Day 1 Redearth Creek Trailhead to Pharaoh Creek Campground, 14.7 km, 744 m Elevation Gain, 258 m Elevation Loss, 3 hrs 52 min.
The first leg of our hike was to Pharaoh Creek Campground. The initial part of the trail is up an old fire road with a moderate incline. It is used as a cross country ski trail in the winter and by mountain bikes in the summer. I knew that this would make for a relatively quick hike to cover the 14 km to the campground (similar to the first day for Mystic Lake and Assiniboine trips). With this in mind, we left after lunch. This reduced the amount of food I had to carry a little, and ensured that I started off with a nice large pre-hike meal at home.
We arrived at a very busy trailhead at 1:00 pm and hit the trail at 1:15 pm. We had to negotiate the metal steps up and down to access the trail from the parking lot: definitely not Volcano’s favourite part of the hike.
As expected, the trail was wide and smooth. Buried in the trees with limited views, our hiking pace was quick, averaging over 5 km/h. The initial soft forested trail did give way to a slightly rocky path as we moved to the slopes of the valley created by Redearth Creek.
Our first views came after 3.7 km, when we crossed avalanche paths under Pilot Mountain. Looking back we were able to catch a view of Mt Ishbel, one of my favoutite peaks. Mt Ishbel is just south of Johnston Canyon and behind it, out of view, is Mystic Lake.
We passed groups of hikers heading back to their cars. We chatted with a few people, and while tired, people were in very good spirits from their adventures. We crossed more avalanche paths and continued to steadily gain elevation. After 1 hr 30 minutes of hiking, we crossed a bridge over Redearth Creek that brought us to Lost Horse Creek CG. The nicely graded trail had risen 230 m since the trailhead.
We took a ten minute break at the campground. Volcano had a long drink from Redearth Creek and I had a snack and visited the outhouse. The campground is not very well used, but I met two groups who had stayed there. It would come in handy if coming from afar or after work to hike and time was limited.
It was just over 3 km to the the junction for Shadow Lake, where would would turn south and follow Pharaoh Creek. The trail continued much the same as before and, except for a large deposit of bear scat, was uneventful. We had been hiking for 2hrs 40 minutes and covered just over 10 km.
The junction between the trails to Shadow Lake and Pharaoh Creek as a bike rack and signals the end of the nicely groomed trail. The trail to Shadow Lake appeared to be narrow and rooty. We were going to continue to follow the fire road which does continue all the way to Egypt Lake, but we were shortly in for a big surprise.
According to the sign post we were about 6 km from our campsite, though it ended up being 4.5 km according to my Viewranger App. We stopped for a 15 minute break and chatted with a group of younger hikers. I have noticed that many hikers are younger than me. We were all headed to Pharaoh Creek. I let them leave first with a bit of head start, thinking they would hike quicker.
After passing the Patrol Cabin, we crossed over Pharaoh Creek and continued on the fire road. Suddenly the trail was covered in branches and we came up a sign directing us off the trail and up a very steep trail. The new trail appeared to have been recently constructed by Parks Canada. My guess is that the main trail had previously suffered some serious flood damage and, instead of repairing the trail, Parks Canada chose to construct a new trail away from the creek.
The new trail was a bit of a shock after the nicely graded trail we had grown used to. It initially rose 90 m in just 0.6 km. We had been hiking at around 5 km/h; Viewranger said our speed dropped to around 3.5 km/h when we hit this section. The group in front of us, despite their youth, started to slow dramatically. They stopped and allowed us to pass. This made Volcano happy as she prefers to be in front. Guess you can’t take the “Lead” out of a Lead Dog.
It was a total distance of 2.1 km to the top of the trail, rising 230 m. While not an incredibly steep section it was a shock to the system after the nicely graded trail we had been hiking previously. The trail was more varied and fun than the fire road. Frequent short ups and downs with numerous small creek crossings kept us focused.
The detour was 3.8 km long. We rejoined the main trail 1 hr 5 minutes after being diverted. I stopped to check my Viewranger app to see how far we had to go and we still had a little over 1.5 km. Wasn’t I surprised when two minutes later I was looking at Pharaoh Creek Campground. This was another example of the app being slightly inaccurate (had happened on my Sawback trip). I was a little unsure of the campground at first. I did recognize the posts marking the campsites that Parks Canada always uses. But the campground was more of a meadow, without designated spots like at Lost Horse Creek CG. Nevertheless there was a nice sign announcing the campground so we headed down to find a spot.
We were the first to arrive to the campground, though it would actually fill up by the end of the evening. We found a spot near the creek. It was just after 5 pm which meant it was Volcano’s dinner time. After feeding Volcano I set up the tent, then we went to explore the campsite.
Pharaoh Creek runs just west of the campsite. It cuts through a cliff just below the eating area. This made water very accessible, just a little scramble up and down.
We enjoyed a friendly dinner with the young people we had passed on the detour earlier. Two more groups of people came to the campground. We enjoyed a quick after dinner walk then after a few photos and headed to bed at about 8:30 pm.