August 15th, Lake Magog CG to Howard-Douglas CG, 22 km, 785 m elevation gain, 689 m elevation loss, 7 hrs 50 min (all distances and elevation are as per the guide book), Section C Segment 17.
We have no Viewranger track for this segment as I was concerned about the battery usage of the SPOT X and our limited ability to recharge as I had brought only one battery charger that was rated for two full recharges for a standard phone. I decided that keeping the SPOT X charged was more important than the tracking our hike. Once back home I did do a manual track on Viewranger, called a ‘Route’ and was very surprised that even though the day finished off with a stiff hike up Citadel Pass gaining 450 m we finished at Howard-Douglas CG less than 100 m above where we started at Lake Magog CG. Checking the profile of the day it starts as a long continuous downhill hike steadily losing elevation until finally reaching the low point after 12 km. The elevation gain is limited to 3 km between km’s 13 and 16 with the hike finishing off downhill into Howard-Douglas CG. The net elevation gain for the day was about 80 m.
I was up and out of the tent around 7 am. Today was a moderate length day at around 22 km so we were not afforded the luxury of sleeping in but we were not in a big rush to get going either. I expertly boiled the water for coffee and we had our coffee and Logan Bread while packing up the campsite. We headed off down the trail at about 8:30 am. The day was overcast with heavy cloud. Micah started off the day with a lightweight fleece over top their hiking shirt.
We made our way back to the Assiniboine Lodge and hung a left. We would spend most of the day hiking in Mt Assiniboine Provincial Park and the signage along the route was excellent. We dropped through a little canyon into a wide open meadow that stretched for miles in all directions. We would hike in the meadow all the way to Lake Og. It is thought that the meadow formed the basin of an ancient lake.
The sun started to come out behind us but it was still cloudy where we were heading. The elevation drop to Og Lake is only 70 m over the 4 km from the Assiniboine lodge. When you look at the profile, it is very apparent how this section is believed to have been a lake in the distant past. Over time the water has carved a path through the limestone and produced a clear steadily downhill route to Og Lake. Og Lake is a example of karst lake; it has no outlet, and instead the water drains through cracks in the limestone that forms the bottom of the lake.
Micah’s Note: I like that boulder. That’s a nice boulder.
We arrived at Og Lake 55 minutes after Micah had stood on their pedestal. Og Lake has a pretty little campground. The tent sites are very open and not a lot of privacy or protection from the wind. The campground offers a great view of Mt Assiniboine, but for us the peak was still buried in the clouds. We dropped our packs to investigate the campground and to use the biffy. We made a small error in judgement at this time because we had neglected read the guidebook before we started the day. The guidebook states very clearly the next section from Og Lake to Citadel Pass is very dry with little to no water sources. Lacking this knowledge we did not take the opportunity ensure we had enough water for the hike to and over the pass. We did end up rationing our water as we climbed the pass in the afternoon sun. The next water source ended up to be about 10 km from Og Lake and consisted of a couple of small ponds just shy of the top of Citadel Pass.
After a few minutes of relaxing we left Og Lake and headed on our way to Citadel Pass. The trail heads up a small rise then drops down a long valley towards the junction for Porcupine CG. This was a fun section of trail with many short ups and downs and little twists and turns. A stark contrast the long steady descent to Og Lake. We dubbed this the Rock Garden because of the many loose rocks that were scattered across the landscape. The official name is the Valley of the Rocks.
During our time in the Valley of the Rocks we ran into a couple of guys relaxing among the rocks. They had a week long trip planned from Sunshine Village to Mt Shark Parking lot. They were traveling about half our daily distance each day. Micah remarked that they were probably having a great time not being in a rush. We stopped for lunch at 11:45 am. It had been about 1 hr 20 min since we left Og Lake.
Micah’s Note: I like full hiking days, I do, but I also really see the appeal in taking a chill trip where you’re completely free to just amble along the trail and stop and swim or sit whenever you want to. One of these days I need to drag one of my non-backpacker friends out for a trip like that.
We got going again after lunch at 12:10 pm. The sun was shining, we had blue skies and our water supplies were dwindling. We came to the junction to Porcupine campground at 12:35 pm roughly 13 km since the start of our trip. The junction signaled the end of the Valley of the Rocks. We would lose a little more elevation before beginning our 7 km climb up Citadel Pass. The trail conditions changed drastically as we left the junction. The loose rocks that had been underfoot since Og Lake disappeared leaving us with a much softer trail with few rocks. The initial part of the hike to the pass was a long side slope along the lower flanks of Golden Mt. We lost whatever shade we had been enjoying and with the south facing slope slowly started to bake in the afternoon sun. We crossed many stream beds that were indicated on our map but they were all dry.
We arrived at the west junction for Porcupine CG at 2 pm a distance of 4 km from the east junction. The elevation change over the 4 km between the junctions was only 125 m. This left us with the bulk of the 480 m climb to Citadel Pass to be gained in the remaining 3 km. The trail kicked up steeply for just a km or so leaving a very moderate final 2 km to the pass. We had a little treat shortly after leaving the junction when we met a group coming the other way who had an adorable and friendly dog. I do not remember the dog’s name but it was very pleasant and amused us by chasing a small stick we tossed and bringing it back to us so we could toss it again. After a couple of minutes of doggie play time we said our goodbyes and headed back uphill. Our water situation was not great; I ran dry soon after we left the junction. There was two small ponds shown on the map at near the top of the pass just a short distance away, so I was not worried about dehydration but quite annoyed at myself by getting into the situation.
