Finding Fall, Part 2: Exploring the Coquihalla Summit Area

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Intro: So I’m incredibly excited to introduce this new series, highlighting some known and lesser-known (but equally beloved) Canadian trails. Earlier this year, I partnered with MEC to ask trail runners across Canada what their favourite trails were. I was blown away by how passionate everyone was about “their” trail, and many of them were ones I’d never heard of before. It got me thinking about what makes a trail special. Is it because it’s the “old faithful” route we run twice a week? Is it our “love to hate” route with that one big climb in the middle that we just won’t let beat us? Or is it a bucket list trail that we spent years lusting after before we ever got to explore it?

In this series, I’m going to explore some of those trails and what makes them special…and what better time to do it than in the fall, as the leaves turn golden and the trails are at their very best?

**If you missed Part 1, start here:

Still with me? Yay! Here we go. Part 2.

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The Details:  

Where: Flatiron Peak (easier option), or Needle Peak (technical summit, advanced option)

When: June - October, but can be snowshoed in the winter

Distance: 13km round trip out and back to do either Needle or Flatiron. Add 4km to do both.

Time: 5 – 8 hours trail run, depending on how often you stop to enjoy the views…and there are many.

Terrain: Both trails lead up to a junction at the Needle saddle. Flatiron Peak is a beautiful route featuring a pretty little alpine lake. Needle Peak has a 1km steep, technical scramble to the summit, where route finding isn’t obvious, and a fall would be bad. Only attempt Needle Peak if you have scrambling/climbing experience and are comfortable with route finding and some exposure. Flatiron Peak is still a very lovely alternative.

Pro Tip: If you go in September, the blueberry bushes turn all shades of red, painting the meadows in gorgeous fall colours.

Beloved By:

Me!! True story, this is one of my very favourite, super secret trails… and now I’m sharing it with you. Aw. But please, PLEASE, take my warning seriously about Needle Peak. It is not a beginner route, so if you aren’t sure whether you should attempt it, that is your answer. Turn right at the junction, and go enjoy the beautiful route that is Flatiron Peak.

**Right about now, you might be asking why this post features my favourite trail, when it’s supposed to be highlighting trails beloved by other IG trail runners. The simple answer is that our original plan for the day got changed due to unexpected snowfall in the alpine (it happens, even in September!). I knew this trail was close by, so I asked my friend Andrea Lawson, who was already set to adventure with me for the day, if she wanted to explore one of my own personal favourite trails instead.

So there you have it. Oh, and why is it my favourite, you ask? Because it features a perfect mix of solid uphill, meadow frolicking, and technical scrambling…and because on the scale of views ><effort required, the Coquihalla Summit Area is unparalleled.

About Andrea (@andrea.lawson): She’s a badass strength coach, entrepreneur, and she owns a fitness rehab facility called Balance In Motion. She has been an athlete for years, but has recently started trail running, and is now on a mission to explore every inch of trail that she can find. Having her with me for this adventure was so much fun, because it allowed me to show her one of MY favourite areas — and I’m pretty sure it’s now one of hers as well.

The Route:

Find driving directions here.

The trail starts off fairly flat for about, oh, five minutes, before it cranks uphill in a sustained but efficient push towards the alpine. This part of the trail is well marked and maintained, and you should have no trouble following it (pro tip: just keep looking up, you’ll see the blazes). After about 30-40 minutes of uphill, you will start to see hints of sub-alpine terrain appear. Shortly, the trail begins to ease off, and you can actually catch your breath and admire the views. On a clear day, you can look behind you and see the imposing face of Yak Peak staring back at you.

From here, you meander through some beautiful sub-alpine meadows…aka one of my favourite parts of this route. The trail gently follows a ridgeline for several km, and in September the leaves are alight with colour.

 Those fall colours, right!!!

Those fall colours, right!!!

Keep going, and eventually you will find yourself at a junction, with a signpost marking the way to Needle Peak (to your left), and Flatiron Peak (slightly to your right). See my notes at the beginning of this piece for whether you should do Needle, Flatiron, or both.

 And into a cloud we go, heading towards the trail junction. We were amazed to see a fresh dusting of snow already!

And into a cloud we go, heading towards the trail junction. We were amazed to see a fresh dusting of snow already!

Flatiron Peak

We headed here first, as we were now immersed in a giant cloud and had almost zero visibility. Attempting Needle Peak in these conditions would have been a reallllly bad plan. I always love visiting the little alpine lake that nestles below Flatiron Peak, so we headed there happily.

 Andrea enjoying some moody PNW vibes.

Andrea enjoying some moody PNW vibes.

 The Alpine Lake, unlocked!

The Alpine Lake, unlocked!

We hit the alpine lake (I really don’t think it has a name, so I’ll just keep calling it that) after a couple of km, and headed up to the summit of Flatiron Peak…or so we hoped, as we couldn’t quite see it in the clouds.

 Hey look! Hints of a summit view! And fresh snow as a bonus reminder that winter is coming.

Hey look! Hints of a summit view! And fresh snow as a bonus reminder that winter is coming.

 One must always travel with  warm layers  in the alpine.

One must always travel with warm layers in the alpine.

As we headed down from Flatiron Peak, the clouds that had shrouded our views suddenly parted, and we were in a whole new world of glorious mountains and 360 degree views.

 All of a sudden, that same alpine lake took on a whole new level of beauty. It’s amazing what a bit of blue sky does.

All of a sudden, that same alpine lake took on a whole new level of beauty. It’s amazing what a bit of blue sky does.

With the weather now beautiful and warm, we decided to tag Needle Peak as well. This was my fourth time up to the summit, but even so I found that I still had to pay attention to the small cairns and subtle markers as we went.

 Back to the junction we go.

Back to the junction we go.

Needle Peak

 It’s steeper than it looks, especially on the way down.

It’s steeper than it looks, especially on the way down.

 And up we go.

And up we go.

 Assessing our route.

Assessing our route.

 Did I mention this summit involves a fair amount of scrambling?

Did I mention this summit involves a fair amount of scrambling?

 Annnd summit! Mountains as far as the eye can see!

Annnd summit! Mountains as far as the eye can see!

 What goes up, must come down. So many mountain rescues happen because people forget that its often harder (and much scarier) coming down steep terrain. Don’t be that person. Play within your limits!

What goes up, must come down. So many mountain rescues happen because people forget that its often harder (and much scarier) coming down steep terrain. Don’t be that person. Play within your limits!

I’m sure you can see why this trail is so near and dear to me. It features incredible alpine that’s easily accessible, with beautiful meadows and ridgelines to play on. If you are looking to venture out of the Sea to Sky corridor, this area is a must.

Gear Picks:

Andrea rocked her MEC Nephele Merino Long Sleeve Tee, as well her MEC Pace Running Vest. You’ll also want to be sure to have plenty of food, water, and a headlamp. And don’t forget to leave a trip plan with someone you trust!

Next Up:

I’m heading further east, hunting for those fall leaves. Stay tuned for Part 3/4, coming shortly!

Hilary MathesonComment