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I like being outside if it's nice out. This includes mountain biking, trail running, sailing, climbing, skiing and much more. If you're going on a fun adventure, let me know!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Meslilloet Mountain

After a long dry summer, the week leading up to the long weekend left a foot of snow in the high mountains, above 2000m. Tyler Nick and I bailed on our 3-day plan. I was scrambling to find a place to go, that had some climbing interest to suit Nick, a place that I hadn't visited before, and not too high to get into the snow. I stared at my map wall, and remembered Meslilloet Mountain, a big massif far from anywhere, with less visitors than it deserves. 


You could spend 3 days exploring the area around Meslilloet, wandering along the granite ridges and finding all the hidden lakes, or planning a more ambitious traverse through the area. This time, it would just be one long day trip, accessed from the north. A 4x4 HC is required for the drive up the Mamquam FSR. It's a long drive from Squamish, nearly an hour on rough logging roads. The condition of the Mamquam Main deteriorates after passing the Skookum Dam area. The clearance on my Chevy Tracker was the bare minimum to get past the washout at Bridge 5, 25.8km up the Mamquam Main. Beyond this washout, I was able to drive to the S-100 turnoff (27.7km from the highway), and then drove another 1.3km up that branch to a major washout, impassable to all vehicles. Bikes would work well too. The entire Mamquam valley has been logged, with numerous old logging roads branching off from the "main road." 

From the car, we crossing several more eroded sections on the road (impassable by any vehicle). to the start of the bushwhack marked by flagging tape at 4.5km on the S-100. This is just before the clearcut at the end of the road. You want to leave the road, and then headed into the forest, following the flagging tape carefully. The critical part is just above the cutblock, where flagging tape leads to your left, and then back right through a set of bluffs. The goal is to reach the 1320m col to the south, which involves lots of steep blueberry bushes and forested travel, staying to the east of a creek. I had wet feet and hands from the morning dew, maybe 45 minutes of enjoyable bushwhacking.

Now contour south at ~1400m along a heathery bench, on the south side of the 1560m bump to the north. The goal is to reach the lake at 1300m to the east of this summit, travelling through the sub-alpine terrain. This would be a nice campsite by the lake. From the lake, climb up more heather slopes, which soon transition into clean granodiorite slabs and talus leading to the ridge crest. We continued along the crest, going up and over numerous bumps. We were right at the snow line, which made for slow going in the powder covered heather.

The Meslilloet glacier is quite spectacular, especially in it's late season condition with gaping crevasses. It is the closest glacier to Vancouver, only 38.8km in a straight line from my couch in North Vancouver. The approach is long but it's worth the effort just for this view. We didn't get to the climbing part until 8 hours after leaving my house. The east ridge climbs the left hand skyline on solid granite, 3rd to 4th class, with an easier grassy ramp splitting up the scramble. The clouds rolled in on us and it was a wet and slippery ascent with the fresh snow. 


We sat in the fog on the summit, wondering about the view.  For a brief moment, the clouds parted from the summit, and we caught a brief view of the city to the south. The forecast was spot on, with the afternoon summit whiteout. On the way back, we stayed to the west of the 1900m summit north of Meslillooet, contouring along open granite slabs and talus to the 1660m col. We worked our way back along the ridge to the lake, bushwhacking when necessary. I really wanted to go for a swim in the lake, but it was getting cloudy and late in the day. I'm sure it was nice and warm in the lake, as all BC lakes are. 

Don't go north from the lake and drop down directly into the valley where S-100 is. It leads into very steep and unpleasant bushwhacking, on 45 degree blueberry slopes. Instead, retrace your steps, and contour back around the 1560m to the col. I may have sandbagged Tyler about the terrain on this trip. I told him that it would be a nice walk in the alpine, with some blueberry slopes along the way. I also thought we could jog some of the terrain, and we convinced him to bring his runners instead of his hikers. Nick and I had trail runners, but I didn't realize Tyler's runners were basically racing flats, without any traction for the slippery heather slopes. On the way down, I would hear Tyler crashing every 50m, regretting his decision to listen to us! 

