Joffre Lakes Backpacking Trip

My first trip to Joffre Lakes was in 2015. Then I didn’t go again for 6 years, only to return twice in 2 years!

Joffre Lakes is one of the most popular and well known hikes in BC. It’s for a good reason – it’s jaw-dropingly gorgeous and easily accessible – but the crowds have definitely been a deterrent for me in visiting frequently. However, my friends from Toronto were visiting and they wanted to go there for their first ever backpacking trip, so I agreed to go with them since I’ve never actually backpacked there before.

DSC00384_1

Joffre Lakes now has a day pass system – so you can’t visit the park at all without either a day pass or an overnight pass (which are limited). This helps a lot with the stress of parking, but there is still an impressive amount of people in the park every day, even with the pass system. Overnight passes are hard to get – me and Philippa logged on at the same time to try and get them – I lucky enough to score 2 tent pads on my device, but even with 3 devices of their own, Philippa and Justin didn’t get any. Fortunately we had all we needed, but it gives you an idea of the competition for tent sites on a Saturday Night. I definitely recommend going on a week day if you’re able.

20220724_121547

I won’t talk too much about the actual trail because I’ve written about it in my post about day hiking here. I’ll just say that as beginners, I do think this was a good trail for Philippa and Justin – it’s not too long or difficult, and it has washroom and bear cache facilities, which make things a lot easier. 

Brandon joined me for the trip and drove us all up to the trailhead early on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, we realized at the trailhead that Philippa and Justin had forgotten their lunch in the fridge, but I always carry a spare meal, so we decided to go anyways and they ate that. It was a gorgeous sunny day for it – definitely hotter than I prefer, but that’s how summers in Vancouver seem to be these days, so I’ve gotten pretty good at staying hydrated and no one suffered too much with the heat.

IMG-20220724-WA0020

We stopped at the second lake for lunch and went for a quick dip in the freezing cold water, and then continued up to the third lake. This is where my account of the lake will diverge from my last post. When I visited last year, we just hiked to the base of the third lake, but if you’re camping overnight, you have to continue around the edge of the lake to the other side, where there are a bunch of campsites under the glacier. I’d never backpacked at Joffre before, so I was excited to check out the campground. Plus, one of the big benefits to staying overnight is that crowds are greatly reduced in the evening and you get to enjoy the view for much longer.

20220723_151704

We chose a campsite along the edge of the lake and set up our tents. I was keen to go for another swim, so me and Brandon decided to take our thermarests out into the lake this time, since it’s so cold. We did this at Assiniboine to great success! However, I’ve since replaced my sleeping pad with a smaller one and unfortunately, it’s not really big enough anymore! I floundered around on it for a while, with lots of screaming about the cold water that kept swallowing me up, before Justin went and got his pad for me instead (which is actually my older, bigger pad that he was borrowing). So we all tried them out in the water for a bit, and while they do insulate against the cold, you have to lie perfectly still on them lest you disturb the water and cause your limbs to go numb. So maybe not our best idea!

PSX_20220801_090126

Instead, Brandon and I had the idea to hike up towards Matier Glacier for supper. Lien did the Matier Glacier hike last year and told me you could see all three lakes once you get high enough. There was still snow at the base of the glacier, so we didn’t plant to go the entire way, but we figured if we hiked up to the top of the moraine, we might be able to catch the view for supper. 

20220723_200145

The hike to Matier Glacier is entirely a scramble up one of the old moraines. I didn’t find it too challenging, but it is pretty steep. It had cooled down, so we pushed up for about a half hour, but as it got steeper, Philippa got uneasy about having to go back down, so we pulled off to the side and found the flattest place we could to eat (not very flat at all, but we made it work)! Philippa and Justin had a mix of freeze dried meals to sample and Brandon made his legendary thai curry chicken for us. We were hoping for a sunset, but the sun goes down behind the mountains, so we just enjoyed golden hour instead. 

IMG-20220724-WA0040

It’s definitely worse hiking down the moraine than up, so it took us a while to go back. There’s a lot of loose rock that makes it slippery, so I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners. Philippa didn’t like the descent, but she still did a great job on it and her feedback for beginners is to go down sideways and focus on small steps! Nonetheless, they made it down and used their new skills when they went to Panorama Ridge a week later.

PSX_20220801_232337

It was starting to get dark by the time we got back to the campsite, so we got ready for bed early. We were all super tired after the early start and I wanted to get up in the middle of the night to shoot the stars. I think I was asleep before 10pm! I had my alarm set for 1:30am, but I ended up waking up to pee just before midnight and decided to get up then. Brandon decided to join me and we spent about 45 minutes playing around with our cameras and got some lovely shots of the milky way! I brought my tripod on this trip, which always makes for a more enjoyable experience.

