July 10th 2018 - Squamish BC
The Elaho valley is a stunning wilderness area the parallels Highway 99 to the West between Whistler and Pemberton, beginning a ways up the Squamish valley road and culminating at Meager Creek Hotsprings, a natural hot spring, beautifully designed by a Japanese master rendered somewhat difficult to access by repeated land slides.
The trail through this area was built by the Western Canada Wilderness Committee in 1998!
The mechanics of how our group of 7 was swiftly reduced to 4 on the evening before our departure hinge on a fuzzy weather forecast and a willful Land Cruiser rolling itself into a ditch at a gas station.
Undaunted, our starting lineup of Peter, Lindsay, Michel and Freya packed in to a friends very much 2WD courtesy car after depositing a rugged 4WD option at the Meager Creek trail head. Quickly, it was clear our approach beta of the Squamish Valley road being 2WD friendly was a ghastly sandbag. At km 44 7pm on July 2nd, we encountered a sizeable wash out and opted to make a fire, eat our trail-head dinner, settle in for the night and an extra hike the following morning despite some alarm bells going off internally. This is probably where bad beta salvaged the trip. We imagined the wash out added up to 20km to the hike, maybe more like 10-15, we hopefully bandied. The following day, our ride peeled out at 630am and we got our start shortly after. KM 0, the start of the Elaho-Meager trail, was attained some 10 hours of logging road hiking later at KM 74; it took us nearly all day to even get on the map!
Exhausted, we pressed in to the forest, our knees desperate for the relief of loamy earth and were welcomed by a decent trail through stunning old growth fir groves. 2 eternal km later, we reached Cessna creek and the first anticipated crux, a virtual gorge spanned only by a pair of cables with warnings “Not designed for human use”!
We cleared some brush and made our sordid, separate camps. Lindsay and Peter did an initial scout of the river and reported finding a potential crossing point over a log. Freya and Michel were unimpressed by this finding and primarily discussed the absurdity of the situation, the pain in their bodies, the worrying blisters reported by Lindsay in her new boots and went to bed planning to return the way they’d come in the morning!
On waking, much needed rest, a loan of double layered hiking socks, some strong coffee, the prospect of a dreary slog of a retreat and a confirmed safe river crossing saw the gang press on despite the previous day’s addition of 30km to the route, a distance greater than the entire trail! The log crossing proved simple enough, though we can’t promise it will be there in the future; the subsequent old growth trail revealed itself to be pleasant hiking on an easy to follow trail, despite many years of apparent disuse.
Blueberry falls rolled by as the group spent the rest of the day attaining “Last Chance Camp”, tantalizingly near on the far bank of Marlowe creek. Having packed 18m worth of climbing rope, we rigged a natural belay on a huge boulder and sent a naked Peter in first, strapped in at the waist. He made the far bank and before too long the rest of us crossed in fine spirits, made camp, supper and had a great night sleep ready for the ascent the following day with little sign of the foreboded rain that so concerned the rest of our party prior to departure.
Daybreak: the aforementioned rains had come! Oh well. Up we go. The following section was not only the steepest but also the most difficult to navigate as the old trail faded entirely from view. We relied on my Suunto watch's compass bearings and the occasional encounter with the small diamond shaped orange blazes that dot the trail. The mosquitoes and brief breaks in the clouds kept us going and by 1pm we had cracked the 100 lakes plateau and, lo! and behold, the sun was out! Picture time.
Mist lake panorama by photographer Lindsay after the sun came out
The rest of the day saw us ramble across the plateau amicably, the trail navigable by way of a 4 person scouting pattern over to the “Chain Lakes Camp” site. Be advised, this area has grubby lakes compared to the first section of the plateau so if you’re going to swim in the sweetly chilling sub alpine waters, don’t wait! We set up camp, achy, tired, but giddily excited by the prospect of arriving at Meager Creek Hot Springs the next day.
We woke to variable tempests the following morning; wild rumblings in the air spurred us to a 6am start. We descended, the trail easy enough to follow downwards and made it to the last river crossing without much difficulty. The crossing proved easy, despite the bridge being out here as well, but what awaited us on the far bank was somewhat unexpected. Here, the contrast between land unmolested and land ravaged by logging was made all too clear. The logging roads, which we had so looked forward to by this point, were a complete thicket of Alder and the overgrown embankment a tangle of shrubs and brush. It took us about an hour and a half to journey a single kilometer to the final river crossing that we had figured might necessitate our rope. Fortunately, just enough of the bridge remained for us to cross:
Yay for massive old growth log beams.
The rest of our approach to Meager Creek was pretty prosaic and the 4 hour hike out back to our vehicle likewise. The restorative pools did wonders for our sore bodies
Lindsay and travel companion Meager at the Meager creek hotsprings main pool
and on July 7th, after eating all remaining provisions save some dried mango, we arrived at our vehicle around 1pm, extremely stoked on our successful crossing and ravenous for some Mile One Eatery fare.
We weren’t in the clear yet, however! Not 2km down the logging road we encountered a locked gate with a note, and a phone number… 60km out from cell service, this seemed a joke. We set back up the logging road seeking some loggers and nearly had a head on collision with them as they descended.
“You want us to open the gate?” they drawled as we panicked and flailed at the wheel, desperate to be seen and let through the locked gate.
Huzzah! Back in Pemberton, we feasted in bare-feet, high fives all around.
Can we eat all the baklava now?