There's a vague footbed along the 400m descent to the road. It wouldn't take much to clear some of the bush, and make this into a trail. I'm not sure if it's worth the effort, given the deteriorating access along S-100, and the end of Mamquam Main. We were back at the car by 7pm, a nice 11.5 hour day. This is one of those places that you should go and visit soon, before the access becomes harder. 

Creek crossing on the Mamquam Main. Photo by Tyler Linn
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Descending down to the lake at 1320m

Rich and Nick with the Pinecone Lakes Peaks behind us. Photo by Tyler Linn. 

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Heading towards Meslillooet

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A good view of the north face of Mesilllooet Mountain

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Our route follows the rocky ridge around the glacier, and then up the left skyline

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Mesillooet Mountain with the first snowfall of the season

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The Five Fingers Group on the Pitt-Coquitlam divide

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The closest glacier to Vancouver

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Gaping crevasses on the Meslillooet Glacier

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Unnamed lake

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On the way back, we contoured around this peak

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Incoming clouds. This peak seems to attract the weather. There were only high clouds in Vancouver that day, and it was clear in the Sea to Sky area that day.

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Nick approaching the east ridge

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The summit disappearing in the fog

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Tyler scrambling up to the summit

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Life in the clouds, with Vancouver behind Nick somewhere below

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Heading home

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Granite country

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We had some interesting views of familiar mountains, from an uncommon perspective. Way in the distance are the Howe Sound Crest peaks, The Lions, Brunswick and Hanover.

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Awesome day with these two guys!



Monday, November 16, 2015

Lizzie Lake Road

Just east of Pemberton, the Lizzie Lake region is an extensive alpine collection of lakes, meadows and gentle summits, suitable for hiking and ski touring. More remote than the Duffey, it sees far fewer visitors each year. It's also the western entrance to the classic Stein Valley traverse, a rugged backpacking route that usually takes 6-10 days for most parties. 

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In 2003, a major washout occurred on the Lizzie Lake Road. This was before my obsession with the mountains, so I never had a chance to drive up this 10km road to Lizzie Lake back in the day. There was little interest from Interfor to fix the washout, as there is not a lot of merchantable wood left in Lizzie Creek. I believe there were plans to repair the washout in 2008, but nothing has happened. Instead, the best access is to either ford the creek in low-flow (winter), or take the bypass trail which contours through the forest above the washout. The BC Parks website describes the road as follows:

Lizzie Lake Forest Service Road blocked by 4 slides, the first of which is approx. 1 km from Lillooet Lake. The road and bridges are damaged in numerous locations; no vehicle access is possible. Lizzie Lake is approximately 10 km from the first washout. About a 12 km hike from Lizzie Lake to the park boundary during normal mid to late summer conditions (approx. 700 meters net elevation gain from parking lot at Lizzie Lake to park boundary). The road is becoming overgrown. Route finding is difficult at the beginning of the trail.

The Varsity Outdoor Club organized a trail work party in July 2010, and were able to clear the road, good enough for walking without having alder slapping into your face on every step. They had also reinforced the centre beam of the cabin with some steel brackets.

In December 2010, I spent six days skiing up around the Lizzie Cabin, my first trip to the area. We crossed the washout, each foot in a garbage bag and sandals, and then trashed our way through the snowy alder covered road. The weight of the snow bent the alder into the road, forming a snowy alder tunnel. It took us over 8-9 hours to get to the cabin, arriving in the dark. 

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This past summer, August 2015, I went back for another visit, hiking in the Stein Valley from Lillooet Lake to Blowdown Pass. We took the bypass trail, cruised up the relatively open first 5km of the road, crossed a log at Km 5 across the East Fork of Lizzie Creek, and then entered the full on, in your face, no view, alder tunnel that is the last 5km as the road climbs up to the lake. Despite this, with light packs, we were able to get to the lake in two hours of fast walking. There used to be a parking lot here, now lost in the alder jungle. Even the BC Parks sign for the Stein Valley, is mostly obscured by the bush.

