Poland Lake Snow Camping

One of my favourite activities every winter is to go snow camping! Carolyn and I have been going for 5 years running and the trip has expanded to include Brandon and Steve. Every year we plan where we want to go and then always end up having to change plans at the last minute. You have to be flexible when going into avalanche terrain and every year it seems that the avalanche bulletin likes to mess up our trip plan at the last minute. We have a very low tolerance for risk in the winter, so we’re always changing location to ensure the safest trip possible.

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This year we’d been planning to go to Pump Peak (on Seymour), but Vancouver had a particularly warm spell of weather the week before the trip, so we decided to switch to Manning Park instead in hopes of finding fresh powder. It was also calling for beautiful sunny weather on the weekend we went, so we decided on Fat Dog trail in Manning Park, which is supposed to have nice views of the park above the treeline. Then Avalanche Canada issued a special warning a few days before the trip about how the backcountry was experiencing spring-like conditions due to thaw, which meant higher risk, so we decided to change our plans once more.

I don’t think Fat Dog is a particularly high risk trail, but you do pass through a valley that is in the run-out zone of avalanche terrain at the start of the hike, so we decided to do Poland Lake instead, which we read didn’t have avalanche terrain and is shown as simple terrain on Avalanche Canada. Poland Lake has been on our radar for years, but for some reason we thought it wasn’t a very nice trail and always considered in a back-up trail.

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We’re so glad we went to Poland Lake, because we ended up loving this location! To access Poland Lake, you have to drive almost to the end of the resort road and park at Strawberry Flats. You can save about 2kms if you hike directly from the ski resort, but there’s no overnight parking at the resort, so if you’re camping, you need to leave from Strawberry Flats. The trailhead is on the north side of the road near the end of the lot where the cross country ski trail starts back towards the lodge. There’s an off-shoot trail that heads up towards the ski resort, running parallel the road. This is the route we took, but we regretted it because it is all uphill and adds 2km’s of hiking. If we did it again, we would plan to leave our bags at the resort and just walk up the road.

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If you do the trail right, you’ll eventually reach a small fork in the trail where the left branch heads back down towards the road and the right branch heads up to the mid-point of the ski hill. In the summer, you can reach Poland Lake via the middle of the hill, but this route is not practical in the winter. You’re supposed to go back down to the bottom of the ski hill and hike up along the western edge of the large green run called Horseshoe. But there was no signage on the left fork and nothing shown on our GPS apps, so we continued along the summer route unknowingly. This was definitely our error, we should have read more about the trail description instead of relying just on GPS, so I caution you here to go back and start from the resort base. In our defense, the resort route is not marked at all and does not look like a proper trail, so we gave resort staff some feedback.

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In any case, we continued up to the midpoint of the ski resort and ended up having to snowshoe ski runs across the entire mountain. This is definitely dangerous as the runs are not wide or intended for snowshoers. Our only saving grace was that the slopes were extremely empty and we didn’t encounter many skiers. Eventually we got off the ski runs and ended up in some of the glades. We didn’t encounter any more skiers, but it was very steep terrain and had we not been in the middle of a resort (where avalanche risk is managed), we would have turned around. There’s no signage because it’s not a winter route, so we relied entirely on our GPS and way-finding to get back on the trail. Eventually we tracked down the official entrance to the Poland Lake trail (which is at the top back of the ski hill) and saw tracks leading in from the other side of the resort, which is clearly where we were supposed to come up.

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By this point we were really tired from so much uphill travel and worry about where the trail was, but happy to finally be on a proper snowshoe trail. We’d already hiked about 4kms and it’s another 4kms to the lake, but fortunately the trail is a lot flatter along this section. There’s lots of ups and downs, but they are very gradual. It still took us a long time though because we were very tired and by the time we reached the lake, it had taken us just under 5 hours to go 8km. One of the other contributing factors to our pace was that we ended up having to break the trail for the better part of 3 kilometres! We were sharing the trail up until shortly after the 1km mark, but then the tracks abruptly stopped and we had to create the trail to the lake. This is such a rare occurrence in BC, where the trails are always busy, so we were excited to snowshoe in fresh powder and the prospect of having the lake all to ourselves. It is a lot more work to break trail though, so it did slow us down.

