Hiking from Squamish (Crawford Creek) to the Pitt River Hot Springs

Distance: ~25 km hike to the Hotsprings, ~45km total hiking distance (50km if done as a loop)
Elevation: 450m gained, then 1250m dropped (from start point to the springs)
Route: Drive east from Squamish to Crawford Creek FSR (start point). End at Grant Narrows, Pitt Meadows (if done one-way). Could be done as an out and back.
Reference Maps: BC Backroads Mapbook, 4th Edition, Volume I (SWBC), Maps 12,20,21; BC Topographic Series – 092G10
Example Maps:Map1 Map2

“Ya wanna do a hike from Squamish to the Pitt River Hotsprings?!”

If anyone ever starts a conversation with you that way, slap them. Hard. When you are friends again pick four days in early or late summer and get ready to unnecessarily punish yourself, because it can be done. These photos are taken from four attempted treks over a five year period, including one success.

                Click on any pic for an enormous version.

Before we even begin, and for your own good, don't hike with people like this.

Starting just south of Squamish, we drive east on the Mamquam FSR for ~14km and then turn left and follow the now deactivated Crawford Creek Main ESE for another ~3km. Up until 2005 you could follow this road all the way to where it crosses Crawford Creek. On our last trip we encountered numerous large rain ditches which required a lot of rock piling just to get a 2000 Dakota on 32's through. At one point we ran into a ditch that we weren't getting through no matter what. What used to be an easy drive turned into an extra 4km tacked on to the start of our hike. It appears we won't be home in time for corn flakes like we hoped.

The scenery along the road is pretty sweet though.

Finally we reach Crawford Creek, our start point on our first three attempts. The continuing road on the other side is where we're headed. Sadly, there hasn't been a bridge here since at least 2001.

Fortunately about 200m up the creek lies the perilously slippery 'Mr.Log-Bridge-of-Death' with just enough branches to tempt you across and block your way at the same time. At low water times you can wade across in a few spots but usually it's running fast and wide. And an early soaker is no way to start this hike.

Soon we're safely across and ready to roll. After rolling we light, smoke and repeat as necessary. Begin hiking up now.

The road climbs up through a clearcut and then takes a sharp left. Just before that turn we leave the road and head for the trees, trying not to break a leg in the crappy mess underfoot. Clearcutting is awesome!

After a short push through the clearcut we reach the treeline, pausing to celebrate completion of the first 1% of the journey. We've just crossed into Pinecone Burke Provincial Park.

After a short stretch of forest and a minor gully we reach a small creek that flows back down towards Crawford Creek. After a bit of hunting around everyone picks their best looking spot and jumps across. Then it's choose your own way up a 3m embankment and the real climbing begins.

Over the next 2.5km we loosely parallel the creek while gaining ~300m. It's a lot easier going in early summer when there's still hardpacked snow covering the thick, knee-high brush.

Finally we emerge into the ultra-scenic Creekside Chronic Pass. The first pic is from August 2005, the second from May 2004.

In 2002 we saw the biggest black bear we'd ever seen munching away on shrubs in the middle of this pass. A dangerous game of cat and mouse ensued reaching a wicked climax when the full-bellied bear passed out for a nap on some snow and we just walked by a couple hundred metres away. Click on the pic to better see the bear.

It ain't the moon but still worth a flag...

Through the pass we cross the highest point of the trip, ~1350m, and then begin our slow descent through more dense brush. Along the way an untold number of small creeks flow down the steep valley walls. Eventually, they all meet and join the largest, Steve Creek, which meanders back and forth across the valley floor from here on. High up to our right (south) hides Steve Lake which isn't visible from below. Due south from here, and in the next valley over, lies Pinecone Lake.

Staying to the left (north) side of the valley as much as possible we continue heading east through the Steve Creek valley. It's an exercise in micro-management as we try to find the easiest way forward. It all looks the same but somewhere along here we leave P-B Prov Park.

Eventually, and inevitably, we reach our recurring nemesis, THE SWAMP! Truth be told it's probably a marsh but it's caused us so much angst during our numerous attempts that calling it anything better than swamp seems undeserved. We called it much worse names on our second attempt in 2002 when we ended up hiking through its 2km length at 10pm, wading across Steve Creek numerous times, with a single Petzl for three people. In 2004 we brought inflatable rafts all this way and then huffed and puffed for half an hour to blow them up only to find that our fat asses + 4-day packs were way too goddamned big. Thank you Lien Chien Manufacturing Company of Taiwan for your over-optimistic estimates of carrying capacity. Good times!

