Petgill Lake

22 02 2015

Busy day yesterday.

First born was at the tail end of her reading week from Waterloo and seemed to be reasonably recovered from her first outing up The Chief last weekend. In celebration she and our youngest joined Mr & Mrs E on a trip to Petgill Lake.

The trailhead is near Murrin Provincial Park – just north of Britannia Beach on the Sea to Sky highway. The various hike websites all agree it’s about 5.5km each way and takes about 5hours or so round trip.

However, they all make light of the fact that the trailhead is on the opposite side of one of the most dangerous stretches of the most dangerous highway in BC! By the time all four of us had safely made it to the eastern side of the highway, I was pretty much ready to go home. We’d learn later though that it was actually comparatively quiet on the highway. It was much worse crossing it on the way back.

The trailhead itself is an unassuming little track heading into the undergrowth and I can see how several people had reported it as easy to miss. Though I’d taken the precaution of placing a waypoint in my Garmin to be on the safe side, we actually had no problem finding it. The pile of empty beer cans helped.

The trail starts off reasonably steeply, but still quite definitely a track, narrow though it is. Within a few metres though, you are into full on scrambling, and I have to say it was not a particularly pleasant start. It’s not overly difficult or anything, but slimy moss on oozing granite rock is not a particularly pleasant proposition. After a reasonably steep climb though you’re back onto normal woodland trails, and are rewarded for the effort with a rock outcrop serving as a viewpoint out over Howe Sound.

View over Howe Sound

View over Howe Sound

Whilst we were having a short breather, a group of four 30-somethings came down the trail. Initially I was impressed and a little surprised. It was only about 10:30am by this time and for them to be almost back to the car-park must have meant an early start since they didn’t seem to have camping gear. One of the guys seemed a little under-dressed too in only trainers and T-shirt/shorts. The two ladies seemed to be of the antipodean persuasion and much better prepared to be out on the hills. Mr T-shirt asked if we had walked the trail before, and I replied in the negative. I was a little taken aback when he said that there was a  logging road and they’d turned back because it seemed to be active. The trail is closed Monday to Friday to avoid conflicts between the logging operation and the general public. A lone hiker is no match for a fully loaded logging truck. I asked him to clarify though, and it was their choice to return, they hadn’t actually been turned back by logging staff.

Though we hadn’t walked this trail before, we had researched it and I was aware that there was a stretch of a couple of kilometres of logging road we needed to follow. The fact that these guys were spooked when they came across it seemed to indicate that they were far from well prepared. Probably safer they turned back when they did, and thankfully they didn’t ask if they could tag along with us. We met two other parties during the day. One young couple up near the lake itself and an older couple walking their terrier like it was just a stroll in the park. They too seemed to be ill prepared and under-dressed for the conditions, but at least seemed to know where they were going.

This is one of those “uphill – both ways” kinds of hikes. It’s about 5.5km each way, as I mentioned and it’s a steady climb all the way. In practice there’s a bit of contouring around a few hills, but because this happens in heavily wooded terrain, you’re not really aware of it.

After a while we came to a rock outcrop that offered a view northwards towards Squamish.

Howe Sound

Howe Sound towards Squamish

The steepest part (after the initial scramble) is on the logging road itself, so it’s just a slog up the muddy track. As we came through the woods to the road, there’s a definite change in the aura of the place. You move from the usual tranquil woodland vibe to this sense of despair and destruction. Logging is a prime resource for BC, but the up-close consequences of the industry are quite heart-breaking. The trail is closed Monday to Friday because of the trucks and other traffic on the logging road, but despite the old signage and assurances that the logging isn’t current, there was still the unmistakeable sound of a lone chainsaw somewhere not too distant, interspersed with the harrowing thud of another IKEA table in the making. I suspect this chainsaw is what had scared off the others, rather than any actual indication of traffic on the road. Anyway, as we descended to the road, we kept a leery eye open for any unexpected trucks. Thankfully there was none.

Descent to the logging road

Descent to the logging road

The logging road was a stark reminder of the brute strength mankind can bring to bear on issues of commerce. There were various items of heavy machinery parked up for the weekend, and the ever present buzz/whomp as the unseen feller systematically moved trees from the vertical to the horizontal. Some sections of the road were quite steep and it was amazing to imagine fully loaded log trucks climbing their way up the unmade track. We spotted a series of whimsical signs that appeared to be there to help the trucks figure out where they were in the relatively monotonous roadway. The first we saw was called “Bark and Bite” with a face of a cartoon bulldog. Out of context as it was at that point, we thought it may be a warning of guard dogs. This annoyed me as we were on a public right of way. I felt a little silly when we passed “Old Boot Hill” in the same style.

We missed the trail leaving the logging road by a hundred metres or so, but thankfully the GPS helped us find the rather discreet trail back into the woods. Tranquillity immediately re-descended and the calming effect of being swaddled in nature was palpable.

The lake itself was small and very pretty. It was overseen by a huge peak, which a trail called Goat Ridge. Looking at maps, this seems to be a range which leads East to SkyPilot. As we bundled up against the suddenly chill air, a young guy appeared from the forest with a bundle of wood under his arm. It seems he’d left his girlfriend further back on the trail while he came ahead to cook sausages on the firepit by the lake. After we’d finished our own lunch and headed back, it was still a good while before we met her on the trail. I hope the bangers weren’t burnt!

Petgill Lake

Petgill Lake

As we headed back to the logging road we met the older couple with their terrier. They were lightly dressed in training shoes and no heavy clothing. Despite the glorious sunshine it was still quite chilly by the lake, but they seemed to know where they were going, at least.

The hike back seemed to have an unexpected number of “up” bits, considering it had appeared to be up all the way to the lake. Now familiar with the route though, the time passed quickly and we were scrambling back down the rocks to the road before we knew it. Crossing the highway was not pleasant, and the increase in traffic volume was quite marked. As was the increase in average speed!

Did I enjoy it? Yes – the lake is a lovely spot in an idyllic setting. Would I go again… probably not. The logging enterprise was quite heartbreaking in its ferocity, and the couple of km on the logging road left a bit of a bad taste.

Google Earth: Murrin to Petgill Lake

Google Earth: Murrin to Petgill Lake




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