Ski Resort Series: Stevens Pass

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you might recall that every year my friends go on a big long weekend ski trip to one of the local resorts. To date we’ve been to Big White, Sun Peaks, Silver Star, Apex, and Mount Washington. But even though we go every year, unsurprisingly we missed a few due to covid over the past few years. We’ve been really keen to resurrect the trip, but it is a lot of planning and Karen and Grant have since moved back to Newfoundland, so it was hard to find the inspiration.

I was convinced to buy the 5 day pass for Whistler this year because it was really good value. I knew it would be a struggle to use all the days, so a bit of research revealed that we can use the pass across the border at Stevens Pass in Washington! I’d never even heard of this mountain before, but it turns out it’s the place to ski if you’re in Seattle, so we decided to make a long weekend of it and drive 3 hours down for a few days. We downsized the trip for ease of planning, but there were still 8 of us that headed across the border on Friday for the weekend in late January.

20230122_103053

It’s not that far of a drive, but it can definitely chew up a chunk of time. Me and Seth crossed at truck crossing and didn’t have too much trouble, but Megan and Nick crossed at Peace Arch and ended up stuck at the border for over 2 hours. Then we had to make a grocery stop at Trader Joes (which was a lot of fun I admit) since bringing groceries across the border is complicated. Then finally, we hit traffic coming from Seattle on the way into the mountains. So it ended up taking most of us between 4-6 hours, depending on our success at the border. So I wouldn’t recommend it for a day trip.

20230120_214517

We booked an AirBnB in Index, which is about 30 minutes before the ski resort. It was a gated community, so it made for a very confusing turn-off in the dark, but was a beautiful house right on the river. We had a fully stocked kitchen, fireplace, and 4 bedrooms. We decided to take Sadie with us, which ended up actually being a lot less nerve-wracking than I expected. I thought it would be hard to cross the border with her, but none of the border agents really had any interest in her and no one asked to see her vaccination record (which is required to cross).

We had a fun first night celebrating the lunar new year with bai tai’s and raclette and playing the AirBnB’s old school nintendo! On Saturday we drove out to the ski resort and had a full day to explore the runs. A word of warning, visiting Stevens Pass definitely requires some pre-planning and coordination if you want to be successful. They do sell out of passes (one friend ended up bailing on the trip when passes sold out), so make sure to get them in advance if you want to be guaranteed to be able to ski. Fortunately half of us were using our Whistler passes, so all we had to do was show up.

20230121_220532

Parking was also a challenge though. I drove up with Brandon and he pretty much got the last spot in the main lot on Saturday. Carolyn and Steve had to park further down the highway and take a shuttle to the resort. What’s worse though is that Carolyn and Steve tried to go back again on Sunday (they were the only ones) and by the time they arrived, there wasn’t actually any parking available and they were forced to take a refund on their lift passes and leave. So even if you do buy the lift ticket in advance, you could still drive up there and get turned away, so go early!

PSX_20230127_154936
PSX_20230129_222934

The weather was a bit touch and go. It was lovely when we arrived and the sun was shining, but the mountain got caught up in a cloud for most of the day and the snow kept coming and going. That said, it’s a nice little mountain. I was expecting long line ups because of the parking situation, but the mountain never felt crowded. There’s one lift (Hogsback Express) that’s a bit more popular than the others and has longer lines, but for the most part we didn’t have to wait too long. Plus, the resort is open until 10pm, so there’s lots of time to get your runs in.

PSX_20230124_215923

We started the day on Skyline Express and gradually explored as many of the lifts as possible. We didn’t bother with 7th Heaven, which was stuck in the clouds and was all double blacks, but we hit almost all the others. I did like Hogsback Express, but Tye Mill and the back side of the mountain were probably my favourite. There’s a few nice runs right along the Tye Mill lift, but the backside was really the best runs. There’s a lot of terrain to explore back there and very limited people. We skied down the transmission line first and then went exploring some of the other runs. The backside isn’t open very late though, so I’d recommend going there early. We got hungry after a few runs over there and left for lunch and then it was closed when we returned.

PSX_20230129_222427
PSX_20230122_001000

Brooks Express has a few nice runs as well and we finished the day with one run on Kehr’s Chair. One run on this one was enough for me as it’s pretty much the most terrifying chairlift I’ve ever been on! It’s a two seater chair, but it doesn’t have a safety bar and has really low side rails, so I was basically clinging on to the bar in the middle of the chair for dear life. Great for thrills seekers, but I wouldn’t take a child on it!

