Last year when the MEC winter catalogue arrived, my girlfriend Kirsten was awed by the cover photo. A group of friends camped out in the snow on a bluebird day surrounded by all the amenities one would have at home. “That looks like a great idea for my birthday party!” she exclaimed excitedly in a way that made me think that things were about to get a whole lot colder.
A few weeks later, we were sitting in the snow beside Kwai Lake in Strathcona Park. The fog was so thick it was difficult to see more than 2 meters and most of our clothing and gear was soaking wet; a far cry from the jovial scene on the catalog now unceremoniously propped upright in the snow beside us. Five of us had made the trek and while we were all in a pretty good mood it certainly wasn’t the trip we had imagined it to be.
Nonetheless, Kirsten decided that the event would become tradition and earlier this month publicized her plans for a bigger (including her twin brother) and better (not wearing one pair of cotton hiking pants) Twin Birthday Snow Camping Adventure.
This year we invited everyone who would listen to us and expected about 6 people to join us. We were obviously surprised when more than 14 people expressed serious interest. I have finally realized that people don’t need the newest and latest gear to be happy and comfortable, which is a change from my normal reaction of getting all concerned and scared about what gear and experience hiking partners have. A couple people with little experience were to join us so I made sure they had enough stuff to be happy and left it at that. This realization has been a long time in the making; my next outdoor related problem to overcome is convincing myself that every individual activity needs certain, specific (and usually expensive) equipment. I suppose that after 3 years working at an outdoor gear store I’ve sold myself pretty well on most products.
Saturday morning arrived and we gathered at our favourite restaurant, Urban Beet, for a group breakfast and then we were off to the mountain. Although it was opening day, the roads were totally empty and it took no time to get to the Raven Lodge at Mt Washington. If you’ve never been there, the Raven Lodge is a beautiful facility that serves the nordic community at Mt Washington. I’m moving to the Comox Valley in a month and am hoping desperately that school doesn’t get too much in the way of play and that I’ll get to spend more time there.
Our route out to the lake was non conventional to say the least. Early on the group decided to take a slightly shorter yet steeper route but randomly drifted between that and the other option; a longer, easier route. It seemed as though every time a new person took a shift at the front we veered towards the other route. The snow in the trees wasn’t as compact as in the open and Kirsten constantly found holes to sink into; despite her snowshoes her entire leg sank down into the snow every fifth step or so. The combination of our reduced mobility (having snowshoes on) and her backpack made it quite a chore extricating her. While this complicated path gave us all a great butt workout and let us enjoy incredible views of Paradise Meadows, Mt Washington and Strathcona Park, it ate up time in the already late day and just tired us out. We quit that nonsense as soon as we reached Lake Helen McKenzie and just stuck to the standard Albert Edward approach trail; we made it around the lake and up to the ranger cabin in a new record time in the 12 slowshoers and 2 backcountry skiers category. Kwai Lake is just a short jaunt from the ranger cabin and is almost entirely downhill.Once there we quickly set up our various forms of shelter – there were 3 and 4 season tents, snow caves, bivies and siltarps – and got started on a snow kitchen big enough for our group. A quick probe test surprised us with a snow pack of 189cm! As soon as the sun disappeared behind Albert Edward the temperature dropped rapidly and spirits began to sink too; there was a light misting rain beginning. It was about this time we saw two faint lights in the distance – Kirsten’s twin brother and his wife had left late and hiked in after us, finishing by the light of their headlamps. Their arrival brightened us up, literally and figuratively, as they had carried in a 4 hour burn fire log that we lit on a grill made of fallen branches (I know, I know – we’re not supposed to have fires in the park but the situation seemed pretty ok). The fire (…and Crown Royal…) did wonders for our energy levels until the rain finally drove us to our tents.
Nobody believed me when I said I was going to sleep in till 10am until I poked my head out of the tent at quarter after the next morning. Everyone else had already woken up and several people had eaten breakfast and packed their tents. The cold had woken them early and driven them to movement, while I with my -13 sleeping bag, downmat and powerstretch pants slept warmly into the morning (or, maybe I’m just lazy?). Half of the group left early to check out the sauna at the Raven Lodge and the other half followed shortly behind them. The hike out was uneventful; we took the regular route the entire way, which turned out to be far easier than the route we took. Maybe it was the ease of the route or the amount of complaining we did about how dumb we had been the day before, but the hike out flew by and soon we were back at the parking lot ready to hit the pub. The kitchen in the Raven Lodge was about to close so we made our way to the Longwood in Nanaimo for a little more birthday cheer.
We had so much fun that we’re now picking uncommon spots for all our holiday festivities. Next up? An abandoned hotel out at Cape Scott for New Years! Stay tuned for that report!