For years now I’ve wondered what the Police Meadows were like. There isn’t very much written about this place online and the few reports I could find that even mentioned it were quite vague. Now that I’ve been there, I seriously considered not doing a report on this area. I had to ask myself if better beta is going to ruin this place? Are hordes and hordes of backpackers now going to follow my GPS track in there, bringing all the trouble that humans bring when too many of us visit the same place? After thinking about it a while, I decided that the type of folks who bother to visit the Police Meadows after reading my description of it, will likely be the same sort of people that do their best to maintain and upkeep special places like this, rather than take advantage of them and do harm.
With the introduction of reservation-only camping in the core Assiniboine area in 2018, places like the Police Meadows, Mitchell River and Surprise Creek cabins are bound to see more attention from hikers. We saw evidence of this ourselves, as the cabin ended up being so full that two hikers had to go back to the free Porcupine Campground after hiking all the way in to check it out. Whether folks like it or not, the days of secret cabins tucked into hidden valleys going unnoticed and unused is long over. C’est la vie. Rather than horde these special places to a few people, let’s open them up a bit, to relieve some of the intense pressure on the few key areas that everyone else focuses on. This improves the overall wilderness experience for everyone rather than limiting it to just a few. Especially in Canada, we have plenty of wilderness to go around and only a very small subset of hikers will bother venturing into the little remote corners of it anyway – freeing up the easier-to-access spots for others.
The weekend before our Police Meadows adventure, Phil Richards and I spent a night at Fatigue Pass and two days bagging some peaks around there. After seeing Simpson Ridge repeatedly the weekend before, it crept up the priority list and after taking some photographs over the Police Meadows that hinted at a pretty lovely spot to spend the night, it was bumped to the very top of the list and became our destination for the very next weekend! Eric Coulthard decided to join us – I’m not sure he realized what he was signing up for though as he hadn’t been on a mountainous adventure since December 2017!
Unlike the weekend before when we missed the chance at a gondola ride up to the Sunshine Meadows by one day (!), we decided to take full advantage of the ride, saving ourselves over 5km of hiking uphill around 500m with overnight packs. We also decided to pack much lighter – leaving all extras behind. I did pack my tent, however, just in case the cabin was overrun with mice or not otherwise a good option. I’ve seen outfitter cabins before and the fact that this one was free didn’t inspire a ton of confidence in its condition! We were expecting a bit of a mixed weather day and ended up getting exactly that on our approach from Sunshine Village through the meadows towards Howard Douglas Lake. I had mixed feelings about hiking the very same trail as a week before, in similarly dreary weather, but soon I was more into it, enjoying the moody landscapes and the fact that at least the clouds were high enough that we could see the peaks we had recently been on top of.
Once we finally reached Citadel Pass, I became more interested and engaged. This was now “new” territory as we hadn’t hiked beyond the pass the weekend before. The last time I hiked through Citadel Pass and down into the Simpson River Valley was in September of 2016 on a solo backpacking / scrambling trip into the core Mount Assiniboine area. As we hiked down the very steep switchbacks I noticed one thing certainly hadn’t changed since I’d been here last – the Grizzlies still obviously love these slopes! Huge chunks of dirt and sod were ripped from the ground all the way down the upper part of the trail. Some of the tears in the earth looked pretty darn fresh too. We took the right hand branch around 3km down from Citadel Pass, marked as “Porcupine” and descended an even steeper part of the trail to the campground. I’ve heard not-so-positive things about this free, first-come-first-serve campground, but honestly I didn’t see any issues with it. Unlike the main trail leading through Golden Valley and Valley of the Rocks, at least there’s fresh, running water here! There was also mosquitoes – something I’ve noticed a lot of this summer so far in the backcountry.
After passing through the campground we continued on trail towards the Mount Assiniboine core area, noting the dire warning on the signpost regarding the Simpson River Trail to the Surprise Creek cabin which is likely an extreme understatement after the Verdant Creek wildfires of 2017. Only about 500m up the trail we came on another sign marking our right hand turnoff towards Police Meadows. Now things were finally getting exciting! We turned onto the much smaller trail leading south. It didn’t take long for us to figure out that our destination is not part of the “core” park when we got to the Simpson River and realized that there’s no bridge over it! Thank goodness the river is a tiny little stream at this point and someone had cut and partially trimmed a tree just upstream of the trail that we put to good use. From this crossing to the meadows, we were on a good trail again.