Seth couldn’t join me for skiing because we didn’t want to leave Sadie alone at the AirBnB, so him and Lien ended up taking her snowshoeing. We all stayed in for supper and spent the rest of the evening playing some games and learning to line dance. Yes, you read that right. Megan and Nick are getting married in Alberta this summer and they’re determined to get the party started at the reception with group line dancing, so every time I see Megan these days she teaches me a new line dance and we got some really quality instruction on the trip.

20230121_145251

Sunday was pretty low key. We slept in and packed up before slowly making our way back home. Me and Seth stopped in Fairhaven and visited the beach with Sadie for lunch, but it was very windy and cold, so it was pretty short lived. Megan told me about an awesome bookstore called Village Books, so I made a quick visit there, but couldn’t give it the full attention it deserved because of Sadie.

We decided to cross in Aldergrove to avoid border traffic at Peace Arch and crossed the border in less than 5 minutes. So it was a much faster drive home and we had plenty of time to decompress from the trip. It’s the shortest ski trip we’ve done (we’ve always go for 3 nights and this was the first time we only did 2), but it was also more low key and easier to plan than previous trips. I would have loved to ski the second day, but mostly it was nice to get away with friends and re-visit some of the magic of pre-covid times. I would definitely return!

Stevens Pass Ski Piste Map 2020
Advertisement

ECT Series: Cobblers Path

Cobbler’s Path was one of the first sections of the East Coast Trail I ever did and I kind of forgot about it in my zeal to hike new sections I hadn’t done yet. However, I’m so glad I returned to this trail over the holidays because I remembered very little of it and it’s such a great trail! Cobblers Path is only 5km long and runs from Red Cliff to Outer Cove. There’s a bit of climbing on the Outer Cove side of the trail, but overall, it’s a pretty easy trail that is extremely close to St. John’s.

20211230_114158

My friends Philippa and Justin are avid hikers as well and convinced me and Sean to join them for a hike at the tail end of December. We all met at the parking lot in Red Cliff and started from there. The trailhead has changed in recent years as the area has developed – the old parking lot on Red Cliff Road has been replaced with a new one at Cobblers Crescent. You hike up through the trees from the parking lot to connect with the coastal trail. You can turn right to go down to “Logy Bay Viewpoint”, but it’s a dead-end because one of the crotchety old land owners won’t let the trail pass over the edge of their land, so the association haven’t been able to connect through to the Ocean Sciences Centre and Sugarloaf Path.

received_242633654665921

We opted to just continue on towards Outer Cove. It was a classic Newfoundland weather day when we hiked and we got every season in one day. It was pretty cold when we started and there was a bit of snow down on the trail. We opted to wear studs because it was pretty slippery, but most of the covered tree sections didn’t have any snow. It was overcast when we started and we caught glimpses of blue sky overhead as the day progressed. The trail passes by some old graffitied buildings and there is another lookout bunker at Red Cliff that dates back to the war (same as on Sugarloaf and many other sections of the trail). At the same location there’s an excellent view back towards Logy Bay and we had a bit of a photoshoot.

DSC00033

I have to say, I do think the cliffs on Cobblers Path are some of the most iconic on the East Coast Trail. That might sound a bit random, but I say it because they are visible from so many other sections of the trail. Even though I hadn’t done the trail in about 10 years, I can always identify it from other parts of the trail. The cliff-side has a sharp diagonal slope in this section and the stratigraphy of the rock looks almost perpendicular to the ocean.

After Red Cliff, the trail descends towards Shooting Point Cove and Cobblers Brook – this was the only other part of the trail I could remember from my first visit and I swore it was my favourite section of Cobblers Path. You climb down through the forest and then cross a bit of a meadow area before starting to hike back up towards Outer Cove. On this day, it was really windy and the ocean was looking extremely unforgiving. The waves were crashing up onto the rocks and there was so much wind that it was blowing all of the salt water spray up onto the trail. A little cold, but a beautiful section of coastline.

20211230_114409

I would say the section after Shooting Point Cove is the only challenging part of the trail. You immediately start hiking back up through the trees and it’s a bit of a climb until you poke out at the first viewpoint of Torbay Point. The clouds were breaking up more at this point and there was quite a bit of blue sky overhead, so we crossed our fingers that the sun would come out.

