Posts Tagged With: outdoor adventure blog

Tenquille Lake Backpacking Trip

Tenquille Lake is a lesser known trail in southwestern BC, located near Pemberton, but it was the first trail I ever did on an overnight trip! Before my visit to Tenquille lake, I had never been on a backpacking trip before. I’d done lots of camping and hiking growing up, and I even went on a 5 day hiking trip to Machu Picchu in 2013, but it was my first time being wholly self-sufficient and having to carry all of my gear with me (in Peru we had horses to take the bulk of our gear). Well… I mean… I was mostly self-sufficient. I definitely couldn’t have done it without Brandon’s expertise, but I still carried most of the gear I needed for the trip.

3 years later I’ve completely fallen in love with backcountry camping and I have gotten a lot better at it, so don’t be afraid to take that first trip if it’s something you want to try. It’s important to be as prepared as possible, but you can also learn by doing. As long as you practice “leave no trace” camping and take your “10 essentials”, everything else can be learned with time!

The ideal scenario for your first time camping is to have a Brandon, by which I mean, an enthusiastic friend who has more gear and knowledge than you and is willing to help you out while you learn and accumulate your own gear. Gear is a killer when you start off backpacking. It is really expensive and deciding what to purchase is intimidating because there are so many choices and you want to buy the right gear without bankrupting yourself. Fortunately my parents already had some backcountry gear that they loaned me, but it was all really old, so while it saved me a lot of money initially, it also weighed a lot and caused us a lot of grief to carry when we were just getting used to backpacking. So if you can find a friend who’s able to lend you a tent, sleeping pad, or stove, it will definitely alleviate some of the strain of having to buy all your gear at once.

Tenquille Lake is what I would like to credit as the birth of my really close friendship with both Brandon and Carolyn. We’d all hung out together before and gone on the occasional hike or ski trip, but backpacking really cements a friendship and because Seth doesn’t really like carrying a big backpack, I’ve spent most of my backcountry experiences with either Carolyn or Brandon or both. Brandon is a great person to have with you in the backcountry because he brings endless optimism and enthusiasm and he makes the best backcountry thai chicken curry you’ll ever have in your life… actually, forget the “backcountry” part, it’s the best thai chicken curry, period. And me and Carolyn just get each other. We operate on the same schedule, we get what the other likes and dislikes, and I will confide with her about pretty much anything and everything. We’re both on a secret mission to tell every woman about the miracle that is the divacup and how it changed our lives. Plus, she’s obsessed with fresh vegetables and nothing improves a backcountry meal like fresh stuff.

But back to Tenquille Lake. Since this was my first backcountry trip ever, I somehow convinced Seth to join me. I don’t think he had a very good time, but he still came. Brandon was our spirit guide for the trip and even though she hardly knew us, Carolyn was not deterred from joining us on a 3-day trip into the wilderness. I’m pretty sure we ended up at Tenquille Lake because it was one of the first trails listed in my hiking book and I basically looked at the first page and was like, “that looks great, let’s go there!” However, the trail in my hiking book was actually an 18km round trip hike with 1400 metres in elevation gain, which in retrospect, was totally BONKERS for a first hike.

Fortunately, Brandon, in his infinite wisdom, found out that there was a second trail that you could access with 4WD that was only 14km. I still don’t know what the elevation gain was on that trail, but having done a lot of hikes since then, I can guarantee it was WAY LESS than 1400 metres. Brandon lives for any trail with a 4WD access road so that he can play around in his Toyota 4-Runner, so he was thrilled to check out the shorter trail. For those interested in hiking either trail, the 18km trail is accessible by car from Lillooet Forest Service Road and the trailhead is located directly after you cross the Lillooet River. The second, shorter trail (which is the one we did) is located at the end of a 7km long forestry road that definitely requires 4WD. This is known as the Branch 12 entrance. Basically, you continue up Lillooet Forest Service Road and take the right fork up the hill onto Hurley River Forest Service Road until you reach Branch 12 on the right-hand side of the road (after the switchbacks).

