We woke up early to catch the 745 AM ferry to Nanaimo. I never tire of the ferry rides to Vancouver Island or any island for that matter. The stress and pace of the Lower Mainland washes away and vacation mode feels real.
After a quick stop in Nanaimo for blister pads and lip balm we were ready to roll. The 1.5 hour drive up highway 19 to the Strathcona Wilderness Centre was simple.
We arrived to a pretty dreary day with low cloud cover, cool temperatures and rain in the air. The Wilderness Centre is located right next to the base of ski resort so it hardly feels like backcountry but the big parking lot feels like a safe place to leave the vehicle for a couple of days.
The hike to Circlet Lake starts very flat and easy with many boardwalks through the swampy sections.
On the west side of Lake Helen Mackenzie was muddy with lots of roots and beautiful yellow cedars.
For our first real hike of the year with backpacks we found the hike pretty easy which was great.
We used ViewRanger for our entire trip and found the maps to be really helpful and easy to follow. It also allowed us to track our elevation gain and loss, albeit a bit inaccurate when the GPS gets lost in the trees.
This section of hiking was 11 km with 550 m of elevation gain and 450 m of elevation loss.
We got to Circlet Lake campground in 3 hours and found that there were about half of the tent pads still to choose.
We settled on one right beside the Lake that was not even visible with the fog and clouds. The site had the added bonus of some tree cover which came in handy once the rain started about dinner time.
The Circlet Lake camping area is very pretty. I regret that we did not get to see it on a day with sun but there is always next time.
After finishing this hike and coming into Campbell River we learned about a really great website called SpotWx that allows you to check weather conditions at elevation. Essentially you just need to pick the mountain and it does the rest.
Keep in mind that in Strathcona Park there is zero cell phone coverage so you need to do your legwork before entering the park and hope the forecast does not change much 😉
We spent the dinner hour fighting the rain but enjoying the whiskey jacks who wanted to eat too. After dinner we dropped the food into the bear cache and toured the area playing boat races with sticks in the rapid flowing creek nearby.
The next morning the rain stopped and we could actually see across the lake. We packed a single backpack with all the 10 essentials and agreed that we would all take turns lugging it around.
The hike started simple just trudging around Circlet Lake through some mud to get to the trail up towards Mount Albert Edward. It quickly turned more difficult as we started to hike up a run-off section that turned into a rock slide area that was steep and required using your arms to pull yourself up.
After about 1.5 hours we got to the junction where we had the choice to go to Mount Albert Edward or take a detour to Jutland Mountain. We chose to do both trails starting with Jutland. At the junction the clouds opened partially to give us a great view of the trail to Mount Albert Edward which follows a crest of the mountain.
There is not really a trail to Jutland Mountain but with our navigation and the visibility we had it was not difficult to find a good route. We weaved through rocks and huge sections of wildflowers that were all in bloom.
The hike to Jutland Mountain was not difficult and we did our best to travel on rock and avoid any vegetation areas. When we got to the lookout the views were minimal with the low cloud cover. We cracked the snacks and battled the mosquitoes. I think we all taste good because they won and we soon wanted to get moving again.
The hike up Mount Albert Edward was a good challenge. I was happy that I’d shed the day pack to one of the kids and was walking free without a pack. Hiking without a pack certainly helps me understand the never ending goal of getting to a lighter pack.
The final ascent to the top of Mount Albert Edward was all loose rock about the size of baseballs. It turned out to be not too hard and we reached the summit to be treated to zero view. Fortunately, with the ViewRange app you can do a 3D image later of your hike. And now we know that we missed one of the most beautiful views or our lives! 🙂
After signing the registry we quickly decided it was cold and we would head back down to camp at Circlet Lake. On the day we hiked 16.8 km with 1200 m of gain and loss; keep in mind this includes the detour to Jutland Mountain that you can skip.
- The hike into Circlet Lake is fairly easy and in my opinion most people can get this far no problem.
- The hike to Mount Albert Edward is rated as hard on All Trails. I think this is a fair rating.
- There are steep drops on the Mount Albert Edward hike but the trail is wide for those nervous about heights (me).
- Circlet Lake is a nice campground; expect to share it and the bear cache with a large amount of people.
- Check a weather app to increase your chances of having a great view at the top of Mount Albert Edward; I met many people who had been shut out twice or more on getting a view.
- This beautiful country is easily accessible from the Lower Mainland and particularly from Vancouver Island. Paved roads all the way to the parking lot.