20211230_122601

I thought Shooting Point Cove was my favourite part of the trail, but I must have skipped Torbay Point on my first visit because that quickly replaced Shooting Point as my favourite and I’m sure I would have remembered it. Philippa and Justin didn’t have time to go down the point because they had a scheduled pick-up, but me and Sean had lots of time to kill, so we said goodbye and hurried down the trail.

received_1000275493857678

“Hurry” is the key word here because the weather was quickly changing again and despite the recent blue sky, we could see a lot of clouds moving in towards the point. I wanted to get some photos at the end of the point and as I ran down towards it, the wind was so strong it literally brought tears to my eyes and I had to shield my face. We got our shots and then started back up towards the main trail as the clouds blew sideways sleet at us. The weather had majorly deteriorated in a matter of 10 minutes and we hid behind some rocks at the trail junction for shelter. We were pretty hungry (or at least I was) and wanted to eat my lunch before we finished the trail.

20211230_124608(0)

In the time it took me to eat my sandwich, the clouds moved down the coast and the sun finally broke through and completely transformed the landscape. It burned off the rest of the clouds in a matter of minutes and I cursed that I now wanted to take all the same photos again in the improved conditions. I held off though because I did quite like the moody cloudy ones we’d already taken and just snapped a few photos of the sun drenched cliffs instead.

PSX_20220103_162933

It’s only a short walk out from Torbay Point and Philippa mentioned they visit every year just to hike out to the point – so it’s a great alternative if you’re just looking for a short jaunt with epic views. The trail pops back out on Doran’s Lane, which is filled with more crotchety homeowners, so be careful where you park. In the summer you can park on the right side of Doran’s Lane (not the left), but in the winter there’s no parking on either side due to snow clearing. Personally I think this is a bit bogus, but the town asks you park down at Outer Cove Beach instead.

PSX_20220102_233935

In our case, Sean’s family lives in Outer Cove, so we just hoofed it a few extra kilometres to his house and then returned to pick up my car from there. If you don’t want to bring 2 cars or do a return trip, you can also hike back along the highway – it’s quicker that hiking 5k back along the trail, but there’s not much for sidewalks so be cautious. To conclude, I’m thrilled I took the time to return to this trail, it was so much more scenic than I remembered and makes for such a great hike only minutes from my parent’s house! Definitely recommend.

20211230_125143

Mamquam Lake Backpacking Trip

I’m starting to lose count of the number of times I’ve been up the Elfin Lakes trail, but every time has been a very different experience so I keep going back! I’ve day hiked it to the Gargoyles, backpacked up to Opal Cone, snow camped, and taken a group of girl guides up there in very marginal conditions. On the occasion I hiked up to Opal Cone, we’d actually been aiming for Mamquam Lake, but abandoned our pursuit because it was too hot, so I was really keen to make another attempt to get to Mamquam on this trip.

Karen and Grant planned this trip for mid August and invited me to accompany them. An overnight camping pass is required for one of the 35 tent pads, so I quickly booked up one for myself and easily convinced Brandon to join me. He’d been with me on the first failed trip, so it was only fitting. Me, Karen, and Grant took Friday off to hike up and Brandon joined us later in the evening after he got off work. Not something I’d recommend, but he’s very familiar with the trail and he’s a fast hiker.

20210820_171751

I met Karen and Grant downtown and we drove together to the trailhead outside of Squamish. You only need 2WD to get up the road in the summer, but I was a bit surprised at the condition for such a popular hike – it’s seems to have deteriorated quite a bit in the last few years. Parks staff met us on the road on the way up to check our passes and warned us there were a lot of black bear sightings and even one grizzly sighting. There’s a lot of berries on the trail, so make sure to bring spray and a horn if you visit (not bangers though as they present a fire risk).

It was a really dicey forecast for the weekend, so we weren’t really sure what to expect. It had rained on and off on the drive up and it was looking pretty grey when we arrived. We made good time on the old road up to Red Heather hut, but it did start raining pretty early into the hike. It rained solid for about 15 minutes, but then fortunately it slowed down and mostly just drizzled on and off after that.

IMG-20210822-WA0008
20210821_085027

We stopped briefly at the hut for a snack and I picked a handful of blueberries before continuing on. The rain had mostly stopped, but the clouds were super low and we knew we weren’t going to get any view, so we took the bike path up. I thought the bike path was in better condition than the hiking path, which often gets muddy, but I learned on the way down it’s been completely redone with crushed rock, so I definitely recommend the hiking path!

