We finally did our hike (August 2011) to Mount Robson on the Berg Lake trail. Not the full hike this time, but we did just over a third of it as a day hike.
For many years my wife and I have had a goal of doing a multi-day trip on the trail but have never done it. We have talked about it, accumulated almost all the gear we needed but just haven’t made the time to do it.
While we didn’t complete it as we’d hoped, we’re not discouraged. At the last minute we decided we weren’t fully prepared for the trip, but that’s all right. A few more gear additions are necessary and definitely more conditioning.
In the end we decided on a day hike as far as we could reasonably go and then hike back. From the trailhead we hiked almost to the nine kilometer mark on the Berg Lake trail and then returned.
The usual day hike on this trail is up to Kinney Lake approximately 4.5 km down the trail. We arrived at Mount Robson a little late the previous day, so we decided to make it a full day the next day.
Perhaps we should have gone that day, or the day we left. Instead, we went the day after we arrived and the morning started out with rain and we debated whether or not to go. We lacked proper rain gear and it would make for a miserable trip without it.
The weather broke after lunch and we hit the trail at noon figuring we could hike to Whitehorn and back. Whitehorn is 11 km down the Berg Lake Trail. We couldn’t see the top of Mt. Robson, which was a disappointment, but we figured we’d do it anyway.
We travelled light with only daypacks, so we made pretty good time up the trail. Admittedly, we are not in the best shape, so we were wondering if we’d even be able to make it. Evidently we aren’t in such bad shape after all. We seemed to go at a pretty good pace the whole day and conditioning wasn’t the issue we thought it would be.
Our plan is to do a lot more hiking in future and increase the amount of weight we’re carrying so when we do the multi-day trip, we will focus on enjoying the sights and not on recovering from the hike.
The grade to Kinney Lake is fairly consistent. There are a couple sections where you rise fairly quickly, but overall it’s an easy hike. It’s only 4.5 km one way and they say you can do the return trip in 2.5 hours.
We reached the bridge over the Robson River at the end of Kinney Lake fairly quickly. It’s worth continuing on a little around the edge of Kinney Lake. You get incredible views of the valley, and when we were there, the lake was calm and offered spectacular reflections of the surrounding mountains.
Luckily the clouds had also begun to clear, making our decision to do the hike worthwhile. We didn’t stop for long though. We admired the views, took some photos and moved on.
Coming off the end of Kinney Lake, you climb a series of switchbacks to a higher trail in the forest. It’s a fairly easy trail once you do the climb and the trail runs through the rainforest.
Further on we descended to the lake again and back onto a floodplain. It’s obvious this is an interesting place in the spring and one can see plenty of evidence as to why. There are no obvious signs of soil among the trees but a lot of rock and gravel washed down from the mountain.
From here the walk was quite easy up to the Kinney Lake campground and shelter. We ate lunch and rested for about a half-hour, enjoying the views of the surrounding mountains.
Our plan had been to push on to the 11 km point at the Whitehorn camp. The maps at the visitor centre are quite deceiving, especially in terms of elevation gain. Even if we’d had a proper map it still wouldn’t have shown us what to expect.
Up to this point the hike really had been quite easy and hadn’t pushed us too hard.
You can actually mountain bike up to the 7 km point when you have to park them and go on foot. It’s also at this point you can take the trail along the mountain, or go out onto the rocky alluvial plain. We had noticed a couple groups of hikers taking this route, but we weren’t sure of it and decided to take the regular trail.
Next time, with full packs, we will give the plain a try. The trail after the mountain bike lockup climbs quickly and in no time it seems as if you’re about 100 metres above the plain.
I really enjoyed this part of the trail. To me, it’s the quintessential hike, with the trail meandering through the trees and huge, frost-shattered boulders and the side of the trail dropping off to the valley floor below.
The elevation changes on this trail were constant. We had to climb and descend quite regularly and I think this is the part of the trail that tired us out more than any other, though we didn’t realize it at the time.
It is very much worth taking this section of trail, if only for the impressive views of Kinney Lake, the alluvial plain and the surrounding mountains. There are many points where you can take photos of the valley but also of the mountain towering beside you.