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We’re still new to avalanche terrain, but we were surprised while hiking along the Poland Lake trail that it was said not to have avalanche terrain. It is marked on Avalanche Canada as simple terrain, but it is below some challenging terrain and we thought the trail could easily be in the run-out zone of an avalanche along some sections. Fortunately we all had avalanche gear, so we crossed some of the more sketchy looking sections solo to minimize our risk, mostly around the mid section of the trail, south of Grassy Mountain.

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The sun was starting to set when we finally reached Poland Lake and we quickly got to work setting up camp. The official campsite is on the far side of the lake and there is a small emergency shelter over there. Due to imminent sunset, we opted not to go around the lake and found a nice spot to set up camp with a view of the sun setting over the lake. I’m not sure if we’re just getting more experienced, or if it was just that the snow was super light and fluffy and easy to shovel, but we were particularly quick in digging holes for our tents on this trip and it didn’t take us too long to get shelter up. We broke our headlamps out just as we were finishing setting up the tent, so fortunately we had daylight for most of it.

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Unfortunately, we never took the time to build a proper snow kitchen on this trip. Once we got our beds set up it was dark and we were too tired to put in the effort. But we did have a delicious dinner! Brandon made us all miso soup and then me and Brandon had peanut soup and Carolyn and Steve had chicken soup. I tried something new and made bannock for dessert! It makes for a good backcountry bread because there’s no yeast, you just need to bring a bit of oil for frying. Honestly, it was delicious – I had practiced it at home, but it tasted way better in the backcountry. I just added the water right into the bag with the mix and kneaded it in the ziploc, so it didn’t even make any mess!
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It had been a bit hit and miss with the sun all day, with it flitting in and out between the clouds, but in the evening all the clouds moved off and we had a completely clear night for stargazing! I bought a little star chart and had a good time trying to identify some of the constellations. I wasn’t planning to do any night photography, but the conditions were so good I ended up taking photos in the snow for the better part of an hour. I always get great star photos at Manning because it’s so far away from any ambient light!

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Carolyn and Steve slept like the dead all night while me and Brandon listened to the cacophony of their snores. We had a bit of a lie in (for us) and got up around 8:30am. Meals are always a bit slow on snow camping trips because it takes so long to melt snow and boil water. Brandon decided to use his alcohol stove on this trip, which works well once it get’s going, but takes a long time to properly heat up. We concluded it’s good for cooking, but the traditional white gas stove is better for melting snow because the condensation on the pot was dripping into the alcohol stove and suppressing its burn.

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After a leisurely breakfast we packed up everything to head back down the mountain. As always, when you’re done, make sure to fill in your holes so as not to leave hazards for future skiers. It was about noon when we left the campsite, but we made a much quicker descent than our 5 hour trek in. The actual Poland Lake trail is about 4km and it felt a lot easier after a day of rest. We went the correct way down the ski hill on the way back and hiked along the edge of the green run. We did see some signs pointing into the woods the for “Poland Lake trail”, but it was clearly a brand new trail that the resort was promoting and it didn’t look marked or established, so we opted not to use it. We did run into a resort employee in the parking lot and he confirmed it was new and said they were hoping to improve it, so hopefully next time we visit we’ll be able to use that trail!

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We did encounter one odd thing on the trail that I wanted to bring up. When we were hiking along, we saw that someone had written “help” in the snow. It was right at the point where the previous tracks had stopped (where we started breaking our own trail), so we assume the individual turned around and went back. We did search around the area for anything suspicious and blew our whistle and did some voice calls, but didn’t find anything. We reported it at the resort before we left and they hadn’t received any missing person reports, so we think it was probably someone just messing around. Maybe it wasn’t, but something to think about when you are in the backcountry and what kind of message you are leaving for others.

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Anyways, it only took us 2.5 hours to get to the bottom of the resort and then Steve and Brandon kindly offered to walk back the road to strawberry flats to get the cars. Me and Carolyn hung out and ate lunch while they were gone. I’ve been really into cold soaking my lunches lately and tried a cold soak taco salad that turned out amazing and was so delicious to eat! I’m working on lots of recipes for the upcoming summer season and hope to share them on the blog before then!

Otherwise it was a pretty uneventful trip back to Vancouver, although we did get a gorgeous sunset over the mountains driving back through Chilliwack! Definitely recommend Poland Lake after this experience, just make sure you take the winter route!