Photo by Maddy Armstrong
I've been talking with some friends about clearing this trail, and since the skiing is hit and miss in November, I tried to coordinate a work party with the VOC again, on November 14-15. This was suppose to be the shoulder season. This trip was also posted on the BCMC trip calendar, a good thing as it caught the attention of my friend Jason, who had an equal desire to clear the road, but also with the power tools to carry it out.

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Early Saturday morning, Jason Michael and I left Vancouver, and drove up to Pemberton to pick up a chain saw, brushcutter fitted with a circular blade, and a set of loppers. We drove through Mount Currie, and then 15km down the In-Shuck-Ch/Lillooet Lake Branch FSR to the Lizzie Branch FSR. Continue up the road, and then left up the hill to the first corner. This is where the bypass trail begins. There was only one other car here, and I wondered where the other car of VOCers were. It turns out they had driven higher up on the road, finding another trail leading above the washout, possibly less enjoyable than the lower one. 

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Start of the trail, marked by cairn and a new trail marker. 

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Bypass trail 

I discovered that it's quite awkward carrying around a brushcutter, as we contoured in forest, with views of the misty treetops. We dropped down around 50m down to the road. Less than a kilometre up the road, we saw Roland walking down the trail, with his hand wrapped up in an abdominal bandage. He had taken a tumble on the road, slicing up his hand. It needed 7 stitches for the 3cm cut, which went down to the tendon.

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We went to work on the road, Jason on the chainsaw, with Mike and I switching up between the loppers and the brushcutter. We were in a zen-like state, working away in the forest with nothing but the sounds of the two-stroke engine. I've spent so much time bushwhacking in the last couple years. It was very therapeutic to be slicing away at the alder instead of squeezing in between.

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The non-existent bridge over the East Fork. 

We caught up to Lea, Lianne, Sebastian(?) and Jake(?) who had been working on the road beyond the east fork of  Lizzie Creek. There was a trace amount of snow, maybe 5cm at our high point of 910m. with another 3km left to reach the lake. In the fading daylight, Jason and I mowed down the alder on the sides, getting right down to the base for each cut. By the time we were done, it looked like an excavator had just plowed through it. We stashed the power tools, helmets and gas jerry in the forest. The rain started as we hiked out by headlamp, joined by Cassandra Mirko and Vincent(?) who had hiked up to the Lizzie Cabin. They reported deep snow, potholing up to their waist at times. 

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Saturday gardening 

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Jason and I were back at it early Sunday morning. We left the car in the rain, which quickly changed into fat snowflakes above 500m. The heavy snowfall quickly changed our plans to get up to the power tools and brush out the upper road. The weight of the new snow, up to 15cm in places, had bent over the alder that was further back in the road. It was disheartening to see this, but also gave me a good sense of how far back we needed to cut the alder. It looked like an excavator had plowed through the road by the time we were done. I'm happy to say that the first 7km of the road is in very shape condition right now. 

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How most of the first 7km looks now 

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But as the road climbs, the route ahead turns into a snowy alder hell. It was hard to tell where the road was, which was revealed as we dusted off the snow, and the alder sprung back. By this point, I had wet cold fingers, stopping periodically to wring out my work gloves. We found our tools, calling it a day at that point. There was no point in going further with the work, we'll have to wait for the summer to finish the job. I don't remember how bad this section was when I skied up here five years ago. But Kyle, who emailed me earlier, told me that last winter he was turned around by the impassable wall of alder, anchored down by the snow. 

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Alder weighted down 

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And then cleared away 

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Hatchet and saw were the tools for today.

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Before the snow yesterday

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Upper section looking past where we worked on. Another 3km to go. 

There's still lots of work left to improve access to this incredible area. We'll need to work on the toughest section as the road climbs up to the lake. There's also deadfall across the trail leading up to the Gates of Shangri-La. I'm hoping to organize another work party next summer. If you're interested in helping out, please contact me and I'll keep you updated. 
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Below the washout, where it's possible to cross over in low flow. 

