2013 Summer Camp - Blowdown Lake
July 21 to 28 and July 28 to August 4
The 2013 alpine camp was held at Blowdown Lake, in the Coast Mountains just outside the Stein Valley Nlaka'pamux Heritage Provincial Park. This is a visually spectacular area with subalpine woods, alpine meadows and tarns and rocky slopes and ridges. There are excellent birding and botanising opportunities, with both hiking on established routes and scrambling in open rocky areas.
The camp was located at an approximate elevation of 1990 metres and hiking in took about 2-2.5 hours over a distance of 4.5km with elevation gain of 450 metres. Personal camping gear went in by helicopter from the staging area, which is 9.4km up Blowdown Creek Road, just east of Duffey Lake on Highway 99.
NOTE: Camp participants are requested to please send your photos and short notes about your experience to Bill Kinkaid.
The Rock: A Sublime Experience
by Ian McAskill
Random events happen all the time, but occasionally we experience one so profound, we are left wondering if we have been delivered a higher-ordered lesson. This day I was selected. The circumstances were, in fact, not of the “near-death” ilk, save for minor changes in the variables. It was July 24th, late in the day following a lengthy trudge along a series of mountain ridges to the southwest of our base camp near Blowdown Pass, at the head of the Stein Valley. The weather was perfect, if anything a little hot. There were three of us, having left the larger group of Nature Vancouver hikers earlier in the day following our ascent of Gottcha, one of the several peaks in the area named after an early settler by the name of Gott.
I was familiar with this ridge having made the walk during our last camp in 2007. From Gottcha Peak, the route looks more daunting than it actually is, requiring very little hand work, though some at the outset. The night before, I had attempted to elicit some interest with others, but could not get any commitment. Alone in the mountains can be problematic, so in the day, I was pleased that Paul and Bengul were game. Both are engineers by occupation, the former retired, mechanical, and the latter, active environmental, and both evidently fit and experienced.
High in the mountains as we were, I carried a somewhat large and well- kitted day pack. One can never have absolute certainty about weather in general, and particularly in the exposed alpine. This formative lesson I had learned many years earlier on a day like this day in mid- August, in Manning Park, hot and clear, where within an hour, a wintery darkness descended with pelting hail and driving rain. Without rain gear and warm clothing, I developed an unforgettable appreciation for the sensory effects of hypothermia. Over the years, I have also become seasoned to many of the other possible eventualities for which now certain provision is carried.
From the ridge, the views were spectacular and this day, there was no wind. It was later in the day, cooler now as we descended past the still glacier- fed tarns, and off the ridge. For a time we had lost the trail and we were all bushwhacking at various levels on the side hill, fighting both gravity and gnarly scrub pines. Eventually, we were free and the brush gave way to the large and familiar boulder field. We were now well below the trail, but at least we knew where we could pick it up.
The boulder field is an ice age remnant, rubble of mostly granite and igneous basalt. At its base are some very large, chiselled and fractured pieces, some the size of a car, with both flat and edged surfaces, randomly sloped, upward for us now. Adorning this giant mass is an overlay of smaller granite rocks, still large, but more rounded, and rough surfaced with gleaming flecks of mica. These rocks seem to rest precariously on the larger underlying blocks, but once on the field, one becomes quickly accustomed to the apparent solidity of the whole, settled by the millennia of time. Negotiating a path through the field requires an unwavering focus on foot and hand placements, balance and direction. We move as insects on a sand pile, suppressing all dark thoughts of our vulnerability.
