Sunday, September 12, 2010

Frosty Mountain Fun

Frosty Mountain is a 2408m high peak in Manning Park, BC. It is the highest peak in the park. For the past few years I've been volunteering at the Frosty Mountain Trail Race where one year we hiked 7km up the Frosty Mountain Trail to set up an aid station. I've always heard great stories about the terrain and views and have wanted to see it for myself for the past couple years.

Last weekend Mike and I met our friends Steve and Bobbi-Jo Oliver at the Lightning Lake campground in Manning Park with the intentions of tackling the Frosty Mountain Hike. The weather was kind of touch and go; We lucked out on Friday night with nice enough weather to allow us to cook dinner and enjoy a camp fire but when we woke up on Saturday morning it was raining. We got up anyways and started to get ready for our hike and lucky for us, by the time we were ready to go the rain had stopped! It was still pretty cloudy out but at least it was dry. we ended up having great luck with the weather all day.

The route we chose was to start at the Frosty Mountain Trail Head at Lightning Lakes, hike to the summit and then hike back out via the Windy Joe/Pacific Crest Trail. We dropped one car at the Windy Joe trail head so we didn't have to hike the 4km along the road at the end of the day to get back to Lightning Lakes. This turned out to be an excellent decision and I will never do that hike with that additional 4km. The route we hiked turned out to be about 25km long with 4000 ft of elevation gain. It took us about 8.5 hours car to car, including a 20 min break at Frosty Camp and a 45min break at the summit. If you ever attempt this hike with one vehicle I'd recommend hiking it as an out and back on the Frosty Mountain Trail from Lightning Lakes instead of doing the loop that we did.

We started our hike at 9:30 am at lightning lakes after dropping off a car down the road at the Windy Joe trail head. The hike starts at the back side of Lightning Lake and immediately begins to climb for the first 4 or 5 km. At about 2 km into the hike you get your first glimpse of the mountains in the background and the lakes below when you reach a view point. At km 3 there are distance markers in the trees that continue for the rest of the hike to allow you to track your progress.

After about 5 km you reach a plateau and your first of many meadows along the hike. From here the trail remains fairly flat with a few small climbs until reaching Frosty Mountain Wilderness camp (7km). This is a nice spot for a rest on some of the make shift benches. There is also a shelter here if it is raining and a stream where water bottles can be refilled.

After the camp the climbing begins again for a couple of kilometers. at about 9km you reach some more sub-alpine meadows and an old larch forest that is quite pleasent to hike through. The grade also lessons in this area and the trees thin out giving you a great view of the mountains ahead and the lakes and valleys below.

When we reached the sub-alpine the peaks were all in the clouds and we were a bit disappointed that we had hiked all that way to potentially not get any view from the summit once we got there. But lucky for us as we continued to hike the clouds quickly lifted and disappeared all together giving us blue-bird skies and amazing views!

At 1o km you are in the alpine and hiking up the scree that covers the flanks of Frosty Mountain. There are however great trails laid out thru the scree making progress quite simple and enjoyable. The hike gets fairly steep at this point as you are gaining the ridge of the mountain. At 11km you reach a sign marking the intersection of the Windy Joe trail and the Frosty Mountain Trail.

We turned right at this point and followed the ridge all the way to the summit of Frosty Mountain. The ridge looks intimidating from the sign but in reality it has minimal exposure and is an easy 20 - 30 min walk to the summit on a well-used trail.

The Summit of Frosty Mountain is amazing! If you do the hike be sure to have time in your day to relax at the top. The views of the mountains surrounding you and the lakes and valleys way below are stunning. There is also an area surrounded by rock walls that makes a nice little spot to have lunch protected from any wind. We spent about 45 min at the top having a snack, taking photos and enjoying the scenery. It took us 4 hours to reach the summit (including our break at the Frosty Camp and a few photo stops)

After our break at the top we made a b-line for the car with no further breaks. We hiked back along the ridge to the trail sign/junction and headed down the Windy Joe Trail to complete a full loop hike. The second half of the hike back to car is approximately 13 km from this sign.
The first 3km of the Windy Joe trail switch back thru the alpine along the flanks of Frosty Mountain and meander through some sub-alpine meadows; always heading steadily downhill.

After that the forest starts to thicken and you are back into the trees. At the around 9km (?) marker (measure from the trail head at the bottom) you reach an area where a forest fire has killed all the trees; it is quite a site as you hike through all the stark white snags surrounding you.

Once you pass this area the trail is fairly unexciting; basically a 10km slog through the trees to get back to the car. In this section of trail you mostly head steadily down hill with a few small sections of slight uphill and flat meadows. At 19km (8km after the trail intersection) you reach another intersection. DO NOT head right toward the camp, instead head left and this will take you to a logging road which switchbacks down the mountain towards the Windy Joe trail head. After about 4km along the road you reach a trail on your left marked "Pacific Crest Trail"; follow this trail for about 2-3km through a marsh and over some boardwalks where it will spit you out at the trail head and your waiting vehicle down the road to the left. Once we got here we were very happy that we had dropped a car and didn't have to make the 4 km slog up the road back to lightning lakes.

If you only had one car you could potentially hike back to the lightning lakes trail head along the "Little Muddy Trail" that parallels the road if you were so inclined, but like I mentioned before, I would just hike to the summit of Frosty Mountain from the Lightning Lake Trail head and then go back down the same way went up instead of doing the loop. The top half of the Windy Joe trail is nice, but the 10km slog thru the trees at the end leaves something to be desired. You wouldn't miss much by hiking the Frosty Mountain trail both ways.

We ended up getting back to our camp site at about 6:30pm where we had some snacks, dinner and a well deserved beer. Just as we were cleaning up from dinner it started to rain. We fully lucked out with the good weather window for the day! We all spent the rest of the evening hiding from the rain in Steve and BJ's Boler playing an exciting game of "Settlers of Catan". The next morning it was still raining so we quickly packed up camp and enjoyed a warm breakfast at the Manning Park Lodge before parting ways for our journeys home.

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