It’s Odin’s majestic hall for the dead, as they wait for Ragnarok, when they will leave and join the battle of the gods and monsters of Norse mythology. And, it’s a majestic mountain park in British Columbia.
We spent the previous day under thick smoky skies until we reached the town of Nelson, where it was a relief to see blue again. The blue stayed with us till we reached our hotel in Slocan. We weren’t sure what to expect this morning. Wildfires were in all directions and we both felt that if there was too much smoke, it would be too worrying, and we might just cancel our hike.
The day turned out to be gorgeous! What a relief.
Our hotel was only a few blocks from where we had to park to reach the trail head in Valhalla Provincial Park. The first four miles of the trail would be along the western shore of Slocan Lake as we followed the lake to the north. On the map it looked like they would be four easy miles, just following the beach or whatever. AllTrails even says, “The first four miles are easy.” In my mind I anticipated a comfortable stroll with the opportunity to chat or daydream or gaze out at the lake while walking.
Instead, the trail was forced to accommodate the steep slopes and rock falls that formed the shore of the long, narrow mountain lake. We climbed 150 feet up over one boulder slide, and back down the boulders for 150 feet, then back up the next boulder slide and back down again. We climbed over tree roots and used our hands to pull us up over short granite ledges, and then because of a sheer cliff in one section, we climbed a couple hundred feet up, up the mountainside, traipsed along the top of the cliff, then all the way back down to the water’s edge. It was really exhausting.
Our intent had been to get to the highest lake that allowed camping, Cahill Lake. We didn’t make it that night. Still, the scenery was outstanding, the company even better. We had a great day.
We spooked a couple of ptarmigans in the forest next. I’m guessing an adult female with a juvenile. They were still while we approached, and clucked like chickens!
Soon after chatting with the birds, we found a place on the shore of the lake to stop and have lunch and rest. It was very restorative. We tested the temperature of the lake water and found that it was surprisingly warm for a mountain lake. All day we had passed people on boats and kayaks out fishing, swimming or simply sightseeing from the water. We saw only a couple people on the trail. The relative solitude was nice to experience after researching other nearby parks of Banff and Waterton Lakes, and finding that all of their campsites were sold out and expectations were for crowds.
Soon after our lunch stop we came to Evans Creek, the most popular spot along the trail because it is easily accessible to everyone in boats. We didn’t stop there (except to use the outhouse – ha!). At Evans Creek, the trail turns uphill for good, and follows the creek up to the lakes. At this point, AllTrails says, the trail gets hard because it’s steep.
After a few steps, the trail smoothed out. Though it was indeed steeper, for greater distances, there were no more roots and boulders to climb over. It was practically blissful. Pedro and I had a much easier time from there on out.
Now the trail burrowed deeply into the forest with occasional dramatic views of the crashing creek. We had to cross the creek a couple of times, but there were stable, sturdy bridges in place.
The first small lake we came to was Emerald Lake. The trail continues on, but we were ready to stop. We would explore more later but it was time to enjoy the new lake and set up camp while we still had daylight and energy.
I was famished!! For this trip, we decided to use up all the freeze-dried food packets we have in the camp gear. I always like to bring a few as emergency food, but if you’ve read one of my backpacking blog posts before, you’ll recall that I nearly always haul up fresh vegetables and meats and cheeses (and wine!) and have real, delicious, home cooked food on the trail. But the packets don’t keep forever. We brought every single packet we had, intending to use them up and replace them with fresh ones in the future. On the label, they say, “Meal for 2.” Pedro picked one for himself, and I actually picked two. (Translation: that is apparently a meal for six) We both ate every last morsel, we were so hungry.
We each wandered around the beach, and the lakeside trails, exploring and enjoying our spot. Emerald Lake has four clearly marked campsites. In BC parks you are only allowed to camp in campsites, not rough like I’m used to. There is also a community fire pit with a high steel ring around it. In a bear-proof storage box, we found some extra steel grates. So, we were able to start a fire inside the ring, and we placed one of the grates above the fire to help keep sparks down. We filled our pots and our empty bags from the food with lake water to douse the fire when needed. Then we sat on benches provided (they do it right up here!) and watched the flames as the night gathered.
As we sat there, the sky across the lake grew ominous. This was a new wildfire that was not there before. We watched the sky grow more orange as the day left us. When the sticks had burned to ash, we soaked the fire pit and got ready for sleep. It was a bit uncomfortable to go to sleep with a sky like that. We were, however, absolutely spent, and had no trouble falling asleep.