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Hiking Frosty Mountain

Disclaimer: I wrote this blog a year ago and hiked the trail on September 27, 2020. I delayed posting out of respect for hiker Jordan Naterer, who went missing on this trail on October 10, 2020 and whose remains were not found until July 2021. Manning Park can get snow early in the Fall, which can make the trail difficult to follow and be exacerbated by freezing temperatures and limited daylight hours. It can be a beautiful trail, but it is also a strenuous hike and an unforgiving environment, so please don’t underestimate it in your zeal to photograph the larches. Don’t go unprepared; take the essentials and leave a trip plan. Check out my blog post on Personal Safety for more info.


The Heather Trail is the most trafficked trail in Manning Park in the summer, but by fall, everyone flocks to Frosty Mountain. It’s hard to see Mount Frosty in most of the park as it’s hidden behind other mountains and can’t be seen from the highway. But if you drive up Blackwell Road and stop at the first viewpoint, you can get a great view of it. I’d heard some talk about Frosty Mountain when I first started hiking and though I was intrigued by it, decided Frosty was probably a little too challenging for me.

In 2018, I decided I was finally ready to give it a try and I hiked the longer route up past Windy Joe Mountain, day hiking up to Frosty Peak from the PCT campsite. Even in summer, this is a challenging and strenuous trail, but boy is it rewarding. So earlier this Fall, Brandon and I decided to hike up the other (more trafficked) half of the trail from Lightning Lakes to try and catch a glimpse of the larches turning yellow.

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There’s so many different ways to explore Frosty Mountain. It’s located near the midpoint of a loop trail with campsites located on either side. One side of the loop trail is shorter than the other, so you can either hike 21.5km up and back from Lightning Lakes (what we did this year), or hike 27km as a loop (exiting on the Windy Joe trail). Alternatively, you can camp at one or both of the campsites, either day hiking up to the top (what I did on my first visit) or if you’re determined, hiking your big pack up over the top.

Like I said, our key interest in hiking Frosty on this occasion was to explore the larch meadow below the peak and snap some pictures of the needles turning from green to yellow. We were a little too early in the season to get the really gold hues, but we still got some truly beautiful views of the trees changing colour and had great weather for it. Plus with the fresh dusting of snow the yellow larches really popped! There were a lot of people around, but we were still a bit early in the season, so it never felt that crowded. If you’re a novice but want to see the larches, consider just hiking to the meadow and skipping the peak.

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It rained the day before and was still foggy when we set out early on Sunday morning to drive the 2 hours out to Manning Park. With the shorter daylight hours, it’s essential to give yourself lots of time for this hike in the Fall. Me and Brandon left my house around 6:45am and were on the trail by 9am. We had the privilege of watching the sun rise from the highway and watched as it started to burn off the fog. There were still lots of low clouds hanging around when we got to Manning, but the sun was shining through and we were optimistic they would lift off by the time we reached the top.

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Our plan had been to do the entire loop trail starting from Lightning Lakes. It’s a big climb, 1150m from the bottom to the top, but it’s spread over 11km, so I didn’t find it too bad. It’s steeper for the first 6km, but it levels off before you reach Frosty Creek Campsite. When I visited before, I camped at the PCT campsite on the other side. Both are located in the trees and have really small creeks as water sources, so I’d recommend bringing a water filter with you for both, but overall I’d give the edge to the Frosty Creek Campsite. It’s a bit more spacious. There’s two viewpoints before you hit the campsite; the first looks down towards lightning lakes and out to Hozameen Mountain, while the other is the first glimpse of Frosty through the trees. At the time we passed it, it was super cloudy at the top and there was a fresh layer of snow sitting on the peak. It looked super foreboding, as if it was the middle of a storm, but fortunately it cleared up in no time.

We continued along the trail until we finally hit the larch trees! Like I said, they weren’t quite at their peak, some were full yellow, others lighter green changing to yellow, but still very gorgeous. The trail exits the woods into the meadow and has the most beautiful view of snowy Mount Frosty peaking out behind the yellow needles of the larch trees. I’d been getting targeted adds on facebook for a few weeks before with this gorgeous picture of the larch meadows, with the mountain covered in snow behind them. It’s a beautiful picture and a rare time when what I saw before me looked exactly like what had been advertised in the photo! Except of course more unreal because I was there to experience it with my own eyes.

