The last snowshoe trail I’ve done on the North Shore to date is the Bowen Island lookout trail at Cypress Mountain. We got a ton of snow in the city in 2019, right at the moment my friend Sean was visiting from Newfoundland. I’m not sure he was entirely thrilled about it given that he had just left a lot of snow behind, but either way we had the perfect conditions to go snowshoeing up to the lookout.
We’d had a late night out the evening before, so we didn’t have the earliest start to the day and as a result had to battle the traffic to get up to Cypress. I don’t think I’ve ever parked so far away from the base (seriously, we had to park on the side of the road just past the turn-off for the nordic area), but despite the 2km walk to the trailhead, I had the best time! I’m inclined to thank the company since Sean is one of the most appreciative and enthusiastic guests.
I’ve been up to the lookout several times in the summer, but this was my first time going up in the winter. Like I said, we had excellent conditions – it was a beautiful day and there was lots of fresh powder on the ground. The winter trail takes a different route up than the summer trail, which involves winding through the meadows at the base and then switchbacking up towards the branch to the lookout.
There was obviously a lot of people on the mountain, but the trail never felt too busy, so I assume a lot of the cars were skiers. I brought both snowshoes and spikes for the trip – I used my snowshoes at the bottom to frolic around in the meadows and climb up the switchbacks, but I switched to my spikes for the switchbacks on the way down because I found it easier to navigate. Overall though it was definitely a snowshoe day!
We had our lunch at the lookout and took our time enjoying the view. Looking back at the pictures apparently Sean had the experience of feeding a stellar’s jay, which is rare indeed! Whiskey Jacks will take anything you offer them, but rarely will a stellar’s jay (we only fed them nuts that are good for birds to eat (jays love peanuts), never feed them human food like bread or crackers!). It had been a bit of a mixed week for weather and this was our last activity before Sean went home, so we both thought ourselves super lucky to have such a gorgeous day! Now I just have to work on getting Sean back for summer adventures! He had planned to visit April 2020, but of course, Covid messed up those plans. One day though!
I’ve only been up Grouse Mountain in the winter once, but it’s a great place for snowshoeing! You can rent snowshoes at the top and there’s lots of great trails to explore, plus the myriad of other activities available at the top of the mountain. The downside is that you have to pay to go up in the gondola, so unlike most hikes, it comes at a cost.
I don’t like paying to enjoy the outdoors, so I’ve only been up the one time when Carolyn had the annual pass and therefore was able to get my gondola ticket half off. Neither of us wanted to pay to come back again, so we decided to try and snowshoe as many of the available trails as possible in one visit!
It ended up being quite the adventure! It was several years ago and I believe it was Carolyn’s first time snowshoeing in BC, so she borrowed Seth’s snowshoes, which were a hand-me-down from my parents. Unfortunately, they’re not very quality snowshoes and one of them broke halfway up the trail. The trail was pretty well compacted, so she continued on just in her boots, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this now without microspikes. It was several years ago and we were a lot less savvy back then.
The snowshoeing trails at Grouse are pretty straightforward and our goal was to snowshoe up to the top of Dam Mountain, which had great views looking down over the backcountry. While the trail itself was compacted from so many users, there was still a lot of fresh snow on the ground and we got some great photos of the trees all covered in snow.
We had a short lunch at the top of Dam Mountain and then decided to continue on along the Discovery Route, which I believe in the summer is known as Thunderbird Ridge. Things got a little sketchier here – there was less traffic and a lot of fresh powder, so I went first to try and blaze a trail for Carolyn, who was coming behind me without snowshoes. She was a good sport about it, but she was definitely postholing a lot, despite my best efforts to compact it down for her.
I think she’d agree though that it was worth it! There’s amazing views looking back out over the backcountry from Thunderbird Ridge and we had a lot of fun playing around in the powder. Grouse is definitely on the busy side, so the Discovery loop is definitely a great idea if you’re looking to escape the crowds.
We bypassed Dam Mountain on the way back and headed back down to the lodge. I have to give props to the Grouse Mountain staff – they were doing some work on the trail when Carolyn’s snowshoe broke and told us to leave them there and if they went back to the lodge before we got back, they would bring them back down for us to customer service. They had done so, which was super kind, so we were spared having to carry them out. On top of that, when we brought them into the snowshoe shop, they happily fixed them for me for free! They were cheap snowshoes and it was just the matter of a broken rivet, so they replaced it with a sturdier bolt. This had happened on the other snowshoe the previous year and I’d had to pay to get it fixed at a repair place, so I was really impressed with the service at Grouse!
