Another weekend, another wonderful Strathcona Provincial Park overnight adventure! Our Tennent Lake Circuit was exploratory since neither of us had done the entire route before. Almost two years ago, Mike and I completed our first backpacking journey together, camping two nights at icy-blue Sandbag Lake near Mount Myra. That trip was my first in the subalpine, and I immediately fell in love with our beautiful Vancouver Island mountains. I was struggling with some sad life events at the time and grateful for Mike’s kindness, plus his gift of a new physical challenge and healing wilderness experience. Back in the Myra-Thelwood zone together again, we used Google Earth and CalTopo to plan a full clockwise circuit on the ridges above Tennent Lake. The result was a gorgeous trip with excellent mountain views, dry granite, emerald tarns, and a premium campsite. As always with subalpine navigation, we encountered unmapped obstacles in the micro-terrain. I was soundly challenged by this trip. Part of the route involved some of the most difficult hiking I’ve ever done. Back at the trailhead after 36 hours, we were exhausted, happy, and full of lessons learned.
- Drive 4 h 29 min (351 km) from Victoria to the Mount Myra/Phillips Ridge trailhead in Strathcona – Westmin Provincial Park. Google Map
Permits & Fees
- There are no permits or fees associated with this area and no facilities are provided. Check out the BC Parks website for more details.
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/12. Scale 1:50,000. Edition 05. Buttle Lake. British Columbia. Produced by the Canadian Centre for mapping, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources. Information current as of 1989. Published 1991.
Location: Strathcona Provincial Park
Route: Tennent Lake Circuit
Date: June 21-22, 2015
Distance: 21.1 km
Duration: 2 days
Peak: 1417 m
Gain: 1060 m
Day 1: Myra Falls Mine to Target Camp (11.4 km)
After car camping at Ralph River Campground, we got an early hiker’s start Sunday morning. Anyone who has climbed the rough cat road from Myra Falls Mine trailhead (0 km/360 m) to Tennent Lake knows that grind is best done in the shade. As expected, the area was very dry. Only a few trickles of water emerged along the cat road, although Tennent Creek at the bridge flowed strong. Tennent Lake (4.5 km/1007 m) had low water levels, the rocky, woody shoreline very dry and exposed. The next leg up to Sandbag was much easier this time because of lighter packs! To the south, we spotted Mount Albert Edward where we had stood weeks before. Mike and I had a quick lunch with the mosquitos near Sandbag Lake (7.7 km/1320 m) before bumping west along the ridge to our target tarn. We had tremendous views of all the favourites: Mount Myra, Mount Septimus, Mount Rousseau, Big Interior Mountain, Mount Tom Taylor, Mount Moyeha, Mariner Mountain, Mount Thelwood, the Golden Hinde, the Behind, Mount Phillips, Mount McBride, and Marble Peak. There were a couple of surprise scrambly-rocky-bushy bits that we had to navigate carefully down, but mostly travel was smooth. The best wildlife sighting was a white-tailed ptarmigan leading her four wee chicks. Finally we found our beautiful lake to set up camp (11.4 km/1280 m). After a chilly swim and hot soup dinner, we fell asleep to singing frogs.
Day 2: Target Camp to Myra Falls Mine (9.7 km)
On Monday, Mike and I climbed back onto the ridge to view our northeastern line back to Tennent Lake. We had a paper map, compass, and GPS, but we were not yet sure the best route off the ridge and down to our second target tarn (our landmark before descending through the forest to Tennent Lake). I am not an experienced scrambler and sometimes I get nervous going down things. I’m trying hard to practice that skill and overcome my fears. As a result, we tried to see if we could descend using a creek as a handrail. But the route became too bouldery and wet (not for a bear, we saw his tracks). When we climbed up a nearby forested slope to see if we could get down that way, the bushes became crazy (Vancouver Island Bush Grades!). Plus we had no idea if there was some kind of cliff obstacle hidden in the green. From our vantage, we spotted a cairn on our original path (14.7 km/1240 m) and decided to return to the main ridge. There were a few areas of scrambling and moving through mountain heather. Once we got to the tarn, we gathered our mental strength (okay, I gathered mine) for the bushy downhill to Tennent Lake. The forest slope was really steep, with hidden gullies and cliffs. There was a lot of hanging onto branches, slow crawls through spiky wood, and slides down dusty slopes. I had to completely rely on Mike to guide me through the area. It took us a really long time to get down. Sometimes I wanted to just sit in the forest. Sometimes I wanted to turn back and climb the rocky ridge to backtrack all the way around, even though we were out of food and it would have taken an extra day. Finally, after what seemed like hours, we stepped onto the cluttered shore of Tennent Lake (16.9 km/1007 m) and took a breather. Some readers are probably laughing at me, and that’s okay! I will get stronger with practice exploring such areas. Our descent along the shady cat road felt hard on our tired feet, but we persevered. Mike and I eventually arrived at the trailhead (21.1 km/360 m), happy with our mission accomplished. I can’t wait for the next trip. Hopefully with a little less bushwhacking. At least for a while.