Posts Tagged With: mountains

Artist Point Snow Camping

Well it’s that time of year again! Time for my annual snow camping trip with Carolyn and Brandon! It’s a new hobby for us, so we’ve been trying to get out at least once a year to work on our snow camp skills. Carolyn broke her ankle back in July last year and it’s been a really long time healing, so this was our first time out together since last Spring. We have a few snow camps on our bucket list, but we wanted a shorter one for her first snowshoe since breaking her ankle, so we decided to try Artist Point in Washington. It has a fair bit of elevation gain, but it’s not very long – only 6km round trip.

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Our first discovery though was that camping across the border sucks. I made a few trips down to Washington this year with Lien for day hikes, but when you’re trying to pack for an overnight trip, it’s a big hassle. We had to leave snacks like jerky, dried mango, cheese, and trail mix behind, and modify our normal camp dinner. Brandon makes a mouth watering backcountry thai curry chicken that we eat on almost every adventure, but we couldn’t bring the chicken or veggies across, so we opted for my dehydrated vegetarian chili and macaroni instead. The chili is fine, it’s just not quite as rewarding as thai curry chicken (okay A LOT less rewarding).

So crossing the border was definitely a pain, but I have to admit, we’ll probably keep on doing it because there are some really great hikes in the Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. The actual border crossing was quick because we crossed in Abby at the Sumas Crossing and drove to Mount Baker from there. I snowshoed to Artist Point last year, which was what inspired me to try snow camping there this year. In the summer you can drive most of the way up to Artist Point, but the road and parking lots aren’t plowed in the winter. There’s a ton of open space at the top for the parking lots, which is why I thought it would be a great place to snow camp!

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We started hiking up sometime around noon. The last time I’d hiked up there it was a bluebird day and there was a million other people on the trail, but it was a bit overcast when we went, so there was definitely less people around, which was nice. The area had also received a massive dump of snow the night before (60 cms!), so the entire area was covered with a fresh blanket of shimmering powder. It was definitely a snowshoe day (as opposed to spikes). We had nice views hiking up, though the occasional clouds moved through, sometimes obscuring our view of the mountains, but not our visibility.

That changed a bit when we reached the top. You come up a pretty steep slope before getting to a large flatish base area where the parking lot(s) are located in the summer. The area attracts a lot of backcountry skiers and from there some hike up to Artist Point (another ~15-20mins), while others continue on to table mountain or down into the bowl going back towards the (base) parking lot. We didn’t want to camp right on Artist Point because it’s pretty exposed, but planned to find a somewhat sheltered spot around the parking area. Once we crested the last slope though, the fog moved in and it became harder to see where we were going. Plus in the winter it’s really hard to tell what is actually the parking lot. We wanted somewhere sheltered, but also with a good view. We ended up picking a spot looking out towards Table Mountain and Mount Baker that had a few banks sheltering it on either side.

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Fortunately the fog moved out again and our visibility improved a lot while we were setting up camp. We always dig out tent hole too small, so Carolyn outlined a truly massive site for us to shovel out this time. It was clearly too big, but for some reason none of us argued with her and just got to work shoveling! It took quite a while because there had been so much snow the night before and we had to dig down about a metre before we could finally start stomping it down and compacting the snow. Eventually we got enough space for the tent and realized we’d kind of over-shoveled a bit if we still wanted a snow wall to provide some shelter for the tent, so we built up a snow counter on the last side and made a pretty slapdash kitchen that actually ended up being pretty good.

The later it got, the fewer people around, but one giant group showed up in the middle of the afternoon – it must have had 40 people! We think it was an avalanche safety course because there seemed to be one guide and they started digging some shelters themselves. It was obvious from their packs they weren’t staying overnight, so we kept joking they should come dig out our hole for us since they weren’t going to use theirs anyways!

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The temperature was around -5 degrees, which in my opinion is perfect for snow camping because you don’t want the snow to be wet at all. It continued to snow on and off as we were setting up our shelter, but the wind kept down and we didn’t have any problems. I love snow camping, but it is definitely a lot more work. It was pretty late in the afternoon by the time we finished the shelter and we decided we wanted to start melting snow for water right away since it takes forever and it gets dark early. It did take a long time, but fortunately the snow was all very clean and it tasted a lot better to drink than the snow on some of our previous trips. We started dinner before dark, but it was definitely dark by the time we finished and started cleaning up.

