In early August I decided to make an overnighter to Illal Meadows with my brother, whom I haven’t backpacked with for a lot of years. Being that he is a photographer, it was also a great opportunity for him to get some night sky shots from up in the alpine. And to top it off, the Perseids meteor shower was in full swing so it promised to be a good night to see a lot of them flashing across the sky. An uncertain weather forecast was the only thing we were concerned about.
The drive to the trailhead starts from the Britton Creek Rest Area just off of the Coquihalla Highway. Once off the highway, we followed the Tulameen Forest Service Road for about 15km before turning west on an old deactivated forestry road. While the road was rough and had quite a few water bars along the way, most high clearance vehicles should be able to make it most of the way up the road. In fact, we did see a couple of SUV’s that almost had made it to the trailhead. The last few hundreds meters, though, probably do require a 4×4 due to a large ditch. But as an added bonus, someone had very recently been through and cut back the alders growing along the side of the road so we didn’t pick up any new scratches on my truck.
Once at the parking lot, we geared up and began our way up the trail, which for the most part, is not very steep for the first few kilometers as the trail weaves through the trees. We were sure to make a lot of noise as we fully expected there were bears around due to the amount of berries we had seen along the road, but we didn’t see any sign of wildlife.
It didn’t take long for us to begin to get above the treeline and the views really opened up, allowing us to see a number of the peaks and hills along the trail. The only thing that took away from the beauty was a large clear cut across the valley from us.
We stopped for a quick break just before we reached the meadows and just enjoyed the view. With a day in the low 20’s, and almost no clouds in the sky, it was pretty well perfect.
Once we were back on our way, it wasn’t long before we found ourselves in above the trees in the lower part of the meadows. Here and there snow still remained from the last season and a number of small ponds were visible. There were some flowers in bloom even this far into the summer but not in nearly the abundance that one finds at the Trophy meadows or at Sun Peaks.
The trail weaved its way through the meadows, gaining altitude as it made its way towards Jim Kelly Peak. From the east side, we have to say it did look daunting but we had no plans to make for the top on this trip. For the most part the trail was easy to follow but occasionally we found it would just fade away and we would just continue working our way up towards the peak. We passed many great places to camp but being that we had no real idea of what was ahead, we just kept going. We figured we’d find something else along the way.
Eventually the trail turned away from Jim Kelly and pointed us towards Illal Mountain where we found a stunning little alpine lake at the base of the mountain.
It was obvious that people have camped here over the years as there were a surprising number of flat areas to pitch a tent, many with good shelter. That was nice as we did find that the wind was constantly blowing at this point. The few trees with almost no branches on their west facing sides were testament that it must be windy a lot and probably very bitter in the winter.
Since we had not hit the trail until after 2pm, we set up our camp and just sort of wandered around the area doing a bit of exploring. In many places, we could see other trails and we wondered where they went. Funnily enough, after picking a good spot to camp, we found a better spot with a clear view of Coquihalla Mountain across the valley and decided to move everything to the new site. We settled on calling it Monolith Camp due to a few large boulders that stood nearby.
As the day wore into the evening, we were surprised that there were so few bugs. Usually camping in the alpine when there is standing water means swarms of mosquitoes and flies but not this time as we saw very few. The evening got cooler, so we layered up and we waited for sunset to enjoy the show. As it turned out, we were also almost under the flight path to Vancouver, so quite a number of planes flew over us. With the camera set up to capture time lapse photos of the night sky, we went to sleep with the sound of clicking every few moments as the camera did its job.
We awoke early to a clear sky and the promise of another nice day as we enjoyed our picturesque views of the peaks around us nestled in the low lying valley cloud.
After a quick breakfast, we decided to scramble to the top of Illal Mountain and check out the views. And an easy scramble it was as we found ourselves up at the top within 15 minutes of leaving camp. Being that it was still early in the day, the morning sun was casting long shadows and we walked around the top for awhile enjoying the sun and taking photos.
Eventually, though, we had to head back down and break camp and get ourselves loaded for the trip back down. Being that we couldn’t resist an unknown trail, we decided to continue to follow the trail around Illal Mountain and see where it would lead us. We figured it would take us back down somewhere along the way. We were wrong.
At this point in the morning, we could see the clouds in the valley were rising and we rightly guessed that eventually the area would be socked in from the clouds.
Going around the mountain led us to another small lake, which while pretty, wasn’t as spectacular as the one we had camped near, nor was the area as flat. We made our way past the lake and then onto the saddle between Illal Mountain and another peak nearby and just kept going as the fog started to roll in.
We were still on a trail that kept going east so that seemed to be a good thing as we were now losing altitude. However, our luck eventually ran out as we lost the trail a few times once the fog rolled in and we found ourselves with no visibility although we were still on the ridge.
We weren’t concerned with getting lost as we could still see into the valley below but our hopes of finding a trail down from the ridge had pretty well disappeared since we could no longer see much of the ridge ahead and we no longer had the reference point of a peak ahead to work with to try to stay on the trail. Using the telephoto lens on a camera, we could discern the trail we had come up on far below us and across the valley. It was time for some bushwhacking.
As anyone who has ever traveled off track in the mountains can tell you, bushwhacking down the side of a mountain and into the valley bottom can be quite a grind, especially once a person gets into the alders. Luckily for us, we found ourselves a game trail and had a remarkably easy descent, even through the heavy brush, down to the stream below, where we hoped we could just follow the stream back out.
Our luck held as we were able to easily follow the creek bed since the water was low until we came to a point where we were relatively close to the trail. With a bit of a bushwhack and a small scramble, we were back on the trail and high tailing it back to the truck. Before long, we were back on the road and looking forward to hitting the food truck at Britton Creek for some lunch.
The Illal Meadows and area were quite a nice surprise. We had read some trail reports but since most people seemed to concentrate on bagging the peaks, we didn’t have a lot of info to go on as to how spending the night up there would be. Even being just a small overnight trip, this turned out to be a great area to visit and we look forward to coming back here again. And next time, we’ll be going after the peaks.
GPS Tracks and map
Max elevation: 2018 m
Min elevation: 1269 m
I am one of the founders of campingcanucks.com. I was lucky enough to grow up in Golden, British Columbia and have been camping, backpacking, and skiing pretty well all my life. I started climbing a few years ago which has opened up even more backcountry and alpine opportunities.
These days, I’m a systems administrator by day and a SAR volunteer operating as a ground search team leader, rope rescue member, swiftwater rescue member, and avalanche response team leader with Kamloops Search and Rescue.