On the September long weekend, 2016, My Slice of Paradise and I hiked the 19kms to the Wates-Gibson Hut for a three night stay. We have spent the last couple of summers adventuring in the backcountry so we’re pretty confident in knowing our limitations.
Accounting for a lighter pack with no tent and a full day of light, we knew we were more than capable of the hike.
The 19km hike in to the Wates-Gibson Hut in the Tonquin Valley was more difficult than we expected. I’ll do it again to stay at that hut, though. I have a separate post about the hut and its amenities over here.
The Astoria Trail begins at the small parking lot across from the Hi-Mount Edith Cavell Wilderness Hostel on the Edith Cavell Road. It is 19km to the hut from here.
A large male grizzly had been making himself known in the at the Astoria end of the trail all summer. Old Grumpy Pants, as he was known by the locals, was reportedly not giving up the trail to hikers. We didn’t see him but I’m sure I smelled him on the way out and we saw lots of scat.
From the trailhead to Astoria campground, at the 7km mark, the trail is in great shape. Literally akin to a superhighway in the hiking world – wide, fairly even and while there’s plenty of elevation difference in both directions … it’s nothing extreme.
Even with the recent and current rain (all summer) we made great time on this portion. It took us less than 2 hours to reach the campground for a pee break and a snack.
I’m not a huge fan of this campground. There’s an awkwardly steep access point and you’re not directly on the water, which is always my favourite place. However, I’ve never stayed here so that might not be a fair evaluation. There is a small stream not far away for drinking water and it made a great pit-stop in the rain.
Chrome Lake Trail
A few hundred meters down the trail, at the bridge, the trail leaves the well traveled Astoria Trail and branches off to the Chrome Lake trail.
The bridge is wide with rails, an easy river crossing. That’s about where our easy ended. Granted, we hiked after one of the rainiest summers on record, during yet another rainy week. But still, this is one of the gnarliest trails we’ve ever negotiated.
I think the worst part about trying to describe the trail is that there’s nothing on a map that’s going to really give you an idea of how hard it is. The elevation changes are nothing extraordinary, except the last bit to the hut. The last bit, when you’re exhausted … it’s mean.
When I came back out and was talking to a local, really experienced hiker, it was him that said,
“That’s just a really gnarly trail.”
I couldn’t have described it better myself.
A pair of gaiters were sacrificed on this hike from the low, wet bushes covering the trail and the muddy rocks. I have never been so happy with my stretchy rain pants, they saved me so much discomfort.
My guess is that about 9 of the next 12 kilometres were like the pic above. That’s the trail. It was exhausting.
It took us close to five hours to travel those 12 kilometres. There was little opportunity to lengthen your stride and chew up some distance. Almost every step had to be well negotiated, foot placement was crucial.
This was the first time I had a real fear of hurting myself on the trail and having to be rescued. And it wasn’t from anything I would have predicted. I would have thought that rock slides and cliffs etc would be the culprit.
My journal reads:
“My greatest fear was that I would slip and hurt myself out of sheer carelessness because of exhaustion.”
In this case, I was so worried about the wet rocks and the amount of roots and rock hopping we had to do. I could clearly see how a broken ankle could take a person out.
It was mentally exhausting to negotiate the trail. Technically it is pretty easy to follow, except for at one small boulder field. I had been watching my feet so long and intently that when I just happened to look up I realized the trail marker was a bit off from where I was naturally headed.
The closest we got to any wildlife was this moose print. We followed the mama and calf prints for quite a while before seeing them below in the swamp.
I don’t have photo of the spot in the trail that almost brought me to tears. I should have taken the picture. It wasn’t even anything spectacular but at the spot where the bridge crosses the creek at Chrome Lake I was done.
My poles earned their keep on this adventure.
The bridge, itself, is in great shape but on the far end the water has washed away the dirt and you come off the bridge deck to step down to a few boulders before hitting the dirt. I stood there looking at the next step down on to a slippery rock, my legs shaking from exhaustion, and I really wondered if they were going to hold me up.
The trail changes after Chrome Lake … only slightly, but it’s enough. There’s less rocks and roots and it becomes easier to walk. And then it goes uphill.
I took this photo on the way out, because I kid you not … on the way up, this log was a viable option for spending the night. I was that tired.
The only awesome thing about the sudden intense uphill climb is the knowledge you’re less than 2kms from the hut, almost there.
“On any other hike without the pack and the previous 18km it would have been nothing special. However, it reduced me to counting my steps a mere 10 at a time.”
But even with all that … I want to go back so bad. I really want to find out what the trail is like when it’s drier. And I loved staying at the hut so much. My post on the hut stay is over here.