We puttered around camp for a bit with our headlamps, cleaning up and sharing Carolyn’s flask. Eventually we climbed into the tent because we always look forward to getting into our sleeping bags on a cold winter night. By the time we were all geared up and ready for bed, Carolyn asked me to check the time and I turned on my phone to see 7:30pm staring back at me! I couldn’t believe it! We all knew the sun sets early, but we had a good laugh at ourselves all set up and ready for bed that early! At Elfin Lakes I’d set up and done some star photography, which kept us up a bit later, but the clouds were moving around a lot and it wasn’t really a great night for star photos, though we did catch a great view of Orion at one point.

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We read for a little bit, but it’s cold with your hands and arms out of your sleeping back, so it was probably still only 8:30pm when we turned off the lights and went to bed. Carolyn was thrilled about it because she loves to go to bed early without anyone making fun of her for it! As usual, it was a fair bit of work to keep warm overnight, but we all managed it and it was 7:30am before we finally got up.

It was a big change from the previous night when we crawled out of the tent. It was a gorgeous bluebird day with the sun shining down on us! We wanted to make first tracks up to Artist Point, so we grabbed some snacks and postponed breakfast to hike up to the point. It was definitely a good way to warm up! We were all sweating by the time we reached the top and we stayed up there for a while taking photos and goofing around in the snow. The landscape looked much the same as the last time I’d snowshoed up there, which was also a bluebird day, but the big difference was that we were the only people on the mountain.

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The point gives a great view of Mount Shuksan, but the Baker side stole my attention on this trip because there were a ton of clouds sitting in the valley around it and it felt really cool to be up above the clouds. While we were up there we noticed the fog was starting to creep up the valley on both sides and we decided to trek back to the campsite for breakfast. By the time we got back the fog had totally moved in and within 30 minutes you couldn’t see any of the view any more! I felt bad for all the day hikers and skiers coming up later, but lucky that we got to enjoy the nice weather before the clouds moved it. It wasn’t snowing, but visibility was pretty bad and I can see how it would be easy to get lost in those conditions. So it was a good reminder of how fast things can change in the backcountry.

Otherwise it was a pretty uneventful climb down. Snowshoes definitely aren’t as fun going downhill, so we had a few stumbles on the way down, but no more injured ankles! I think we can definitely call this trip another success!

Categories: Life in British Columbia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hiking Mount Doom

I was so nervous about hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. After the disaster that was Fox Glacier, I was really weary about hiking in less than ideal weather and I really wanted to enjoy the hike. The shuttles said they would be going ahead for our second attempt, but it was calling for a cloudy day with rain in the afternoon and temperatures as low as 0 degrees. I wasn’t sure if it was even worth doing the hike if we weren’t going to see any of the views, but I was incapable of walking away from a hike to Mordor.

In the end we decided to go for it and I went on the most over-prepared hike of my life. I must have been traumatized from my experience on the glacier because I packed SO MUCH extra clothing and food, it was a little out of hand. Even though I snowshoe all the time in Canada, everyone had me freaked about about the “cold” temperatures. One part of me was like, “wear two pairs of pants for the cold!” while the other part was saying, “you snowshoe in below zero temperatures all the time and you never wear two pairs of pants!” I did wear the extra pair of leggings, which was a mistake and I ended up ditching them at the first outhouse we came to, so needless to say I was desperately over-prepared.

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But none of that ended up mattering because we had the most awesome hike! The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a 20km hike that goes right through the national park, crossing over Mount Ngauruhoe, past the red crater, and around Mount Tongariro back to the road. I hiked a volcano once before in Costa Rica, but this was totally unlike anything else I’ve ever done. It was super overcast when we started and we couldn’t see any of the 3 volcanoes in the park, so I wasn’t super optimistic. But the landscape is still pretty neat. We started hiking through some low shrub areas and as we got closer to Mount Ngauruhoe, the landscape started to become more barren and interspersed with volcanic rock that had been catapulted in all directions from a previous eruption.

We were really lucky and the clouds started to lift just as we were approaching our first view of Mount Ngauruhoe, also known as Mount Doom. It’s unreal because you can actually see the lava flows coming down the side of the mountain where they eventually became too viscous or cool to go any further. The volcano is still active and you do feel somewhat like you’re tempting fate by even attempting to hike through – especially so soon after the eruption at White Volcano, which occurred 2 days before we flew to New Zealand. All our friends and family told us to “have fun and maybe stay away from any active volcanoes”, to which we politely nodded and pretty much ignored since the whole center of the North Island is all active geothermal wonders.

