It seems like for years now my cousin Sarah and I have been discussing an overnight hike together. It’s always “yeah! We have to do that soon!”, and then life gets busy and we forget about it. So when she threw out a date to me, August 6, I checked my calendar and said “yeah, that works for me!”. But I wasn’t totally confident it would happen. Then I got another message, “how about the heather trail in Manning Park?”. She meant business and I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass.
I punched it into Google and was instantly interested. Flowery meadows, alpine forests, mountain peaks, it looked amazing! I have only done one other overnight hike and that was the keyhole hot springs. That trek was only a few kilometers in and Curtis carried much more of the weight in his pack then I did. This was going to be much longer and Sarah and I would have to equally distribute the gear. But with minimal altitude changes it seemed like an ideal beginner hike.
Now, if you’ve read the Keyhole Hot Springs story then you know we woke up to a mother bear and two of her cubs just outside our tent. That turned an already significant fear of bears into somewhat of a paranoia for me. Realizing what I had agreed to with Sarah, a pit had formed in my stomach. What happens when we come around a bend and meet a bear? How will I react? As you can probably tell by these internal questions I was asking, I had already decided that bumping into a bear was a guarantee. So I added bear spray and bear bangers to the list of supplies and buried the fear away. I had to be brave. I had to do this.
We agreed that the Kicking Horse wilderness campsite sounded like a good destination. It’s 13.5 km in from the trail head and includes tent pads, a pit toilet, water access and a food cache. The First Brother mountain peak is on the way and sounded like a must do side trip. Ok! We had a game plan!
Next up was considering gear. We would need the obvious, tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mats etc. Fortunately, because of my travel on motorcycle, I already own quite a lot of light weight camp gear. Sarah was pretty well stocked as well. But there were things to think about such as food and water and how to prepare these things. I grabbed a single burner stove and some fuel for it, some dehydrated meals, compact cooking/serving gear and water storage.
Sarah came over the Friday before leaving so we could lay everything out and pack our bags evenly. For lunch on the way in we were bringing pre made sandwiches, that I made that night. For snacks we packed carrot and pepper sticks, trail mix with chocolate chips and beef jerky. Typical hiking staples. For dinner, dehydrated spaghetti and meat sauce, and breakfast was to be apple, almond oatmeal. I also brought a dehydrated chicken teriyaki rice package for lunch on the way out. We were not going to starve!
Clothing was another thing to consider. The forecast was quite varied. Sun, cloud, a chance of rain, maybe a thunder storm, clearly the weather people had no idea what was going to happen. So with that in mind, we had to be prepared for anything. Rain gear was mandatory and some fleece lined sleep wear was also packed. Extra socks and a vest for layering. Realistically we weren’t going that far or for very long. I had no concern regarding our survival, aside from being devoured by a bear, but all the rain gear in the world wouldn’t save me from that! We filled our packs, set out our hiking poles (a must on overnight hikes!) and agreed to see each other in the morning.
Bright and early I drove over to pick Sarah up. We weighed our packs to be sure we were even. We would both be packing just over 30 lbs. That seemed like a lot! But there was nothing we were willing to part with so off we went!
We stopped for a breakfast snack in Hope before heading another 40 minutes to Manning Park. We made our way up, taking a stop at the look out. I’d recommend this. It’s pretty impressive. From there the road changes to gravel and we continued on until we reached the parking area at the end. Then we got a taste of what we were in for. The view from there alone is breathtaking. We lugged our packs onto our backs, adjusted our hiking poles and set off.
I was excited, in awe and nervous. When were we going to stumble onto the bear? But we kept the conversation going, let our bear bells jingle along and began the decent down towards Buckhorn campsite. It didn’t seem like too long when we saw the sign. There are two pit toilets there to be used if needed. Then the climbing begins. All the altitude lost descending to Buckhorn had to be regained. It was a little strenuous but all in all not terrible. I’ve had far more trouble on hikes in the past and I had an extra 30 lbs on my back. We took it easy, chatting away and taking in the beauty of this walk we had begun.
It wasn’t long before we walked out of the forest and into a meadow. It was breathtaking! Looking back we could see the microwave tower where we had left the truck. The trail seemed to get more beautiful with every step. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder how I ended up fortunate enough to call this home. Being sure to acknowledge my appreciation and taking the time to be present, we kept hiking.
