Twin Lakes: Crystal, Elliot and A Problem Marmot

Wild Strawberries at the trailhead

I am drawn to places that are hard to get to, and visited by few. Yes, it’s harder to find information about these places, they require more effort and sometimes planning, but they offer solitude and an authentic experience. I like to think that there’s a “marginal effort principle” at work: if you put in just a bit more effort than most people, you get a substantially higher reward. This is applicable to many fields, including, for example, blackberry picking. You want to pick ripe, plump berries that are oozing with juice, right? Reach slightly higher, scratch your arms and legs in an effort to go deeper into the thorny bushes, or look for berry patches out of the range of other berry pickers. It will be worth your while.

Tiny Cabin in the Barkley Valley

Tiny Cabin in the Barkley Valley

That’s how we found ourselves driving 3.5 hours from Vancouver to the tiny community of Devine, just to turn off onto a narrow gravel road, which after another half an hour of slow driving, including crossing a small creek, led us to the trailhead for the Twin Lakes trail. Maya has good eyes, so she found us a nice patch of strawberries to enjoy, right by the car. We had only left Vancouver at 8am, so the sun was strong, and we hid in the shade while swapping light and airy sandals for hot and heavy hiking boots. The trail was an ATV track at first, however we only saw two ATV’s on the way up. One passed us slowly and respectfully and the other offered to carry our packs up part of the way, so we gladly sent up the heavier of the two packs. He said we should drop by his house for a drink the next time we are in the area.

Hiking up towards Lower Twin Lake

Hiking up towards Lower Twin Lake

Higher up on the trail we reached a small and basic cabin, fit for three or four people. From there the trail switchbacked up more steeply, and we enjoyed views of the familiarly high and snowy peaks on the Duffey Lake road, such as Joffre and pyramid-like Matier. Just below the Lower Lake the trail finally becomes a footpath. The lake was mostly snow and ice, despite it being the beginning of July, and otherwise feeling very summer-like. We met two guys who had driven from Vancouver for the day, a total of eight hours driving. A small trail continued to the upper lake, where we had decided to camp. But we didn’t realize we would have to contend with a “problem marmot” if we wanted to camp there.

The Problem Marmot

The Problem Marmot

The marmot looked at us curiously, and came towards us. At first we thought it was cute and neat to see a marmot close by, but then it tried to chew on the hose of my water bladder, so I scared it away. Later, after setting up camp, it chewed the grip of Maya’s hiking pole (made of cork) and climbed up on our tent. We realized we would have to move camp, reluctantly, to a safer spot, or else risked having our hiking boots devoured hungrily during the night! Later we heard that a hiker had left his pack at the lake the day before while climbing one of the peaks and came back to find that a hole had been munched through it. We have often camped in marmot territory and have never encountered such behaviour, so perhaps this marmot has been habituated to humans by deliberate feeding or occasional finding of food scraps. We found a much more comfortable camping spot on the far side of the upper lake, and there were no problem marmots there.

Our camp, on the shore of Upper Twin Lake

Our camp, on the shore of Upper Twin Lake

Hail, rain and a very cold wind

Hail, rain and a very cold wind

The next day we slept in and woke up to a beautiful sunny day, the kind we have been blessed with for a few weeks already this summer. By the time we had finished breakfast and had geared up to leave on a day hike, dark clouds had rolled in, it was windy and cold, and it began raining hard and later hailing. Too bad I didn’t bring any long pants. We spent a few hours in our tent reading. I quickly finished the magazine I had brought and then waited for Maya to finish her book so that we could trade. Later the rain stopped for a bit, so we climbed up snow slopes to Crystal Peak. On the summit our ice axes and hiking poles were buzzing and our hair stood up, there was literally electricity in the air. It started raining harder again, so we plunged-stepped back down, this time taking a more direct and steeper route, which was made easy by the soft snow that covered the rocks the whole way down.

Hiking up snow slopes towards Crystal Peak

Hiking up snow slopes towards Crystal Peak

Our third and last day started with blue skies and sun, and although some small clouds rolled in, they weren’t of the rain producing type. We hiked up towards Elliot Peak on surprisingly soft snow, given that it was freezing cold that night and the lake had refrozen. We reached a ridge high up, just below the summit, where we decided to turn around due to a steep and exposed snow slope. We slid down the slow easily back to camp, and headed back down towards the car. On the way down we met a family of four, on three dirt bikes and an ATV, who had stayed at the cabin the night before. We used their still lit fire near the cabin to upgrade our lunch from dry cheese sandwiches to oozing grilled cheese sandwiches. Maya was suffering from heinous blood blisters which would keep her out of hiking boots for a while. After a few more strawberry stops we arrived back to the car, for the long drive back to Vancouver. Despite having a wide ATV track for most of the way into the alpine, this area definitely feels off the beaten track, and it was definitely worth it to go the extra mile to less visited territory.

Hiking up towards Elliot Peak

Hiking up towards Elliot Peak

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One Response to Twin Lakes: Crystal, Elliot and A Problem Marmot

  1. Pingback: Port Renfrew Loop: Discovering the Backroads of Vancouver Island

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