Heather Trail, Manning Park
June-July 2013 with Anne, Bill N, Nancy, Daphne, Nellie, Bettina, Elena, Rick and Jen.
When the Canada Day holiday falls on a Friday or a Monday it gives us a long weekend of hiking. Even at the beginning of July, good backpacking options are usually limited because of snow conditions but the Heather Trail is often hikeable. I first did it in 1992 when I hiked past the Three Brothers and camped at the Kicking Horse site; the early summer bloom was at its peak but the weather was dismal. I’d been up this trail many times in the meantime but hadn’t backpacked it again.
We decided that Buckhorn campground would be a good base as there isn’t that much point in hiking all the way past the Brothers to camp. This early in the season, we didn’t expect it to be busy so we weren’t likely to have much trouble getting sites. The biggest question was whether the Blackwall Road would be open – the meadows would be hikeable but the road often isn’t yet opened past the Dry Ridge trailhead. We had a hike planning meeting and discussed our options; we hope for the road to be open or be prepared to hike the extra distance up the road. Bev and Bill R suggested another option of hiking up to the meadows from Cambie Creek to the Fat Dog Ridge area, which would be a greater elevation gain but a fairly easy hike. The trouble with that access is that it’s mainly a winter route, and creek crossings make it a more questionable route early in the season. Most of the team decided that we’d take our chances on having to hike the road; having hiked it several times before on my own and enjoyed it, I may have sold its appeal to people. Or maybe the creek crossings scared them off. Bev and Bill decided to give the trip a miss; I did do the Cambie/Fat Dog trip with them the following year, which is recorded elsewhere in this blog.
Right up to the day before the hike, the official word was that the road was still closed above the Dry Ridge trailhead. We checked in at the visitor centre on our way up to the hike and were told the same thing. We drove up expecting to need to hike the road, and were pleasantly surprised to get to Dry Ridge and find the gate open. And the road was open all the way to the lower trailhead at the top of the Blackwall.
Which is fine. This trail begins by losing elevation to Buckhorn. First time hikers on this trail make the mistake of driving all the way to the end of the road; that means you have a slightly shorter hike, but it starts higher and you have to go down more. That means you have to climb back up more at the end of the hike, and that last little bit of climbing can be excruciating. There were not a lot of vehicles parked there, which meant that we were likely going to have a fairly quiet hike and have much of the trail to ourselves. A week or two later and it would have been much busier.
After a fairly quick hike in to the deserted campground and set up, we headed up through the old burned area to the meadows of Big Buck Mountain. The burn was in 1945 but as recently as twenty years ago its effects were still very noticeable; the forest is only now starting to close in again. The Big Buck meadows were in peak early summer bloom – a small diversity of species (avalanche lily, spring beauty pictured below, western anemone, globeflower and marsh-marigold) but enormous abundance.
On Sunday we headed back up Big Buck and then over toward the Three Brothers. Technically, Three Brothers Mountain is the highest peak in the group, the ridge which branches northeast from the main northwest-southeast ridge the trail follows and which is commonly known as the First Brother. Supposedly it has three humps. If you say so. In reality, the First Brother is the branch off the ridge, and the extended ridge consists of the Second and Third Brothers (and the Fourth Brother They Don’t Talk About further along, sitting at the card table in the other room with the Cousins) .
Ballhead waterleaf (Hydrophyllum capitatum)
However you count them, the ridge to the Three Brothers is one of only a couple of places in Manning Park where there is true alpine country, and we had a few good alpine flowers up there. The meadows get very heavy snowpack and were still melting out and very wet, but the steep and dry ridges above them were open and flowering.
On the very dry ridge leading to the First Brother, in a small clump of krummholz, we found this tree frog.
Lyall’s rockcress (Boechera syn. Arabis lyalli)
We made the First Brother and had lunch
looking back toward Big Buck, with Blackwall in the mid distance and Frosty Mountain in the right distance
looking to the Second and Third Brothers
then dropped back down to the saddle at its base and wandered up the Second (here on the Second, Nellie is looking back to the First)
and here Bill looks to the Third
Going from the Second to the Third involves more significant elevation loss before going back up again, so we decided to skip it on this trip and save it for a future excursion. Coming down from the Second, most of the gang followed me down through the meadows (where I was trying to determine just how far down the trail did go enroute to the Third) but Rick came down on his own on a different route. Guess who tripped and threw his knee out? But we managed to get him back to the campsite without much difficulty.
There were several good snow patches along the trail, and one or two people tried sliding down them, but the snow was too soft to get much going (and not much chance of getting any good videos which might embarrass people in them). We spotted a number of small ridges of soil in places in the meadows, which Daphne’s stepfather later identified as being the undersnow diggings of pocket gophers. We didn’t actually see any of those, and neither did we see what it was that gnawed a hole in the corner of Nancy’s brand new tent. Forget bears, in Manning Park at least it’s the wee critters you need to watch out for.
It got hot but not unbearably so. Back at the campsite, some of us rinsed things like socks and shirts in the creek. Bill N just threw himself into the creek. Another couple arrived and set up their tent, but they were friendly, mostly stayed out of our way and were quiet.
Above we see, growing together right at the campsite, three trees: subalpine fir, Englemann spruce and whitebark pine. These are the definitive trees of the subalpine zone in the Cascades and Coast Mountains.
Woolly pussytoes (Antennaria lanata)
And one really cool bug