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Hike Across the Spine of Vancouver Island

Comox-Strathcona C, British Columbia



21.7 miles

Elevation Gain

7217.8 ft

Route Type



Added by Sarah Seads

This is an awesome experience trekking across the 'spine' of the Wild Isle!. Enjoy panoramic views across Vancouver Island and magical Ruth Masters Lake.

Let's go on an adventure, shall we?

Vancouver Island is 460km/285mi in length and 100km/62mi in width at its widest point, with a coastline covering 3,400km/2,138mi. On the northern end of the Vancouver Island, rugged beaches give way to thick coastal forest. Eventually the land climbs upward beyond the reach of logging roads and well worn pubs into a dazzling sea of alpine peaks high above. Prized by tourists for it's beaches, green spaces and British-style capitol, Vancouver Island is also home to a magical, lesser know land, of alpine terrain. Hidden far from the tourist trail and deep in the back country, the spine of the 'Wild Isle' travels through some of the most beautiful and rugged landscape found anywhere in the world.

A collection of unbelievably steep peaks are found in the heart of the Vancouver Island. Primarily protected within the boundaries of Strathcona Provincial Park, these peaks are well knows by local climbers as the “Island Alps”. And for good reason. These mini-Alps climb dramatically upward from sea level to over 2000metres in mere kilometres. The steep and technical profile of these peaks, combined with a relative lack of access, maintain a wild and remote energy that has become muted in many of the more accessible Parks around the Province. There are, however, many equally fantastic opportunities for back country adventures in the less technical, and more accessible areas of the Park.

Park access from both Buttle Lake near Campbell River and Paradise Meadows near the Raven Lodge of Mount Washington Resort is the easiest way to get started exploring this beautiful area. There are numerous easy to moderate level trails starting from these two main access points in the Park. From easy day hikes with minimal elevation change to multi-day backpacking adventures, there is a trail for everyone ready to get their boots wet.

Or, you could do something really fun and hike right across the spine of Vancouver Island. Covering approximately 35kms and 2200 metres of elevation gain, the traverse from Paradise Meadows to Buttle Lake is an adventure worthy of summer bucket lists. Most experienced hikers take between 3 and 5 days to complete the back country traverse including a summit of Albert Edward along the way. Below is a description of the route along with some suggestions for preparing for this adventure. Note: this is not a 'trail', but a back country route, requiring navigation skills and experience. As always, be sure to review the 7 Leave No Trace Principles before your next trip in the wild.

Augerpoint Traverse RouteThis route may be traveled in either direction, but there is a net loss of nearly 900metres, when leaving from Paradise Meadows, which can make a big difference for effort and duration. The Paradise Meadows trailhead is at the end of the Strathcona Parkway (road to Mount Washington Ski Resort) and park beside the Raven Lodge and Strathcona Park Visitors Centre.

The first 3kms of the route travel out to Lake Helen Mackenzie on well established trails, including a wheelchair accessible boardwalk section. After reaching the Lake, the trail moves into more technical single track including endless rooty sections en route to the Ranger Cabin (6kms). From the Cabin, the trail winds through beautiful meadows and subalpine lakes to reach the popular destination of Circlet Lake (10kms). Circlet Lake would be a great spot to stop and set up camp on a multi-day traverse of this route. More experienced hikers may choose to carry on up over Albert Edward and down the back to Ruth Masters Lake, close to the mid point of the traverse.

From the Circlet Lake intersection, the trail turns upward, via the rocky approach to Mount Albert Edward. One of only 16 peaks over 2000metres on Vancouver Island, Albert Edward has a beautiful scree ridge line that stands out from the other peaks in the Park. The summit of Albert Edward is 16kms from the trail head and can take anywhere from 5-8+ hours hiking, depending on the pace. This summer I ran to the summit from the trailhead in 3 hours flat. It all depends on the type of trip you want to make.

After enjoying the summit of AE, the adventure begins in earnest. The remaining section requires route finding and back country travel skills. There are no trails between AE and Buttle Lake other than the final descent on 'Jacks' trail. Knowing how to read the land and use a map and compass to plot your route and stay on course are essential skills for this portion of the route. The remoteness of the terrain, lack of trails and the unpredictable nature of mountain weather, mean additional preparations and skills are required to ensure a safe and successful trip across the 'rock'.

The route follows the 'bumps' down the back of AE to a marshy area at the lowest point. Head across the marsh and up the other side, looking for the natural break in the steep bluffs to sneak through. Follow the cairns on the bluffs up the other side and you will reach a meadow at the outflow of Ruth Masters Lake. The route then travels around the (right) north side of this magnificent lake. One of the most beautiful lakes in the Park, Ruth Masters shines a deep combination of sapphire and emerald greens. Well worth the hike in. There are a few spots to camp along the lake, or you can trek up to the saddle above for a night on the ridge if weather permits.

Climb up the old rock slides to the saddle between Augerpoint mountain and Syd Watts Peak. If time allows, these are both awesome summits with fantastic views. Once on the saddle, continue to climb westward and will find excellent views of Buttle Lake at the top of the ridge. From there it is a ridge walk connecting the dots up and over a few bumps towards Jack's Fell. Great camping sites sit along the small ponds in the saddle high above Shark Lake. The route contours around the west side of Jack's Fell and begins it's decent to a few small ponds on the edge of the sub alpine. This marks the end of the route and the start of 'Jack's Trail' which dives straight down to Buttle Lake about 800m below. The endless series of steep switchbacks will leave an impression on your quads for days. After what may seem like an eternity, you will suddenly and without warning, pop out on the Myra Mine road and Buttle Lake. Arrange to have a friend pick you up on the road or you will be stuck hitch hiking back to Courtenay!

Most hikers take 3-5 days to travel this back country traverse and more time can be taken if planning to summit the additional peaks along the way. This summer, I hiked up from the Buttle Lake side, camped on the saddle above Shark Lake and explored the entire area. I also ran the entire traverse in 8 hours for a fun challenge with friends. It is a lovely route if you are looking for an adventure and have the skills in place to take it on.

More Information:VISTA: Vancouver Island Spine Trail Association. Working hard to create a 700km trail that travels the entire length of Vancouver Island.Beyond Nootka – A Historical Perspective of Vancouver Island Mountains, Lindsay Elms, Misthorn Press, 1996, ISBN 0-919537-29-4For route information further into the backcountry, refer to Island Alpine – A Guide to The Mountains of Strathcona Park and Vancouver Island, Philip Stone, Wild Isle Publications, 2003, ISBN 0-9680766-5-3Backroad Mapbook. Volume III: Vancouver Island

Weather:Current Forecast (http://www.theweathernetwork.com/weather/canada/british-columbia/courtenay?wbRef=www.summitpost.org&link=cityPage&switchto=c&switchto=c&ref=wxbtn234x60_text_city) Mt Washington’s webcam (https://www.mountwashington.ca/weather.html) (current view of weather at similar elevation) Vancouver Island Avalanche Conditions (http://www.islandavalanchebulletin.com/)

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Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!


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