Elfin Lakes/Diamond Head Trails in Garibaldi Park
An amazing ridge walk with fabulous views in all directions ending at a beautiful and well equipped mountain hut
Elfin Lakes is a wonderfully accessible hiking/snowshoeing paradise at the southern end of the mighty Garibaldi Park. An amazing destination on its own, Elfin Lakes is also part of a gateway to so much more. The Gargoyles, Little Diamond Head, Opal Cone... There is a wonderful, extremely well equipped hut and campsites as well as a ranger station at the lakes. Staying at the amazing hut costs $15, cash only. Which sounds expensive until you see it. It looks more like a ski lodge than a mountain hut. Complete with solar powered lights, heat, propane stoves and room for 33 to sleep. You will find envelopes to pay at the trailhead. Camping away from the hut costs $10. Once again that seem expensive, but the area is very beautiful and popular so park rangers are nearly always around to keep things nice and functional.
The 22k roundtrip hike/snowshoe to the lakes and back is well marked and well used. Unlike most other Garibaldi Park trails, this one can be safely hiked in the dark if needed with a flashlight. You will often find people on the trail in the dark on the lower section from the Red Heather Hut to the parking lot.
Trailhead to the Red Heather Hut (5k, moderately uphill, few views)
This part of the hike is easy and relaxing, though with little to see except a few beautiful glimpses of Squamish below. After 5k you reach the cute little Red Heather Hut. This is a great, one room house with a wood stove in the middle and huge windows all around. There are great stacks of wood outside and two big tables. This hut is day use only though and not for sleeping in.
Red Heather Hut to the Elfin Lakes Hut (6k, easy and great views)
This is where the trail gets amazing with jaw dropping views everywhere you look. The winter hiking/snowshoeing/skiing trail runs along the incredible Paul Ridge which drops off steeply on either side into beautiful and vast valleys below. This ridge runs directly into the Elfin Lakes campsite and hut, and even in the depths of winter is easy to follow. Almost all of the uphill hiking is behind you, about 1k past the Red Heather Hut, so following the ridge is amazingly easy.
The Amazing Elfin Lakes Hut
The Elfin Lakes Campsite is located in an incredibly beautiful area of distant, enormous, jagged mountains and beautiful rolling hills and valleys. The two cute little lakes lay next to the amazing Elfin Lakes Hut. To snowshoe to this hut is quite something. As you approach it in winter it looks quite small, buried as it invariably is in metres of snow. The entrance is reached by descending a snow staircase. Upon entering you feel an unexpected wave of heat as you realize the hut is heated. There are also propane stoves and very unexpectedly, working lights. The Elfin Lakes Hut is solar powered. Amazing.
Stairs lead up to a impressively large sleeping area which can accommodate 33 people. A fact you would have never believed from your approach view outside. Not only can it sleep 33, but it does so in style. Beautifully organized, solid looking, wooden bunk beds built right into the structure make the hut look like some characteristically beautiful, European ski lodge. What an great place Elfin Lakes is!
Joffre Lakes - Snowshoeing in Paradise
Extraordinarily bright turquoise lakes in the summer, and a beautiful, white, snowshoeing paradise in the winter
Joffre Lakes is a wonderful place. Breathtaking with its amazing turquoise lakes in the summer and in the winter an equally breathtaking sea of white. Though it takes a bit longer on snowshoes to get to the beautiful third lake of the Joffre three lakes. In the summer expect to hike the 5.5k to the third lake in about 1.5 hours, on snowshoes it might take 3 hours. The return times are much shorter though. 1 hour in the summer and under 2 hours in the snow.
Snowshoeing is easy and relaxing to Joffre Lakes. There is no avalanche danger if you keep to the trail and do not continue past the third lake. The only danger is losing the trail (mainly on the way back to your car). I've never snowshoed Joffre Lakes without seeing an easily visible trail of ski or snowshoe tracks in the snow however, the days are short in the winter and when the light fades the ski/snowshoe tracks you easily followed on the way up become harder to discern. This is a bit worrying though the contours of the land push you toward the first lake near the parking lot. To be safe you should always have a map or gps and headlight with you in the winter and be extra cautious about leaving early and returning early to get lots of light on the trail.
