Leave it to April to come up with the best birthday “party” ever. While the rest of us might suggest something typical, like “Oh, let’s meet for dinner at the sushi bar,” April says: Let’s go up to Strathcona Park and hike Mount Albert Edward!
So of course we are all in. And bonus, the summer has just been going on and on and on. (Sorry, this is being posted late, I’ve been busy – we actually did the hike a month ago, on September 22 – but it was still pretty amazingly hot and sunny weather for late September!).
We left Port Alberni on the Friday afternoon, and 2 hours later we were up at Mt Washington ski resort’s “Raven Lodge,” at an elevation of 1159 m – where the trail starts. (Here is a trail map of the Forbidden Plateau part of Strathcona Provincial Park). The summit was nearly 1 km higher, at 2094 m. However, we were a mixed group of nine (April, me, Jeannie, Kevin, Ryan, Brad, Andrea, and two South Africans newly transplated to Port Alberni, Arno and Katrine). Our experience and fitness levels ranged from beginner to very fit and experienced. So our plan was to head towards the summit… but our goal was just to get out there
and for everybody to have fun. If all we did was play in the alpine, we were OK with that too.
We left the Mt Washington parking lot at 4:30, and the plan was to hike a few km in and set up camp for the night. The next morning we would hike up the mountain with light packs, then come back down, pick up our camping gear, and hike all the way out. We set out, disappointed by the overcast that had come over the landscape, obscuring what we knew were magnificent views. The air chilled noticeably as the sky darkened, and we pulled up at Kwai Lake, about 8.5 km, to set up camp.
The next morning dawned brilliantly! And I mean brilliantly! You could not ask for a better day in the mountains – not any time of year, and especially not in late September. The sky was cloudless, and the air had that crystal clarity that you get after a sharply cold night. The keen hikers got on the road at 8:30, while part of the crew hung back to have a more relaxed morning in camp. (One of those was Brad, who wanted a slow and mellow morning because today was his birthday – a fact he was keeping secret from all of us because he didn’t want to steal April’s thunder!)
I had actually slept through my alarm – the night had been so cold that I was nestled so deeply into my down bag that I didn’t hear it go off. I missed the early departure, but quickly made my coffee and breakfast and got on the trail and caught up with them: April, Jeannie, Kevin, Arno and Katrine. We poked our way up, enjoying the incredible alpine scenery, marvelling at how lucky we were to have caught a day like this in the mountains, and taking lots of pictures.
When we hit the first main ridgeline, at about 1650 m – now, finally with clear views of the Albert Edward summit – Arno and Katrine decided they would just hang out there and take in the 360-degree views. The four of us decided to hoof it a bit further up the mountain, to see how far we would get. (April had set a very firm turnaround time for the whole group. We had to get back to camp, and then all the way back to the cars that day, and she wanted to be sure that we were not hiking any of that in the dark).
Now we were truly on the exposed part of the mountain – bare rock, following the ridgeline up, crossing patches of snow on the way. We didn’t make the summit by our turnaround time – but we sat on an open part of the ridge with amazing views in every direction, enjoying the sun while eating our lunch, before heading back down.
Thanks, April, for a great birthday bash! And thanks Kevin, for contributing such beautiful pix to this blog post!