It was a quick, hot (for us) hike to the two small ponds at the top of the steep climb. The trail followed the drainage up with few switchbacks. The tall grasses had us on high alert for bears. Looking back Mt Assiniboine slowly climbed into view in the distance. We did not talk much, focusing our energies on getting to the next water source. We crested a rise and the trail split. We went to right, where we had a quick drop to what was left of the lower pond. At this time in the summer the pond was more of a slew than a pond. The colour of the water did not excite me very much but it was water. We finished off what little we had of Micah’s water and headed down to the pond to replenish our supply.
We carefully stood on some rocks to collect water as far away from shoreline as possible to minimize the sludge we might pick up. There water was definitely not high quality, with lots of little floaties in it. We dropped an extra iodine pill into each of our bottles and figured in half an hour we would be good to go. A couple came by as we were getting ready to leave. The were carrying one two-litre bottle for water. Their bottle was barely a quarter full so we asked them were they were headed. Og Lake was the reply. We suggested that they fill up here as there was no water until Og Lake. We were slightly horrified when they just dipped their bottle into the pond and took a drink. We offered up some pills since the water was not the best. They declined saying they never filtered or purified their water. After a short discussion they did accept our offer of a couple of pills. Not sure why people take the risk with water.
Micah’s Note: This was some of the more disgusting water I’ve drank on a trail. Not quite stagnant standing water, but going in that direction. I ended up pouring most of it out later, though I was glad to have it right then, since we were parched and it was boiling out. I nearly always purify my water, even if its from a crystal clear creek–you never know if there’s something dead just upstream–but standing water? Wouldn’t risk it.
After a pleasant well graded approach we arrived at the pass at 3:30 pm. It had taken 2 hrs 50 min since we left the first junction at the end of the Valley of the Rocks, and about 25 minutes from our water source. With the hike up to Citadel Pass being on a south facing slope the afternoon sun had made it quite a warm hike. With the increase in elevation Mt Assiniboine came back into view. We would not lose sight of Mt Assiniboine for good until we left Sunshine Village Ski Resort tomorrow.
Micah’s Note: I can’t count how many times we “said a final goodbye to Mt Assiniboine,” only to spot it again the next afternoon.
Micah has a few unwritten rules when hiking and it is good not to violate them. After reaching the top of a climb Micah likes to take a few minutes to savour the view afforded by all the work it took to get there. I had already been to this exact spot on a previous backcountry trip with Siobhan and Links to Howard-Douglas. Knowing that the end of the hike was an easy 3 km downhill walk I pushed on as soon as we arrived at the pass. Micah followed but was not happy. It was not until we had been in camp for a while that Micah informed me that they were not pleased with leaving the pass so quickly. I did my best on the rest of the trip to wait and pause to take in the view before moving on.
Micah’s Note: “Not happy” he says, like I wasn’t trudging behind him plotting his grisly death by horse fly for 3km. I believe ‘hangry’ is the term. Luckily, we’re pretty good communicators, so we always manage to clear these things up pretty quickly. And to be fair, if we had stayed at the pass we probably would have been devoured by horse flies anyway. They were out in force that day.
We threw our packs down at 4:25 pm, 7 hrs 50 min since leaving Lake Magog. Shortly after we arrived, the French couple from our first night arrived in camp. I have no idea where we passed them on the trail. The could have been at Porcupine CG. They did not have a permit for the campground and were asking Micah and I what to do. A voice from one of the tents yelled out that they should just find a spot off to the side and everyone would be happy. As it was a gorgeous day one of the first things I did was to put the beer that I had carried for four days into a creek to cool. It never did get very cold but it sure did taste great.
After setting up the tent we washed ourselves and our clothes in the lake. More a rinse really as we did not use any soap. It was very refreshing.
Micah’s note: When the horse flies weren’t attacking, that is.
Not sure if it is because it was among the smallest campgrounds we stayed at but we had a really lovely time all evening talking with the different campers. During dinner we chatted with an older group of three, two ladies and hubby. The hubby, for some reason, (Micah’s note: snoring) was banished to his own tent as the ladies shared one between them. They were a great group of people. While getting older and little slower they had some amazing stories of hiking across the northern tundra. The stories were super intense and provided Micah and I with food for thought on new places to explore. At some point, the hubby discovered a crack in his flask that was carrying his whiskey, so I had to help him drink the whiskey before it leaked out. The whiskey, combined with the beer that I had with dinner, made me feeling a little light-headed for part of the evening.
After dinner we all congregated near a log by the lake. We struck up a conversion with the other group at the campsite, a father/son duo. The son had been pretty silent all evening as the adults dominated the conversation so I purposely asked the son questions to bring him into the discussion. Turns out he was in university like Micah, and from there the conversation grew naturally as they discussed the different ways Covid had impacted their schools and university experiences.