Since the local mountains had such a miserable winter season this year I figured why not get a head start on my “summer” backpacking plans! Brandywine Mountain has been on my hiking list for a while, and thinking there wouldn’t be much snow we ventured out and found ourselves more than knee-deep in powdery goodness. Oops.
2hr drive from Vancouver.
Difficult hike (in winter conditions) – Brandywine meadows trail.
Trip date late March, lots of snow after 2km.
Took the trail beginning from lower parking lot.
Distance from trailhead to Brandywine Meadows: 3km, 4hrs one way, 550m elevation gain.
Before I delve any deeper I highly recommend this hike only be done in the summer snow free months between July – October. Unless you’re craving for an adventure (which I was) and you enjoy listening to the roar of snowmobile engines (which I don’t). The adventure started as soon as we got off the Sea to Sky highway and made our way up the pot hole ridden, rocky and bumpy forestry road. As much as my little Toyota Yaris was a trooper (how I yearn for a 4×4 in such occasions), the last steep section of road before reaching the “lower” parking lot could not be tamed and we got stuck 1/4 way up. There is space to park on the side just before the last bit, and our steep hike had already begun before we even reached the trailhead.
Crusher of 2WD vehicle dreams, the last stretch of road before the lower parking lot
The trailhead greeted us with streams of water gushing downwards. Most of the 550m in elevation gain is climbed in the first 3km of the hike until you reach the valley. Follow the orange markers only as the trail cuts upwards. We went a little off trail in the beginning from following some flagging tape and turned around to follow the orange markers.
The trailhead to Brandywine Meadows
The trail is mostly rooty
The trail follows Brandywine creek which has some nice viewing points along the trail as you climb upwards. After about 2km we hit the snowline and since the trail was no longer obvious, it took longer to find the orange markers to follow. After hiking for 3hrs we crossed a stream and came across a road used by snowmobiles. Since there was no other trail to follow we hiked up the road with snowmobiles passing by. The valley then appears and we are surrounded by snow covered mountains.
Looking down Brandywine creek
Crossing the stream before following the snowmobile road
With evening came the sweet quiet of the mountains as all the snowmobilers had gone for the night. We found a good camping spot behind a giant boulder for some protection from wind and stomped out a site to pitch our tent. This was my first time winter camping, and fumbling with tent poles and stakes with cold hands was a learning curve. The fun part was being able to ‘build’ our own seats and cooking area, and easily burying our food in the snow (natural refrigeration). Important to note that in any winter travel there is risk of avalanche and to always check the weather before you go. Avalanche Canada is a great site to check the conditions.
Clouds rolling in the valley in the evening
Getting ready for dinner time
Appreciating the comforting glow of the stove and boiling water for a much anticipated cup of tea
The next morning we fill our bellies with warm oatmeal and attempt to make our way as far up the valley as we can. With only crampons on and a mountaineering axe, we didn’t get very far as the snow became too deep to continue. We took a break to catch our breath, and watched a group of snowmobilers rev their way up the valley and disappear behind the mountains.
A snowmobiler passing through the valley
Even with snowshoes I doubt we would have gotten very far. When I checked my GPS coordinates we were not even a quarter of the way to Brandywine Mountain from our basecamp. Not being familiar with the area and having a lack of experience with backcountry travel in winter, we returned to camp to instead laze around eating bread with mounds of butter and german sausages. An excellent alternative.
A view of Brandywine Meadows with Black Tusk peeking through the clouds
So Brandywine Mountain still stays on my hiking list to do but I was happy to have had the winter experience in the meadows. I won’t be back in the winter though as the noise and smell of gas from all the snowmobile engines makes it very difficult to appreciate the landscape. Also you feel vulnerable struggling to hike through snow as large snowmobiles plow their way through too close for comfort.
I definitely plan on hiking the trail later this year either in September or October when the trail is snow free but the monster bug armies aren’t out in full force. It would be interesting to see where we camped in the winter when all the snow is gone and how far we got up the valley. To be continued…!
What lies beyond these mountains? A trip back in the summer snow free months will tell!