I followed a fairly clear line of tracks until I reached the cabin. This section is a little confusing, but by following what looked like the main track I ended up in the right place.

Kwai Lake Junction Post
Junction sign for the Kwai Lake trail – these are normally about waist height.

From here I pushed on towards the “trail” junction for Kwai Lake. Much of the sub-alpine here is still under a significant amount of snow and I don’t expect the actual trail to be exposed before late August/early September.

Kwai Lake - August 13, 2011
Kwai Lake was still partially iced over on August 13, 2011.

Kwai Lake is still partially covered in ice although there are several camping sites that are bare. Odds are you’d probably have the place to yourself.

From Kwai the trail continues through to Murray Meadows before ascending up to Croteau Lake. It is definitely passable and easy to follow with a mix of exposed trail and remnant snow banks. Mud and water from runoff makes it fairly wet going.

Murray Meadows
Snow at the edge of Murray Meadows.

Croteau Lake is ice free but there is still quite a bit of snow around it. The trial trail between Croteau and the Helen MacKenzie Loop is flagged and consists of long stretches of snow and muddy sections. Proper footwear and walking poles would be useful here.

I did run into a group of four hikers (three were in runners and one was barefoot in sandals) who had completed this leg and seemed to be having a lot of fun, so it is doable in less than ideal footwear (but not recommended). I was wearing leather hiking boots and my feet were pretty wet by the time I got back onto the meadows boardwalk.

Sandals in Snow
A hiker good-naturedly demonstrates the less than ideal footwear for tackling the trail between Battleship Lake and Croteau Lake.

The last stretch alongside Battleship Lake is in good shape and the trail is mostly dry and snow free making for good walking.

I was initially surprised at the few number of people out on the trails even though it was a Saturday, but I think that the “early spring” conditions may be a deterrent. It’s definitely worth taking a hike in Paradise despite the remaining snow and with the late “spring,” wildflowers in the main meadows are spectacular. Check at the Strathcona Wilderness Institute’s visitor centre for trail updates.

My next couple of posts will highlight some of the flowers currently in bloom in Paradise Meadows.