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The two islands are pretty interesting in that they’re located so close to one another and form 1 country, but geographically have nothing to do with one another. The South Island is all about mountains and plate tectonics, while the North Island is entirely volcanic. There were no shortage of warnings as you approach the volcano though. Apparently on average someone is airlifted out of the park by helicopter once a week, so it’s obviously a dangerous place. Though the risk seems to be from adverse and unpredictable weather conditions and people underestimating the difficulty of the hike (it’s 20km long!) versus any risk from volcanic activity. But the signs all warn to turn around if you’re struggling or if its so cloudy you can’t see the volcano (fortunately we could).

The trail loops around the base of the volcano to Soda Springs, the only freshwater source we saw for another 15km, before starting to climb up the side of the volcano. It’s an easy walk until that point, but then you finally start climbing, which most people hate but I was excited for. So many of the hikes we’d done had been valley hikes and I was excited to finally climb something! The views as you climb up Mount Ngauruhoe are awesome looking back at the trail you’ve come from. Eventually you branch off the volcano and hike over the ridge next to it and start down into the South Crater.

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This is when the scenery really changes and I felt like I was hiking on Mars. There’s absolutely no vegetation and it’s just a straight shot across the red soil of the crater to the base of Red Crater. So you do get a respite from the climbing before starting up the side of the Red Crater to the highest point on the trail. This was probably my favourite part of the trail. Before you get to the Red Crater, you have to climb back out of the South Crater. From the South Crater ridgeline, we had an awesome view looking down into a very barren and mordor-like scene. Looking back we had a perfect view of Mount Doom, which the clouds had finally totally cleared off. Then you start hiking the Red Crater and have no idea where you should be looking because its so steep and the views are amazing on all sides.

The Red Crater was very different again. It’s hard to get an idea of the scope of the crater until you actually hike down the other side and look back at it, but it’s exactly as its name suggests, a giant red crater that’s still active and smells of sulphur with steam literally coming up out of the ground. The whole area is steaming from various vents and despite how cold it was up there, it was easy to find little hot spots.

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Our timing really couldn’t have been better. We got to the top for one last view of Mount Doom before the clouds ate it up again, and then rushed over to get a look at the little alpine lakes on the other side. There’s several brilliant green lakes and giant blue lake in the distance. We added a layer and enjoyed our lunch looking down at the lakes from the top.

I can understand why they make everyone hike in the same direction on the track. it’s a steep hike down the other side of the crater on a scree slope that I would hate to have to hike up. We did some exploring around the little lakes before crossing the bottom of yet another crater to climb up to Blue Lake. This is where you get the best view looking back at Red Crater, which really puts into perspective what you just climbed. It clouded in pretty fast at Blue Lake and finally started to drizzle, so we didn’t spend much time there and started to move on as we were still only a little over halfway through the hike.

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As soon as you leave Blue Lake though the landscapes change again entirely. Hiking the volcanoes and craters really felt like being in a wasteland, but as soon as we rounded the corner of the lake and started hiking down the other side, it was like coming back to Earth. I still wouldn’t exactly call the vegetation ‘lush’, but it sure felt that way after hiking across a volcanic desert. From there the last 8km are just winding back down the side of the mountain to the highway. There’s a great view of Lake Taupo and you can still see steam coming from the Te Mari Crater, which last erupted in 2012. There’s chunks of volcanic rock spewed across the landscape, which is a good reminder of the danger still associated with the park. The Te Mari Crater erupted in 2012, putting holes in one of the huts on the Tongariro Great Walk. Fortunately no one was injured, but only because the eruption took place in the middle of the night in winter. There was no prior warning, so had it been any other time of year, there almost certainly would have been fatalities.

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It’s definitely a sobering reminder and it seems lucky they’ve avoided disaster in the park up until now. One of the placards by Mount Ngauruhoe told the story of a school group that was hiking the volcano in the 1970’s when it suddenly started erupting, cutting off the way back and forcing them to have to evacuate over to the Red Crater. Fortunately nothing of the sort occurred on our journey. The rain disappeared as quickly as it had started and we had an uneventful hike down to the end of the trail. We felt really accomplished when we finally reached the end and had our car waiting for us!