DSC00532

We managed to sleep in until after 7, but once the sun hit the tent it was time to get up. We had a lazy breakfast and then packed up the tents to start the hike back down. We had a little break again at the second lake, but decided to save our swim for the first lake. I loved this idea because I wanted to swim in all 3 lakes and liked the opportunity to wash my body at the end of the hike. All the lakes are quite cold, but they definitely get warmer the further away from the glacier you get. 

20220724_134345

So overall, a very successful trip! Even though me and Brandon have been to Joffre Lakes several times, we loved exploring it through new eyes with Philippa and Justin. I’m definitely not in a rush to go back, but I am always enthusiastic about hiking with anyone who loves adventure. I do think Joffre is a great option for beginners and wish you luck in getting permits to this beautiful location. Just remember to treat it with respect. Leave no trace and pack out all your garbage!

PSX_20220724_225533
Advertisement

Snowshoeing Brockton Point

Vancouver got a lot of snow through the Christmas holidays in 2021 and when I returned from my trip to Newfoundland I was excited to get up in the mountains and enjoy it! So the first weekend back in January we woke up super early to be at Mount Seymour when the gate opened at 7am. We’re not quite on the ball enough to get there right on time, but we were able to get parking and hit the hill around sunrise.

PSX_20220118_191016

Our desired destination was Pump Peak, which is located past the top of the ski lift, about mid-way to Mount Seymour. I hiked up the ski lift towards Pump Peak once in the summer on my way to Elsay Lake and I snowshoed to Brockton Point the previous winter during my avalanche training course. But it was pouring rain and foggy on that occasion, so I didn’t remember too much about the trek. It’s about 7km out and back to Pump Peak and we were planning to have breakfast at the top.

PSX_20220111_201923

It’s a big of a slog to snowshoe up to Brockton Point, which is at the top of the ski lift. The snowshoe trail runs parallel to the ski run, but never connects. It’s a wide trail and it’s a pretty stead uphill trek, but boy is it beautiful! The weather blessed us on our visit and it was a gorgeous blue sky day with several inches of fresh powder from the day before. Once you get up to Brockton Point, there are beautiful views in all directions and you can see both out to the backcountry and down to Vancouver.

PSX_20220117_221628

If you’re looking for an easier day, I recommend just stopping at Brockton Point, which is about 4-4.5km round trip from the parking lot and has awesome views. We continued on towards Pump Peak, which is easily visible from Brockton Point. The trail descends from Brockton to do a bit of a round about of Pump Peak to climb up from the the back. We started down towards it, but as we snowshoed, we checked the time and realized we might not have quite as much time as we needed. We weren’t really that slow, but we weren’t super fast either. We only had a day pass for the morning and Carolyn’s puppy Jasper was home alone, so we wanted to be back down to the car for noon.

20220109_093505

We could have pushed on to Pump Peak, but we would have had to turn around immediately upon getting there, so we decided to stop at another random viewpoint along the trail instead. We’d all brought our stoves to make breakfast and the views were gorgeous all along the ridge, so we didn’t mind missing out on the peak. Me and Seth made oatmeal, Carolyn and Steve made breakfast sandwiches, and Brandon outshined us all with mountaintop dim sum! It was a warm enough day with the sun shining down on us and we liked having a long relaxing break in the snow instead of rushing back.

DSC00141_1

A few words of advice if you’re visiting Seymour – there is now a year round permit system to access the mountain. People have a lot of mixed feelings about this and I think the system has definite pros and cons, but it seems like it’s here to stay, so make sure to get your pass before visiting the mountain. Seymour Resort staff are checking for permits at the base of the mountain, so you won’t get past the gate without a permit and you won’t get past the snowshoe parking lot without a ski pass. So be prepared for a bit of a walk up from the parking lot. I recommend going early because even with the new system, parking is still a bit of a gong show.

IMG-20220109-WA0011

A lot of people visit Seymour to hike Dog Mountain, which is an easier trail, but there are a lot of people recreating out to Pump Peak as well. The pass system has thinned out the trails, which is nice, but be prepared to encounter lots of snowshoers, skiers, and dogs. A lot of the trail is multi-use, but there are a few places where it branches and skiers will often take slightly different routes, so my advice as a snowshoer is to follow the trail markers.

20220109_091301

In addition, you are entering avalanche terrain if you choose to go all the way to Pump Peak. The trail along the ski resort is in simple terrain, so you’re probably mostly okay without avalanche equipment, but eventually you will reach a sign with the avalanche danger rating. I can’t remember exactly where it is, you do get to the ridge before you hit it, but I think it may be a little bit before Brockton Point. After this point, you are leaving simple terrain and entering challenging terrain, so make sure you are familiar with avalanche hazards and take the proper equipment with you. See my post on avalanche safety for more details.

