The Stein Divide or Stein Traverse is a trail running from Pemberton to Lytton from the west Stein Valley Heritage Park right through to the park entrance on the Lytton side of the valley. The route is approximately 90km and has a total elevation change of at least 4300m. The high point of the hike, assuming you aren’t scrambling up a nearby mountain is about 2150m. Please keep in mind these numbers are a bit rough due to issues with our GPS and getting lost/side trips. There are a wide variety of side trips available throughout the hike such as the table mountain above heart lake, Caltha peak, Elton Lake, and a variety of other scrambles one could chose. Our group traversed the trail from Pemberton to Lytton and though it is possible to travel the trail in reverse, from all accounts it appears heading east is a preferable direction. The trail seems to have a number of natural obstacles that are more readily surmountable or at the very least can be located more readily while traveling east.
To start off with I have to say this was one of the single most difficult hikes I’ve done to date. I’ve done the west coast trail and was told at the time it was very difficult, I would say in hind sight the WCT pales in comparison save for perhaps the possibility of muddy trail and generally wet conditions.
Its quite hard to capture how difficult the Divide actually is, but is not for the faint of heart, the alpine sun can be relentless and the majority of the alpine offers little if any shade. The snow crossings were generally reasonable, save for a few, however we had not anticipated them and in retrospect I would have like to have had some sort of light crampon and possibly an axe, particularly if the conditions were worse than we encountered. Vast sections of the trail cross boulder fields with rocks ranging from gravel all the way to the side of small cars, travel on these sections can be tedious and slow. An entire afternoon a was spent coming down 3000+ ft while traversing a rocky/sandy slope/cliff. When we got to the valley things didn’t get a whole lot better as 2-3 days were spent bushwacking, getting battered, bruised, scratched, occasionally getting lost.
Due to the foresight of another in our group to hike the first part of the trail in the spring we were afforded the knowledge that the road leading up to the trail head was not only in need of much repair, but neglect had allowed it to become overgrown and difficult to pass. Our group elected that instead of hiking the initial road portion, we would helicopter into Lizzie Lake as our starting point.
|The trail leads up near the top of this peak and to the left to arrowhead lake|
|The table on Anemone Peak|
|360 view from the top of Anemone Peak|
Day two was spent heading up beside the table mountain we had climbed the prior afternoon. The trail continued along a rocky ridge before dropping down to a saddle at Caltha lake and proceeded to follow the slope above the lake rather than dropping down to the lake. We had intended to stay high as we we’re not camping at the lake that evening. In hindsight it would have been easier to drop down to the lake and then make our way back up to the saddle leading to Tundra lake rather than staying high. A lesson we seemed to have to learn a number of times on this trail was to stay on the trail. There isn’t a whole lot of definition to the trail in lot of areas, however where you can follow it, it should be followed. There might be areas where it seems like you can go high, low, or around, but more often than not the best course of action is to just stay the course. With few exceptions, going off course usually resulted in more work and/or a more difficult trail.
|The slope along Caltha Lake|
We spent the evening at the saddle over looking tundra lake an the boulder field we’d have to cross the next day.
|Our camp overlooking Tundra Lake|
|Tundra Lake and the umbrella I used to protect from the sun along the trail.|
|The view of Tundra Lake from our camp|
This was perhaps one of the more difficult days, on the Stein Divide. The morning began with us crossing a snow field a few hundred feet wide, in this case we should have started further up as we looked back later we realized we had crossed not far from a snow cliff. Most of the rest of the day was spent crossing the boulder field to the other side of tundra lake. We got close and then I had the bright idea to head up what I thought might be the trail, big mistake. We just kept going up when in reality the trail went a little further along the lake and then wound up the spine of the mountain. We mad camp for the evening just above the lake and got set up just in time to eat and get inside before a storm hit.
|The boulder and snow fields of Tundra Lake|
|A view from the east side of Tundra Lake|
It would be an argument to decide which day of the trail is more difficult day 3 or day 4. Day 4 started crossing a sloped rock and snow field to reach a ridge. The ridge started with a rather loose and steep climb from the rock field to the ridge and then lead to a steep decent to a more level portion of the ridge. We continued along the ridge following it as it climbed and dropped for a number of kilometers until getting just past Puppet lake. We found ourselves at the last portion of the ridge a what could have been a reasonable camping location at about 4 maybe 5pm. We knew we had to drop down about 3000ft to Stein lake, but thought that it shouldn’t be a problem as the trail was starting to look reasonable. As it turns out, we severely underestimated the difficulty of getting down from the ridge, the nice trail quickly turned into a side slope of sand and loose rock as we skirted the mountain above Stein lake until about 8pm. At this point we were nearing the location where the trail turns back and returns to the lake, we had the good luck of both the sun setting over the mountains and a storm coming. It would have been smart to stop at this point, however there are no water sources between our 4pm stop and the Stein lake camp ground, we were all out of water. To top it off we couldn’t have camped if we had wanted to due to the complete and total absence of flat ground. The three of us spent the next two hours running and walking from marker to marker. I would run to a marker while Rick and Sarah stood at the last one we found. When they came to the one I found I would run and find the next, it was the only way we could ensure we didn’t get lost. There were more than a few areas where there were large gaps between markers and we just had to trust that we’d find the next one, not to mention a few sketchy spots, but we made it through. I wouldn’t recommend coming off the ridge too late however. At the lake we consulted my map and Rick’s GPS, sadly my map showed the camp on the side of the trail we were on, it turned out we had to cross the cable car. Our night wandering was saved by someone from another group brushing their teeth at the camp on the opposite shore. Wet and tired we made our way back to the cable car, to the camp, set up and crashed for the night. It was around 11pm and none of us cared much for dinner.
|A look back at Caltha Peak|
|The trail hear leads up to the ridge on the left and along to the mountain on the far right|
|A view of the snowfield from the ridge, can you spot us on the snow? Photo credit: Kirk|
Though this days started out decent, the trail was clear and flat when compared to everything we’d done for the last few days. The fire ravaged forest quickly had other designs for us, the majority of the day was spent trail finding and working our way through brush and fire weed. We spent the night at Avalanche camp and I was dumb enough to leave my sandals outside the tent for them to get eaten.
Really just more brush and fireweed. We spent the night at Logjam but likely could have made it to Cottonwood if we had pushed on. Given the overgrowth I didn’t bother much with any more photos.
Less brush, more fireweed and finally a little bit of trail clearing as we made our way to Suspension Bridge camp for our final night. Here I was again rather stupid and ended up getting my pole straps and a bit of my grips eaten.
With the decent grade and relatively clear trail we sailed off the end of the Stein. The only hiccup was near the end as we crossed devil’s stair case, though given what the beginning of the trail was like, it might be better named child’s step stool.