We decided to do the trip on the Canada Day long weekend and drove out to Pemberton on Saturday morning with the intention of hiking to Tenquille Lake on Saturday night and Semaphore Lakes on Sunday night (I’ll write a separate post for the Semaphore Trip because otherwise this one will be way too long!). It was probably around 1 or 2pm by the time we reached the trailhead, so make sure you leave early if you’re planning to do this one as a day hike because even though the forestry road is only 7km, it really slows you down. I was rocking a pretty heavy backpack because me and Seth were using my parents old 10lb tent, but Brandon carried the stove and fuel and a fair bit of the food, so it definitely could have been worse. Carolyn was sharing a tent with Brandon, so I’m pretty sure she just had air in her pack because Brandon loves to share gear, but not carrying the weight.

I’ll admit, I’m a little foggy on the details of the trail 3 years later, but I do remember a fair bit of uphill through the woods at the start of the hike that eventually transitioned into undulating meadows. We didn’t get great weather on the trip and it was pretty cold at the lake for July, but the rain stayed away, so we really couldn’t complain. It was overcast on our first day, which is probably why it felt so cold. One of the things I do remember though, is the mosquitoes (henceforth known as “skitties”). Oh boy, were they ever bad at Tenquille Lake. It would have been nice to take it easy on our first major backpacking trip, but every time you would stop on the trail, you would be completely swarmed by skitties, so we pretty much would only stop to put on more bug spray. It definitely got better when we made it out of the woods and to slightly higher elevations. I didn’t find it too bad at the lake, but Seth would likely disagree with me. They must not like my blood type that much or something, because they more or less left me alone at the lake, but Seth had no respite and Brandon let him borrow his bug hat to try and keep them away. We don’t know Seth’s blood type, but the skitties love it.

One of my main motivations for picking the trail (besides stumbling upon it and thinking it looked nice), was that I thought it was probably far enough away from Vancouver that there would be less people, and that combined with the 4WD access road, there wouldn’t be very many people camping.

I can really be a dummy sometimes. But hey, it was my first backcountry trip and I’d still only been living in BC for 2 years at this point and I didn’t realize just how crazy everyone is for the outdoors here! There ended up being probably about 60 people in a campsite that’s made for 30 because it was a long weekend and a single Meet-Up group of 30 PEOPLE decided to visit the lake that weekend. It was a little overwhelming for my first time in the backcountry, but because of the overflow of people (and our late start), we ended up getting, what in our opinion was, the best campsite at the lake!

So I don’t condone this now that I’m a little more seasoned. When possible, you really should camp at the campsites or in a location that will cause the least harm to the surrounding area. At Tenquille, you’re not allowed to camp in the meadows because they are extremely sensitive, but because of the surplus of people in the actual campground, we were forced to find some overflow space, and yes, it was in the meadows. We avoided any untouched meadow and stayed only on the trail, but we did find an area that had obviously been used many times before for overflow camping and didn’t have any alpine vegetation anymore, so that’s where we camped. In the pictures it kind of looks like we’re in the middle of the meadow, but there was a trail there and about 4-5 campsites that are hard to see because of the surrounding vegetation. I’ve gotten a lot more sensitive about these things the more I backpack, so I always try and camp where I won’t have an impact on plant habitat.

Despite the shoddy weather though, I absolutely loved Tenquille Lake. I’ve come to appreciate this trail more since I was first there because it really is the perfect mix of alpine lakes and alpine meadows. Alpine meadows have become pretty much my favourite backcountry scene, and Tenquille has both the lake, surrounded by mountains, and the alpine meadows next to the lake. This was also one of the rare backcountry hikes I’ve done since I moved here where we were actually permitted to have a campfire. Most provincial parks prohibit campfires in the wilderness and by early July, we’re usually into full fire ban, but this was one trip where we went early enough to have a campfire. I’m realizing now that Brandon must have carried an axe up there on top of all his other gear, so thanks again Brandon!

We definitely had to layer up at the lake because it was really cold, but I became totally enamoured with getting away from the city, eating with a kick-ass view of the lake, and waking up to see the sun just poking over the top of the mountains. We didn’t see the sun very much on this trip, but it did come out for about an hour both mornings, so I got up pretty early on that trip because I wanted to photograph our surroundings with the brief glimpse of sunshine and blue sky. Both days it clouded in by 9am, but we got a few hours of sunshine before the clouds snuck back into the mountains.