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The trail winds through the meadows and then you pop out on the ridge, with a steep climb ahead to the trail junction for the loop trail, and then a final ascent along the ridge to the summit of Frosty Mountain. It’s very steep, but not that long to the junction. The problem in this instance was the snow. There was only a couple of centimetres of snow on the trail, but it had become very packed down and icy. It was perfect conditions for microspikes and I was kicking myself for not having them. I carry my microspikes all winter and spring and rarely get the opportunity to use them, but of course, the one time I really would have benefitted from them, I didn’t have them with me. It was still September and I hadn’t really thought there would be snow yet. So we slowly trudged our way up the slope, taking care with each step, arriving without incident.

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The first milestone is reaching the junction sign. It’s really not obvious with the snow, but there is a trail going down the other side. There seemed to be a few people using it that were coming from the camp on the other side, but overall, most people seemed to be going up and back from Lightning Lakes. The second and final milestone is reached only by continuing across the ridge and climbing up to the final peak. It’s only about a kilometre (maybe a bit less), but both times I’ve found it annoying being so close to the top and still having to push to the end. The final ascent isn’t as steep as the climb up to the junction though, so it was easier in the snow.

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The parking lot was packed when we arrived, but given the length of the trail it felt pretty empty as we were hiking. We passed one or two groups right at the beginning and got passed by a group of trail runners about halfway up. So by the time we got to the top, the peak was looking a little crowded. Fortunately, the trail runners didn’t stay too long and after a few minutes it was just us and 2 other guys at the top. It was REALLY cold and windy up there, so I don’t think people were sticking around for too long. The cold is definitely another thing to be prepared for; Manning is always chilly – it was about 3 degrees when we started hiking and was only supposed to go up to 11 degrees (at the bottom).

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We layered up and had only intended to stay at the very top for a short while, planning to eat our lunch a little further down where it was more sheltered, but the view is just so damn spectacular I couldn’t bring myself to leave! It was pretty overcast when we arrived, but the sun came out and cleared away a lot of the clouds while we were up there, resulting in me having to take all my pictures twice with the changing weather conditions. I ended up eating my lunch standing up and walking around because I didn’t want to climb down yet and it was too cold to sit still. We stayed up there for about a half an hour or more and when we’d had our fill, started to trek back down. It’s definitely worse going down without spikes, but it was manageable along the ridge.

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I had to rethink our plan to do the whole loop trail though. I thought the whole thing was 22km, but we’d already done 11km and looking at the map in retrospect, it was clearly going to be longer going the other way down, 6km longer to be precise. I have bad knees and at 22km, this hike was already much longer than any other day hikes I’d done all year, so we decided to just head back the way we’d come. Fortunately I’d already done the other side, so I didn’t really feel like I was missing much.

Going down the steep section was definitely a lot harder than going up. I had brought gloves with me for the cold and they were invaluable climbing back down. I did a lot of the trail in a kind of crouching position so that I could reach down and grab the rocks to steady myself. But no question, microspikes would have made it a whole lot easier. Looking back now, I’m a little embarrassed to admit I did it without spikes; it’s really important to know your limits and turn back if you’re unprepared. It was probably a bad judgement call for me to keep going without spikes and I’m working on getting better at making these tough choices. In the past year I have passed on summiting several scrambles (Needle Peak and all the summits on the HSCT) out of abundance of caution, so I am getting better at it.

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There were still a good number of people coming up when we were going down and the summit was starting to look pretty crowded again. The meadows were more or less empty as we made our way back through them and I had to take all my photos again, this time with blue sky in the background! Otherwise it was a pretty uneventful hike back. My knee was bothering me, so I wrapped it up about halfway down and we stopped at the campsite for a snack break. When we sat down at the campsite, 6 hours into our hike, I realized that was the first time I’d sat down all day. We hadn’t taken any breaks on the way up, other than to snap a few photos, and while we’d taken a hiking break at the top, it’d been too cold to sit down. So it felt good to take a little rest before knocking out the last 6km of the hike.

Overall the whole thing took us 8 hours, which I think is pretty impressive for a 22km hike with 1150m of elevation gain! It was cold, but I loved all the varying weather conditions we experienced on the trail and really think we couldn’t have picked a better day!