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Low snow line

High point, roughly 3km from the lake.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Owl-Tenquille Traverse

The Owl-Tenquille traverse is a two to four day alpine backpacking trip, traversing forest, lakes, and alpine meadows north of Pemberton. Recently in August, Cam Adam Agi and I hiked this trip, from east to west. The area around Tenquille Lake sees quite a bit of traffic, but the complete traverse seems less popular. This may partly be due to the logistical challenge required for a vehicle shuttle, or maybe it's just the lack of internet beta. Hopefully this will add to the trip reports available online for this highly recommended traverse through the high country above Pemberton.

I figured this would be a fairly relaxing three day trip, so I thought two days in late summer would be good. I've wanted to "run" this route in the past, but after this trip, I think its worth camping as there's just too much driving involved for a day trip. I told Cam that we would both meet Adam and Agi in Squamish at 6am. Having been accustomed to the crack of 11 start as a mountain biker, this seemed way too early to him. We drove up to Pemberton, 16.3 km up the Birkenhead FSR, and then onto the Tenquille Spur for another 5km. The Tenquille Spur requires a 4x4 vehicle, with a creek crossing that required low-range to climb out of on the way back, along with moderate waterbars. We parked my Tracker at the end of the road, and then drove Cam's Xterra back down the Birkenhead FSR, along Portage Road, and then up the Owl Creek FSR. This is a very steep logging road, and climbs over 1000m in just over 9km. As of August 2015, the road has steep hills with loose eroded sections, low-range and high clearance recommended.



There is some new logging at the end of the road. Just before the last turn, there is a big Pemberton Valley Trail Association (PVTA) sign/map. Continue up the road, and there should be a sign on your left marking the Fowl Lake trail. The first part of the trail is well marked and wanders through the forest and then climbs up to a viewpoint over the Chain Lakes. The trail begins to disappear in some swampy meadows at 1600m, but continue northwards for another 1.5km to Fowl Lake. Good navigation skills with help immensely on this trip, as there is a surprisingly amount of micro-terrain, keeping the route finding interesting. I used Locus Map, with rough gpx track loaded onto it.
Fowl Lake was the first lake-bag of the trip, a highly recommended swim. There's a nice sandy beach, clear water with a good drop. If you're doing this as a four day trip, you might like to camp here. It was only noon, so we continued contouring along the shore to a creek (not marked on the 1:50000 map), and then northwest to Upper Fowl Lake. There's another great campsite here, and Upper Fowl Lake is also a great lake-bag, but not as warm as Fowl Lake. The dashed line on the PVTA is deceiving as it appears to be a trail, when there is only a route occasionally marked with cairns between here, and Tenquille Lake.

We traversed talus slopes on the north side of the lake, and then up a talus gully in the headwall to the 2040m col, at about 3pm. There are great views to the south, across the Pemberton Valley and beyond to the Pemberton Glacier. We continued across the talus slopes, contouring where possible. We dropped our packs and went for a quick scramble up the south ridge of Mount Ronayne. Up to this point, I had been having fun navigating, but didn't have a great view of the route as there are many mini summits and micro terrain blocking the view. From the top, I could look down into Tenas Creek, and over to Ogre Lake, 600m below us.



We left the summit at 5pm, and pushed on. As I write this in November, I miss those long summer days, where full days in the mountains like this seem possible without the need for headlamps.  From the small lakes at 1850m, we descended into the south fork of Tenas Creek to 1580m, where I found a cairn leading us onto a horse trail across scree slopes above the north fork of Tenas Creek. You could exit the traverse here onto the Tenas Creek FSR, a kilometre to the northeast. We camped at Ogre Lake, at 1700m, and another nice lake-bag. This entire area is bear country, and we saw some very fresh prints in the mud while walking to the lake. To the northeast of Tenquille Lake, is a place named Grizzly Pass. On a rocky moraine above Ogre Lake, we watched Mount Ronayne bask in the orange evening light, while we feasted on a huge pot of quinoa veggie curry (thanks Adam and Agi!) and my no-bake chocolate cake that mostly survived the trip in my backpack.