So all in all, it was a wonderful first trip into the wilderness. We did the somewhat strange choice of hiking back to the car and then doing another overnight hike to Semaphore Lakes (instead of just one 2 night hike), but more on that in a later post!

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Categories: Life in British Columbia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elfin Lakes Snow Camping Trip

Last year I had my first experience with snow camping. Carolyn and I spent a night outside in -10 degrees celsius to test out skills and our gear. We ended up having a lot of fun and knew we wanted to try something a little more adventurous this year. Elfin Lakes is a really popular place for snowshoeing because there’s a heated hut located at the end, so people snowshoe in and stay overnight in the hut. We thought this was a good place to try for our second trip because we’d still have the hut nearby in the event that we got really cold in the middle of the night.

This year our friend Brandon joined us, who also has a great love of the outdoors and had conveniently just purchased a 3-person winter tent. We also improved on some of our gear; my parents gifted me a proper winter sleeping pad for Christmas and Carolyn bought a ton a merino wool layers to help keep warm and a new down jacket. However, we were definitely put to the test this year because the weekend that we went happened to coincide with the polar vortex sending all the really cold air across Canada and it was calling for -20 degrees celsius the night we went.

I was tracking the weather all week leading up to the trip and I was super apprehensive about it. We survived last year, but we’d definitely been on the threshold of almost cold and I was worried about adding an extra -10 degrees to the temperature. Carolyn was pretty confident though and it was calling for sun and clear skies despite the freezing temperature, so I was never able to build up the desire to actually call the trip off. We made winter camping blankets this year to add some more warmth to our bags and we packed a lot smarter, but I lost my nerve at the last minute and ending up stuffing two sleeping bags into my pack instead of my liner and blanket. I was only really able to do this though because my new sleeping pad is so small and Brandon was carrying the tent, so I had a bit of extra space.

There are mixed reviews on doubling up on sleeping bags, so you do have to be careful about it. The sleeping bag on the outside should be a bit bigger than the one of the inside and it’s better to avoid down sleeping bags because if you compress them inside each other, they lose their “loft” and won’t keep you as warm. Fortunately, my bags were both synthetic and the second one actually belongs to my Seth, so it was bigger than mine and it worked really well nesting them together.

Anyways, enough about gear. You can always spot a camping enthusiast because they just love talking about gear. This was my third time hiking up to Elfin Lakes, so I’m really familiar with the trail, but it was my first time doing it in winter and in snowshoes. It’s not a difficult trail, as a day hike I can power through it in a few hours, but it is 11km to the lakes, so it can be a bit lengthy. The first 5kms are pretty straight forward, you just hike up an old forestry road until you reach the Heather Hut. I knew Elfin Lakes was a popular winter trail, but I was shocked by how many people were on the trail on a freezing saturday morning. It’s pretty easily accessible as it’s located just out of Squamish and is plowed most of the way because there are homes located along the road. Word of warning though, chains are required for the last 2km stretch and if you don’t have them the ranger will kindly ask you to park your car there and walk the extra 2km.

But it turns out the Heather Hut area is extremely popular among backcountry skiers. Once you reach the hut, the terrain opens right up and there’s a large hill to walk up to get to the ridge. I’m no expert, but it seemed like a lot of day skiers were just hiking up the ridge and skiing down through the powder, creating their own little human-powered ski lift and ski hill. The Heather Hut was also being used a lunch spot for pretty much everyone on the mountain, so it was hopping and we pretty much scarfed down our sandwiches and moved on.

The trail gets a lot more interesting after the Heather Hut. After the hut, the winter trail diverges from the summer trail and takes a slightly different route to the lake. Even though it was my third time up there, it felt like a totally different trail in the winter. You start by climbing up a pretty large hill, but then you hit the ridge and its undulating slopes the rest of the way. We were thrilled when we finally reached the ridge because it was a perfectly sunny and cloudless day, but it was also very windy and we really got beat on along the ridge.

It wasn’t snowing at all, but it was so windy along the ridge it felt like it was because the wind picked up any loose powder and blew it all across the ridge. It was rough going. The biggest mistake I made was that I only brought sunglasses, not my ski goggles, and I really wished I had the goggles. Carolyn had hers and she had a much easier time crossing the ridge than me and Brandon. So that was definitely a lesson learned for next time.

