Comox Valley Naturalists Society
Knowing Nature . . .
Hiking to Lake Beautiful
August 25, 2006
A few days ago we took advantage of the great weather to do some hiking in Strathcona Park. We accessed the park by driving up Mt Washington, to the trailhead near the Raven Lodge.
Before starting our hike we visited the information hut to pick up a map and get an update on trail conditions. The Strathcona Wilderness Institute, a local non-profit society, provides park information, guided hikes and kids programs (admission by donation) throughout the summer.
Our hike began at Paradise Meadows, where a boardwalk loops through a delicate meadow ecosystem of stunning wildflowers and enchanting ponds. Leaving the meadows, we headed up through the cool shady forest towards Battleship Lake. Battleship is a long narrow lake, and the trail follows alongside its wooded edge. From Battleship we looked back at Mt Washington, where ribbon-like ski runs trail down the slopes.
About two-thirds of the way along Battleship Lake there is an option loop back via Helen Mackenzie Lake, a large and scenic lake. This is a popular route, and the trail is smooth going, with boardwalk over the wet spots.
We bypassed Helen Mackenzie Lake en route to Lady Lake, a pretty lake nestled at the foot of Mt Elma. Though it was tempting to stop there, we continued on to Croteau Lake for our coffee break. This lake is a jewel, with clear blue water that reflects the trees, and a fine view of the long sloping ridge of Mt Albert Edward.
After Croteau Lake the trail descends through a dreamy, sloping meadow known as Murray Meadows. Narrow-leaved cotton-grass (Eriophorum angustifolium), a type of sedge with white cottony seed heads, covers all the meadows this time of year. From a distance it looks like a dappling of snow. A few other plants make a late summer showing, including the white bog orchid, which has dozens of tiny white orchid flowers clustered around a central spike. The green bog orchid is similar, but with less conspicuous green flowers.
At Murray Meadows, there is another junction. To the South East, a trail leads to Panther Lake, and eventually (a long way) connects to Mt Becher. We continued on to Kwai Lake, a wilderness campground with several tent pads, a bear cache, and pit toilets. On this summer weekend, colourful tents and happy campers abounded.
From Kwai Lake, day hikers often loop back or do an extension to Lake Beautiful, or the Cruickshank Canyon Lookout. Backpackers often continue on a different trail to Circlet Lake, the base camp for climbing Mt Albert Edward.
At Lake Beautiful, our lunch spot, a stream trickles down through the rocks into the lake. A rock shelf veers into the lake, making it a perfect place to swim. There are stellar views of several mountains, including the ragged peak of Castlecrag Mt.
The afternoon was heating up, so we decided not to continue to the Cruickshank Canyon Lookout, which we knew to be a hot, open stretch of trail.
Returning to Kwai Lake, we looped back on the west side toward Helen Mackenzie Lake. After about a kilometre we came to Hairtrigger Lake and the acorn shaped ranger’s cabin. There, we saw a Red-breasted Sapsucker, one of the few birds of the day, apart from the Juncos flitting along the trail, and a few Gray Jays and Red Crossbills.
The next stretch of trail becomes heavily wooded, and is rough in places with roots and rocks. We kept moving, as there were more mosquitoes on this section. In the dark gloom of the forest, several rotten logs were spot lit with blobs of bright yellow slime mold.
With Mt Allan Brooks rising up on our left, we soon came around the side of Helen Mackenzie Lake. We continued along the west side, which connects to Paradise Meadows. In damp, lush spots along the trail we noticed several flowers of the aster family in bloom, including the yellow arrow-leaved groundsel (Senecio triangularis), mountain arnica (Arnica latifolia) and the mauve coloured subapline daisy (Erigeron perigrinus).
Further along the trail we were surprised by a huge Western Toad (Bufo boreas), which hopped across the trail. Another large toad crossed our path before we concluded our hike at Paradise Meadows.
As we were driving down the mountain I reflected on just how lucky we are to have Strathcona Park at our doorstep. Established in 1911, it is BC’s oldest park. Today, the park is made up of over 250, 000 hectares of rugged, mountainous land in the heart of Vancouver Island. It is as spectacular as the Rockies, with a character that is completely unique. This treasure of a park is well worth exploring.
Click on a link below to view the CVNS newspaper column.