Soon we were done the forested section of trail and found ourselves facing a pretty daunting wall of shrubs and scrub at the start of what we assumed must be the Police Meadows. From a distance the meadows looked like a golf course, but of course being the BC backcountry, this could mean anything from grass to Krumholtz to shrubs or even dense avalanche debris. We entered the overgrown area with caution – our feet were still dry at this point. The trail was obvious for about another 150m before we arrived at a grassy, swampy area and the trail pretty much vanished underfoot. Hmmm. This was not entirely unexpected but was a bit more rustic than we were hoping for! We danced around and looked for other options but eventually we simply started wading the marsh towards where we hoped the cabin was. We knew it was off to our right from the photos the week previous but there was still no sign of it as we waded through knee deep water and wet vegetation. Soon we found ourselves at yet another obstacle – a deep flowing creek cut a channel in front of us, blocking further travel towards the west side of the meadows and the cabin we assumed was somewhere there. In what was to be a bit of a theme for the weekend, we got lucky with navigation and happened to find another log bridge. This one was substantially smaller than the one across the Simpson River but was carved flat on top so obviously manmade. We very cautiously made our way across it – a slip would mean total submersion in the deep stream running under it, not a death sentence, but it would certainly soak all the gear on our backs.
After the stream crossing, we followed a very faint track through drier meadows until finally we spotted our prize! To our great astonishment, and if I’m honest about it, disappointment, we saw smoke curling out of the very rustic cabin’s chimney stack and realized we were not going to be alone in this lovely place. I shouldn’t have been so surprised on hindsight. Nothing is “hidden” anymore with all the online beta and information available. On hindsight the shocking thing about the Police Meadows is that there’s been no clear beta on it up to this point. We slowly walked across the meadows, noting that some of the plants looked to be recently dying. The view of the homestead era cabins with Simpson Ridge and Nestor Peak looming over them up a deep wild mountain valley was pretty spectacular and got the explor8ion juices flowing pretty fierce!
As we approached the cabin, the front door swung open and we were greeted by a surprised but very friendly guide-outfitter (Greg) who happened to be in the area to treat the invasive Tall Buttercup plants that we’d seen dying in the meadows. Apparently as part of the deal to operate his hunts and operate the cabin in the park he has to treat the area for this plant which animals will not eat due to its toxicity. The outfitter had a friend along to assist him and they were flying out via chopper the next day. I think they were quite surprised to see us, but were extremely gracious and nice about us interrupting the very peaceful week they’d been enjoying in this little corner of paradise. Now before you pack your backpack and race off to spend a week at this cabin, I must infuse this report with some bits of reality which you should carefully consider before traveling and spending time here;
- This cabin is very rustic. The bunks are handmade from trees and the padding is worn and full of holes that have been chewed by animals. The chimney leaks. The floor is full of holes and very dusty / dirty. There are mice. There are pack rats. There are other animals. The door doesn’t lock and doesn’t even close all the way. Did I mention mice and pack rats?
- There are a ton of biting flies and mosquitoes in this wet and marshy landscape and remember – the door doesn’t shut all the way! I’ll let you imagine what that means for sleeping or even just sitting in the cabin.
- There are definitely bears around – and remember there’s no way to lock that door from the inside! To be honest, I’m a bit surprised that the place hasn’t been destroyed by bears or other animals yet.
- There’s no guarantee that you won’t come to a full cabin. It only sleeps 5 or 6. This means turning back through the swamp and camping at the Porcupine Campground back down the valley – in other words you can not count on staying at the cabin and must pack a tent and all camping gear anyway.
- The second cabin is a surprise as all park material only mentions the one. There’s a reason for this. Unless you’re really, really desperate you will not sleep in the second cabin. The two hikers that approached while we were on Simpson Ridge apparently took one look and hiked all the way back to the Porcupine Campground rather than stay in the second cabin. It’s a hole-in-the-ground – you can’t even stand upright in it and it is overrun with critters and not at all “patched up” like the main cabin is.
After the 15.5km, 500m height gain and over 850m of height loss involved with our 4 hour approach, it wasn’t easy to tear ourselves away from the comfort at the cabin and the very interesting conversations we were having with Greg and his friend. By now it was around 13:00 and the sun was quite warm. The mosquitoes around the meadows were also getting bad which helped us move on. When we told the outfitters what we were planning, we got a bit of a blank stare. “I’m tired just thinking about it”, was one of the responses. Another was, “we don’t hunt up that valley”, negating our odds of finding a nice trail up there! There wasn’t much else to do except strap our packs on and head south.