Stein Valley Traverse
Stein Valley – The Stein Valley is the largest unlogged watershed remaining in south western BC and as such is absolutely pristine wilderness. The Stein is also an area of great spiritual importance to the Nlaka ’pamux people and was only saved from logging in the 80s and 90s by an alliance of First Nations and environmentalists. There can be little argument that a complete traverse of the Stein Valley is BC’s premier long distance wilderness hike. Indeed we rate it above the West Coast Trail as a once in a lifetime experience. Geographically it spans two entirely different regions. Starting in the rain shadow on the dry side of the Coast Mountains near Lytton this 90km trail crosses over to the rainforest that is more usually associated with the West Coast and finishes near Pemberton (north of Whistler). It is most definitely a trail of two halves. The first section of the trail, sometimes easy, sometimes overgrown and very difficult, follows the Stein River through ponderosa pine forests to Stein Lake. Here you will be four days walk from either end of the trail and the sense of remoteness is palpable. The second half of the trip takes in the ‘Stein alpine’, acknowledged as one of the most beautiful alpine areas in BC. Large elevation gain, narrow ridge walking and hours of scree hopping are features of this area but you will be rewarded with two of the most incredible lakes you will ever see – Tundra Lake and Elton Lake – among days of gorgeous scenery. This is a journey of a lifetime and one that you will definitely never forget.
DAY ONE – Starting out from Whistler we drive the Duffey Lake Road to Lillooet before heading down to Lytton to cross the Fraser River using the quaint inland ferry. From the trailhead we enter the valley that will be our home for the next few days as we hike approximately 12km to Earl’s Camp by an old trapper’s cabin. On the way we will pass many areas of importance to the local First Nations including the Asking Rock (where it is traditional to ask the spirits for permission to enter the Stein), there are also many pictographs to see and even some culturally modified trees.
DAY TWO – We cross to the north bank of the Stein by suspension bridge and hike 15km to Cottonwood Camp, a delightful spot near picturesque Cottonwood Falls. Starting out fairly easy this day’s hiking becomes progressively more difficult as we hike through the remains of a forest fire from several years ago. This means the trail can be faint and we spend some time climbing over fallen trees.
DAY THREE – In some ways this is the hardest day of hiking. Again an easy start belies what comes next as this section is sometimes very overgrown and also has some steep climbs as we head into the narrower mid-canyon. We also use our first two cable cars to cross creeks. Our camp for the night is on a bluff overlooking the river and a great scenic spot. Distance hiked is again about 15km.
DAY FOUR – Today we reach Stein Lake via another cable car crossing and are as far from civilisation as we can be on this trip. Coastal rainforest begins to be the dominant geographical feature as we approach this beautiful glacial lake. Light pollution here is non-existent so this is an excellent spot for star gazing.
DAY FIVE – Weather and weary limbs permitting we shall make the hike up to Elton Lake, a scenic jewel seldom visited because of its remote location and a highlight of this trip, before returning to our camp at Stein Lake.
DAY SIX – This is the day we climb out of the Stein Valley and into the alpine. We have our last cable car crossing before making the 1250m climb onto the ridge above Stein Lake. Our campsite for the night will probably be at Puppet Lake just off the ridge.
DAY SEVEN – Some easy and then some tough ridge walking takes us to another outstanding sight – Tundra Lake. Tundra is unlike any other lake we have seen with an ink blue colour that appears unreal. We will camp by the lake to ensure we get the best light possible at sunset and then sunrise.
DAY EIGHT – Caltha Lake is our next stop which is not far in distance but is slow going due to the sidehill scree hopping around Tundra Lake.
DAY NINE – More ridge and scree hiking bring us over our last highpoint and to our final camping spot at the old Lizzie Cabin or maybe as far as Lizzie Lake.
DAY TEN – We finally leave this wonderful area but not before some more excitement including a log crossing of Lizzie Creek. 10km down an overgrown logging road is our exit and the fastest and easiest walking of the trip. We should be back in Whistler by mid afternoon.
Stein Valley Traverse $1796, Aug 1, 15
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