The trail into the forest narrows where an old, rough-looking sign guides you to Helmet/Ochre Creek, Tumbling Creek and Helmet Falls campgrounds. A stairway of railway ties assists your entrance into the woods. Within another five minutes, a sign steers you to stay straight on the path and you feel a mild elevation gain. Cross a couple of small streams and the trail through spruce and pine forest levels out.
At about the 3.5-km mark, you’ll see a magnificent avalanche slope of shrubs, wild flowers and grasses. We saw a bear. Of the thousands – yes, thousands – of kilometres I have trekked, I have only had one single bear encounter. Actually, this was, um, barely an encounter at all. More of a happenstance. And the bear wasn’t even aware we were having an encounter. We had my golden retriever, Summer, along and were about to walk out onto the above-mentioned grassy slope, but we’d stopped, as we usually do before entering such slopes, to check for bears. And sure enough, this time there was one, on the slope to the uphill side of the trail. It was too busy eating berries to realize we were there, or maybe was aware of us but just didn’t care. We backed into the forest, returned to the trailhead and called it a day.
The lesson learned was to keep your dog on a leash when walking the backcountry trails. I know definitively that if Summer hadn’t been leashed, she would have been exploring at least 50 m ahead of us. She would have trotted right onto that slope, torn after the bear, and then hightailed it back toward us with the bear in hot pursuit. So although restraining your dog in the wilderness may seem like a ridiculous rule, it is an essential one. Oh, and pick up your dog’s poo, too.
After you’ve crossed this slope, it re-enters the forest for another six to eight minutes before reaching an intersection in a small clearing. This signed junction marks the 3.9-km mark of the hike. The Helmet/Ochre Junction campground is another 2.6 km straight up the main route. As the trail departs the junction it begins to climb slightly and the forest becomes sparser with thicker trees. Two kilometres from the intersection, the path opens up to a small field of red paintbrushes, yellow and purple daisies and a variety of grasses. There are great views of peaks to the north and west from the engaging little field.
The last ten minutes of the hike take the path down to the river, where tributaries joining Ochre Creek make for some minor rockhopping. The campground is situated on a premier spot if you enjoy the continual sound of rushing whitewater.