The Most Beautiful Lake in Haida Gwaii: Takakia Lake

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Have you ever tried and failed to see something so many times you started to believe you might not ever see it? If you’ve ever endured west coast weather, you know what I mean. This was our third year in attempting to hike and see the legendary Takakia Lake.

In Haida, the area is known as SGaay Taw Siiwaay K’adjuu and became protected as a Heritage Site and Conservancy after the discovery that the area was an important location for the Haida in the collection of rare and endemic plants. 

Most fly into Takakia, as it’s the only alpine lake outside of the Gwaii Haanas that’s legal to land on in Haida Gwaii. Because helicopter time is expensive, our approach was from the end of Peel inlet which required an extreme amount of logistics to organize.

Brad & Brandon on the Peel Road from Moresby Camp

Peel itself had been an old logging camp during the 1950’s, they used the area as a base camp to access much of Englefield Bay and the west coast. Being just south-west of Moresby Mountain, Haida Gwaii’s tallest peak far more rainfall than the east coast average. This leads to an enormous amount of growth but, a notoriously small weather window for hiking and boating.

The logging road from Moresby Camp (east coast) to Peel Camp (west coast) was once one of the only roads to access Haida Gwaii’s west coast. Once logging ceased in the area, the road was maintained by hunters and fishermen who now use the area recreationally. Don [lastname] took an interest in the area and assembled three cabins for his personal use, which were regularly used by locals utilizing access to the west coast. Sandspit resident Bill Reiger, a close friend of Don’s, carried on minor upkeep and use of the cabins after Don’s passing in 2014.

Don’s Cabin circa 2014

After visiting the cabins with dirt bikes in 2014, a plan was developed by my uncle Doug of Moresby Explorer fame to enter in 2015 and make a hiking attempt at Takakia Lake. Having never heard of the area, I did some research.

Englefield Bay is made up of 5 inlets: Security, Peel, Mitchell, Mudge and [Name Needed]. Kaisun, an ancient Haida village, is located on the northwestern corner of Englefield and has a few decaying aboriginal artifacts and areas of sunken land that used to bear longhouses. The bay is also home to seals and large kelp fields that are excellent areas for jigging and sport fishing.  The area is a recreational gold mine, why has it seldom been used?

Contrary to popular belief the east coast of Haida Gwaii is actually similar in climate to that of Mainland BC or Vancouver Island receiving an annual rainfall of about 1,300mm. The west coast is really where the islands get their reputation. The average annual rainfall on the west coast is a massive 4,370mm just south of Moresby Mountain, which is exactly where this is located.

It rains approximately two-thirds of the time on the west coast of Haida Gwaii, which was a low estimate for August 2015. Our exploratory mission to the first lake was thwarted with low clouds; we turned back to wait for a better weather window. After spending a solid week and a half there, we turned back to Sandspit after having a few adventures.

How to get there

The following year was more organized and better prepared with a trail mostly-correctly marked out with flagging tape. To start you need to get to the end of Peel Inlet from Peel Camp. The hiking is treacherous, so you either need to hitch a ride with a local boat operator or carry kayaks or canoes in with you. Once you make it the 1.5km journey to the end of the inlet, you’ll follow an old logging road from the creek roughly half a km and turn up the old growth.

The following year was more organized and better prepared with a trail mostly-correctly marked out with flagging tape. To start, you need to get to the end of Peel Inlet from Peel Camp. The hiking is treacherous, so you should either hitch a ride with a local boat operator or carry kayaks or canoes in with you. Once you make the 1.5km journey to the end of the inlet, you’ll follow an old logging road from the creek roughly half a km and turn up towards the old growth.

A GPS is a necessary component to be sure you’re heading the right way. Traveling high is advisable, as the valleys between hills are often plagued with deadfall and impassible cliffs. The old growth follows steeply up the hill before becoming swamp like and relatively flat. The altitude gained is steady until you reach the first lake. 

After roughly two hours of hiking, you’ll reach Buddha Lake. This tarn sits in the center of the valley surrounded by ridges and one incredibly steep cliff. It’s a great place to stop for lunch and a swim on a hot day. If you’re near the north end of the lake, look, but do not touch the concrete Buddha head positioned on one of the large boulder-islands.

From here our route took us up the eastern side of the lake to the ridgeline. Ascending from the tarn is tough and ‘bushwacky,’ but once you mount the ridge the hiking gets moderately easier with less brush and fallen trees.

Another half-kilometer and you’ll reach a technical section that marks the start of the alpine. The rock wall is only 8 feet and is the only real technical portion of the hike. We developed a system of shuttling packs that worked for us and made a mental note to install a rope on our next ascent.

Ascending Takakia Ridge from Buddha Lake

After the technical portion, the alpine begins. The area gets steeper, but there is a more defined trail (well marked with pink & yellow ribbon) to the ridge. We moved through this area fast compared to the bushwhacking portion, but it was also more vertigo-inducing. Another 45 minutes of hiking lead us to our camp for the evening.

