This snow camp post is going to be a bit different than my usual posts. Most notably because it was a snow camp that I did with Girl Guides, but more interestingly because it’s a snow camp experience that doesn’t require backpacking!
I’ve done two snow camps with Girl Guides now. The first was at the Mount Seymour Group Site, and the second at the Lone Duck II Group Site in Manning. Both are located ~100 metres from the car and have warming huts, so it makes for a great experience for beginners because you can try snow camping with the safety of a warming hut and without needing lightweight backpacking gear.
The challenge for the average person is that these are both group sites, so it’s hard to utilize them if you only have a small group. The good news is that, as the name suggests, Manning has a second site called Lone Duck I, which is a first come, first serve campground through the winter. So if you’d like to try snow camping for the first time, this site is a really great option because you can carry in whatever gear you need and there is a warming hut for this site too. It’s basically an open-campground, so you might even meet some cool new people!
The site is located past the Lightning Lakes day use area, but before the summer campground and strawberry flats area. You pull off the main road and there’s a parking lot for both sites. Both are located next to the lake and the cross country ski track, so depending on your interests, you can go for a long ski or take your snowshoes out on the lake, which is generally frozen through the winter.
We lugged our gear in along with a lot of firewood. We had lunch in the hut first and then got to work setting up our tents. Unfortunately there wasn’t a lot a snow, even in early January (and none of it was fresh), so we didn’t have to dig down very far, but it was also very crunchy conditions. Trex did really well setting up their tents, especially considering it was the first time snow camping for most of them.
Once settled, we took our snowshoes out on the lake for an adventure. We stuck close to the shoreline as a precaution at first, but the lake was extremely frozen, so we eventually wandered a little bit further out. We snowshoed to the bridge that separates the two lakes (making sure to get back on the actual trail to avoid the river, which doesn’t usually freeze). We crossed the bridge before snowshoeing back across the lake to the campsite again. It was only ~3-4km, but it was good to do a bit of exploring. It had been pretty sunny when we arrived, but the clouds were doing really weird things, so we ended up with some interesting cloud formations on the lake.
After returning, we decided to get the woodstove going for the rest of the night. The conditions were really mild and it was only just below zero, so quite warm for first timers. But we still planned to keep the hut warm all night as a precaution in case anyone was really cold in the tent. I have to say… I love backpacking, but I was definitely a fan of the woodstove! It made the hut so cozy and it’s so large we were also able to use it as a 4 burner stove. It had a hard time actually boiling water, but it was great for melting snow and we even used it to cook our chili for the evening.
Our evening was pretty chill and we sang some campfire songs and played a lot of cards. Eventually we all crawled into our tents and one of the guiders kept the fire going overnight. Overnight reviews were a bit mixed. One tent stayed very warm, but another struggled. No one gave up and crawled into the hut, but there were definitely some improvements to be made.
Overall it was a great first trip and no one was freezing, but I’m not super enthusiastic about trying snow camping backpacking with Girl Guides. Finding warm enough gear that can be carried is a real challenge. I hope Elfin Lakes re-opens the hut again soon because I think that would be a good option for Guides. Though we are lucky that Girl Guides owns their own hut on Hollyburn Mountain as well, so we hope to explore there next year.
In conclusion, Manning Park is a great place for beginners and I’d recommend the Lone Duck I site if it’s your first time. Me and Carolyn actually tried to do Lone Duck for our very first snow camp, but we missed the turn-off to the highway and were 40 minutes down the Coquihalla before we realized, so we ended up doing Falls Lakes instead!
The longer I live in Vancouver, the more I start repeating trips. This was my third time hiking to 3 Brothers Mountain (though each trip has been very different), but it was also probably my favourite trip! I’ve had a love affair with Manning Park for a long time. 3 Brothers Mountain was my very first hike in the park back in 2016 and while everyone else has been trying to bag every peak in Garibaldi Park, I’ve been working on bagging every trail in Manning. I day hiked the trail with Emily in 2016 and returned in 2018 with Carolyn to thru hike the Heather Trail over 3 days. On this occasion, I visited with my Girl Guide troop and we set up a base camp at Buckhorn Campsite for 3 days.
This is my first year with a Trex Unit – which is a special girl guide unit focused entirely on outdoor adventure. For our first year, we decided to do a backpacking series. Our first trip was to Viewpoint Beach in May, which had moderate success due to all the rain, so Trex was very excited about the potential nice weather for this trip!
Unfortunately, with it being summer and people going on holiday, we had a small group, with just 5 girls, but their enthusiasm more than made up for it! They are very keen to hike Panorama Ridge one day, but we decided we needed a bit more practice in the backcountry before we attempted that hike. Which was an excellent decision because with the high snow pack this year, Panorama was still buried when we attempted this hike. In addition, my friends went up to Garibaldi the same weekend and ended up getting evacuated when the water levels rose into the campsite, so all in all, we were thrilled to be at Manning Park instead!