I’m so glad we weren’t too jaded from the glacier experience to try this hike as it ended up being one of my favourite parts of the trip! We had a lot of fun goofing around on the trail, re-enacting the Lord of the Rings and taking pictures of me pretending to me Frodo, Sam, and Gollum at various parts of the trail. It’s not a hike to underestimate, but it’s also not a hike to miss!

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Categories: Exploring New Zealand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wedgemount Lake Backpacking Trip

It’s been 3 years since I hiked Wedgemount Lake, but this trail still haunts me!

Wedgemount Lake is a 14km round trip hike with a whopping 1200 metres in elevation gain. All I can say is, don’t underestimate it. Wedgemount has recently been added to Garibaldi Park’s database of reservable sites, so you now have to book to go up there, which wasn’t the case when I visited. I suspect this may have actually increased the traffic up there though because people that aren’t able to get a spot at Garibaldi Lake or Elfin Lakes, see it on the map and decide to go there instead. I don’t actually know if this is true or not, but I did meet a group of 5 guys at the trailhead to Elfin once who were changing their plans to go to Wedgemount when they realized Elfin was full, but just a guess!

Wedgemount is incredibly scenic once you get to the top, but boy is it a long slog to get there. I went in late August with Brandon the first summer I started camping and I believe we started hiking sometime after noon. There’s very little to see but forest until you reach the halfway point across a short boulder field. After that, it’s back into the woods again until just before the end when you have to climb a steep boulder field to get up to the top. Don’t get me wrong, the whole trail is steep, but the boulder field is definitely tough with overnight packs as you’re basically climbing up over the rocks.

When you get to the top of the landslide, you’re in a valley of sorts, with Wedgemount lake at the bottom, surrounded by another set of peaks and the Wedgemount glacier. You hike down into the valley, which is completely wide open with very little shelter. Over the years, people have moved the rocks around to create little rock-walled campsites to protect from the wind that funnels in through the valley across the lake. There is a small hut up there as well, but I think most people opt to camp as there’s tons of space up there and lots of sites to choose from.

It was certainly windy when we went up there. Even though it was August, it’s one of the coldest camping trips I can remember. I was fine once I got in my sleeping bag and went to bed, but until then, it’s freezing sitting out on the ridge with nothing to shelter you from the wind. We set up our tent as fast as we could and tried to find the most sheltered place to quickly make and eat out supper. Then we hit the sack pretty early because it was just so cold outside.

It’s a beautiful location though. Wedgemount Lake itself is quite large, but the soils must be a lot siltier than other lakes in the park because it has a much paler blue hue to the water. The wind died down overnight and we got up early to do a little exploring around the lake. Like I said, it’s a wide open space surrounded by other mountain peaks, so there’s tons to explore up there. Our exploration was pretty limited, which kind of makes me what to go back, but that landslide still haunts me and I don’t want to have to haul my backpack up over it every again.

We did explore to the glacier though. If you walk around to the head of the lake, you can see the Wedgemount glacier. I’m sure it looks different every year depending on how the ice changes and melts, but the year we visited had left another lake at the base of the glacier with lots of bergy bits (real technical term – I’m a Newfoundlander, I would know) floating around. The glacier is huge and looks misleading in pictures, but Brandon got a few great photos of me standing at the base of the glacier that really put the size in perspective.

The lake is nice, but the glacier was definitely the highlight for me. The only other glacier I’ve hiked to is the glacier at the top of Brandywine Mountain, so it was a landscape quite unlike where I usually hike (the Brandywine Glacier was very different as the ice melt was flowing down the mountain instead of pooling).  I can’t decide whether Wedgemount makes for a better day hike or overnight though. A day hike seems like it might be rushed, but having just a day pack sounds a lot nicer, so it might be a judgement call based on your fitness level.

The clouds were looking pretty threatening though, so we didn’t stick around too long at Wedgemount. We packed up our things just before the rain hit and hiked back over the landslide and down again. Wedgemount is just as tough going down as it is going up. It’s a steep hike over the landslide and then the trail feels like it goes on forever after that, with nothing to look at and no respite for your knackered knees. It was a relief when we finally hit the parking lot.

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Categories: Life in British Columbia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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