Ian descending the ridge - Photo by Bengül Kurtar
I consider myself reasonably fit, but both Paul and Bengul were most of the time ahead of me on our walk, and this was the case now. It was a scramble in parts, requiring hand holds on the rocks above while carefully choosing the next footing, then climbing. Somewhat tired, and conscious of my position bringing up the rear, I was rushing slightly, perhaps choosing my holds with less attention, by this time also somewhat inured to the risks presented by the gravity of the round rock that I pulled on with my right hand as my left leg lunged upward for the next step. I don’t know how much pressure I exerted on the rock, but it moved, and my balance faltered. With a reactive step backward, I landed, seated with both legs stuck in a crevice. The rock which I had dislodged followed gently, elegantly, inexorably against my will, right into my lap. At first, I couldn’t believe my situation, but there I was, sitting in a squat, perfectly pinned by a boulder, grinding down on inner knees, too heavy to move. Submitting to the pressure, I splayed my legs as much as was possible, limited on both sides by the larger blocks of the crevice, now vice grips on outer knees. Struggle as I did, the reward was more crushing pressure as gravity conspired wedging the granite deeper, the mica flecks, razor blades against my bare knees. I was perfectly, completely, and hopelessly pinned, utterly helpless.
It is hard to recount my thoughts. There was the pain and an upwelling of panic to supress. And there were my hiking companions. Paul and Bengul were already some way ahead, but luckily not too far to hear my call. I have no sense of the time that passed before they found me, perhaps only a few minutes, the situation already an eternity for me. As they approached, I heard one of them observe that my situation was just like the movie—a movie I have not seen because I have heard of the story line. In this case it was my legs, and in this case there were others to assist. Otherwise my situation would have been like the movie, though the ending would be surely different.
At first, Paul and Bengul attempted to lift the rock to release its grip. Too heavy to lift, they removed my pack, and with all hands, finally did get sufficient purchase to dislodge the rock upward, just enough. With one then holding the rock back, the other dragged out my right leg, now thoroughly numb. There was now room for the rock to move, and lift my other leg, also numb and at this point, immoveable by me. I was freed. Though for the time I had no feeling in my legs, it was a delightful surprise that I could stand and bear weight on my knees, and without more pain! Better yet, I could walk. Amazing. Without pain. Wow!
Ian with a group of well wishers, two days later, back at the scene of accident
Photo by Murat Gungoraydinoglu
I have little recollection of the rest of the hike consumed with thoughts of this experience. What am I to make of it, so random, so despairing in the moment, so potentially horrific, and yet so utterly benign in the end? What if the rock was larger? What if I had been hiking alone? What unbelievable luck that both knees weren’t crushed! On the way back to camp, I debated whether I should tell of my experience. Boulder fields are everywhere at Blowdown, and little would be gained from recounting such an experience, fomenting unnecessary fear of the rocks among other hikers. Alas, I could not keep this story to myself. It was too perfect. I was in the clutch of the mountain to the point of absolute submission, then released, without injury, virtually unscathed. Lucky, yes indeed! For the mountain gave me that day the gift of a sublime experience.
Hubris Can Be A Dangerous Thing
by Cathy Walker
I was rather proud of myself. It was Saturday, the last hiking day of the second week of summer camp. I was leading the only organized hike of the day, up to the peak of "Not Gott". Bill Ng had led a group up that peak earlier in the week and between that hike and Saturday’s, I had led one as well. So by this time I knew the route very well.
I was accompanied by a seasoned hiker, Jenni Lynnea and a self-described novice at ill-defined trails, Liz Dohan. We enjoyed our trip to the 2348 meter peak, an elevation gain of 358 meters from our camp near Blowdown Lake.
We were on our way back along the upper mine road, feeling very relaxed and quite pleased with ourselves. Suddenly we noticed that everyone in the camp below was looking up at us. I naturally thought this was because we were the only organized hike of the day and everyone was gathering to cheer us on. Indeed, we could hear the cheers and we cheered back, as was the custom when groups of us spotted other hiking groups on nearby peaks.
But, wait, were they all saying “bear” in unison? Jenni and Liz didn't think so. There it was again, more distinct when we listened closely. This time we were sure that we heard “grizzly bear” and “just behind you” in the chant. On this we all agreed. Jenni, who is a fast hiker, started to high-tail it but I said, “Don’t run”. I told my friends that Banff National Park at Lake Louise requires hikers to go in groups of four or more in grizzly country so we were only one short. What should we do? We decided to sing loudly. When we descended to camp, our fellow campers told us that our singing must have done the trick because the grizzly took off back up the mountain. I enjoy choral music but I’m afraid I am a very deficient singer so perhaps it was the off-key rendition of various songs that put the grizzly off.
