Wow, now this was fun! It has been a very hot and dry summer – not great for the garden or the salmon, but very good for getting up in the mountains, with little or no snowpack. (Dave and I did that Della Falls/Love Lake run back in June, and there was no snow at all up there – whereas when we did that same Della Falls route in September, late summer, a few years earlier there was not only snow up there, but Love Lake was still totally frozen!) So, while Dave was away in Iceland, I decided to head up to Strathcona Provincial Park (less than a 1.5 hr drive from here) and do a run/jog up to the peak of Mt. Albert Edward.
I had done part of this route a few years earlier, when a bunch of us hiked up Mt. Albert Edward for April’s birthday. We camped around 8 km in, at Kwai Lake, then hiked towards the summit the next day. We made it a fair way up, but didn’t summit (we had to get back down, break camp, hike out and drive all the way back to Port Alberni that day).
So I kind-of knew the route… the first part at least. When I examined the Strathcona Forbidden Plateau trails map, I saw there was also a side-loop that went off to do Castle Crag Mountain and Mt. Frink. My planned Mt. Albert Edward out-and-back would be 32 km (two possible routes in, so I was planning to go in via the slightly longer Kwai Lake route and out via the Lake Helen Mackenzie route), and if I did the Castle Crag extra (which – note – on the map is a “route” as opposed to a “trail”) that would add an extra 6.1 km. That seemed pretty doable… but then, when I hit the trailhead at 9am, I ran into the summer Park Ranger Jes (who you will hear more about in my next two blog posts).
Jes saw me in my running gear and – like any good park ranger – asked me a few questions to make sure I knew what I was doing. So I asked her about that Castle Crag add-on. She really recommended against me doing it – mainly because it truly is a “route” and not a “trail” and some of the route-finding can be difficult. She suggested that, if I am going to do it, I should do it on the way up, not the way down, so I have time up my sleeve. “Nobody will be on that one. No one will find you if anything goes wrong,” she warned.
That was enough for me. I was really glad I ran into her. I was pretty happy with my 32 km Mt. Albert Edward plan, and she was totally right – if I was going to do the add-on, I should do it on the way up, not the way down, so I could cut out the Albert Edward summit if need be. I didn’t want to cut out the Mt. Albert Edward summit. That already felt like “unfinished business” from that previous trip – so I was really glad that I had met her, and made my decision there at the trailhead, rather than somewhere later, along the route.
Well, I totally lucked out with the day. (Well, it wasn’t pure luck – I had been aiming to go the previous week, but delayed because of the forecast. That’s the big plus of working the way I do, as a freelancer, where I can shift my work hours around). So I waited for a day like this, with a forecast that was clear and sunny – so I could get the views, but also for safety in navigation. Don’t want to lose my way in the fog alone on a mountantop!
So here are the pix. I did the whole thing in 9.5 hours – a bit slower than I expected, but I did stop a lot to take these photos (setting up the tripod, then putting the timer on and running through the image repeatedly until I got the shot I wanted), which takes a lot of time. There was over 1000 m elevation gain all together – starting at Mt. Washington resort around 1100 m, to the summit of Mt. Albert Edward at 2093 m (6th highest peak on Vancouver Island) plus a few extra ups and downs along the route. It was definitely the right choice NOT to do the Castle Crag loop this time – once up there, overlooking that route, I could see that it was definitely a “route” and not a “trail” (I was also slowed down up top picking my route along the Albert Edward ridgeline – you can pretty much see where you are supposed to get to, but the cairns supposedly marking the best route are kinda all over the place). Anyway, a very exhilarating day! As you will see from these pix: