Hike Mount Albert Edward
Canada › Paradise Meadows Trailhead
Added by Sarah Seads
Mount Albert Edward is the 6th highest peak on Vancouver Island. This adventure is 3 days hiking (or one very long day), 5-10 hours running to reach the summit at 2063m. This trek is a great introduction to backcountry adventure.
Mount Albert Edward is hard to miss. If you have ever driven up to Mount Washington you will remember the unique profile of this mountain to the west of Raven Lodge. Its long, drawn out scree ridge ends dramatically in a ski jump style peak before falling off into the abyss below. The Grinch himself would surely be proud to call this summit home. Mount Albert Edward is one of only 16 peaks belonging to 2000m+ club on Vancouver Island. At 2093m, it is the 6th tallest peak on the Island and it stands guard at the eastern entrance of Strathcona Provincial Park.
If you are ready to venture into the back country and climb your first peak, Mount Albert Edward may be just what you are looking for. Merely 16km (9.9 mi) from the Paradise Meadows trailhead on Mount Washington, AE is the perfect way to enter the world of summitting Strathcona Park peaks. Most hikers take at least 2-3 days to summit AE and set up camp at either Circlet or Kwai Lakes. There are lovely overnight use areas along the edge of these pristine lakes, with tent pads designed to keep wear and tear to a minimum. If you don't get any farther than camping at the lakes, you will still get to enjoy an unforgettable sub alpine wilderness experience. It is approximately twenty kilometres round trip to Circlet, with the option of adding loops to visit the other nearby lakes. A trek into Circlet is a magical introduction to back country adventure. With such easy access, there are always other hikers in the area and this can be comforting for those new to back country camping.
The first kilometre of the trail is literally wheel chair accessible and provides a unique access to the sub alpine meadows of Strathcona Park. Everyone and anyone can now get out of their car and instantly enter this special biogeoclimatic zone. It is a beautiful thing, but I am always amazed how many people in the Comox Valley have yet to experience it. As Vancouver Islanders, we tend to take our rock for granted and often forget how lucky we are to have access to true wilderness right at our tip toes. Get up there people. Visitors come from all over the world to hike in this park and tell their friends back home. You should too.
The trail reaches Lake Helen Mackenzie at the 3km (1.8 mi) mark and then turns off the more beaten path towards the Ranger Cabin. Helen Mackenzie is a popular day use area for hikers, runners, swimmers and picnic'ers. This accessible lake is also a great spot for families to introduce their little ones to wilderness camping. There are pit toilets and tenting pads near the lake.
Past Helen Mackenzie, the trail passes to the south of Mount Brooks and turns into a technical mess of roots. After another few kilometres, however, the trail leaves the thick forest and smooths out in sub alpine meadow terrain. This area of the Park is a trail runner's dream. I can't believe more runners don't get their kicks up in Paradise Meadows. The trails are only moderately technical, with fun roots and rocks and ups and downs to play amongst. The grade is perfect for easy running with very few sections too steep to keep a good pace on all the way out to Circlet Lake. There are multiple looping options for routes that wind around beautiful sub-alpine lakes including Kwai, Hairtrigger, Battleship, Lady, Mariwood and more. There is the 16k out and back to Cruikshank Canyon. There is the 23km (14 mi) Forbidden traverse to Mount Becher via McKenzie Meadows. And then, of course, there is the rest... the beginning of endless days and peaks and routes that can take you deep into Strathcona Park and leave you wondering how on earth you are still on Vancouver Island at all.
You will get your first glimpse of Albert Edward just moments before reaching the Ranger Cabin, approximately 6km (3.7 mi) from the trailhead. Past the Ranger Cabin and Hairtrigger Lake, the sub alpine forests give way to the Whiskey Meadows. They are absolutely loaded with mountain heather during 'alpine spring', which comes later than the one at sea level. The ground transforms into a fluorescent pink carpet for a few amazing weeks each year.
Near the 9km (5.6 mi) mark the trail drops downhill and you know that Circlet Lake is near. Mountain streams trickle across the path and delicate spring plants follow them where ever they go. The Circlet Lake turn off is marked by a small pond to the right and a stack of steep contour lines straight ahead. The lightly undulating trail from the parking lot comes to an end and the climb to the summit begins here.
Circlet Lake is the perfect spot to stop and set up camp on a multi-day trip. More experienced hikers and trail runners may choose summit Albert Edward and then return in a single day, however. 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 trail turns into a route and bright orange markers are positioned up the ridge to show the best way to the top. Be sure to look over your shoulder at this point, to enjoy the panoramic view of the Comox Valley and Salish Sea far below. Continue upward, passing small tarns (often dry at the end of summer) and following a path of cairns to the start of the screen slope. Once you reach the scree, you will see the way to the top. Keep away from the right edge of the ridge during foggy days with poor visibility. The ridge drops off hundreds of feet below and often holds a dangerous overhang of snow well into summer. The final climb to the top is a steady switchback climb that suddenly has you on top of the world.
The view is breathtaking. Don't go too close to the edge! You can see across to Buttle Lake via the Augerpoint Traverse (see my adventure: Hiking Across the Spine of Vancouver Island) and all the way across to the mainland of BC. It is one of the most spectacular vista's on the entire Island.
The summit of Albert Edward is 16km (9.9 mi) from the trailhead and can take anywhere from 6-8+ hours hiking one way, 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.
- Strathcona Park brochure: Paradise Meadows/Albert Edward Area Map
- Beyond Nootka – A Historical Perspective of Vancouver Island Mountains, Lindsay Elms, Misthorn Press, 1996, ISBN 0-919537-29-4.
- For 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 0-9680766-5-3 Backroad Mapbook. Volume III: Vancouver Island
- Multi-day backpacking gear (or single day fast packing gear for ultra hikers/runners)
- Satellite communication device- ie Delorme inReach
- Food and water for your time planned (and a bit more!) on the trail
- First Aid/Emergency kit Cell phone (coverage at the very top of Albert Edward only)
- Fires are not permitted within Strathcona Provincial Park any time of the year and dogs must be leashed at all times
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A perfect introduction to the Island Alpine
Mt. Albert Edward is one of the most-visited mountains of the Vancouver Island Alps, and for good reason: Ease of vehicular access, one of the Island's most forgiving trails in terms of rate of ascent, varied terrain, a great primary camping location at Circlet Lake and - when the weather cooperates - panoramic views of the rest of Strathcona Park, the Strait of Georgia and Coast Mountains and, if you're lucky, the Pacific Ocean. A must-do for new adventurers and a great wilderness introduction for families. Later, when you have the legs and lungs for it, put this at the top of your list for a one-day trail running adventure.
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