Just me. No wife. No kids. Just me. And I was feeling a little guilty about it.
Going back to Canada for the Christmas holidays this time was not about a family get together in the usual sense. There were some extra points to be weighed and considered. Firstly, the whole idea that I should go and visit was inspired by my mom’s 80th birthday in November. My work schedule could not have permitted taking time off then, but at Christmas I was off anyway. There was also the matter of my parents’ age and most concerning, my father’s incident last year where he fell and injured his back, leaving him in hospital for two or three weeks. His recovery was swift to the degree of nearly being a miracle, but I still wanted to check up on my mom and dad and see how well they were taking care of themselves. And then most tragically, a dear friend of mine revealed that he had liver cancer and, as his sister was to inform me, how much time there was left for him was uncertain. Though I did all I could to arrange time for seeing him again, he passed away just two days before I arrived back in Vancouver.
With all the above considered, there was furthermore my children’s age to consider. A boy of seven and a girl of nearly five who were used to the freedom of roaming and playing in their own home would likely be bored and become irritable spending two weeks in their grandparents’ condo. Perhaps once they are a little older we can all go.
So, it was just me and for only eight days. The plan was to spend most of the time with my parents and enjoy the company of my sister and her husband for a couple of days, and also to see my two closest friends and their families. In between all that I was determined to take a couple of days for a trip to the mountains. The original and admittedly ambitious plan was to drive to E.C. Manning Provincial Park (east of Vancouver) on the 26th and do a hike up to the summit of a small mountain (1,825m) called Windy Joe and then return to my parents’ home for the night, and then drive up north to Squamish and do a longer hike up to Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Provincial Park.
The one glitch was that my snowshoe straps were discovered to be breaking (MSR snowshoe straps are apparently notorious for this) and I was unable to adequately repair them because the substitute item suggested on one web site was not available at the local home centre. In the end, I had to rent a pair from the Nordic Centre in Manning Park and there I decided that it would be much more sensible to just spend two days in the park, where I had a pair of snowshoes that fastened up properly, and skip the long hours on the road.
I left around 5:30 a.m. after having had about three and a half hours sleep (watched Star Wars – The Force Awakens with a friend the night before) and drove carefully in the dark down a wet Highway 1 to Hope. From there I went over to Highway 3 and into the snow-covered world of the North Cascade Mountains. The sky began to turn pink and then orange over the mountains, and I had to make a quick pull over in order to grab a couple of shots before the moment passed.
At last around 8:00, I was at Manning Resort, though with the problems of finding where to park and where the trail to Windy Joe began and then my straps breaking more, it wasn’t until after 10:00 that I was at last on the three-hour plus hike to the summit. Though fresh power covered the landscape, Christmas holiday trekkers had trampled a trench into the snow, and it was easy to follow the route.
The first stretch led through the forest and was mostly level, and then the second stretch climbed a gentle slope for most of the way. There were a dozen of so places where fallen trees blocked the path and it was necessary to go around them and on the mountainside, this meant scrambling up the steeper slopes and going around. But until near the end of the hike, the going was quite easy. Only one short part of the route became steep; the snowshoe trench had become a bum-sliding chute here. Soon after, I reached the fire lookout on the summit of Windy Joe. The lookout had been used to look out for forest fires from 1950 to 1963. It was a small wooden structure with two floors and the second floor had illustrations of the surrounding views with landmarks labelled.
The sky remained overcast the whole hike, and here on the summit the sun was just a luminescent smudge in the clouds. Fortunately, the mountains all around were visible and I was at least able to examine the views and photograph them.
An Unexpected Night Hike
The hike back down took as long as the hike up; however, when I came to the road to the Gibson Pass Ski Area, I mistakenly crossed right away instead of continuing a little longer through the forest. It was already after sunset and the light under the overcast ski very dim. I had a headlight with me but thought that I would be back soon and didn’t take it out. I followed what turned out to be the Canyon Loop trail but found a sign that said it led to the resort in 1.8 km. By now it was dark and the headlight was put to use. The path, however, seemed to just lead further into the forest and began climbing a slope. I decided to turn back and met to other people out for a night hike.
At last back at the road, I was able to follow it to the resort. I ditched my gear in the car and went to a restaurant and tried to let my sweaty clothes dry a bit while I ate something that was not trail mix. A juicy burger with a salad hit the spot. Next I checked out the prices of the resort but $130 a night – the cheapest price – was too much for me. There was a wool blanket in my parents’ truck and I opted to sleep in the back. Actually, under the blanket and with my winter jacket spread over top, I was warm enough. It was just difficult to remain sleeping because of the need to stretch my legs from time to time. Instead of folding the seats down, I slept with them up, reasoning that having a cushiony surface on two sides of my body instead of just one would help retain heat.
In the morning I went to the ski area and bought a one-time lift pass and rode up to the top of the ski run. From there I took a hike over to the top of Grassy Mountain – 1,888 metres. The hike was not as long and also easy, and the weather was better because when I first reached the summit, sunlight was breaking through the clouds in places.
After feeling satisfied with the shoot, I continued with my plan to hike over to Poland Lake. But the path soon began to descent steeply and I was uncertain about whether or not I was going the right way. There were no signs and furthermore, the clouds were coming in thickly again. It decided that I would get my best shots back on the summit or, if the weather improved again, I could hike across to an exposed ridge on the over side of the ski lift. But on the summit again the clouds were coming in and swallowing up the mountains. I decided then to just head back and get an early start on the drive back. Snow was beginning to fall and it would be prudent to hit the highway in daylight.
I stopped to look at a map posted where the hiking course met up with the ski run and saw that the hike to Poland Lake went by a different route than the one I had taken. A sign posted on a nearby tree, however, indicated the way I had gone was the right way. Confusing. The topographic map, though, seemed correct as the route to the lake didn’t cross the summit of Grassy Mountain. No matter. My hike had given me some exercise and a few decent photos. I descended by lift and returned to the Nordic Centre to return my snowshoes.
A Snowy Drive Back
Fuel was low in the truck, so I decided to drive to the gas station just outside the east gate of the park, which was much closer. Along the way, I stopped for some photos of ice and snow on the Similkameen River and later on the way home, I tried to get a few shots of the mountainsides disappearing in the low cloud cover.
Snow fell the whole afternoon, and I drove a below the speed limit. Many other vehicles roared passed me, though I later saw three cars that had slid off the highway and in one place on Highway 1, two vehicles heading east had thoroughly smashed each other into wrecks, the lights of ambulance, fire trucks, and police cars making a Christmas light scene in the dark.
A brief stop in Hope to completely fill the tank because gas was much cheaper there and a few shots of the darkening mountainsides in snow and I was off, my two-day mountain adventure tightly wrapped up. It felt greatly inspired once more to dream about where I could hike and photograph in my old territory, but those future adventures would be on some untold date in the far future.