Last Monday the weather was supposed to be sunny in the mountains which is why we went to Commonwealth Lake to get pics of spectacular Commonwealth Peak jutting up against a blue sky. The reality was a grey day with snow flying and mountains barely visible in the mist. Still a good trip, though. A bit short — only 2.3 km to the lake if you take the shortcut (4.2 km if you don‘t) — but it”s one of those places where you can add on extra kilometres easily enough. Snowshoers had been in there before us and there was a good trail to follow and lots of ski tracks.
You can start from the Mt. Shark Road at the parking lot at 1 km. It’s 2.6 km along the logging road heading south past the Tryst Lake turnoff and Commonwealth Creek crossing to where the shortcut intersects the road. Most people take the shortcut. Drive 2.2 km south on Hwy. 742 from the Mt. Shark Road and park next to the guard rail. After you’ve climbed over the guard rail (the crux), head downhill and cross Engadine Flats to an avenue in the trees on the far side. A little way in, at a snowshoe trail junction, follow the right-hand trail past a sign (no camping, no fires, dogs on leash) and up a hill and through a cutblock to the logging road. En route, the left-hand trail joins in. Just before the logging road keep straight and cross the road.
The trail continues along the southeast bank of Commonwealth Creek for 1.3 km to a clearing. Again the trail divides. (The right-hand trail heads into forest and along the bank top for about a kilometre to join the summer route up Commonwealth Creek on the opposite bank.) For the lake keep left and climb up the cutblock to the left of the mature trees. Enter forest and wind up a steeper hillside. The zigs are fine, it’s the corners that are steep. Reach a high point, then angle slightly downhill to the lake.
We carried on up the valley for another 1.2 km into larch meadows below avalanche slopes falling off Commonwealth Ridge. The avalanche expert reckoned we were safe on that particular day, and the obviously avalanche-aware trail breakers had taken a conservative line to the right. When the risk is above considerable he suggests you don’t go, even though you’re right at the edge of the runout zone. Anyway, we ended up on a little ridge above the boulderfield and, like the people before us, decided to go no farther because the ridge ahead was melding with the next lot of avalanche slopes and we would have been crossing them part way up. Descending to the bouldery draw on the right isn’t a good idea either, because then you are exposed to avalanches off the Pig’s Back. So the decision to turn back is easily made.
A more strenuous alternative to the upper valley is the north ridge of Commonwealth Ridge. Leave the trail at the high point before the lake and flog up 244 m (800 ft.) or so of forest to treeline. Has anyone carried on along the open ridge toward the top?