So if you decide to take the trip, ignore the visitor centre maps in assessing the trail. They just don’t give you an idea what you’ll face. If you’re fully loaded with a pack, it’ll be a bit tougher on this section, but worth it.
The trail dropped back down into the valley and we had three bridges to cross. It was nice to hike across the relatively flat plain, and we thought we could see roughly where we needed to go from the valley floor. Didn’t look like such a bad hike.
After chatting with a backpacker and having him take our photo, we continued on up the trail. This final section up to Whitehorn was going to be a fairly steep one and we were close to the nine kilometer marker. We climbed up a few switchbacks but were starting to feel a little tired and we reassessed our situation.
We consulted with the packer we’d met and he said we still had a couple kilometers to go to Whitehorn. We decided to turn back, because we were at our half-way point if we stopped there. We didn’t want to push it and get so tired that we would have a tough time making it back.
We had headlamps, clothing and food, but that wasn’t the issue. With the ups and downs, drop-offs, mud and rock on the trail, we didn’t want to get so tired that we have an accident on the way back. So, with no regrets we decided to turn around. Besides, had we made it to our destination, we would not have had much time to spend in the area, which would have been a real shame. There will be a next time!
So we’d nearly made nine kilometers, which we figured was pretty good for our first major hike. It was going to be 18 kilometres by the end of the day, and with the other walking probably 20!
Once we got back on the plain we considered following it instead of the more challenging hike back to Kinney Lake. I think we were wise in not choosing a new, unfamiliar route that didn’t seem particularly well marked. I’m sure it changes slightly every season with the massive amounts of runoff the valley likely sees.
The climb started again, and we could tell we were definitely getting tired. Where we were beginning to notice it most was on the descents, especially in the knees for me and a bit in the hips. Those hiking poles would have come in handy!
We were going at a pretty good pace though, and made it back to Kinney Camp quickly. We rested there for a half-hour, letting our socks and shoes dry out, enjoying the sun. A squirrel entertained us and the other hikers in the Kinney Camp shelter while we relaxed.
Back around Kinney Lake
Continuing on to the south end of Kinney Lake, the forest was much darker than before as the sun hid behind the clouds moving in. The sun was only slightly higher than the huge, surrounding peaks as it was anyway.
At the bridge across the Robson River we relaxed again for about 10 minutes before continuing on. Compared to the rest of the trail we had seen, the remaining trail was not as interesting so we expected to make fairly good time.
Feeling the strain in our legs, we still made pretty good time, but mother nature decided to remind us why we needed to have good raingear. It poured from about the 3.5 km mark until we had about 1 km left on the trail, at which point it just drizzled for a while. The clouds broke and we managed to get a few more good photos of Mt. Robson.
Fortunately we had our camping gear waiting in the car, so we had a thawing mixture of pulled pork and rice waiting to be heated up on our stove. We relaxed in the shelter at the end of the trail and had supper. I am also glad we had two bottles of Alexander Keiths waiting for us in that cooler!
While we didn’t do the full backpacking trip we wanted to do, we were very happy to do the trip we had. I think we had proved to ourselves we still were in good enough shape to do it and developed the confidence in ourselves
and our gear to know that when we put it all together (and we will soon) that we’ll make the full trip to the end of the Berg Lake trail and know we’ll make it back.
The round trip took us 6 hours and 50 minutes, with 1 hour and 10 minutes stopped at Kinney Camp. I was busy taking photos along the way, so we actually made it up and down the trail at a rate of more than three kilometers per hour. We hadn’t expected that, so we were impressed.
This “test trip” also gave us a bit of an idea on how we’ll plan our trip when we do go the full way. We will be fully loaded on that trip, but we’re not going to travel as much each day, so at least we’ll have much more time to relax, look around and I will be taking even more photos.
Mt. Robson has always been one of my favourite places, and I’m glad we were finally able to experience it in a much different way. Can’t wait until the next trip!
I would be interested to hear about your experience on this and other hikes, as well as thoughts on hiking gear and backpacking in general.
We were in bed early after that very long hike, but were up pretty early. Wouldn’t you know it? Mt. Robson had barely a cloud on it. Typical. Perhaps we should have waited until the day we left. Oh well. Hope the weather is as good next time!
You can see all of our Mt. Robson Berg Lake Trail trip photos on Flickr.