For the first hot weekend of the year, Mike and I made a beeline back to the gorgeous and accessible Forbidden Plateau area of Strathcona Provincial Park. After base camping at Circlet Lake on Friday night, we powered up three summits on Saturday: Castlecrag Mountain, Mount Frink, and Mount Albert Edward. These peaks are familiar to Vancouver Island locals, but the traverse experience was a first for me. Sunny skies and residual snow made our Moat Lake Circuit a fantastic challenge! Throughout the trip we spotted Jutland Mountain, Mount Elma, Mount Brooks, Strata Mountain, Mount Septimus, Nine Peaks, Big Interior Mountain, the Golden Hinde, Morrison Spire, Mount McBride, and Elkhorn Mountain. A delicious Sunday brunch overlooking Hairtrigger Lake and a cooling swim in Lake Helen Mackenzie finished the trip perfectly.
- Drive 2 h 50 min (245 km) from Victoria to the Paradise Meadows trailhead adjacent to Mount Washington Alpine Resort. Google Map
Permits & Fees
- There are designated backcountry sites located in the Forbidden Plateau Area (PDF, 108 KB). Camping fees are applicable from June 15 – September 30. Fees are $10 per person (16 years of age and older) / per night, $5 per child (6-15 years of age) / per night, and children under 6 are free. BC Parks Discover Camping Backcountry Registration System allows you to purchase a backcountry camping permit before leaving home.
- Strathcona Walk-In/Wilderness Camping
Books & Maps
- Stone P. Island Alpine: A Guide to the Mountains of Strathcona Park and Vancouver Island. 1st ed. Wild Isle Publications; 2003. wildisle.ca
- 92-F/11. Scale 1:50,000. Edition 07. Forbidden Plateau. British Columbia. Produced on April 28, 2011 by the Centre for Topographic Information, Natural Resources Canada.
- BC Parks. Strathcona Provincial Park. Forbidden Plateau. (PDF, 108 KB)
Location: Strathcona Provincial Park
Route: Moat Lake Circuit
Date: June 5-7, 2015
Distance: 40.5 km
Duration: 3 days
Peak: 2093 m
Gain: 1003 m
Day 1: Paradise Meadows to Circlet Lake (10.5 km)
Mike and I left Victoria after work at 1500 h on Friday afternoon. We gobbled a quick burrito at Delicado’s, and arrived at the Paradise Meadows trailhead (0 km/1090 m) at 1930 h. The evening was soft and warm as we quickly organized gear. We hit the trail at 2000 h, eager to pass the heavily rooted and muddy section west of Lake Helen Mackenzie in the light. After popping up on the little ridge between Mount Brooks and Mount Elma, the light faded quickly. Frogs sang as we hiked past the tarns, sometimes stopping when we came too close. At 2200h, we turned on our headlamps for the rest of the moonless journey through the subalpine wonderland. We slowed down a little, being careful with our feet to avoid tripping into mud puddles. Circlet Lake Camp finally materialized around 2300 h (10.5 km/1200 m). The ghostly glow of a few tents was visible, and we easily found a secluded pad. After base camp was set and chocolate was eaten, we crashed around midnight. Mike set the alarm for hiker’s start, a slightly more civilized and gentler version of the alpine start.
Day 2: Castlecrag Mountain, Mount Frink, Mount Albert Edward (19.5 km)
“Put on your bug glasses!” I peered out the tent to see Mike in his insulated jacked, hood tight, sunglasses on, and a cloud of mosquitos buzzing about. We quickly organized our day packs and headed to the green shores of Moat Lake (13.5 km/1180 m) for breakfast. Our plan was simple: traverse three peaks in one day and take lots of photos. After cereal, we headed toward Castlecrag Mountain (18 km/1740 m), crossing boulder fields and climbing gullies. Wildflowers decorated the route: marsh marigolds, globeflowers, and yellow lilies. We summited Castlecrag at noon, the sun baking the surrounding rock. On the way to Frink, we stopped in patches of shade to drink. I cooled my red face with handfuls of snow. Eventually, we ascended Mount Frink (20 km/1948 m) and took in spectacular views of Strathcona Park’s famous peaks. I even spotted (Where’s Waldo) Morrison Spire! Pressing onward, we laughed and slid down snow slopes before climbing up Mount Albert Edward. We crossed talus and snow, noticing purple phlox and lady bugs. At the summit (23 km/2093 m), we took a long rest, removing wet shoes and eating the last of our food. We were exhilarated from the day’s effort and scenic reward. A white-tailed ptarmigan took a dust bath near the summit cairn, while small birds hunted bugs on cornices. Soon it was 1900 h, and camp was still several hours away. We descended the snowy ridge carefully in the fading light, making it back to Circlet (30 km/1200 m) at 2200 h. I had a few sweet minutes of dreamy happiness before slipping into a deep coma
Day 3: Circlet Lake to Paradise Meadows (10.5 km)
“What time is it?” I asked when I woke up. “It’s sun-on-the-tent-time!” replied Mike. There was no rush to leave camp on Sunday morning, so we took our time getting organized. The easy subalpine hike back from Circlet Lake to the Paradise Meadows trailhead was warm and gorgeous. Bright white and pink mountain heather coloured the earth. We took a shaded meal break overlooking Hairtrigger Lake (33 km/1275 m) and had a refreshing swim on the north shore of Lake Helen Mackenzie (37 km/1154 m). An osprey swooped down to capture a fish right in front of us, soaring back to his nest with the wriggling prey. Our last few kilometres through the shady forest were peaceful and we arrived at the trailhead with big smiles on our faces (40.5 km/1090 m). I reflected on how special it was to have such easy access to non-technical mountain peaks. All the challenge and beauty were there for the taking. I learned many new skills on this trip. Mike taught me how to find routes and lines in sparsely marked terrain. He encouraged and guided me when my body and mind were fatigued. Together, we noticed the small creatures who make the park their home, and named the delicate alpine flowers living among the stark talus. We were so appreciative to have experienced this beautiful Strathcona Park weekend!