The trail was really interesting along the ridge though because, while you could see the reflective trail marker poles, you couldn’t see any discernible path through the snow. Usually the path becomes very obvious and beaten down with so many snowshoers using it, but because of the wind, it was blowing snow across the trail constantly hiding it. I had a brought a pole with me, which was extremely useful, because even though the snow filled in the path, you could still tell when you were on it because the snow was all compacted underneath. However if you stepped off the path at all, you would quickly be about knee deep in powder. So I went first along most of the ridge and used my pole to keep testing where the path went.

We made really good time though and did the 11km route in about 4 hours, including lunch, arriving at the hut around 2pm. The hut is heated and we didn’t want to warm up right away just to have to go back out in the cold, so we immediately started working on our campsite. It was hard to find a good sheltered place to set up camp with the wind blowing, so we mostly had to rely on the walls of our hole to protect us. We dug down to almost the height of our tent and then set it up in the hole. It’s usually not necessary to peg tents in BC because we rarely get wind, but we definitely had to peg it on this trip and piled some snow up around the edges to weigh it down. The key with pegging tents in the winter is to have rope attached to all of the pegs because otherwise it will be very hard to retrieve them. Once the snow hardens and freezes, it’s really hard to get the pegs out and having rope attached to them will make it a lot easier.

We’d been planning to more or less ignore the hut, but it was so windy and we were pretty beat, so we decided to abandon the snow kitchen idea for the trip. I do think this was the right idea because it was just so cold and it allowed up to warm up properly before bed, which I think really helped in us staying warm throughout the night.

We finished our campsite around 4pm and headed into the hut to start melting snow and making supper. I think we were definitely better at melting snow this time around and we just heated the snow as we melted it and then boiled it all at the end. One of our nighttime tricks to keep warm is filling a nalgene bottle with hot water to take into your sleeping bag with you. It works like a charm! I purchased an insulator for my bottle as well and it really helped to lengthen the life of my hot water bottle and keep my drinking water from freezing (a real challenge in -20 degree temperatures! Leave your water bladders at home for winter camping trips, they will freeze and be useless to you. My favourite piece of gear for winter camping though is my thermos. I just bought a $20 standard “thermos” brand thermos at MEC last year and it is the most impressive thing ever! I filled it with boiling water before bed, added a teabag in the morning, and it was still hot to drink by lunch the next day!! So impressive, would highly recommend because drinking hot water is a great way to warm yourself up and stay hydrated.

I’ve gotten into night photography in the last year. I’m not great at it, but I learned some the basics and I’ve been having a lot of fun testing out some night shots when I get clear skies. It was calling for clear skies at Elfin Lakes while we were there, but I really didn’t think I’d get any shots because it would be too cold and I wouldn’t want to get out of bed in the middle of the night. But the wonderful thing about night photography in the winter is that you don’t have to wait until 2 in the morning for it to get fully dark! We watched a beautiful sunset over the mountains before supper, loving the pink alpen glow, and then by the time we ate and melted our snow, it was fully dark with the stars out by 8pm! Because I was toasty warm from hanging out in the hut, I spent about a half hour outside trying to get a few night shots before going to bed. I think the next thing I need to invest in is a lightweight tripod though, because that was my biggest struggle with night shooting. You need to open up the shutter for a long time to get night shots, so you cant hold the camera in your hand. I rested mine on my pot on top of the snow, which actually worked a lot better than you’d think, but a tripod would go a long way in getting the angles and perspectives I wanted.

Anyways, I ended up having a lot of fun and thanks to the hut, we were all nice and toasty warm when we finally crawled into the tent. I’m always learning on these trips and our big take-away from this trip was that merino wool is king. In the summer, I mostly wear tech tees and always change out of my sweaty shirt when I get to camp to prevent myself from getting cold. That’s a lot harder to do when you’re snow camping because you don’t want to basically have to get naked in the freezing cold to change out your sweaty layers. The better option is to basically just wear a base layer you never have to change out of (ie. wool). Wool keeps you warm, even when wet, so it really doesn’t make a really big difference to your ability to stay warm. I did not change my base layer on this trip, except to remove my bra to go to sleep. Carolyn and I decided that merino wool bras might have to be our next investment because while our base layer was wool, our bras were not and they didn’t stay as warm. (TMI? It’s so practical though, so I’m sharing anyways!)