That said, we were still up against some challenges in Manning Park as well, particularly the heat. After my companion got evacuated from Banff National Park last year with heat stroke, I’ve been very weary about hiking in hot weather. But heat waves are starting to become more and more common around here, so I’ve had a lot of learning about staying hydrated over the past year. It was calling for 28 degree temperatures on the 3 Brothers hike, so we decided to go anyways and packed in a lot of electrolytes with us.
We gave each member a 1L bottle of gatorade before we left the lower mainland and they were tasked with drinking as much as they could before we started hiking. Traffic was brutal leaving Vancouver on the August long weekend, so they had a lot of time in which to accomplish this task, though it turned them off gatorade in the process. But we were nice and hydrated when we started.
Even so, it was a bit of a slog doing the 4km to the campsite. It was around 1pm when we pulled into the parking lot on Blackwall Road, so we ate our lunch there before starting our hike. Luckily it’s all downhill on the first day, so we took our time since everyone had heavy packs. We weren’t sure if it was going to be too early for the wildflowers with the late snowpack, but fortunately the meadows were in full bloom! We stopped several times in the shade on the way to the campsite, but still made fairly good time.
When I hiked the Heather Trail, I went the full 13km to Kicking Horse Campsite on my first day, so I’d never stayed at Buckhorn. I thought it was a small site with a few tents pads, but I’d obviously never taken the time to explore it because it is a massive campground with 24 tent pads and a gorgeous sheltered cooking hut! I think it’s probably expanded since I was there in 2018 though because a lot of the tent pads looked very new.
Trex found a few tent pads next to each other that they liked, but they weren’t shaded, so the Guiders set up in a different area. We did some exploring around the campground before settling in the shelter for dinner. There were some mosquitoes around, but definitely not as bad as other campsites I’ve been to this year. For our first meal we had Mexican rice on tortilla, which was a huge hit!
On Day 2 we packed our bags for a day hike up to the First Brother Mountain. This was the unit’s first major trek and we had a few growing pains at the beginning. The girls were not happy when I insisted that they each had to bring a full 2L of water on the trail. I don’t think they realized the extent of the hike and the term “day hike” had given them the distinct impression that it would be easy. So I think they learned a lot!
We were glad to be doing the climb up to the mountains early in the morning and we were all in awe at the huge fields of wildflowers along the route! It’s pretty route, so we took short breaks in every shady spot and a few longer snack breaks. In addition to gatorade powder, we all had packets of iced tea and pink lemonade to mix into our drinks. This was really helpful in encouraging the girls to drink more as not everyone loves drinking water. Even still, it was very hot and I wasn’t sure if we would want to push all the way to the top of the mountain. We decided to continue trekking to the bottom of the First Brother to assess from there.
Because I still have some PTSD from the heat stroke incident, I didn’t want to pressure anyone to hike all the way to the top and gave the group lots of opportunities to turn around. But everyone was determined to summit, so we took a break at the base and started hiking up in groups. We stressed the importance of taking lots of breaks and that just because we were going to try for the summit, didn’t mean we couldn’t change our mind at any time. I opted to go last so that I could turn around with anyone who was having reservations (pretty much just me, lol).
Fortunately everyone did amazing! Iris hiked halfway along the ridge, but opted not to go all the way to the summit because of her fear of heights, but all the Guides went right to the top! There’s not much vegetation up there for shade, so we quickly did our best to get a tarp up with our poles so that we could have a bit of shade to eat our lunch. Even though it was my third trip to the top of the mountain, this occasion was extremely rewarding because I was so proud of the group! They were all thrilled with their success and I loved watching them get that sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes with pushing yourself to achieve something new and scary.
Just as we’d hiked up in small groups, we returned back down in small groups as well. I came last again and had a good chuckle when I caught up with the group, to find everyone sheltered under the one lonely tree that was providing shade on the ridge! We took a break here before heading back down. The lesson about packing lots of water was learned as everyone expressed their amazement that they had drank so much! We were even starting to run a little low, but we’d seen a few streams on the way up, so we decided to return to those to filter more water.
There’s a small pond on the way back and we all dipped our hats in the water to cool down. The streams were really just a trickle, but we were able to filter about 5L, which was enough water to see the group back down to the campsite. The girls really powered it on the way back and beat the Guiders by a longshot. We took river baths and had a little nap before heading to the cooking shelter for supper, where we discovered the Guides had already fed themselves and were making dessert for us!
So overall, I was super impressed with how everyone handled themselves on the hike in the heat. There was no complaining and everyone got up early the next morning so that we could try and beat the heat on the hike back uphill to the parking lot. You can see the First Brother Mountain from the parking lot and there was a real sense of accomplishment that we had hiked all the way there and back! So in conclusion, 3 Brothers Mountain remains one of my favourite hikes – I think it’s a great hike for beginners and it was a real pleasure to share this hike with the Girl Guides!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!