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Tonquin Valley in 3 days

Trip Diary: 16-18th September

16 Sep – 6pm

I’m in my tent huddled in my sleeping bag keeping warm. It’s drizzling as it has been all day. Today I started hiking from Portal Creek trailhead at 9am and arrived at Maccarib camp at 2:45pm, 19km in total. First 9km to Portal Creek campground was through a valley covered by many trees, and beyond 9km was through wide open meadows where I was expecting to see a Grizzly at any moment.

In the meadows
In the meadows

Trail was really muddy and in desperate need of repair. Overall not too big a day. Past a handful of people. Awesome green, yellow and red foliage all around, winter is just around the corner! Cooked up noodles and made a hot cup of tea already, very satisfying. Then since it was raining hoisted my food up the bear pole and crashed. Hope the rain eases so I can go down to the lake and scope out positions for sunrise photos when first light hits the “wall” that is the Ramparts. Excited to get wicked photos. Fingers crossed!

Rest break from my 20kg pack (45 pound) at Portal Creek camp.
Rest break from my 20kg pack (45 pound) at Portal Creek camp.

18th Sep – 5am

It’s early and cold but I’m wide awake once again tucked in my sleeping bag. Yesterday wasn’t an enormous day but it was enough to do me in early. I got up at 5:30am and walked half an hour to the lake shore. Turned out I was well and truly early enough since the first rays only hit the mountain tops after 7.

Before sunrise a wicked view about 1km north of Amethyst camp.
Before sunrise a wicked view about 1km north of Amethyst camp.
Enjoying sunrise
Enjoying sunrise

As it usually happens my best photo was unplanned as I was walking back to camp.

The swampy, wet marshlands of the Tonquin Valley from the northern end of Amethyst Lake.
The swampy, wet marshlands of the Tonquin Valley from the northern end of Amethyst Lake.

After breakfast and packing up I left Maccarib at 11:30am and walked back down the muddy, horse beaten path 9km to Surprise Point. On the way I got lucky seeing a rare species. I turned to my right and woah – two woodland caribou 40m away staring at me.

This is the rare species the woodland caribou
This is the rare species the woodland caribou

I just stayed still and watched them for 15 minutes. One even used it’s antlers to tear the branches off a tree. I’m not sure why as it left all the branches on the ground (since found out it might be to remove the fur off it’s antlers to look more attractive). I arrived to the awesome location of Surprise Point at 2:30 and by 5 took a lay down which turned out to be bed for the night. I’ll try for better sunrise photos today, then begin the 17km back to the real world.

19 Sep – 11pm

The sunrise never prevailed through the clouds that next morning unfortunately, but good news is it didn’t rain on me. I gunned it out of there at 8am to get to work by 4pm and ended up doing the 17km in just shy of five hours. 3.5km/h with a heavy pack is solid pace. When I reconnected to the main trail (Astoria River trail) I was so grateful to finally be out of the mud, and hopping over rocks and logs. For a while there I was following some fresh animal tracks but didn’t see any this time.

I believe these were moose tracks I was following on the way out (my foot is pointing in the wrong direction)
I believe these were moose tracks I was following on the way out (my foot is pointing in the wrong direction)

So how did the Tonquin compare to other similar trips in the area? Straight up Berg Lake and The Skyline are both superior in my opinion.

For me the Tonquin was hyped up to be a magical “Garden of the Gods” experience, but it wasn’t. Yes, the Ramparts are an incredible sight and I know the weather wasn’t perfect (if I was there a few days earlier it would have been 10 degrees warmer) but the fact is the trails are so beat into the ground which just takes up too much focus to avoid sinking ankle deep every step. Your eyes are spending too much time on the ground instead of marvelling at the surroundings.

And how do you compensate for this? You can’t go earlier in the season before the horses have eaten the trail apart because you’ll get eaten alive by mosquitoes and flies. In June and July avoid the Tonquin at all costs! Those marshlands are a mosquito breeding ground heaven.

Am I missing something here? Was this year just particularly bad or is the trail condition just part of the deal? Maybe a March backcountry ski trip is the way to go.