We were smart about going to sleep this time around as well. We were warm from staying in the hut, but if there hadn’t been a heated hut, we’d be planning to exercise before bed to warm up our cores. I’m not talking exercise enough that you start to sweat, but enough so that your core warms up a little. When you get into bed already warm, you trap all that heat in your sleeping bag with you. Another tip is to take any clothes you plan to wear the next day into your bag with you. Anything not touching you gets cold and it’s no fun putting on freezing clothes in the morning!

We both wore several wool and fleece layers and had planned to sleep in our small down jackets. Carolyn did, but mine actually ended up being overkill with my double sleeping bags, so I never ended up wearing it. My other favourite purchase was that I bought little insulated booties this year! They’re basically just really warm slippers, but I slept with them on inside my bag and put foot warmers in them, and my feet felt like toasty little furnaces! They sell them at MEC for a pretty penny, but I got mine at Costco for $15 and they worked fantastic! I’ve also seen them at Walmart, but they were a little heavier. I’d recommend keeping an eye out for them at Costco.

So the double sleeping bags definitely worked for me, as did my new winter mat. Having a proper winter tent made a huge difference too. My face was cold when we first went to bed from being exposed to the cold, but we trapped so much heat in the tent that by the time I woke up to pee in the middle of the night, the tent had heated up enough that my face wasn’t even cold. Another lesson learned though would be that it is worth opening up the vents in a winter tent. There’s no mesh in a 4 season tent and it’s based on a double wall system. Brandon wanted to open the vents to keep the tent from getting condensation on the inside, but me and Carolyn outvoted him because we wanted to keep the inside as toasty as possible. But all our body heat did create condensation on the inside of the tent, which then froze and would fall down onto us as little ice flakes whenever we would move around in the tent. It also made us need to be a lot more careful about accidentally brushing the sides of the tent, so next time we will open the vent.

The one benefit to camping in such cold temperatures though is that even though snow gets everywhere, it never gets anything wet. I’m used to the wet snow in Vancouver where if you get it on your mittens, it gets everything wet. But the snow was so fluffy and cold in the mountains that you could totally cover yourself in it and you’d never get wet. It just never melts because the temperatures are too cold. Honestly, my gear would get the wettest in the hut because if you brought any snow inside with you on your gear, the heated hut would cause it to melt and then it would be cold when you went back outside. We brought extra hats, mitts, and wool layers in case anything was compromised, but mostly we didn’t need them because things never really got wet, just cold.

Fortunately the wind died down before we went to bed, so that never really caused us any grief after digging our campsite, and it was a gorgeous cloudless morning when we got up. It started to cloud in a bit on our walk back, but the wind never came back up, so it was a much more enjoyable hike on the way out. It did start to snow just before we reached the Heather Hut and after lunch we all decided to layer up again for the walk down. I always try not to wear too many layers on the way up to avoid sweating too much or into too many layers. Ideally you should be a little cold when you start hiking up. But on the way down I pretty much threw on every layer because I knew I probably wouldn’t be sweating any more and we were almost out anyways.

Considering how apprehensive I’d been about the trip, I’m super glad we went. I had a great time and loved getting all the gorgeous mountain views in Garibaldi Park in the winter time. Now that I’ve done it in every season, I don’t feel a huge desire to go back for a while, but who knows, I still haven’t made it all the way out to Mamquam Lake, so there still might be another Elfin trip in my future. Overall I think we were really smart about this trip and about our contingency planning.

Carolyn and I haven’t yet done the avalanche training course (though we’re both planning to), so we’re very careful about where we choose to go snowshoeing. The avalanche rating when we went was low in the forest and moderate in the alpine. Brandon has done the training, so he did bring a probe and beacon with him on the trip. If you’re thinking about attempting any kind of trip like this, be safe about it and take the proper precautions. Always check the avalanche rating and don’t go anywhere risky without proper training. We all had our ten essentials with us and I registered our trip with AdventureSmart before going and sent the information to our partners with instructions on what to do if we didn’t return by the specified time. The backcountry is awesome, but you have to respect it and always be prepared. Also, always practice leave no trace camping! We have a beautiful wilderness here and we need to protect it.

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

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