If there’s one place around Revelstoke I keep wanting to go back to, it’s the Thor Lake area. Fifty kilometres of highway, 20 kilometres of logging roads and a few kilometres along a rough trail brings you into one of the most stunning valleys in the area. Small lakes, rushing creeks, hanging glaciers and mountains shrouded in clouds surround you. It’s scenery typical of the Columbia Mountains, but here, in a remote, little-visited valley, it feels about as close and remote as ever.
My first trip there was two years ago with my friend Meghan. We left early and were in a rush since she had to drive to Calgary that afternoon. Using directions from the invaluable RevelstokeTrails.com, we made our way to the trailhead with the intention of running the trail.
We got the trailhead and there was a man camped out there with his trailer. He was Craig Lewis, the unofficial custodian of the trail. We started running but quickly discovered the trail was too rough and too covered in brush to move quickly. We slowed to a fast walk, moving through old cut blocks and into open forest, where the trail crossed the Thor Creek on a smooth and slippery log. Fortunately, a rope was set up to make things easier. Still, it was easier to straddle the log than to walk.
From there, the trail got steeper as it ascended through some of the densest, lushest, greenest forest. We climbed up and over logs and followed the flagging tape when the trail faded. It skirted the creek where it roared downwards, eventually emerging at a log jam at the end of Thor Lake. From there, the trail skirted the edge of the lake. We scrambled through boulder fields and bashed our way through the alder. The trail continued past the lake, through marshy wetlands where my trail runners filled with water. The thundering honk of a moose startled us and later we saw it running away in the distance.
By now, the trail faded and was little more than a flagged route through the marsh and into the trees. We came to a junction where one sign other pointed forwards to the Rock Garden and another pointed upwards to Three Island Lake . The latter wasn’t on the website and given our time frame, we kept going straight. Still, I kept Three Island Lake in my head for the future.
By this point, we were in full on bushwhack mode, pushing alder aside and scrambling over and under logs as we followed the valley bottom to our destination. Finally, the forests ended and we were in an open valley that turned south before dead-ending below Kelly Peak and it’s glacier. Meghan hopped up a small knoll that was covered in beautiful purple arctic lupine flowers and I followed.
The other side was one of the most idyllic mountain scenes I’ve witnessed. Twin waterfalls cascaded out of the clouds and down the mountains into a small pool and then flowed out through the appropriately named Rock Garden. We stripped off our clothes and jumped in to the chilly water before retracing our path back to the car.
A few weeks later I texted my friend and extremely talented photographer Steve Shannon to see if he wanted to check out Three Island Lake. There was no information about this place online but I had spotted the lake on Google Earth and had a rough idea of where it was. Of course, Google’s image showed the lake frozen over and the alpine still covered in snow, so we didn’t really know what we were getting into.
After some cajoling, I convinced him to come. We set off early and made quick work of the trail to the junction. This time, I wore proper hiking boots and my feet stayed dry. It was also a beautiful sunny day and the rocky, glaciated peaks were in full view.
The trail to Three Island Lake involved a long, steep climb through alder. It didn’t help that we missed some flagging, and so had to bash out our own route instead of following the one already hacked upwards. Fortunately, we found some flagging tape, so we were able to mark the way back, just in case.
If the Rock Garden was idyllic, Three Island Lake was stunning. We emerged out of the alder-filled forest into the sub alpine meadows filled with giant boulders. Creeks snaked their way through fields of green, tumbling over rocks and down huge cliffs.
Some easy route-finding led us to our destination – an alpine lake with three rocky outcroppings that give it it’s name.
But the real joy of the area was the endless streams and waterfalls that flowed out of the lake and in to the surrounding meadows. Every time you turned a corner, a new stunning landscape emerged – all backed by Mount Thor and it’s north-facing glacier.
I made one more trip back to Thor Lake in 2015 with my friend Robyn. Unfortunately, Mother Nature was having a moody day and we decided not to hike to Three Island Lake. Instead, I returned to the Rock Garden and this time we walked to the end, below Kelly Peak.
I still want to go back to Three Island Lake, this time for a few days with the goal of exploring the area further and possibly summiting a peak or two.