Camping in the snow

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When I booked a tent pad back in April for Elfin Lakes at the end of June, never in a million years did I think we could be hiking in the snow. As the start of June came and went, it became very apparent that unless something drastic happened, we would certainly be hiking in the snow. And not just hiking, camping too. 

Mid June, we had come to peace with the idea of foregoing our tent pad and finding a different overnight hike (probably in the Golden Ears provincial park) that was lower altitude and therefore not covered in snow. Our main reluctance for camping in the snow is that a) I hate being cold (!) and b) we didn’t necessarily have the right gear and were somewhat hesitant to invest in something we probably wouldn’t do much of in the future. However then came news of the heatwave.

After spending a few days in the high 20s/low 30s, the forecast hadn’t yet peaked and we were almost certainly slow roasting in our house. Camping in the snow suddenly sounded a whole lot more appealing. We bought ourselves some cheap micro-spikes, borrowed some insulated gear from some of our friends and packed our bags for a new kind of adventure. 

We parked our car, noted the reports on the ‘interested bear’ and set off up the trail. There was little to no snow on the trail for the majority of the first 6km and it was only as we approached the Red Heather hut that the real slush started to appear. Of little significance at the time, we noticed that we were walking alongside a creek that was almost entirely covered in snow. We put our spikes on near the hut and from that point after, it became preferable to be walking on the snow. 

The melting snow caused the uphill walk to be a bit of a slog. We had been weary that the temperatures could increase our risk of avalanches (something else that we felt inadequately prepared for) but it quickly became apparent that amongst the rolling hills we need not address that particular concern. We also had to hike the designated winter route (yes, despite it being the end of June) meaning more elevation was involved. We had expected to take around four hours to hike the 11km in (and that was allowing for us to be slow, I think we both thought we’d probably come under) but due to the slush it ended up taking us just over five hours. Our plan had been to eat lunch once we arrived, so we were both pretty cranky by the time we finally ate!! 

We observed from others tips for camping in the snow. There was a shovel at the shelter which we borrowed to dig away the snow so our tent could be nestled into the snow. This was to protect our tent in the event the wind picked up. Thankfully the lakes were starting to melt, so we could treat water for drinking, and boil water for cooking (rather than needing to worry about melting the snow first). Probably our most valuable items became our sunglasses: it was absolutely torture taking them off! Lots of people around us were suffering from serious sunburn, thankfully we had been pretty diligent in our sunscreen application. Our recently purchased camping stove got its first real test: it passed with flying colours. 

We had expected to have hours and hours at the top which we would need to entertain ourselves for. As I’m starting to learn, time always flies in those settings and before we knew it, it was 10pm and the sun was about to set. The air temperature was so ridiculously warm, going inside our tent was honestly comparable to going into the refrigerated section at the liquor store. We were both a bit nervous of how cold we might be in the night, but we ended up not needing to worry in the slightest. It remained warmer outside the tent basically throughout the entire night.

Cue 5am: sunrise! We were up and packing our tent up by 6am, and literally beginning the journey out before 8am. We were excited to get ahead of the slush, hopefully making the most of the overnight freeze (if there was any) before the sun started to melt the snow again. The insignificant creek from the day before was now a gushing stream alongside us, the snow layer on top had completely melted through which made it a whole lot louder to walk next to. We made it out in absolute record time: 3 hours later and we were back at the car. We were bound for Backcountry Brewing: a long overdue visit to our favourite brewery with some of our favourite beer and pizza! 

I know there is probably a good chance we’ll never camp in the snow again, so I’m stoked that we had the chance to do it in what ended up being relatively easy conditions. I hate to imagine what it would be like on a cloudy, cold day, or even worse a snowstorm. Completing Elfin Lakes in the snow is an adventure I’ll remember for a very long time!

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