Eventually we came to the fork in the trail to either continue on to the Kicking Horse campsite or hike up the First Brother peak. We decided to keep moving and get to camp to set up, then make the hike back up the peak without our packs. This part of the hike seemed to take a long time. We had pushed on and pushed on and had not taken a break for lunch. By this point though I was dead set on getting to the camp to rest and eat. The trail from the First Brother turn off to Kicking Horse is brilliant. Meadows covered in flowers, clusters of alpine forests, meandering creeks trickling down the mountain side. I felt certain I was driving Sarah crazy with all the photos I was snapping.
We got there! And managed to snag one of the last tent pads. We dumped off our gear and inhaled our sandwiches. It was a great little spot. We got all our things set up and headed back out to hike the First Brother. The sun was getting low and the twinge of nervousness that had relaxed and abated made itself known to me again. We gave ourselves three hours to make it up the peak and back to camp, 10 km round trip.
The hike sans pack was so enjoyable! And making it up to the peak was worth it all! Being that it was later in the day we had the place to ourselves. We opted out of the trail to the very highest peak to avoid being too long. We snapped photos, caught our breath then made the decent back down. Feeling like we were the only people on earth, we made our way back to camp.
Once there, we found a good cook spot (don’t cook your meals too close to your tent) and prepared our dinner. We boiled water, poured it into the bags of dehydrated spaghetti, waited about ten minutes and then bang! Spaghetti dinner. It was surprisingly good! I would definitely recommend it! It weighs practically nothing when dry and is tasty and filling. What more could we ask for? The rest of the evening consisted of card games and star gazing (which was dizzying in it’s magnificence!)
Come morning I heard Sarah moving about. I opened my eyes and looked at her. “I barely slept” I told her. “Me too!” she exclaimed. It was cold! I’ve camped in the snow in the past so I know what camping in the cold is about but that night was chillier then I anticipated. It could’ve been far worse though, my gear did it’s job, but I am a naturally cold person so it doesn’t take much for me to be uncomfortable. Next time: a set of hotsnapz or some form of hand/foot warmer, to toss into the bottom of the sleeping bag. These are things to remember!
For breakfast we made the apple, almond oatmeal stirred into a handful of trail mix. We both agreed we earned chocolate for breakfast! The oatmeal tasted great and was surprisingly filling. We sipped cups of instant coffee and got ready to start the hike out. We retrieved some water from the creek near camp and used water treatment tablets. A first for both of us!
After the climb away from the camp the clouds sneaked in. It was eerily foggy but both Sarah and I found it enjoyable. A completely different experience then the crystal clear blue skies from the day before. As we approached the First Brother turn off we were grateful we’d made the trek already. We wouldn’t have seen much view up in a cloud!
As we hiked, the clouds slowly began to burn off, presenting a beautiful show of their own. Almost appearing like waterfalls, cascading over the mountain peaks into the valleys below. It’s funny how the return trip seems quicker and easier. I suppose because much of the anticipation is reduced. The dread of bumping into a bear had practically disappeared and I had a reached a place where I felt it wouldn’t be a death sentence to stumble upon one (though I’m happy to report no bears were spotted!).
The last 5 km out were a bit tedious, but one foot in front of the other got us back up to the truck. We looked back at where we had gone. I felt fulfilled and proud.
With no major hiccups to report I suppose it makes for a somewhat boring story. But the last thing I felt in those two days was bored. I was impressed and challenged, humbled and educated. Breaking away from the city and giving yourself to nature is indeed restorative. It should be something we all set time aside to do. It’s personal and therapeutic.
Tired, dirty, bug bitten and sore we made the drive back down to the resort. There we ordered up a lunch with a cold beer. With the clink of our cups we wrapped up our journey. Until next time Sarah!
Now go find yourself a companion and get your butts up a mountain!
To get to The Heather Trail from Vancouver:
Head east on Highway 1 towards Hope. Keep right at the junction to take Highway 3, Crowsnest Highway.
When you can see Manning Park Lodge on the right, make a left turn. Turn left again immediately to begin travelling up the mountain.
Just past the lookout on the right the road changes to a well groomed gravel road. Follow until the end and park in the Blackwall parking lot.
You will need to register your vehicle and buy a back country camping permit. This is $5.00 per person per night. This can be done in advance here. http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/registration/
The trail head is well marked and the trail itself, easy to follow. Please avoid leaving the trail as life is hard in the alpine and the flowers have worked very hard to bloom.
Take out everything you take in. Put everything, including tooth paste, bug spray, lotions, etc in the food cache. Respect the land and the wildlife. And enjoy! Take lots of breaks, really look around, snap a bunch of pictures and have fun!
You won’t regret choosing to explore this trail. Whether it be a day trip up the First Brother peak and back, or an over nighter. If you make it to Nicomen Lake let me know how it went!
Happy Hiking! x