Going light, I went without a tent or tarp and just slept under the stars next to the lake. The next morning, I dried out my frost-covered sleeping bag in the morning sunshine. We left Ogre Lake at 8am, and followed a trail on the north side of the lake. The trail then climbs northwest into vast meadows above 1800m. From here, the route marked on the PVTA map continues north to the lower 2000m col and then drops down around the north side of Mount Barbour. We continued up to the 2150m col, and then scrambled up the east ridge of Mount Barbour. It looks steeper than it is from afar, and the route is an easy scramble with some exposure.



We descended the steep talus on the northwest side of Mount Barbour. This high alpine route now follows the open ridge line, over several small summits, over Mount McLeod. The views down into Pemberton meadows are quite spectacular from here, as you are looking down at the farms almost 2000m below. This vertical relief also attracts a lot of mountain bikers, with the long descent down the Tenquille Trail to the Lillooet River. We were buzzed by the helicopter as they were dropping off bikes and people. I'm a terrible mountain biker, so I wasn't  convinced the terrain up here was worth the price of a helicopter ride.

More talus, and a steep heather scramble took us to the top of Mount McLeod, named after one of the early settlers of Pemberton. We left the summit at 1pm, and wandered down the gentle slopes on the northwest ridge down into Fossil Pass. I thought there was a more well defined path down to Tenquille Lake, but I never found one and just strolled down through the slope covered in heather and grass. In my mind, I was visualizing all the terrain and making mental notes for when the snow came.

Down at the lake, we all jumped in for the first swim of the day. We were in no rush to go anywhere, but reluctantly left this wonderful area at 3:30pm, off to the truck and to finish off the second half of the long shuttle and drive. I had been debating in the days before about which side to park the truck, either on Branch 12 from the Hurley, or the Tenquille Spur off the Birkenhead FSR. The Branch 12 trail is longer, but the Hurley and Branch 12 road are both in better condition than the Tenquille Spur. I think Owl to Birkenhead is shorter in distance and higher at 1450m, but slower to drive than Owl to Branch 12 which goes to 1250m. The best option is to have two groups doing the trip, both with a 4x4, and camping in the middle at Ogre Lake. If you do this trip, let me know how it goes!

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Agi, Adam and Cam with a view of the Chain Lakes on the right

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Unnamed lake just before Upper Fowl Lake

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Lake-bagging Upper Fowl Lake

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Alpine sandwich. Upper Fowl Lake was a good place

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Nice spot for lunch. We went around the lake, and then up the middle of the talus slope behind. This section could be trickier for routefinding from the other direction.

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Looking over at the Place Glacier

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A view to the south towards Ipsoot Mountain

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Agi hiking up to the top of Mount Ronayne

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At the tippy top

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Rhododendron Peak

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Adam descending the gentle south ridge of Mount Barbour

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Traversing the scree and talus slopes 
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Cam silhouetted against the crumbly rock on Mount Ronayne
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Lake reflections

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Unnamed lake east of Ogre Lake

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Sunset from Ogre Lake

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Quinoa veggie curry

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No-bake chocolate cake and huckleberries

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Hiking past the end of Ogre Lake

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Meadows

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More open meadows on the south side of Mount Barbour

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Climbing up. We came from the valley on the left

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Above the 2050m col on Mount Barbour, with the lower col on the right, and Sun God Mountain at centre

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Scrambling up with the Tenquille Valley way below

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Open slopes between Mount Barbour and Mount McLeod

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Awesome view of the valley and out towards the Meager  Creek area

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Scrambling up the south side of Mount McLeod

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Another summit, another alpine sandwich

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Tenquille Lake is really quite beautiful

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Swim time

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Adam wanted to wash his clothes off

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What an awesome trip!