I think it’s safe to say that Garibaldi has occupied a part of my heart; particularly the Elfin Lake trail. I snowshoed this trail back in February 2014 with the similar group of close friends. This time around a few of us attempted the glorious recreation of cross-country skiing.
Before I start, let me tell you about skiing with a 40 pound backpack on. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. After copious falls and tumbles, I amazingly made it up and down the mountain in one piece. I think the combination of the uneasy weight distribution whilst turning and the constant burning of your thighs did the trick. Imagine just doing squats all day.
Nonetheless, this trip was amazing and made for a great end and beginning of a new year. I thought I’d write about this trip day by day since there was too much to tell.
Day 1 | December 31st 2014
Waking up at 4 was a struggle in itself…having to cross-country ski uphill 4 hours from then was another. After the first hour, I managed to not only be the first fall, but also the first bleed — score! ugh. It was new years eve day and all of us were stoked to hike the 11 kilometers to Elfin Shelter for an awesome new years night. We were motivated to start early and get a spot in the cabin. Well, thank goodness for the park rangers who let us know that the Elfin Shelter that sleeps 33, was currently packed with 100 people. Oie. I could only think of what that place smelt like. As a group we decided it would be best to set up camp half way at the Red Heather Warming Shelter. It’s not meant to be slept in, but there is a stove and fireplace inside. Popping off our skis and snowshoes, we scouted out for a flat spot to pitch tent. Once we found the perfect patch close enough to the shelter, but not too close to the pit toilet (hehe), it was time to get “a’stompin” to pack down the snow. It was going to be cold, I knew that. It had been 5 or so years since I had slept outside in the snow.
Trying out some good ol’ backcountry skiing was something we tried in the afternoon before the sun set. As amazing as it was skiing through untouched powder and just going for it, it sure made me appreciate chair lifts. It took a bit of effort for a 5 minutes ski down the hill. Having to skin-up and then skin-down was time-consuming, especially if you had to separate them (skiers would know…).
Red Heather Shelter started to get busier and busier. The six of us got there in time to claim a picnic table spot. For the longest 8 hours of my life were full of cooking pizzas, eating, playing card games and occasionally spotting the time. I remember checking the hour (hoping it was getting close to midnight) to only see it was 8:30. We were all so tired…could we make it to 12:00? Well a few of us did! Around 11:20 we split off and a few of us went for a night hike up the mountain. The three of us greeted the new year with the most spectacular view of Garibaldi, with sparklers in hand. In the background you could hear the hardcore night skiers cheering too.
Day 2 | January 1st. 2015
Being an uncontrolled early riser some days, I woke up on new years day at the lovely 8:30 to my beautiful friend the raven. It was clear blue skies so he was singing (I would too!). At this time, I unknowingly had 3 more hours until the rest of my gang would slowly wake up. This gave me a load of “what could Charlotte do” time. The first two hours included making some tea and bringing it along for a hike. Being that there was an avalanche warning at the time, I didn’t go far, but high enough to capture a few of these shots! Last time I hiked this trail, it was snowing the entire time which prevented me from seeing these views.
Finishing my tea and deciding I had done enough physical activity this early in the morning, I headed back to the warming hut. I don’t know if it was the tea, but all of a sudden I became this bird friendly, anti-singing Snow White impersonator. The Whiskey Jacks were following me where ever I went. For those who don’t know, I am usually terrified of birds (especially when I have to touch them). It must have been my inner Snow White instinct, because I held out my hand. Yea, my heart may have been pounding out of my chest, but I managed to get a selfie with one of them!
Around 11:30 my friends crawled out of their tents and we all made breakfast. From there on, more skiing was in the picture and the construction of an obligatory snow cave. By this time, I could tell my knees were beginning to hate me. Also my left arm at the time (I slipped down the stairs of the pit toilet…).
Day 3 | January 2nd. 2015
Today was the day we all decided to pack up our tents, bind to our skis, throw on our packs and head to Elfin Shelter. It was 6 kilometers away, along with a handful of elevation gain. From Red Heather to Elfin was definitely the hardest route on skis for me. When I snowshoed it last year, It was easier to manoeuvre around. I tell you, trudging up slopes at a 45 degree angle if awful, and you will feel the burn after 5 strides. There were parts before reaching the ridge were you’re touring through trees. The trail width is about 2 feet wide now and on either side is either a slope or drop off. As per usual, I fell. Luckily enough I was able to grab onto a buried tree until I got my skis de-tangled and on their edge. Folks, Charlotte almost died a few times on this trip.
The end was near. We reached the ridge. It was so foggy you couldn’t see 10 feet in front of you. I found myself following snowshoe foot prints rather than trying to seek out the orange guidance pole. With the white snow and pearl sky is was like you were in a dream. I almost felt claustrophobic. Our energy was slowly receding and our bellies were starved. Elfin Shelter was in the distance. We were all motivated to beat the early hikers for a bunk in the shelter. Well, happy to say we did.
As the afternoon passed by, more and more people arrived to the shelter. By 7:00 the place was packed. A good 40 people were there. And a few from difference countries! The six of us huddled on a picnic bench and played a few rounds of Catan and Coup. 10:30 came around and people started to quiet down and head to bed. Typical us stayed up a bit later and went for another night hike around the shelter. The fog had cleared and the moon shone bright. It was so illuminating, our shadows were incredibly vivid. It was if a huge lamp was propped up behind us. After lighting our glow sticks, rolling around in the snow and sliding down slopes, we all sat down to appreciate the 360 degree view of the mountain silhouettes around us. My dinky camera wasn’t able to captures any of the night shots, so you’re going to have to take my word. Once we realized how cold our butts were getting, we headed inside for our planned dessert buffet: Freeze-dried chocolate cheese cake and chocolate fondue with dried fruit, yum!
Day 4 | January 3rd. 2015
The final day of the trip had arrived. I don’t think any of us were stoked on the 11 km return. I also was super nervous about skiing downhill with my pack on. These slopes were no green run. When it came the time to de-skin and just go for it down the mountain I tried not to think about how potentially bad this could end. Surprisingly, I stayed on my feet until Red Heather. My thighs were on fire…the thunder thighs were growing. It wasn’t until the ride down from Red Heather to the trail head were I was thankful a helmet was on my head (you could probably imagine my accidental, brutally choreographed crashes…ha!).
Yep, skiing was one of the best decision I made for this trip. Even though the aftermath has been awful (I am still recovering writing this), every bruise and blister has a story. This trip was amazing, and definitely made for a great start to 2015. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend new years any other way. Stay tuned for more photos on my Instagram and tumblr page!
Stay adventurous and get outside already!
– Charlotte xo
Have you ever cross-country skied? What’s your thoughts?
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