We dried off pretty fast after that and made a good pace to the campsite, but unfortunately we didn’t see any views at all. We were clearly right in the cloud and it was super foggy, so there wasn’t much to take photos of on the way in. We didn’t mind though because we were just so happy to be able to put our tents up in dry weather! I had taken my new Gossamer Gear tent for the trip and thanks to Carolyn, executed what is quite possibly her best idea ever and most brilliant tent pad hack! Since my tent is only set up with hiking poles and relies on tension to keep it upright, it’s hard to set up on wooden pads because it relies on being staked. The solution was a pack of 8 tiny wood screws that you could hand screw right into the tent pad! It worked so great and I was thrilled with how easy it was to set up!

DSC00225

Side note: for those of you who care, I’m still testing out my Gossamer Gear tent and assessing whether the single-walled design and subsequent condensation build-up on the inside are something I can deal with. On the first morning the tent was absolutely drenched, but so was Karen and Grant’s normal tent, whereas the second night it held up very well in the wind and rain and had minimal condensation in the morning. So I guess it is super dependent on weather conditions and I’m slowly learning how to deal with it.

Overall it took us just over 3 hours to do the 11km hike up to the hut. It was after 5pm when we arrived so we went to the cookhut to make dinner after setting up our bedrolls. Because of the extreme high risk of wildfires, BC Parks is requiring all cooking to be done in the shelter. While I agree this is prudent, I’m a little annoyed that they closed the sleeping hut for the season because of covid. I get you don’t want people sleeping there, but eliminating access to it and then forcing everyone to cook inside one tiny cook hut while it is still a pandemic seems counterproductive. Anyways, how busy the hut was varied and fortunately it wasn’t busy on Friday night. Despite all the tent pads being sold out, only about half were actually in use, so I think BC Parks booking system and cancellation policy could use a little updating too.

PSX_20210822_221801

Anyways, that’s my rant for this post. We had a real treat during dinner when the clouds finally started to break up and give us a view! At first we’d just get the odd glimpse of a mountain through a hole in the clouds, but eventually they broke up completely and we got the most beautiful cloud inversion down into the valley! We hung out and watched the sun set over the mountains before returning to Karen and Grant’s tent for a few rounds of cards while waiting for Brandon to show up. Fortunately he arrived shortly before 10pm and we quickly hit the sack in preparation for an early rise the next morning.

PSX_20210822_220426

Day 2 was pretty unreal. Karen and Grant woke up at 6am and the sky was completely void of clouds and they were all sitting down in the valley. But when I got up at 7am the entire campsite was shrouded in fog. It cleared out again during our breakfast, but by the time we departed the campsite, it had rolled it once more. So we figured it was just going to be one of those days where you never know what you’re going to get and just have to hope for the best. At least we didn’t have to battle the heat!

DSC00287

Like I said, this was my second time on the trail to Opal Cone. Overall the entire trail from the parking lot to Mamquam isn’t particularly difficult. It’s not technical at all, but the trail has a lot of cobble sized rocks, so it does get tiring on the ankles and feet after a while. The trail meanders up and down for the first couple kilometres and then it drops down to the river at the base of Mount Garibaldi before climbing slowly back up the side of Opal Cone. There’s a lot of ascent, but it’s very gradual, so it’s not a bad trail for newer hikers. We couldn’t see Mount Garibaldi or Opal Cone on this hike, but we worked our way up the side of the mountain until we eventually reached the trail branch for the Opal Cone summit.

DSC00453

We’d planned to go up to the cone, but it was still very foggy and we could tell based on the elevation of the clouds that it would be cloudy at the top, so we decided to continue on and hope for the best on the way back. Karen and Grant had initially been thinking they might only go as far as Opal Cone (which is 6.5km one way), but everyone was feeling good, so we continued down into the glacial flat as a group. I don’t know if glacial flat is the correct term, but that’s what it looks like to me. There’s a big glacier behind Opal Cone that melts into a lake surrounded by rocky moraines from the historical glaciers. The whole area is really one big volcanic desert, with lots of dust and little vegetation, it can be brutal on a hot day.