Our friends in camp told us the grizzly had been about 100 meters away from us when he suddenly took off. What had attracted him in the first place, I wondered. After seeing the grizzly scat full of cow parsnips, one of grizzly bears' favourite foods, near our roughly dug pit-toilet at the staging area (another long story), I thought perhaps it was the smell of the lovely leftover quinoa salad that I had brought for my lunch. Since I am a vegetarian, I felt some affinity with the grizzly. But then I remembered that grizzlies are omnivores, so perhaps it was the smell of theremains of the excellent leftover salmon which my fellow hikers had partaken for their lunch.
Photos by Alexander Milner
When we came into camp we discovered that Alexander Milner had been up in the meadows above camp admiring the flowers and the scenery while we were hiking up "Not Gott". Wanting to take a picture of a marmot, Alexander steadily approached what he thought was a rather large marmot. While continuing to take pictures and approaching the animal, he discovered that it was a grizzly bear. Needless to say, he descended the mountain rather quickly at that point.
I was a bit disappointed that the three of us "Not Gott" hikers didn’t get a chance to actually see the grizzly. Alexander and everyone else in the camp had been watching him for an hour or so as he chased marmots in the meadows. In the late afternoon, however, we were treated to a glimpse of him through the binoculars. Once again, he was in the alpine meadows, among the flowers and marmots. He was a magnificent creature with brown and golden hair shining in the sun. But I was quite satisfied to see him at a distance.
By Emma Johnston
This summer I had the beautiful opportunity to go camping in the alpine, thanks to the extraordinary efforts of Nature Vancouver. For my family, back-country alpine camping wouldn’t normally be in the scope of possible summer activities, because of safety issues such as bears and the fact that we lack the knowledge in all aspects of conducting such a trip. But with Nature Vancouver’s help we were enabled to go and have a unique experience of a lifetime.
Our camp was located near the entrance to the Stein Valley in the interior. To get there, we had to follow very precise instructions on how to find an inconspicuous logging path, just past Pemberton. The logging road had giant ruts but eventually we all got through, though our cars rattled alarmingly the whole way up!
After a 4 kilometre hike we arrived at the camp site, and all our hard work was worth it. Our camp was surrounded by snow capped mountains, forest, lupin meadows and an aquamarine lake: a bountiful feast for our senses.
At the top we got to meet our fellow campers, many of whom were experienced with Nature Vancouver trips and had camped with them all over British Columbia. Since it was my first time, it was inspiring to see how much effort these people had put in to make sure that year after year these trips became reality. Upon our arrival, our bags were awaiting, having arrived by helicopter along with the food and supplies.
We set up our own tents, trying to find areas without bog-like elements. Many campers volunteered to help us find a zone where we were less likely to get flooded if rain whooshed down the mountainside.
That night we met our camp cooks, Mim and Cat. Each evening I would look forward to discovering the menu of gourmet food that they had prepared for us - like spice cake with whipped cream, Spanish chick pea soup, and Thai coconut curry - which were greeted with much enthusiasm by the other ravenous hikers too.
Every night we would gather and eat dinner together, with the mosquitoes buzzing (mostly beyond us outside the cook tent). We would hear reports on the day’s hikes made by members of the camp.This part of the evening was lovely because every member of the camp got to contribute to their hiking group’s report. We also would listen to the descriptions of hiking options for the next day. Eventually our camp became like a community, where everyone was encouraged and supported. It was beautiful to see how the people who were specialists and accomplished mountaineers and naturalists were so generous with their knowledge and accommodating with the young members of the group. Every day these people led hikes up and over every peak in our valley and to viewpoints, as well as to a variety of surrounding habitats like lakes and meadows.They always provided something of interest to everyone. There were gentle photography and art walks plus multi-peak seven hour treks, so that there were options for every age and ability level.