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Lightning Lakes Snow Camp

I know I said I was done with writing about Manning Park, but in addition to doing day snowshoe trips in the park, I have also snow camped there, so I want to share about that adventure too!

It’s been a challenging year for everyone with COVID-19 and our limited ability to travel and see friends. Fortunately the outdoors is a relatively safe space to spend time with friends, so we decided to go on our annual snow camping adventure. We made some notable changes – we all drove separately, prepared our own meals, and brought multiple tents. It wasn’t ideal because Brandon is the only one who owns a winter tent, but Carolyn decided to make do with her 3-season tent and we convinced Steve to join us this year! Steve did avalanche safety training with us this year, so he was interested in expanding his horizons.

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Originally we wanted to do Zoa Peak, but the avalanche risk was particularly high the weekend we went, so we decided to do Lightning Lakes instead since there is very little avalanche terrain there. To be on the safe side, we still rented avalanche gear and practiced finding each other’s beacons to get more familiar and comfortable with the gear.

I won’t spend too much time on trail details as I just wrote a separate post about the Lightning Lakes trail. It was possible to hike on the lake, so we crossed once on the first lake and then followed the trail along the edge of the second lake to the back. I’ve never gone beyond the edge of the second lake, but it’s not too far to snowshoe to the next lake, which is Flash Lake, so we decided to check it out. We weren’t keen on camping on Lightning Lake since there’s a lot of foot traffic and we thought Flash Lake might be more secluded.

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We didn’t see anyone along the Flash Lake trail, but the creek between the two lakes was not frozen and the head of the lake looked very sketchy. If we’d continued further, it likely would have improved, but we decided to turn around and instead found a nice clearing in the woods between the two lakes to set up camp.

Surprisingly there wasn’t actually a huge base of snow at Manning this year, so we didn’t have to dig too deep. In other years we’ve shared shovels, which made digging a bit slower, but this year we each had our own shovel, so even though we had multiple tents to dig out holes for, it ended up being a bit quicker than normal (or maybe we’re just getting better at it?). We dug deeper for Carolyn’s tent since it’s not a winter tent and we made sure to pack in a lot of snow around the edges for extra insulation. Fortunately it was only about -7 degrees overnight and with two people in the tent, they didn’t have any trouble staying warm.

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We all upgraded some of our gear this year, so Steve inherited some of Carolyn’s old snow camping gear and I got to test out my new -30 degree rated sleeping bag. It took me a bit longer than I anticipated to warm up in the bag (you’re only as warm as the heat you bring in with you), but after about an hour I finally got toasty and after that, quite warm. I ended up having to unzip a little bit and slept most of the night with one arm out of the bag, so I’m optimistic it will hold up in colder temperatures. There are very limited options for winter camping sleeping bags and even fewer are available in Canada. I still think some of the features of my bag could be improved, but I do think it was the best option available to me as a side sleeper.

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Like any snow camping trip, by the time you get to your destination, dig out your tents and make your snow kitchen, it’s more or less time to start getting ready for dinner before you lose daylight. We spent some time boiling water and enjoyed hanging out while we cooked our meals. I made the snow kitchen this year and I have to say I thought it turned out quite well! I made the counter/couch out of the pile of snow Carolyn shoveled out for her tent and then shoveled out a pit for one of the stoves. It snowed gently for most of the day and evening, but the clouds did clear a little bit and we got a glimpse of the stars before bed.

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It was around 7pm when we crawled into our tents. I read until around 8pm when I finally got properly warm and then hit the sack. I woke up around midnight to pee and then slept the rest of the night until 8am – definitely one of the better nights sleep I’ve gotten snow camping!

After breakfast we took down camp and then spent some time playing around with our avalanche gear before heading back out to the cars. It doesn’t take too long to hike back along the edge of the lake and we did a few photoshoots along the way. We all have a bit of an obsession with Gregory packs, so we take turns making attempts to get ourselves Gregory sponsorships – so far, no luck, but we still have fun!

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So overall it was a great first snow camping trip in Manning Park. Manning is a bit intimidating because it can get really cold there overnight, but fortunately for us it was pretty comfortable when we visited. Definitely have plans to go back and try camping at some of the other winter trails!

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