Type 2 Fun to the Gates of Shangri-La

Hiking in the Stein Valley

Sometimes good things need to be earned, and the Stein Valley is one of those things. Its access is a double-edged sword that dissuades crowds, and forces those who persevere to give blood and sweat, and maybe even a tear or two. And in these high summer days where every place seems to be overrun and finding a campsite is a hardship, it is a reminder that there are untouched places to explore in this massive province of ours. Take the challenge and venture into the wild empty spaces of the Stein.

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Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage Park is an incredible swath of wilderness that sits between Lillooet Lake and Lytton.  The name comes from the Nlaka’pamux word “Stagyn”, meaning “hidden place” and the valley has been important to the Nlaka’pamux people for thousands of years.

Looking NE from Iceberg lake to Cultha Lake and peak and the Stein Valley beyond.

There is a 75km traverse that runs straight across the park, though on this occasion the goal was the exploration of some lakes and peaks on the western perimeter.

Arrowhead lake with Anemone & Table mountains in the background

Arrowhead lake with Anemone and Table mountains in the background

The main issue, the main challenge to access, is that there have been massive rock slides on the entrance road over the years.  So the hike begins with a 12km slog up the old logging road to Lizzie Lake (an old BC Rec site).  The road, nowadays more of a trail, gains 700m+ as it heads up to Lizzie lake.  It is an unrelenting uphill trudge, the last kms require bashing through a sea of alders and bugs and wasps are all around you, always.  In the heat of summer it is a challenging and draining approach.  At the halfway mark you have to ford the raging Lizzie Creek which can be done by hopping over rocks or crossing a downed log, either of which can be difficult with a heavy pack.

Lizzie Creek at the crossing about half way along the 12kms access trail.

Lizzie Creek at the crossing about half way along the 12kms access trail.

After exiting the alder undergrowth Lizzie Lake feels like civilization with an outhouse, sign board and picnic tables at the old BC Rec Site.  The lake is good for a swim, but the flies were almost unbearable the days we were there.

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Lizzie Lake

From the Lizzie lake you continue another 4kms up to Lizzie cabin.  This part of the trail is steep and difficult and there are downed trees across the trail every hundred metres or so the whole way along which makes for slow progress and an agonizing game of under or over.

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Lizzie cabin

But then something magical happens, 16kms from your car, 1600m above sea level, you climb out of the forest near Lizzie cabin and the sky parts before you, and the path forward is completely different from the one behind you.   You pass through the “Gates of Shangri-La”, a narrow section between a landslide and a high cliff and here you enter the incredible alpine world of the Stein valley.  You have made it.  You have persevered and have been granted access to this stunning corner of the world.

Gates of Shangri-La (just south of Lizzie cabin)

Gates of Shangri-La (just south of Lizzie cabin)

We chose a route past Arrowhead and Heart lakes and camped at Iceberg lake for a few nights, just outside the true park boundary, and did day trip scrambles into the peaks above.

Iceberg lake

Iceberg lake

The spot we chose has to be one of the nicest places I have ever laid my head, nestled in soft alpine tundra on the edge of a smooth granite ledge, blue Iceberg lake behind, and the whole Stein Valley before you.

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View from the campsite at Iceberg lake looking east to Vanguard peak.

The main trail continues to Tundra lake, which marks the western park border, and then to Stein lake, and then 75kms east along the Stein River to the terminus near Lytton.  But there are plenty of peaks to scramble no matter where you look.  And when the wind takes the bugs off your back, the sun shines in the alpine lakes and the bluebird sky gives you unlimited visibility in all directions you believe indeed that you are in Shangri-La.  Then the sun sets, the alpenglow turns the glaciers pink and the sky orange; darkness falls and the the moon rises, the stars shine and the wind calms and you wonder how it is you have come to find this piece of paradise.

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View from Table mountain looking west to Arrowhead lake below.

Happy Trails!

 

 

 

 

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