For as long as Logan and I have been together, he has talked about wanting to hike Mt Moriarty. He once hiked it with his parents and has wanted to return ever since, so this year we decided it would be a great way to celebrate his birthday. But we didn't want to just go up in back in a day. We also wanted to spend the night on the mountain and wake up to the epic views from the alpine, so that's what we planned to do. We packed our bags and had everything ready to go, but two days before our scheduled departure we checked to see if the forestry gates we needed to pass through where open, and of course, due to fire worries, they were all closed.
To say Logan was disappointed was an understatement. I, however, saw this as an opportunity for us to explore even more of beautiful Vancouver Island and I set out on a quest to find an equally exciting and beautiful trail to hike. In that process I stumbled upon the trail to Landslide Lake and Berg Lake in Strathcona Provincial Park and decided this would be the perfect stand- in adventure. I'm not sure why, but we had yet to even think about this gorgeous trail. This park is the oldest park in BC and one of the most beautiful, yet for some reason we have explored very little of it. I couldn't wait for that to change.
On Saturday morning we loaded up our backpacks and Max and drove the 2.5 hours to the trail head. We arrived to a jam packed parking lot and took the very last parking spot, unloaded our bags and began up the Elk River Trail.
Forest fire smoke permeated the air as we began our trek up the trail. It was barely visible, but our nostrils knew it was there. A two ha, uncontained fire was burning about 25km away with quite a few mountains in between us and the fire, so we weren’t worried about running into it, but if air quality was poor due to smoke it was going to make this hike a lot more difficult.
The steepest part of the hike before the first campsite was right at the beginning. A few switchbacks leading us up a hill before the trail led us back down the other side into the valley. For a 11km we meandered through red cedars and some of the largest hemlock trees we had ever seen, engulfed in the canopy of the forest. It also didn’t take long for us to hear the sound of the elk river to our left. Throughout the hike we wound our way along and away from its clear and cold running waters.
The first 7.5km of this hike were very moderate with mostly flat or slightly sloping ground. It was the perfect way to cover some km's before our final climbs to the lake. As we neared the first campsite at 7.5km, we ran into a girl who told us we should stop there and set up camp before continuing on the trail to second camp and then the lakes. She said the trail became steeper after first camp and it was more enjoyable to do the rest of the hike without the weight of our bags. She was correct, but we kept on anyway. We were determined to spend our night with some amazing mountain views and we knew we had a higher chance of this at second camp.
We reached second camp and headed to the river to find ourselves a campsite. There were quite a few sites sprinkled amongst the forest and riverbank, but we found one that faces a magnificent mountain so we could enjoy the alpine beauty we had hiked for 11km to reach.
Once we had set up camp and eaten a meal, we strapped our boots back on, sorted out a much lighter pack and headed up towards the lakes. The hike to the first lake took us about an hour and was more incline than we had seen on this trail so far. It was easier going without the packs, but we were already tired by this point so it was a harder push than either of us would have liked.
But it was worth it. This incredible lake was surrounded by steep cliffs and jutting mountains that reflected beautifully on the water below. We stopped here for a short while and chatted with a few of the other people who were also enjoying the lake, and then we continued on.
There was one more lake to reach before we were done. On our way in between the two campsites we had met two girls who raved about this second lake. They repeated that even though it was a harder hike, we needed to make it up there because it was incredible. Their enthusiasm was so big and infectious that we knew it would be worth pushing through the exhaustion to make it up there. We scrambled through forests of giant hemlocks on the steep cliff side and then up the flowing creek bed to reach Berg Lake. Along the hike we saw numerous plant species I had no idea grew in the alpine and we spent many moments in awe of the incredible mountains surrounding us.
After scrambling, bush-wacking and getting our feet a little wet, we climbed over one last rocky ledge and there she was- Berg Lake. Collared by one of the last glaciers on Vancouver Island, Berg Lake lived up to its name with floating bits of ice hugging the shore. It also sat at the base of the Mt Colonel Foster we had been admiring since emerging from the forest below Landslide Lake. The wall that is Mt Colonel Foster reaches straight up from the glacial side of the lake dwarfing everything below it.
Berg Lake was as amazing as the girls had described. Logan's face was grinning from ear to ear and he didn’t waste any time jumping into the water. Yes, that’s right, even with ice floating all around him, he decided to go for a swim. Twice actually. Somehow instead of shivers he came out with an even bigger smile that stayed plastered across his face as we headed back down to camp.
We stayed for maybe half an hour before forcing our tired bodies to head back down the mountain. I don't think I have ever been as tired on a hike as I was in those moments, but it was worth every bit of exhaustion to spend some time enjoying that super cool little lake. Our only regret was that we hadn't had more time up there. We really wished we had had an extra day and the energy to bring our packs up there and camp beside the lake.
But the campsite we chose along the river was also perfect. At one point in the middle of the night we each woke up and went out to view the stars. The sky was perfectly clear and full of them, along with a bright moon that lit up the entire valley. It was perfect.
The next morning we took things slow before heading back. Hiking back was a bit stiff, but getting most of the incline over with on the first day was a great way to go for us.
On our drive back we stopped at Upper Campbell Lake for a swim and it was the perfect end to a perfect weekend.
A couple of technical tips:
There are markers nailed to trees all the way through the forest and the trail is super easy to follow. Once you make it into the more alpine rock areas there are cairnes and ribbons on trees to mark the way.
These local freeze dried meals were also super easy to add water to and cook and were very light weight. They have been great for both backpacking and bikepacking!
This bug spray works amazing! It kept the black flies and mosquitoes away and also helped to mask our hiking stink because it's mostly lovely smelling essential oils. Thats on top of it actually working better than regular bug spray!
All photographs taken on an iPhone 12 Mini by Taryn Pickard :)