So overall, despite some setbacks, we had a great day exploring around the mountain and had some snacks in the lodge before loading the gondola back down. It’s definitely a bummer to have to pay for the gondola up, but worth it for the access to some really great trails!
Thanksgiving is usually a bit of a hit or miss for me since I don’t have any family in BC. I’ve always celebrated it, but whether or not I’ve celebrated during the actual Thanksgiving weekend depends what my friends are up to. In 2016, most of them had other plans, so we celebrated a week later, leaving me with nothing to do over the long weekend. Brandon and I decided to do a big day hike and though this was our first one, it ended up becoming an annual thanksgiving tradition for the 2 of us. I’m not sure if Elfin Lakes is a particularly Fall hike, but I have a tendency to think about it that way because most of my visits have been in September and October.
We left really early to take advantage of the limited daylight hours. Elfin Lakes is a 22km hike, with 600m of elevation gain, so it’s by no means a short hike. However, with the elevation spread over such a long distance, it doesn’t feel too steep.
The first 5 kilometres to the Red Heather Hut are the worst part. It’s the steepest part of the trail and it’s just a boring access road through the forest. We made really quick time on the way up and didn’t stop too long at the hut before continuing on along the rest of the trail. The next 6km are much more scenic, though it was very cloudy on the way up, so we didn’t see a whole lot along that section either. But the hike is much flatter and just meanders along the ridge.
I can’t remember the exact time we got to the shelter, but it was super early. We wasted no time on the hike up and when we crested the last ridge, we didn’t even realize because it was so foggy we couldn’t see the lakes until we were basically on top of them. It was a little disappointing, but it was October, so not totally unexpected. We spent a little bit of time in the shelter hoping the fog would clear before deciding to continue a little farther up the trail, hoping we’d eventually get some views.
Brandon always brings out the best adventurer in me. Looking back I’m pretty impressed with myself that at the midpoint of a 22km hike I agreed to hike further, but I did and we continued up along the trail to the Saddle, which goes up towards the Gargoyles. The Elfin Lakes trail actually continues another 11km to Mamquam Lake, passing Opal Cone along the way, but there’s a short offshoot near the hut that is popular among backcountry skiers. You leave the main trail and hike up this bowl to the saddle between the two peaks. There was some snow on this part of the trail, but not enough to deter us from going.
It did get deeper as we got closer to the top. My legs were starting to hurt and I was really nervous about aggravating my knees which such a long hike still ahead of me, so I eventually bailed out for a snack and Brandon continued on to the top of the saddle. The clouds had started to clear out so we finally got a view of the lakes and the surrounding mountains. It was still marred by wisps of clouds hanging around all the peaks and low to the ground, but it made for some dramatic views!
Eventually we turned around and made our way back to the lake for lunch. This was only my second season hiking with Brandon and up to this point he’d been super keen on looking out for me whenever we were adventuring. The very first hike we did together was a day trip up to Garibaldi Lake and Brandon hiked it with a full backpack because he wanted to bring lunch for everyone, packing up fancy sandwich meats, cheeses, avocado, and containers of fresh berries as snacks! Then when we did our first backpacking trip to Tenquille Lake he hiked in an axe so that we could have a proper campfire and made us scrambled eggs for breakfast!
I’ve since learned that this is how Brandon sucks in new hiking friends. He’s always looking for new people to hike with and he really wants for you to have a good time, so he lures you in with all these fancy luxuries. Then, once he’s got you hooked, he drops all the pretenses and suddenly becomes a super lightweight hiker who lives off salmon jerky.
By this point, I guess I’d become savvy enough on my own and this was the first trip where Brandon showed up with just his water vest – big enough for a few snacks and a jacket. I was a few years into being a girl guide leader at this point, so I’d gotten pretty big on safety (though not as intense as I am these days), so I thought he was a little batty to go into the wilderness with so little, but I had my own gear, so I didn’t make a big deal about it.
Now those who know me will tell you I’m a big eater and snacker. I always bring a sandwich and you’ll never catch me heading out with just jerky. So as we were sitting down in the hut for lunch, I was making fun of Brandon that he was going to be so jealous of my sandwich, when he realized he’d forgotten his salmon jerky in the car! So Mr. lightweight had no treats and just a grumbling tummy. Obviously I shared with him because I always bring more than enough food, but as a result I gained the right to make fun of him for it the rest of the trek!
We spent some time exploring around the lake before heading back down to the car. The trek back was a lot more scenic now that we could see some of the surrounding mountains and as with any day hike, it inspired me to come back the following year for a proper backpacking trip! Even 4 trips in, I still love Elfin Lakes and it remains on my bucket list because I want to hike all the way to Mamquam Lake one day.