DSC00411

The other side of the glacial lake was as far as Brandon and I made it on our last trip, so we were now moving into new territory. It was almost as if the weather knew it and as soon as we started making our way into the next valley, the clouds lifted and a few streaks of sun shone through. It never lifted off completely, but we were rewarded with some beautiful dusty views looking down the valley. There were several wash outs along the trail, 2 were before Opal Cone, but the most difficult one is on the way to Rampart Ponds (pictured below), which is the next campsite on the trail, located between Opal and Mamquam Lake.

IMG-20210822-WA0011
DSC00406

My favourite part of this valley was the river that runs through the center. When you cross over it, the bridge is actually located at the merging of two rivers. The main river is incredibly chalky and silty, while the other is beautiful clear freshwater. So we stopped here to replenish our water bladders before climbing the last pass up to the campsite. You arrive at the campsite pretty much as soon as you crest the pass and there are several tent pads and ponds. I figured this would be my last trip to Elfin if I made it to Mamquam, but now me and Brandon are determined to return once more and stay at Rampart Ponds! Although I’d caution against it on a particularly hot day since there’s absolutely zero shade to be found.

DSC00345

From Rampart Ponds, you continue up another few minutes to the top of the pass, where you have the most incredible 360 degree view of Opal Cone and Mount Garibaldi on one side (on a clear day) and a view down to Mamquam Lake on the other. Rampart Ponds is 3.5km from Opal Cone and it’s a final 1.5km to Mamquam. The only problem is it’s a pretty big descent to get down to Mamquam, so even though it sounds short, it’s a big climb on the return trip.

Either way, we were so close we were determined to get there for lunch. We trundled on and I really enjoyed this section of the trail. It was still cloudy, but they had lifted up a bit and me and Karen both loved the terrain. Everything we’d hiked that morning had been desert, but the hike down to Mamquam is proper alpine greenery and meadows, so it made for a nice change of pace. We arrived shortly after 1pm to grumbling tummies.

DSC00365

As much as I wanted to eat my lunch, I’d been struck by the urge to swim and knew if I didn’t do it right away, I wouldn’t do it at all. It was not a warm day. I hiked in pants all day and while I only wore a t-shirt, it was chilly when you weren’t moving. So I stripped down to my swimsuit and went in. It’s a beautiful large lake with sloping mountain walls, but it’s very shallow at the foot of the lake. Fortunately, it’s also pretty sandy, so even though I had to walk out a fair way without shoes, it wasn’t painful. At first it felt cold, but I warmed up really quick because the water was actually warmer than the air. I convinced Grant and Brandon to join me and I ended up swimming for the better part of 15-20 minutes, which is substantially longer than I can usually stand to swim in alpine lakes. After I got out I got cold fast though. So I quickly bundled up in my puffy. Surprisingly the guys never got cold and it made for a funny contrast with me in my puffy while they ate their lunches shirtless.

IMG-20210822-WA0026

We really enjoyed the lake, especially because we were the only people there. In general, we didn’t see a lot of people while hiking and Rampart Ponds had actually been completely empty when we hiked through. The slog back up out of the valley wasn’t as bad as I anticipated. The forest was filled will blueberries, so we all did some picking and snacking on the way up.

After that though it was a pretty long slog back. I didn’t mind the hike back to Opal Cone too much, me and Brandon mostly fantasized about where we would explore on our next trip, but the section from Opal back to Elfin was brutal. Opal was clouded in again on our return, so we skipped it, which I don’t regret. My feet were pounding by the time we got there, so we just did our best to get to Elfin. In total it was 22km of hiking, which is a lot to do in one day and the most I’ve done this season. We were all starving when we got back and happily settled in to have our supper.

DSC00435

We crammed ourselves into Karen and Grant’s tent for a few games of cards before bed, but we were all exhausted, so we called it shortly before 10pm. Unfortunately, it started pouring just as we finished. We didn’t know how long it would last, so we all ran around like banshees trying to do our nightly routines and get in our tents… only for the rain to stop about 10 minutes after we were done. If only we’d played one more round of cards we would have missed it.

Everything was wet in the morning, but the tents actually dried out pretty good before we packed them and nothing was too wet when we took down camp. It was a brisk morning and we all kept our rain jackets on for the return hike. In general the clouds were higher on the way back than the way in and we did catch a glimpse of some views. There’s more uphill on the way back than I remember, but nothing too bad. Once we reached the Red Heather Hut we totally powered down the last 5km and back to the car. We finished with pizza and beer at Backcountry Brewing, which is quickly becoming our new tradition!

20210822_132248
IMG-20210822-WA0031
20210821_134420
PSX_20210822_222349