Saturday, 6 August 2016

Running Rain Lake (with pikas!)

It hasn't been a great hiking year for us so far. We got up West Wind Pass with our friend Kim, and climbed Jumpingpound Summit -- and that's it. Now, in part I blame July which was really rainy, but in reality, it's just that I've been really busy since getting back from Barcelona and it's only just started to calm down (a subject for a different post).

The weather and our schedules both reached alignment on August 5, and though I've got lots of "bigger" hikes on my list of things to do, I wanted to go explore something interesting and off the beaten track. We picked Running Rain Lake.

The lake isn't that "secret"; its reasonably popular with fisher-people, and also with hunters in the fall. But it's a little isolated, being 15 km or so south of the Highwood Pass on Highway 40. 

Starting the trail has always required a bit of effort, and it got worse with the 2013 flood, sort of. You park on the side of the highway, and immediately drop 15 vertical meters down to 10 m wide Storm Creek, which you have to cross. In olden days, it was a ford, but now there is a log bridge of sorts.
Karen on the crossing
Next up is a short rock hop of Running Rain Creek itself. This used to be a big deal, but the flood made it easy. You skirt silted in ponds and flood destroyed river channels...
This used to be a river channel for something but turn around and... 
...the channel got filled with flood debris.
...then climb up a new route out of the creek valley onto a pleasant ridge. There are a lot of shepherdia bushes in here, and bears in the area are  generally having a party gorging on the berries of those bushes these days -- however, on this trail, there were hardly any berries at all.

The route through the forest to the lake is pleasant but not always dry. There are springs everywhere and dozens of mudholes that you have to pick your way around. At least one ate Karen's boot on the way in, and I slipped into one on the way out. Yeuch.

Two-thirds of the way to the lake, there's another crossing of the (now) much smaller creek. You could rock hop it on the old trail, or use another log bridge made from flood debris. Unlike the big one crossing Storm Creek, this one has... a handrail!
Nice of someone to build that 
Karen on the crossing
The flood damage continues a little past the bridge. The hillside beside the trail gave way and a mudflow crossed the trail.
Looking up 
Looking down 
Looking across
Later in the day, we were atop the ridge where the mudflow started. Stay tuned...

The trail's a little indistinct at the mudflow; once you get to the flow, turn uphill, cross the tiny creek in the flow, and go another 75 m, finally heading back into the forest near more mud.

Just past here, you end up in a marshy, wet meadow. Every footstep squelches water on you, but if you stand still, you won't sink.
The meadow starts
And then you get to the lakes, which are just beautiful.
Your first view 
The massive Elk Range behind 
Looking back down the valley 
The lake edge 
There are two lakes; a shallow, sandy bottomed one home to at least one frog...
A Wood Frog
...and the back lake, which is much deeper.
Crystal clear water
The fishing in these lakes is apparently good for cutthroat trout. Two folks were fishing here today, and when we talked to them on the way out, both said they caught several fish up to 12". One was fly fishing, one was spin casting. Bait not allowed. Catch and release over 30 cm. Max 2 fish under 30 cm.

We went into the meadow beside the back lake, found a rock next to a giant scree area, and had lunch with this view...
Looking basically northwest
...and at least 7 pika for company. One was happy to sit in the grass and eat...
Wary, but... 
Lunch time!
I think he heard a noise
...while the others were all frolicking in the rocks.
And fat 
In mid-squeek 
Looking rabbit-like 
Monitoring his domain 
And being fat 
Grooming time! 
Intent on something
It was around here my camera started acting up. Our plan was to climb the ridge south of the lakes, and do the ridgewalk. The "normal" route up is on right side of this picture, along the grassy margin between the scree and the trees. Once at the top, turn left and follow the ridge.
We didn't take that route, though
I took a second picture for reference, and got this:
I'll write a separate post, but I think the CCD gave up the ghost.

Looking at the route to the ridge, we thought it stupid to climb all the way to that snowpatch, just to immediately descend. Sat imagery clearly showed that we could stay in the centre of the gully and get up in there. So we crossed the scree pile (seeing more pikas along the way), and found a few washout gullies that would be waterfalls if it was raining. It was easy (if steep) to climb them, in many case with "steps" made out of mini waterfalls.
Looking down from ~10% the way up
Karen took more pictures on descent than ascent, so hang in there for better views of the gully. The gully we picked had a 5' tall cliff in it about 30 m below the summit. We clambered out of the gully, and immediately found a well used elk trail that took us easily to the top. Here's our route up in Google Earth. The wiggle to the right was me following the elk trail further on the way down.
Reasonably direct
The ridge top wasn't the slightest bit interesting. A VERY weak game trail led along it, and we lost it on several occasions. Going was slow, and it was mostly in dense forest with no views. There were larches, but I'm not sure there were enough to call this a "good larch hike". Here's our route on the ridgetop in Google Earth.
A zig zag, with ups and downs, too
The only views were at the washouts that are visible.
Looking south into the next valley. Mt Odlum on the right
The unstable 50° slope at the top of a washout
Mt. Lipsett and Mist Mtn. Trail start just visible 
Looking north from the top of that mudflow we crossed 
Looking down at the mudflow 
The trail (I know where it is, since I was on it...)
We continued to make poor progress, crossing our fingers that the section the main "summit" of the ridge would have better views as per the sat images. But ahead of us lay a wall.
We had to climb that. It has cliff bands.
We continued to pick our way along the ridge, and it got steeper and steeper. We figured our way up above yet another washout area, and arrived at a knife-edge ridge with only 20 vertical meters to the summit. It was a 60° slope on one side, 45° on the other. Had we stayed on the "easier" side, we would have had to scramble to the summit. Okay going up, much tougher down-climbing. The ridge crest was 8" wide, had trees on it, and was windy. Not my idea of a good time, since a fall would have gone a long way and hurt very, very much. 

So I got Karen to climb onto the ridge edge, get stable, and take pictures.
Nameless Ridge. See this link
Mist Ridge in the foreground, the Highwood Range behind 
A partical view of Odlum Ridge 
More of the Highwood Range 
Due east
So we didn't quite make the summit. If anyone who's reading this knows a better way than to scrabble the last bit on the knife edge, please pass it along (and flag it).

We pulled a U-turn and headed back the way we came, the rigdewalk no easier going back.
I think that's a rock glacier on the flanks of Mt. Odlum
Only once were we able to get a partial bird's-eye view of the Running Rain Lakes.
A better view would have been nice
Then it was back to the up gully, find the elk trail, follow it further to find it ended, climb back, and descend again.
Our gully from the top 
The lake is visible 
Easy walking 
Almost down
...and back to the lake.
Mirror like, but some fish were rising 
Looking back down the valley.
Along the way we looked back to where we were and what we didn't make.
We were blocked by the bump in the middle 
Zoomed in a bit from a little closer 
The cliff bands that stumped us 
We were at the top of the mudflow, and blocked by the peak on the left
Our route looked like this:
Out and return
We ran across another wood frog on the way back to the car...
Also swimming
...and a pile of (not berry-filled) bear poo on the path that wasn't there this morning.
Eating cow parsnip, I suspect
The lakes themselves would be a great half day hike or full day fishing trip. They are in Elbow-Sheep Wildland Park, so random camping is permitted, and a weekend camping in the meadow would probably be a riot of pika squeeks.

The ridge walk? Don't bother.

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