Mount Fitzwilliam and a testament to our Personal Strength
Oh Mount Fitzwilliam. When we got to the final campsite on this hike I told Gaia that I wasn’t going to write about it because this is a family focused blog and the trek in was difficult. However, the next morning when we woke up to the sun streaming down on our tent I changed my mind and here we are.
Mount Fitzwilliam has two beautiful campsites one at the 6-7km mark and a second at a set of lakes at the end (roughly 12-14km). Our original mission was to leave early and do the full trek in one day. Of course, we ended up leaving hours later than we had planned and despite the limited rain we were supposed to get, it was a steady drizzle at the trailhead.
The first stretch of the trail runs parallel to the highway and then you cut in to a set of switchbacks. The switchbacks carry on through beautiful mossy forest for a few kilometres before flattening out a bit. If you glance behind you, you can sometimes catch a glimpse of Yellowhead Lake below. We made really good time on the switchbacks.
The trail gradually climbs over underground streams, and through more forest until you reach the first campground along Rockingham Creek.
We considered just setting up camp at Rockingham but we had made such good time reaching the first campsite that we decided to push on. We were feeling really good because once you hit the halfway point, your mental game is strong. Something inside you flips and you realize how much you’ve already accomplished.
The next couple of kilometres are full of tiny creek crossings and beautiful rooty sections of forest before opening up to a marshy area. At about 8km in we offered to start switching out Gaia’s backpack since we could see her slowing down a bit. Her mood immediately went from somewhat miserable to “on top of the world”.
I’m just going to take a minute here to talk about this, because when we left the house I had set it in my mind that we were not going to help her with her pack. We were each already carrying 20%-33% of our bodyweight. I have no doubt that Gaia would have been able to carry her pack the whole way but two things would have happened. One- she would have been SLOW. Two- she would not have enjoyed the trip as much. So instead, Kyle, Gaia and I all took turns tossing the 12lb pack between us and it made the trip THAT much better.
The marsh section seemed to stretch on forever and the mosquitos were thick. Each step was carefully calculated so we would avoid getting our boots wet in the endless spongy bog because there are no open fires allowed at the upper campsite which would have meant wet feet. A quick glance at our AllTrails & Strava told us that we didn’t have too much further to go.
Finally, we reached a calm stream amongst a boulder garden. We jumped from rock to rock and the 40lbs on my back was starting to become noticeable. Kyle had Gaia’s pack for this section and Gaia was able to safely jump from boulder to boulder with ease. We stumbled upon a sign that said 2 more km and our hearts momentarily stopped. According to our GPS, the campsite should have been just around the corner and the mosquitos were hovering like vultures. The thought of 2 more kilometres of this loomed over us like a dark cloud.
We navigated the clearly flagged trail along a somewhat dry creek bed past a beautiful waterfall and turned the corner to a massive slide path. The rock stretched on as far as the eye could see and I was beginning to wonder if we were ever going to reach the second campsite. Gaia took the lead and started cheering us on, yelling, “You can do it!” back at us. Whenever I approached her I could hear her muttering under her breath, “I am strong, I can do this.” I have to admit I teared up a little hearing her pep talk herself.
After 7 hours of hiking with about an hour of breaks we came upon the sign for the campground. We followed the river until we finally reached the tent pads by the lake. Every way we looked we were surrounded by amazing views. We were really lucky because unbeknownst to us, Parks had recently been in to do some upgrades to the site and had put in a bear locker, picnic table and some new (beautiful) tent pads.
Kyle and I immediately pitched the tent and started cooking dinner while Gaia set up the sleeping bags and pads. Gaia made us giggle when she said “taking off my shoes feels so good but my feet still hurt! I didn’t expect them to hurt so much!” We explored the surrounding area of the campsite and soaked in the feeling of accomplishment. Darkness fell down on us quickly and we briefly enjoyed the starry sky before calling it a night.
The next morning the sun periodically shone down on us so we sat by the tent and read books, set up the hammock and swayed in the wind. We drank coffee in silence then watched the hoary marmots and pikas run around the campground. After lunch we decided to take a hike up to the smaller lake. At Gaia’s request we climbed higher and higher until the terrain flattened out and then we circled back along the lake to the campsite. We were originally going to spend the whole day up there and hike the full trek down on our third day, but the weather had called for a lot of rain on our final day and I was worried about navigating the large exposed boulder sections while wet so we decided to hike down to the second campground. That way we would only have to do the final 6km in the rain.
We left at 4pm and pulled into the campsite at 8pm. It was much slower going than we had envisioned. The final kilometre was another big push. We could hear the rushing water of Rockingham creek long before we crossed it and Gaia nicknamed it “Mocking-ham Creek”. When we finally set eyes on the bridge we celebrated. About halfway down the trail the rain had started and we were soaking wet as we set up camp and made a fire in an attempt for bribery smores and to ward off the hoards of mosquitos. By the time dinner was done and camp was cleaned up Gaia could hardly keep her eyes open. We crawled into the tent with her and cuddled to sleep.
The rain pounded down on us all night and I worried about the hike down in the morning but low and behold, we woke up to blue sky. We enjoyed our coffee and oatmeal then headed back the final 6km to the truck. I wanted to curse the change in the weather but was so grateful that we were going to have a dry hike down, I couldn’t really say much. The rays of sun peaked through the forest and shone down on the mossy sections creating such an ethereal effect. It was another perfect trip.
There are so many things I learned on this hike. One is that we are so much stronger than we envision ourselves to be. If I had known how difficult the last 3 km of the trail had been, I probably wouldn’t have brought Gaia but she was actually fine. If anything, she was a huge motivator for us.
Hiking is really just putting one foot in front of the other. It was interesting to watch Gaia’s mood change with each element. Taking her pack away elevated her mood significantly. Telling her we were more than halfway done elevated her mood. The first and last stretch always seemed to be mentally the most difficult. Distraction was key. We chatted about animals, life, friends, what we would do if we every got lost or separated, basically anything we could to take her mind off of the climb ahead. But in the end, all we were really doing was putting one foot in front of the other.
Never trust the weatherman. Just kidding, but really, weather in the mountains is so unpredictable. You can plan for one thing and get the complete opposite. Sometimes you just have to laugh in the rain.
Mt Fitzwilliam Trail:
Distance: 24-30km return (jury is out on that one)
Elevation Gain: 1085 metres
The first campsite is at the 6/7km mark and then there is another at the 12-14km mark. At the upper lakes there are a series of difficult to follow trails that will take you even higher than the lakes so in total our trip ended up being 34km and 1300m elevation gain.
Bring sturdy hiking shoes, lots of bug spray, and poles. I don’t recommend this trail for children under 12 unless they are seasoned hikers. This is a high elevation trail that sometimes sees snow into the summer months. July/August would be the optimal trail time.