On our 4th trip we were experts and knew that staying mostly left through the length of the valley is definitely the best route. Best of all we end up avoiding most, but not all, of the swamp.

At the end of the valley all that's left of this leg of the journey is to pick and choose a route down a long hill of more, you guessed it... thick, dense brush.

And presto! A major milestone is reached as we pop out of the bush and onto a network of old logging roads. Making it here on Day 1 is totally possible if you get an early start. Even if you only make it as far as the Swamp on Day 1 then you can for sure reach the springs on Day 2. Take five and enjoy the view, it may be the last time you see it.

We were hoping that we could fast-track it straight down to the bottom. It quickly becomes obvious that the aspect is steep, cliffy and just plain nasty. At this point you realize just how high up you are relative to the Pitt River which you will soon see far, far below. (800m for those who gotta know). The only sane way down is to follow the old logging roads for the next ~12km. So off we go, heading south to start. After a short distance we meet and cross Steve Creek once more.

It is slow going in many places where the road is heavily overgrown with alders. After another couple creek crossings we reach a fork at the end of the first leg of the logging roads. A short distance ahead we can hear Pinecone Creek rushing down from Pinecone Lake, which is now due west (right) of us. The head of the Pinecone Lake valley looks awfully steep from below which is why we never considered trying this trip via the Pinecone Lake trail. We never closely checked it out though so if you're reading this report, and it's making you jonez for an adventure, you should go try it out and post a Trip Report about it. Seriously, go right now.

We stay on the main road heading down to the left which slowly does a 180 around and continues descending to the north. We never actually cross Pinecone Creek but do end up recrossing the same creeks we did on the upper road. We're quite happy, yet slightly skeptical, about the old bridge that crosses above Steve Creek. It is worth heading down to the creek to check out the view from below.

Not far from here the road again wraps back around to the south, continues down for awhile and then makes a final turn back to the north. Soon there is one last bridge crossing of Steve Creek and a long walk through another clearcut. The goal is in sight.

Just past the clearcut the road forks into the Pitt River Main FSR. We take a right and a couple hundred metres farther we reach the bridge over the Pitt River. The first pic is looking north (up-river) on the day we arrived, the second south (down-river) the next day. The springs are hidden just inside the farthest alcove on the left in the first pic.

The short trail to the hotsprings is on the left side of the road, just before the bridge. Hugging the bank of the river about 10m below, it is sketchy in a few places and quite nutty to do in the dark.

The last drop down to the springs is lined with multiple ropes and you basically have to climb down the rocks using the ropes to keep from falling in the river. The ropes are crucial going up and down.

There are two small pools formed by short cement walls. Say a thanks out loud to whoever built them.

The water can be uber-hot so there is a bucket to scoop river water and adjust the temperature til it's juuust riiight. Make sure the bucket is tied to something when you throw it.

The springs are as good as it gets. If you're lucky, a topless woman will be in the springs when you get there (not shown - that's Kevin and Dave). If you're prone to strange coincidences then on Monday you will run into her again (clothed) and find out that she works in the same building as you back in Vancouver.

It looks like a tombstone, and at the time it kinda felt that way.

So, where to go from here? We arrived late afternoon on Day 2. The Crawford start point is ~25km away, most of it up, the swamp surely hasn't moved, and we have to be home in 2 days. That means no more springs time, just pack up and start climbing. Luck was upon us when down the road came the owner of Pitt River Lodge (www.pittriverlodge.com), driving some guests up to the bridge for a rafting run. She was incredibly helpful and offered to radio a water taxi if we opted to hike south to Pitt Lake. Later that day we did indeed hike south along the Pitt River FSR, 15km to the lodge where we gratefully accepted her offer. Talk about helpful! She did us a huge favour and arranged the taxi to pick us up the next afternoon and also had her nephew give us a lift the last 7km south to the North End Dock!

We camped the last night at the large log sort area. It's pretty messy and filthy ground and there is no running fresh water source immediately nearby. So we improvised and slept in Casa Del Crummy and took the Coleman shuttle far out into the lake for fresh water.

The view from North End Dock rocks...

...so does Canon's Photostitch

Right on time, our ship comes in. $150 later we're hauling ass down to Grant Narrows at the south end of Pitt Lake. This is not your average cab ride, but nothing about this trip is.

~The End~

Thoughts and tips for those who want to try it