I’m sitting on a warm rock with the sun peaking over the towering mountains around me. For what seems like the hundredth time my gaze is drawn to incredible aqua-marine color of the lake in front of me. If I were on my computer I’d accuse someone of increasing the color saturation a little too much but no, this is real. The lake gives way to a gorgeous meadow at the end of which sits a pocket glacier complete with snow cave. I think, as I tend to every time I come here, what a special place this is. Can I really have breakfast at home, come to such a unique place for lunch and be home in time for dinner? Yes, yes I can. Such is hiking on Vancouver Island.
Century Sam Lake and it’s nearby glacier sit nestled in a steep valley just below the Comox Glacier on Vancouver Island. It is one of the more unique hikes on the island and certainly a favorite of mine.
Access to the trailhead (same trailhead as the Comox Glacier trail) can be challenging. The gate at Comox Lake is often closed and even when open a 4×4 vehicle with reasonable clearance is required to navigate the rougher sections of the road.
From the trailhead it’s about a 2 hour, 3.5km hike up to the lake. Overall you only gain about 400m elevation but it is deceptively steep since most of that elevation is gained in just the final 2km of the hike.
The trailhead is easy to miss. It’s just a trail off the logging road at a relatively non-descript location. Having a GPS track is a big help finding it (see the link at the end of this post to download). There isn’t a huge amount of room to park but there are a few places to pull off.
Near the trailhead, a well placed log provides access over the creek. Completely non-scientific testing indicates that the log is quite sturdy.
The first section of the trail winds through forest.
This section has some of the most unique mushrooms I’ve ever seen. Yes they are blue.
Emerging from the forest you traverse an open section near an old slide area.
The foliage in this section can be quite high but the views are great. The Comox District Mountaineering Club seems to do regular maintenance on this trail (thank you!) but given the rate that the green stuff grows in our rain forest this section can get overgrown.
The final 2km of the trail wind their way quite steeply through the forest. This part will get your heart pumping.
Near the lake the forest opens up to give some great views.
To reach the lake you need to cross Comox Creek which can be a little tricky depending on the water level.
Once you reach the lake, take some time and soak in the views.
There is a large rock outcropping which provides great views and is a nice spot for lunch.
From the ‘lunch spot’, you can head further down to the meadow and the glacier. The meadow is a great spot for photos.
The meadow is lovely, but the real prize here is the glacier. Although it changes constantly through melting and freezing there is usually some sort of snow cave extending under the glacier (often all the way to the back). Photo opportunities abound.
An important word of caution: Entering the snow cave is not without its perils. The cave is constantly changing and melting will cause chunks (some very large) to drop from the ceiling unexpectedly potentially causing serious injury or worse. Have a look at the photo below and keep in mind that those large chunks came from somewhere (hint: look up, look way up)!
One other important note if you plan to head into the snow cave: No matter what the weather outside, it’s really cold and wet in there! I’ve been there in +25c conditions outside and been chilled inside even with rain gear on. If you plan on spending any time inside bring extra layers and rain gear. If you plan on taking photos in the cave a good rain sleeve for your camera is nice (a plastic bag will do in a pinch).