Camp 1 on Takakia Ridge, 2016

It’s both comforting and disheartening to see where you started the day from your campsite. On the positive side, radio communication is a breeze because you have a line of site to Peel Camp. 

Camp 1, 2018

There are several medium-sized mosquito habitats on top of the mountain we filtered water from. They’ve been reliably wet, but dirty. Boiling in addition to whatever filter system you have is highly recommended.

Bradon & Greyson ponder the risk of Giardia, 2016

Not knowing how much further it was to Takakia from this site, we opted to turn around from this point in 2016. Plagued with blisters, unpredictable weather and less-than-perfect preparation, we descended back to the Buddha Lake. In 2018 however, we did not make the same mistake. After spending our first night at Camp 1 we made an early start moving up and along the ridge towards Takakia. The route is easy to follow and generally not very exposed. After about 1.5 hours of hiking through heavy clouds, we could finally see our goal. Now tantalizingly close, we descended the ridge to a lookout over the lake.

In true bittersweet fashion, we had failed to reach our goal of this ridge the night before and thus half our group had to turn around to be back for prior commitments. We parted ways, making radio communication with camp, and confirmed our multi-day schedule of camping down by the lake for that night and back on the ridge for the following night.

The visibility improved but the cloud ceiling did not lift as we made our descent to the lake. The ridge down was steep and grassy enough that we felt comfortable sliding with our heavy packs. A wetter day would have called for a more careful descent at a safer position on the ridge. 

Moving towards the lake was a series of plateaus that required careful positioning to descent. We followed the plateau to a small creek and from there to the lake. The Takakia area has some extraordinarily large trees for its elevation, and there was significant evidence of bears in the area. 

The area we found to camp in was a small, marshy area close to the shoreline. In a wetter season, this spot would not have been an option, but given the dry weather, we chose to risk it given its water access. We positioned the tent on a durable rocky surface surrounded by bog.

Camp 2, 2018

We hiked up to a tall plateau in the area for dinner to look out over the lake and appreciate our journey. 

Plateau beside Takakia Lake

The following day’s sunrise was fogged in, so we slept in until it started to lift at about 8:00 am. We had breakfast, spent some time swimming and started to make an ascent of the ridge to the east of the lake. The slow and steep ascent lead to some of the best views of the lake. 

Takakia Lake, Moresby Lake and Mitchell Inlet from the Ridge

From that point, we had sports weather and clear skies as we hiked the ridge to a small col before our ascent. The ascent back to the ridge was steep but fast, we were sweating enough that we couldn’t even effectively apply our sunscreen. After scaring a large amount of deer, we made it to the ridge and set up camp, realizing how little water we had brought.

Sitting on that ridge with our small sac of wine and a setting sun really helped me put into perspective just how awe-inspiring this area is. One side of the ridge sees two lakes and an inlet looking out over the west coast, and the other sees Takakia Lake and a view out over Tsau Inlet on the East Coast. So much of the access to these areas is so restricted due to its remoteness; this wouldn’t have even been possible without the access roads from Moresby Camp or the infrastructure put here by Don for locals to use. Maintenance of these areas and utilization of Leave No Trace Principles are key for its survival.

It’s was nice to see Luxury eco-tourism businesses based in the area, coexisting and working with locals and hikers in order to adequately preserve this access to the west coast for everyone. One example is “The Ocean House at Stads K’uns GawGa” based in Peel inlet.  It would not be possible without the maintenance and work everyone puts into maintaining the roads and trails.

We were lucky enough to see some of the Perseid Meteor Shower from on top of the ridge. The Moon had just set at 2:30am in the morning and you can see the glow of the Moresby Lake Dam in the distance.

Looking West Over Englefield bay, 2018

The morning after was unlike anything I’d ever seen, a complete inversion of clouds made the mountains look like islands. To see what that looked like, look at one of the spherical photos taken of the area right after sunrise.

East Coast Sunrise from Takakia Ridge, 2018
West Coast Sunset, Peel Inlet, 2018

The hike down was uneventful. The bushwhacking requires some navigation but ultimately even at our slow pace it only took us 4-5 hours with extensive breaks for swimming and relaxing along the way to get back down to the inlet. 

Takakia Lake, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to and a place I would have no hesitation returning to.

The above GPS Tracks do not indicate a path. In fact I can remember a few instances in which we were lost while on this track. They do however offer approximate distances and altitudes to the northern-most portion of the ridge. From there traversing the ridge is easy and straightforward to Takakia Lake.

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Greg is a city kid who has found his balance between living in the city and the Rocky Mountain National Parks. He has been living in Calgary but has frequently ventured out to Banff, BC and as far as Haida Gwaii on the west coast, experiencing and capturing stories to tell others. Currently he is studying Computer Science at the University of Alberta and is using the more northern post to better explore Jasper, Bowron and David Thompson Country.

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