Elfin Lakes Trex Backpacking Trip

Am I really going to write yet another post about Elfin Lakes? My blog, my rules, so yes I am.

I always say that the Skyline II Trail in Manning Park is my favourite hike, but I might have to eventually cede the number one spot to Elfin Lakes because I never get tired of visiting. I’ve been in Autumn, I’ve been in Winter, I’ve backpacked to Opal Cone, I’ve backpacked to Mamquam Lake. It’s not even my first time going with Guide Girls. The first time I went with girl guides, I accompanied a group from the North Shore as a back-up guider. This time, I took my own troop for a one night trip in late September. But it’s always interesting no matter when you go because the weather makes it a different experience every time!


Both of my trips with girl guides took place on the last weekend in September, but the first trip dumped about 15cm of snow on us, while this trip was sunny and warm enough for shorts! Trex is a special ops unit in Guiding that only does outdoor adventure (as opposed to the full program). I’ve wanted a trex unit for years, so I finally started my own in New West last year and we focused on a backpacking series for our first year. We hiked to Viewpoint Beach in Golden Ears in June, 3 Brothers Mountain in Manning Park in August, and Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Park in September to finish the series.

It was the longest distance they had done carrying their backpacks, but they did very well. It was pretty cloudy and chilly when we started, but we made good time going up towards the Red Heather Hut. We’d been warned of bears by the park rangers, so we made sure to be loud on the way up and didn’t see any, but some of the trex were really nervous about it.


We stopped for a nice hot lunch at the hut before continuing on to the lake. From there things got interesting. The trail branches when you leave the hut, with the mountain bike trail on top and the hiking trail below it. We immediately ran into a mama bear with cubs, but you’re probably not surprised to hear that bears are even more afraid of a noisy group of 10 girls than we were of it, so they quickly scampered. They were the only bears we saw on the way up, but we saw a lot more coming back down and I think our final bear count at the end of the weekend was 10 bears! Definitely a record for me. They weren’t interested in people at all though and were only interested in bulking up on the late season berries.


I love the hike from Red Heather Hut to Elfin Lakes. It’s so scenic as you traverse up and over the ridge. Trex enjoyed it too and they made really good time to the hut. The sleeping hut is still closed due to COVID, but there are 50 tent pads you can avail of instead. We set up our tents and had lots of time to relax and soak in the views. We had an earlier supper so that we could watch the sunset over the lake.

I don’t really plan any activities once we’ve arrived because it usually takes most of the day to get there, set up camp, and eat. But I decided to run a little workshop on star photography for anyone who was interested, which was everyone! I love the long days in the summer, but one of my favourite parts of the diminishing light is not having to stay up late to watch the stars. I lugged my tripod up and we went up on the hill overlooking the lake to try our luck. Fortunately it was a clear night and the moon was no where to be seen, so it was a great opportunity.


Very shortly after we started (I hadn’t even set up the tripod yet), trex started freaking out when a series of lights started flashing across the sky! They were even more concerned when I didn’t know what it was. It was super creepy and felt very end-of-days when you’re not expecting it. It was a series of lights that were moving in a perfectly straight line across the sky – they were all spaced equidistant and moving at the same pace. They did this for about 5 minutes before the last one finally disappeared. I made a guess that it was a satellite launch and another camper confirmed for us later that it was indeed Starlink! So our timing was excellent. We didn’t get any photos on the camera, but the girls were able to capture a few cell phone pictures of the phenomenon and it was quite a treat to see.


After that we settled into actual star photography and everyone got really into it for the better part of an hour. We did portraits of everyone with the starscape before turning in for the night. It was a completely clear morning and ended up being a very hot day, so we were driven out of our tents by the sun when it peaked over the mountains and illuminated the campsite. Staying at Elfin is a real treat because it’s definitely one of the most scenic campsites with the 360 degree view of the mountains.


We had a quick breakfast and packed up our campsites to head back the way we came. We made a slower pace as we came up to the hut because the whole area was crawling with bears and there were a lot of people. One cub had been scared up a tree, which made us nervous because we didn’t know where Mama was, but we passed through without any incident and had a hot lunch in Red Heather Hut before hiking back to the parking lot.

Everyone did really well on the trip, so we treated ourselves to ice cream at Alice & Brohm before heading back to town to conclude the trip. I think this trail lends itself well to a girl guide group because it’s a challenge, but not too hard, and it has lots of tent pads and an amazing view. I just have to work on convincing the girls to go back and stay again in the winter!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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. 


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. 


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.


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.


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. 


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!