DSC00146

But if you’re prepared, Brockton Point/Pump Peak make for a great snowshoe adventure! I still haven’t made it to Pump Peak, which is why I titled this point Brockton Point instead, but whenever I don’t finish a trail, I just say it was because I had to leave something to come back for! So one day I’ll be back to finish this trail for real!

PSX_20220118_204616

Hiking Joffre Lakes

I’ve written about a lot of hikes, many of which are super popular. I found the time to write about Garibaldi Lake twice and I’ve written about Elfin Lakes a whopping 5 times, but somehow I’ve never found the time to write about one of Southwest BC’s most quintessential hikes: Joffre Lakes.

Joffre Lakes is a gem of a provincial park located about 30 minutes out of Pemberton on Duffey Lake Road. It’s a bit of a trek for a day hike from Vancouver, but every year swarms of people flock there to discover the brilliant blue glacial lakes for themselves. The park was closed through most of 2020 due to Covid-19 and re-opened in summer 2021 with a new day pass reservation system in place to manage crowds in the park. This is a free day pass that has been introduced in several of BC’s most popular parks to curb the flow of visitors. A lot of people are opposed to the day pass system and BC Parks has been widely criticized for it, but while I have many criticisms of BC Parks (mostly to do with their poor online system and cancellation policies), I have to admit I am a fan of the day passes. It keeps the crowds down and removes the stress of having to get up super early to ensure you find parking.

DSC00537

The first time I visited Joffre Lakes was in 2015 and while I was astounded at the beauty of the park, I had to admit that the swarms of people definitely took away from the experience. I visited on a beautiful Saturday in August, so I know there would likely be less people on a weekday, but the park only has one major trail and it’s only 11km round trip, so it’s not a lot of space for people to disburse along the trail, even on a less busy day. There were literal greyhound buses toting group tours of up to 50 people along the trail, so it was hard to get a moment to yourself anywhere on the hike. That said, a lot of people only hike to the second lake, or if they do hike to the third lake, they stop at the head of the lake. If you hike around the back of the third lake, where the campsite is, I did find it to be much less crowded.

DSC00546

When the park re-opened this summer, I thought it might be time to finally re-visit it since Canada is still mostly closed to international tourists. Emily and my parents visited during the first week of September and we decided to make the trek out there on a week day to hopefully find a bit of solitude on the trail. There’s no question that with the day pass, parking was much easier. I think they’ve added an overflow lot since my last visit and we had no trouble finding somewhere to park. It was still quite busy for a week day in September, but much less crowded than my first experience.

DSC00552

Like I mentioned, the trail is only 11km round trip if you go all the way to the campsite (which lots of people don’t), and has about 400m of elevation gain. It’s a very well maintained trail, so it is good for beginners. There are 3 beautiful lakes located in the park, making it easy to customize your trip. The first lake is only about 5 minutes in along the trail, so it makes for a good pit stop if you’re just passing through and want to stretch your legs. From there, the trail continues up through a boulder field (the trail is backfilled though, so easy walking) with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. This is where most of the elevation gain is done along the hike and is the longest stretch between lakes.

DSC00562

Eventually you pop out of the woods along the edge of the second lake, which I would say is the most popular of the three. The water is a gorgeous green hue and Matier Glacier is framed through the trees at the end of the lake. I’ve visited the park 3 times in total and always opt to eat my lunch at the second lake to bask in the views. On this occasion, I convinced my mom to take a quick dip in the water with me. I’ve swam in a lot of alpine lakes over the years and Joffre is definitely one of the coldest! It is numbing, so if you opt to swim, be prepared for a quick dip in and out.

DSC00639

One of the other highlights of the second lake for me is that at the back of the lake there is a beautiful stepped waterfall cascading down from the third lake. It’s only a short hike between the second and third lakes, so I definitely recommend going up to the third lake, even if you opt not to hike around the lake to the campsite. The third lake has incredible views looking up at Matier Glacier.

DSC00582

On this trip, we ended at the base of the third lake (which is a round trip distance of 8km), but on my first visit Seth and I opted to hike the entire way around to the campsite. If you continue past the campsite you can hike up onto the big rock overlooking the lake, which is my second favourite view in the park after the second lake. From there, the surrounding mountains come into view on the opposite side of the lake, making for beautiful photos.

DSC00605

All in all, it took me about 5 hours return trip on both visits. It’s a beautiful park that’s 100% worth ticking off your bucket list, but I don’t think it would even rate top 10 on my list of trails overall. It’s just too crowded. If you choose to visit, please treat the area with respect – take all your garbage with you and make sure to leave no trace. Sadly the area often gets trashed due to its popularity and we want to preserve this beautiful park for generations to come!

The view from the back of the third lake – only photo from my 2015 visit