One amazing hike that I went on was to the saddle between Gott and DemiGott peaks, twin mountain tops that towered over our camp. The whole way was a very steep ascent through meadow grasses. In the meadow there were the intensely gorgeous purple of the lupins as well as the scattered vibrant red of the paintbrush, mixed with the soft butter yellow and cream tones of the daisies. We paused here to relax and to attempt to capture some of this exquisite beauty on camera. Then we split into two groups: the flower-gazing photography group and the other group that wanted to extend the hike. Personally, I decided that I had that urge to peek over the next ridge. So I continued on! As we arrived at the saddle, I initially felt dizzy from the sheer height of the mountain, but when I saw the view my fright dissolved into wonder. A few brave souls from our group continued on to the actual peak, but I was contented to eat my lunch and enjoy the towering view.
Overall, this trip deepened the urge inside of me to keep on making an effort to go into nature to appreciate the beauty of every flower, stream or tree, and to make sure that these pockets of biodiversity are still here for generations to come.
Camp Blowdown 2013
By Cole Gaerber, Age 12
I spent one week near Blowdown Lake just outside Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage Park. My mom, brother and I were camping with other members of Nature Vancouver who organized the camp. The 10 KM logging roads were HORRIBLE on the way in. This was mainly because there were tons of waterbars (deep trenches carved into the road). At some points our car almost got stuck! There were only 3 good things about that road. 1) we saw a Sooty Grouse on the road. 2) we saw a Snowshoe Hare (in summer colouration) on the road. 3) I saw a huge tree that had been stripped of its bark by bears.
After the nerve-wracking roads, we arrived at the staging area. It was 8:50 AM. There were only four cars there. Very soon after many more cars arrived. We had to park our car in some bushes. We then started to hike in. It was a 1 1/2 hour uphill hike in. Soon after we arrived at the camp. We then collected our bags (which had been helicoptered in) and set up our two tents. One of the tents was for sleeping, with the other to keep our bags dry. We put a massive tarp over both tents, which later served as a rain shelter. After that I hiked up to Blowdown Pass, gateway to the Stein Valley Wilderness. It was extremely fun. After the quick hike we had a delicious dinner prepared by the cooks, Mim and Cat. The food we ate that week was the best food I have ever eaten while camping.
In the following 6 days I completed many hikes. The most adventurous was the hike to Gott Peak, the highest peak in the area. It took over 6 hours to complete. During the hikes I saw many animals, including Hoary Marmot, American Pika, Giant Cave Cricket, American Kestrel, Grizzly Bear, many grouse species, and a unidentified small falcon that nobody in the entire camp could identify. I often found Coyote scat and once I found a monstrous marmot tooth in it. We also discovered many different wildflower species. Overall everything was amazing about the camp.
During the last 2 nights it rained REALLY hard. It was the worst rain I have experienced in my life! That’s not to mention the constant thunder and lightning. We all just assumed that it wouldn’t be a major problem, yet later we found out we were wrong.
On the last day after everything was packed up and carried to the staging area by the helicopter, we all hiked and helicoptered out. To our surprise our adventure had not nearly ended. After we all got down to the staging area, we saw a muddy mountain biker coming towards us. When he saw our little cars and shovels (which we were going to use to fill in the water bars), he simply laughed. He told us there had been a mudslide covering the road. Soon after, upon closer examination, we found that we were completely stuck.
It took hours to arrange help. All 45 of us just sat around all day, yet we didn’t mind. For dinner we had leftovers. My mom had Nuttela and avocado in a taco shell. Everyone that night slept in cars or tents. Luckily, the forest service showed up at around 10 PM to clear the road. Everyone was overjoyed.
The next morning at the break of dawn we disabled our tent and took off, overall having a monumental time.
|Blowdown Lake Directions.pdf||5.78 MB|
|Hiking Guide for camp||36.5 KB|
|Camp trail map - core area||727.35 KB|
|Camp trail map east||948.93 KB|
|Camp trail map west||1.02 MB|
|Discovery report from 2007 Blowdown Lake Camp||43 KB|
|Plants from 2007 Camp||47.5 KB|
|Birds, Mammals & Amphibians from 2007 Camp||22 KB|
|Butterflies from 2007 Camp||20.5 KB|