It was epic! For seven days, our group backpacked through the untrammelled wilderness of British Columbia’s South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park. This park has an incredible diversity of landscapes—snowy peaks, glacial lakes and flower-filled meadows all connected by over 200 km of wilderness trails. No need to worry about social distancing. We met only two other hiking groups during our week’s stay. It was rough going at times, but the scenic rewards and sense of accomplishment far outweighed the discomforts.
Lorna Lake to Tyaughton Lake Route
While best known for mountain biking, there are many options for exceptional day hiking and multi-day backpacking in South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park. We did a 7-day trip from Lorna Lake to Tyaughton Lake. Due to the significant elevation changes and route-finding challenges, this route is best suited for experienced backpackers. See end for other options and logistics.
Distance: 62 km (39 mi) route, not including day hikes
Time: 6-7 days with fly-in to Lorna Lake
Elevation gain: 3227 m (10,587 ft), not including day hikes
Elevation loss: 4136 m (13,570 ft) loss, not including day hikes
Day 1: Float plane to Lorna Lake & day hike along Sluice Creek
Our group of nine, chartered a float plane with Tyax Adventures for the 20-minute flight from their base at Tyaughton Lake to Lorna Lake. What a thrilling start to our trip! We were the first of only two hiking groups to arrive at Lorna Lake and we were able to snag the premier camping spot at the north end of the lake. Glacier-fed Lorna Lake is stunning, surrounded by vertiginous scree slopes, high peaks and sub-alpine forest.
It was tempting to spend the afternoon lounging in the sun at Lorna Lake, but the Sluice Creek area called out for exploration. We quickly discovered that the dotted lines on our Trail Ventures BC map do not represent trails, rather they are mountaineering routes (MRs) with little to no path. From Lorna Lake, we bushwhacked through fairly open forest to Sluice Creek. From there, we followed the creek upstream to a landscape that looks like a painting— gurgling creeks, vivid green vegetation, smoothed mountain contours, and even some graceful deer.
Day 2: Lorna Pass to Little Paradise Creek & day hike to Davidson Ridge
Today was our first “test” with our heavy packs and it started almost immediately uphill from Lorna Lake over Lorna Pass. The two hour climb on a well-maintained trail was hard but not horribly so. Coming down the other side, we were rewarded with vast meadows of wildflowers and enormous views.
By lunchtime, we were at the Little Paradise Creek/Tyaughton Creek trails intersection where we decided to pitch our tents in a grassy meadow. Some of us opted for an afternoon hike to Davidson Ridge (about 8 km return). This pleasant hike along Little Paradise Creek Trail climbs through open forest with amazing flower displays, eventually coming to tree line where superb views over the rounded, warm-hued mountains reveal the diversity of this park.
Day 3: Little Paradise Creek to Lizard Tarns (almost)
To say that this was a tough day would be an understatement. We might be smiling in the photo below, but inside we’re cursing the boggy ground, the lack of trail, the endless bushwhacking, the numerous creek crossings, the boulder fields and the incessant mosquito presence.
I had anticipated some hardship based on our guidebook’s description of the Lizard Creek drainage :” Lack of a good trail above Lizard Pond—some route-finding and bushwhacking required.” The word “some” is misleading. We were rarely on a trail (even below Lizard Pond) and almost the entire way was a big challenge. Now we knew the definition of a mountaineering route in the Chilcotins!
Fortunately, we were a stoic group, pitching in to build bridges for creek crossings, providing encouragement to each other and taking turns leading through the rough terrain. By late afternoon, after more than nine hours on the “trail” (and less than 10 km travelled), we still hadn’t made it to our intended destination of Lizard Tarns. We were tired and disheartened and not entirely sure how we were going to find the bloody tarns. We decided to pitch camp in a nice-looking though slightly soggy meadow below a ridge, which we were “somewhat sure” would get us to Lizard Tarns.
I had a sleepless night feeling guilty that I had been the one who pushed for doing the Lizard Creek route, worrying about the next day and stressing about Mike’s state of mind (this was a lot more demanding that what he’d signed up for).
Day 4: Lizard Tarns, Lizard Lake and Sheba Ridge to Deer Pass
If Day 3 was the low point, Day 4 was the absolute highlight. As we suspected, the ridge above our campsite, while a steep grunt, did lead to Lizard Tarns. We were elated at the top, awed by the alpine wonderland and relieved that we were “back on track”. We dropped our packs to explore the tarns (glacially carved pools) and nearby Lizard Lake.
Now, we faced the challenge of finding our onward route up a scree bowl to Sheba Ridge. It was another steep slog with no trail, but the clear sight lines made route-finding far easier than on our previous day. The best moment of the trip for me was when we crested the ridge and looked over the huge, beautiful wilderness. I was so proud of Mike for persevering and pushing himself beyond his imagined limits. I sensed it was a special moment for our entire group.
