After hearing about the beauty of the Brigade Lake Trail and also having not yet done Klitsa Mountain I put the wheels in motion. Gathering info from blogs, trip reports and friends I built a proposed route in CalTopo. I then exported it to my ViewRanger app and put my overnight backpacking plan into motion to summit Klitsa Mountain.
Most people tend to summit Klitsa via the Brooke George Trail accessed via the Nahmint Valley but I had heard stories of a stunning trail off of highway 4 as an alternative route. With that in mind over the last few months I read up on the Brigade Lake Trail.
Brigade Lake Trail
The Brigade Lake Trail was built roughly 25 years ago by laid off forestry loggers in a BC government Forest Renewal Project. This was shortly after the British Columbia Forest Service did a study on the region and proposed the Gibson Klitsa Plateau be protected as a wilderness area.
The report described the plateau as part of the most southerly intact sub-alpine wilderness region remaining on Vancouver Island. It’s varied topography, small lakes and subalpine forest provide a readily accessible wilderness experience.
While the region hasn’t yet received the much needed protection the study proposed fortunately much of it falls with a special Old Growth Management Unit.
Brigade Lake Trail Getting There
The trail head is found by taking the Nahmint Forest Service Road turnoff which is immediately east of the Taylor River Rest Area. It is the first left hand turn once you cross the bridge. The rest area is located along highway 4 between Tofino and Port Alberni to the east roughly 42km away and 35 minutes driving time.
Once on the forest service road heading back east watch for the very first logging spur road to your right and turn here. This road is best suited to higher clearance awd or 4wd vehicles and expect to get paint scrathes from the overgrowing alder trees. The road leads upwards back west for 1.2kms where the trailhead is located.
Overnight Backpack Trip Trail Overview
Total trip details for out and back stats is roughly 20 kilometres with a cumulative elevation gain of 1750 metres. The trail to the lake would be fine for most fit day hikers but anything beyond Brigade Lake requires off trail navigational skills and should only be considered by experienced backpackers.
Also this is a pristine intact wilderness area, utmost adherence to Leave No Trace principles is deserving of the highest of attention.
As mentioned earlier I use ViewRanger for my navigation via Smartphone and build my gpx tracks and routes in CalTopo. Here is a great interview that Andrew Skurka had with Matt Jacobs the creator of CalTopo. (** on top of my smartphone I always travel with my inReach Explorer personal satellite communicator)
We made our way up the well laid out switchbacks, up beautiful cedar stairs, steps and bridges reaching Brigade Lake. Great care was put into this trail showing very little erosion over 25 years which shows the skill involved when being built. The intricate stairs, hand rails and wood work is also something to be thankful. Great pride in the project is evident, having hiked all the major trails into the alpine on Vancouver Island I would have to say this probably one of the finest crafted trails out there.
It takes about 3-4 hours to reach Brigade Lake depending on if you are day hiking or hauling up an overnight pack like we were. This whole section of trail is routed through a mature unlogged old growth forest with cedar, fir and hemlock primarily. Arriving at the surprising large lake we had our first glimpse of Mt Gibson and Klitsa mountain to the east across the water.
**It looks in the past the trail was rel-aligned once for logging and to our great sadness it appeared that we have just missed the forestry engineers who flagged a brand new road that will cross the trail twice. I have emailed to enquire about this with the forestry service.
Day hiking to the lake would be awesome but this is where the off trail fun would start. There is an old trail that went through the Gibson Klitsa Plateau but has not been used much anymore so. This is when the bushwacking began as we traversed around Brigade Lake to reach Wisemiller Lake. Occasional very old flag tape popped up once in a while but I followed the best lay of the land mitigated dense bush while using my gps route I created earlier at home on CalTopo.
Finally reaching Wisemiller Lake we found a spot along the north side of the shore finding it had been well used in years passed with many fire rings evident. The night was pleasant enjoying our supper and a hot chocolate with endless fish jumping in the lake. I read up after our return that at one point the lake was stocked with Cutthroat trout and is now flourishing with them.
Gibson Klitsa Plateau Wilderness Area
As we slept the light drizzle of rain could be heard on my tent walls in the very early morning hours. We awoke to a fine mist while prepping to complete the hike ahead of us. The mist would continue all day as we carried on with our adventure. Drenched trees and bushes meant a constant shower but at least the temperature was warm. The clouds socked us completely in and none of the higher elevation could be seen.
We had breakfast and set off to continue our bushwack and route finding as the goal was to intersect with the Brooke George trail which is the well used trail from Nahmint Main logging road that goes to the summit of Kiltsa.
With my proposed route we sometimes would see a bit of old booted in trail for 50 feet or an an obscure flag tape but otherwise it was full on bushwack mixed with incredible lakes, meadows and more blueberries and huckleberries than we could eat.
On the note of berries this is the most bear scat I have ever seen on a trail and we would see some honestly like every 50 feet. We only scared one big black bear away as he ran across the meadow in front of us.
The amazing part of this trail is the old growth trees, we were stunned the entire time crossing the plateau. My hiking partner and I figured we saw the biggest yellow cedar we had seen in both of our lives. Rambling around and exploring I am certain would have us finding more significant ancient old growth.
Our route skirted by Third Lake and picked up a flagged route that led to the waypoint I was given for a junction on the Brooke George Trail. From here it was no bushwacking and an easy to follow heavily booted in trail all the way to the summit.
Klitsa Mountain via Brooke George Trail
At the summit we had zero visibility and I mistakenly led us up the NE climbing face over the exposed cliff. With all the fog we didn’t know the trail faintly went to the west and there was an easy walk up scramble to the peak, we descended easily this way though. At the summit we ate, signed the register and made our way back as winds and rain picked up. Summit official elevation is 1639m.
I will have to return to summit Klitsa via the entire Brooke George Trail so that I can enjoy the full amazing views this trail is supposed to offer under better weather conditions.
Heading back was much quicker as we made a few route corrections and I used drainage contours that dropped down to the lower lakes from the high plateau better. The sun tried coming out for a brief second and we merrily made it back to camp. Packed up our gear and made our way out to the car in quick time.
This entire Gibson Klitsa Wilderness Plateau blew my mind, frankly it rivals Forbidden Plateau and with its endless lakes to me would be one of the nicest provincial park regions on the island if the route we hiked was established as a trail and the whole wilderness area received the once proposed protection.
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