The hills are alive…

5 08 2013

… with the sound of thunder!
At least the hills in Manning Park BC were yesterday.

We left White Rock a little later than I’d hoped (two women in attendance – I’ll leave the sexist comments unsaid), but despite it being the long weekend (BC Day today, Monday), the roads were quiet, and we made good headway along Hwy1 and then Hwy 3 towards Manning Park.

After driving for 20 years in the UK with a clean license, I’d picked up 3 points in Manning Park when we first moved here a decade ago, so despite the clear roads I was careful to stick to BC’s sluggish speed limits. Well – mostly anyway.

What was to be a brief stop at Timmie’s in Hope took longer than expected, as we discovered where all the traffic had gone. It was all parked in Timmie’s car park! The weather was a bit undecided as we’d left White Rock, but brightened steadily as we headed East towards the Cascades. I wasn’t totally sure where the trail-head was for our intended hike up “Three Brothers” in Manning Park, as I’d never been myself. However, I felt well prepared with my GPS all programmed up with the route and a shiny new topographical map keeping my compass company in my rucksack.

As we approached the Manning Park lodge, the turning on the left up Blackwall Rd. was well signed, and I knew that we really couldn’t go wrong now. This road – despite its long wiggly ascent – went nowhere except to the start of the hike. Well – not quite.  There is a lookout giving beautiful views to the South and back over the lodge. Having briefly stopped to verify this was not in fact the trail-head, we continued upwards on what was now only a loose gravel road. It was well maintained, but seemed to have been travelled over by a tracked vehicle and our teeth were chattering as the car’s suspension was pounded by the high frequency ruts in the road.

To the left was a cliff – cut away to make the road and, it seems, continuing to throw sizeable chunks of itself onto the road in a bellicose attempt at revenge. The largest rock in the road was a good 18″ cubed. To the right of the road was a shear, unprotected drop. A steep one. There would be a Hollywood ending to any car slipping off that edge! Eventually we turned the corner and found ourselves at the car-park. I was surprised just how many cars were there, but a time check told me it was already almost 11:30am, and the day was much further on than I’d have liked for beginning such a long hike. The Heather Trail begins at the lower car-park, but there are trails linking to it from the upper car park too.

As we arrived and got ready – checking we had wet weather and cold weather gear “just in case” – a Parks Ranger was just packing up what looked like it had been an interesting display of local flora, and suggesting the nearby “Paintbrush Nature Trail” to the less comprehensively prepared. This is a 45 minute stroll named after the Indian Paintbrush flower common to the area.

For us though was the distant peak of First Brother – nearest of the Three Brothers. It’s a 10km hike there, which not surprisingly entails the same distance to get back! The peak is at 2272m… some 7500ft. Not particularly high in these parts, but for an ex-Brit that is high! It’s almost the same as Ben Nevis stacked on Snowden (or even SnowdOn – thanks Lance) – the highest peaks in Scotland and Wales. Luckily the trail head was already high, so the total ascent was only ~700m total (there and back) which is less than doing the Grouse Grind.

The path leads through a wilderness campsite at Buckhorn Camp with a little bridge over the creek of the same name, then climbs steadily up into the high alpine meadows where the views are drop dead gorgeous. You can see for miles – all the way to your innermost thoughts.

The actual ascent of the First Brother requires a turn off the main Heather Trail, and you follow the sandy and rocky ridge up to the peak.

We were very lucky with the weather and despite ominous thunder and spectacular distant rain storms, we made the peak and safely off the ridge before we were treated to hail showers. That careful preparation of “just in case” clothing was appreciated, and we descended the meadow and back to the car in near silence over the next 2-3 hours.

20km in all, over 6 hours (including photo and meal stops). We had gone to experience the views and see the alpine meadows in full bloom and had not been disappointed. The soil is really fragile at these altitudes and signs reminded hikers that a single boot off the path can cause plant and soil damage that may take 20 years to undo. Despite those, we saw several people hacking off the path for “the perfect camera shot”. I will say though that I was greatly impressed to see not one scrap of litter or cigarette butt up there.

We were steadily grazed upon by a variety of flies including some mosquito-like flies with stripes that I’d not seen before. The worst though were giant flies like regular house flies but bigger. When these bit, you were left a little lighter and with blood oozing from a place where you used to have skin. They were hungry! In addition we saw a few ptarmigan up in the rocky areas and on the drive back down Blackwall Rd. we were lucky enough to see a young fawn with its mother. Actually, I think they were lucky I saw them… they were in the road, and with the loose gravel, a sudden stop would have only been an intention with no guarantee of success!