Return to the Stein
May 2016 with Elena, Bill N, Janet S, Ron, Daphne, Jen and Rick. Donna was going to come with us but went and sprained her ankle walking at lunchtime the day before.
This was a two night adventure to look for spring flowers and birds, but also a warmup for this summer’s backpacking trips where we could try out gear, food and dormant muscles.
Finding reasonably accessible May backpacking trips in the Lower Mainland is not easy. There’s the Stein Valley and there’s the Skagit Valley and not much else. More easily accessible places tend to attract partiers and don’t offer much in the way of exploration. The Skagit is good and is fairly easy, but Deadfall Daphne discovered a couple of years ago that trail conditions aren’t always very good in the spring. Recent reports that the day use area at Sumallo Grove was closed for dangerous tree removal didn’t give much optimism about conditions on the actual trail.
Despite a hot spring, the water level on the Fraser River was reasonably low so the Lytton reaction ferry was running and was fairly busy. With a late start from the drive up from Vancouver and the wait for the ferry, we didn’t start hiking much before noon on Saturday. We took a leisurely four hours to hike 8 km to the Teepee campsite, with a number of stops to view flowers and hunt for birds, along with a short trip along a side trail to view a number of First Nations pictographs.
The campsite and the trail were reasonably busy but not overcrowded and not as busy as our previous visit in May 2012. Most of us managed to camp in the main section of the campsite though a couple found spots further back among the rocks and the deadfall. In the food locker, someone had thoughtfully left behind a small stuffed Ty lamb and a few pieces of sidewalk chalk – thankfully we didn’t see any recently created pictographs.
On Sunday we hiked further up the valley. In 2012, most of us hiked 5 kilometres from Teepee to the suspension bridge, then a bit further along the other side of the river to an unofficial campsite where there’s a ladder leading to a high platform in the trees – not for sleeping, no view to speak of and probably not much use for food storage so I’m unsure of its purpose. The ladder looked a bit questionable and we gave it a miss last time, but one person (I think Elena) was brave enough to go up it this time, just so she could say she did.
The only person in 2012 to hike further was Daphne, who went as far as Snake Bluffs, but this time all of us continued 5 km more to the Lean-to campsite. The trail is mostly in excellent condition up to the bridge but it gradually shows less and less use and maintenance the further you go. It gets more deadfall and more overgrown, with one or two spots where it hugs the bank of the river rather uncomfortably. Lean-to is a rather unappealing campsite – no views, no light and the most mosquitoes we saw all weekend. A few people we’d seen hiking in the day before were camping there, but they headed out not long after. We called it the lunch spot anyway, and most of the group decided that was the turnaround point for the day. Daphne and I had both come with the intention to hike at least to Snake Bluffs, but we weren’t able to talk anyone else into continuing with us.
The trail deteriorates rather more as soon as you leave the campsite, but got significantly worse on the otherwise straightforward ascent to Snake Bluffs. For some time we couldn’t see our feet for the vegetation, with large clumps of white rhododendrons (aka Mountain Misery) overgrowing the trail with their slippery roots and stems. We followed what there is of the trail for a fair distance along the bluffs, trying to pick it out among the roots, stems and leaves, and several exposed and slippery rocky bits.
When Daphne slipped – no serious injury apart from bruising a couple of body parts – we decided that we’d gone far enough for that day. She didn’t say much when she fell, but it was just after that she said a bad word when her good water bottle (not the cheap Powerade bottle, of course) came loose and rolled down the cliffs into the woods below. We watched it go and briefly considered whether it would be worth going back down the trail and trying to pick a route along the bottom of the cliffs to try and find it. Yes if it had been one of us that fell, but not for an eight dollar water bottle.
I worked my way a bit further along to try to get around a rock spur that blocked the view further up, but found the trail starting to descend again through the rhododendrons and decided against it. Just starting back, Daphne spotted what she remembered might have been a better route up and over the rocks, but that will wait for another expedition.
The idea of doing a crossover hike is still appealing. In 2013, Nature Vancouver held camp at Blowdown Lake, and I would have seriously considered following up the camp by hiking over Blowdown Pass, down Cottonwood Creek and out the Stein to Lytton. Unfortunately, that year the suspension bridge had suffered some storm damage so the upper valley was cut off from the lower valley. We’ll still consider it for a future trip.
The other campers had packed up and moved on when we got back to Lean-to; after hiking Snake Bluffs, I can see that the site would be attractive as a place to camp for eastbound hikers after coming over the bluffs with overnight packs. I certainly can’t see any other reason to want to stay there.
We expected that we’d catch up with the rest of the gang before getting back to our campsite, but either we were slower than we thought or they were faster since they managed to beat us by about half an hour. The valley is a No Fire zone from May to September, and on the way back Elena reprimanded some campers for having a large fire at one of the campsites; by the time we got to it there was no sign of it, so they must have listened.
On the way back from Snake Bluffs, we were excited to find a small patch of lady’s-slippers, the only ones we saw. Until a couple of days after getting home, when Elena sent a photo of a large patch right near the trailhead. Somehow others us of missed those, me maybe because I was looking too hard (and unsuccessfully) for mariposa lilies.
We saw no snakes at Snake Bluffs, but there was a western alligator lizard somewhere along the trail between Teepee and the suspension bridge. The only mammalian sightings was the mouse I saw in the outhouse late one night and a few noisy squirrels; we did find a couple of bighorn sheep by the roadside when we came off the ferry on the way home on Monday.
Not many birds showed themselves, but we did have a good look at one Western Tanager. Without binoculars, I picked one out in the top of a fir, and got a surprise when the tanager that everyone else was looking at flew out of the other side of the tree, leaving me to borrow the bins and discover that my bird was a couple of cones.
On the hike out, we had elevenses at the Devil’s Staircase campsite then a late lunch at the trailhead. We wanted to stop at Sharon’s Deli in Hope, which has signs claiming to have ice cream, but we’ve never actually come back from a hike to find it open, even at 5pm on a holiday Monday. I’m beginning to suspect it’s just a rumour. Oh well, the coffee is good at the Blue Moose.
Some things about preparation that came out of this weekend:
- Make sure that last-minute things like maps and binoculars are in a very obvious place (more obvious than the table in the front hallway?) so you don’t leave them behind on your way out the door. Out of a group of eight, only one person brought bins, making looking for birds a bit more of a challenge. Leave a note to remember to take things out of the freezer too.
- My plan to mix up my own dinners from various dried ethnic store stuff is going to work, but the dried cabbage isn’t a good choice. It’s stringy, takes too long to rehydrate if it ever really does, and isn’t that good for the digestion.
- Hot jello mix really is good for an after dinner drink. But it’s bulkier, heavier and more expensive than apple cider mix.
- Have a spare water bottle.
- Duct tape. You can never have too much duct tape.
But that’s the idea behind a spring warmup trip – you can’t get in as much trouble on a reasonably easy two night hike as you can on a week-long Rockies hike.