Our campsite at Deer Pass was cold and exposed, but I didn’t mind. The setting was phenomenal and the grandeur of the day was intoxicating.
Day 5: Deer Pass to Potato Patch
It was nice waking up knowing that today we’d be on actual trails and that the first section was all downhill—no stress and endless panoramic views coming down Deer Pass to the Gun Creek Trail.
The big draw of the Upper Gun Creek Trail is its gorgeous turquoise lakes. We didn’t have the time for a detour to Warner Lake but we enjoyed skirting Trigger Lake and having lunch at Hummingbird Lake. Much to our surprise, there was a picnic table and outhouse at Hummingbird Lake—such luxuries after days of no facilities.
It was a long haul to our campsite at Potato Patch but we needed to make up ground to avoid excessively lengthy days during the last section of our route. The lovely wildflowers provided a soothing distraction for our tired bodies. At camp, the bugs were a nuisance though we kept them at bay with a roaring fire and were distracted by laughs as Mike was given a “blister operation” by nurse Helle, and traded toilet paper for pack-lightening service with Eva.
Day 6: High Trail over Windy Pass to the Eldorado Meadows
The High Trail starts just steps from the Potato Patch campsite, and from there it’s 640 m (2100 ft) up to Windy Pass. The trail travels first through forest and then quickly opens to meadows before the final push to Windy Pass. We were amazed at the distance we had covered over the last two days as we stopped to admire the views and saw Mount Sheba on the horizon.
One of my favourite parts of the trek was the the descent from Windy Pass into the Eldorado Meadows. We were captivated by a large group of mountain goats high on a ridge and by the many marmots darting in and out of their tunnels. Below the rocky terrain, the beautiful trail curves its way down meadows speckled with vibrant flowers and crisscrossed by clear, babbling streams. It felt like a scene from The Sound of Music.
Come dusk, the idyllic scene at our meadow campsite turned into another mosquito fest. We didn’t waste any time getting a fire started and we all pitched in gathering wood.
Day 7: Eldorado Meadows to Tyax Lodge where fries and beer await
Our final day on the trail! I had mixed feelings during our 1000+ m (3280+ ft) knee knackering descent to Tyaughton Lake via the Lick Trail. I was so ready for real food (not the dehydrated stuff) and a bath in something warmer than glacial streams. At the same time, I wanted the serenity that comes with immersion in nature to continue.
But as the temperature rose to the high 20s °C (mid-80s °F) and our last few kilometres on an uninspiring forestry road dragged on forever, all I could think of was a cold beer and fries. We pushed on, ecstatic to finally arrive at Tyax Lodge (just 2 km from where our cars were parked). The lodge rooms are closed due to the pandemic, but the pretty restaurant patio has thankfully remained open. We dumped our packs on the lawn and scattered based on our most pressing personal needs—some, like me, beelined it to the patio for a frosty beer, others raced to the lake to wash off a week’s worth of sweat, sunscreen and mosquito repellent. We all joined together for dinner on the patio and toasted our epic backpacking adventure in South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park.
Thank you, Eva and Mats for introducing us to this park, and thanks to all of you—Helle, Finn, Susan, Jay, Ian, Mike, Eva, Mats— for your positive energy, perseverance, route-finding, fire-building, bridge-building, flower crown-making, animal-spotting, blister-healing, bear canister-schlepping and wonderful companionship. It was a pleasure hiking with you.
If you go:
- Access South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park near Gold Bridge, approximately a five hour drive from Vancouver. Find directions here.
- Independent hiking and multi-day backpacking trips in the park can be staged from Tyax Lodge, which has rooms, chalets and a campground (rooms are currently closed due to COVID-19). There are also several other campgrounds in the vicinity. There is no fee or reservations required for independent hiking/camping in the park.
- Tyax Adventures offers float plane service, sightseeing flights, guided single day and multi-day backpacking, mountain biking and horsepacking excursions as well as backcountry hut accommodations.
- The Trail Ventures BC guide book and map for Southern Chilcotin Mountains provide essential information for trails, routes, camping, wildlife, etc.
- This park is an undeveloped wilderness area. Except for main trail intersections, there is little signage. Camping, with the exception of Spruce Lake, Hummingbird Lake, Trigger Lake and Lorna Lake is primitive—no pit toilets, food caches, tent pads, picnic tables…
- As we discovered, mountaineering routes (that look like actual trails on the map) can be extremely challenging. Stick to the main trails if you lack experience (or want a less demanding trek), or take a guided trip with Tyax Adventures.
- While our group didn’t encounter any bears, grizzly and black bears, as well as other other large mammals, are commonly seen. Be bear aware. If camping at primitive sites in the alpine/sub-alpine, bear canisters are essential (hanging food packs from trees isn’t always possible).
- There are many water sources in the park, but filtration and/or treatment with tablets should be used.
- Expect large temperature variations. In mid-July, we experienced below freezing temperatures at night and high 20s°C (mid-80s°F) in the day.
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