A Short History of Skookumchuck Hot Springs
Both beautiful and tacky, the Skookumchuck Hot Springs lay along the huge and crashing Lillooet River in an area rich in history and surprisingly wonderful
As you sit back in one of the several ramshackle tubs that fill from the , below you a mystifying process takes place. For every kilometre below you, the temperature rises an astonishing 30c. And under you there are a bewildering array of water channels snaking through this massively heated ground. Fissures and cracks in the rock below you. These pockets and channels of water are extremely hot, and if the geological circumstances are just right, as they are at Skookumchuck, they will be forced to the surface to become a surreal, natural phenomenon. A hot spring.
In British Columbia, hot springs appear quite predictably along fissures amongst the mountain ranges. Skookumchuck is of course in one of these fissures. An astonishing one at that.
Take a look at a map of BC. The Lillooet River cuts a remarkable swath through BC. It runs from Whistler, north, then east, then south, eventually ending in Vancouver. You could, as many have done, canoe from Whistler to Vancouver. And all the while follow the current. It’s quite incredible.
The Coast Mountain Range, in which engulfs you in Skookumchuck, is of course very geologically active. Geologically recent that is. Some mountains are old, some young. These ones are young. The Pacific Ring of Fire, which runs from New Zealand, through Indonesia, up along Asia through Japan, and across to Alaska, then down the coast of North America, through the notorious California, ending at the southern tip of South America. Where this Pacific Ring of Fire is, frightening geological activity is. And the Coast Mountain Range lies within this. It produces a ring of volcanoes that created, and creates some of BC highest mountains. The Coast Mountain Range is magnificent. And under it all, rumblings continue, both producing these wonderful hot springs and spectacular events such as the Meager Creek slide in 2010, which effectively closed the reigning, premier hot springs title of best hot springs near Whistler, now held by Skookumchuck.
In short, if you gouge deep into the Ring of Fire as the Lillooet River does, you create, really facilitate, an artesian to reach the surface. An artesian is simply where pressure far below pushes water up to the surface. Hot water. And this is the wonderful source of Skookumchuck Hot Springs. Really quite incredible. The Pacific Ring of Fire, which recently burst forth near Japan and Christchurch, New Zealand, found a shallow spot, a crack in the earth, in which to push hot water to the surface. More incredible still, this impossibly remote place in Canada was found thousands of years ago, and certainly cherished. Of course it was. Hot water flowing out of the ground. Wow.
The people that likely came across these springs first, are known today as the I. This is remarkable for several reasons. Let’s trade places for a few minutes. You sink back into this wonderful water of the Skookumchuck Hot Springs, and I’ll tell you a story.
These springs were taken into ownership in 1859 by a wealthy businessman from nowhere near here, William E. Stein after he applied for a pre-emption. This is a wonderfully spectacular phenomenon of mankind’s history. He saw it, wanted it, applied, and then owned it, legally. Take a moment to get your head around that. And after you shake your head it confusion, think of what the In-SHUCK-ch people thought of that. Anyone in fact. There was a time in our history where you could look at the ground, say, “ I want that”. Apply for it, and get it. A piece of the world, the ground, the trees, the hot springs. It’s yours. More accurately, William E. Stein’s. He owns the ground? The hot springs. It’s hard to fathom now, but imagine explaining it to an In-SHUCK-ch person back then.
This is obviously ridiculous. But common sense has somehow won in the end. Kind of. These hot springs should obviously be owned by no person or people. Of course common sense doesn’t prevail, even in the face of such obvious facts. Certainly this ownership by William E. Stein is ridiculous, but oddly it still holds. In fact it was still “owned” by his heirs, then sold on to other “owners” until 2007 when it was purchased by the Canadian Government. Finally, freed, though at quite an expense, to ownership by no one. But of course that’s not true. The childish, “me first” ownership mentality will eventually win out in the end. The Government of Canada bought Skookumchuck as a “Treaty Related Measure” for the In-SHUCK-ch treaty negotiations.
Though it’s true, at least in recorded history that people now known as the In-SHUCK-ch saw it first. It’s also, more so, a fact that the world of the In-SHUCK-ch people that first came across these wonderful hot springs, didn’t have a concept of ownership of the ground. You couldn’t own the ground, a tree, a river, a hot spring, any more than you could own the ocean. The ancestors of these people surely have been plunged into a world of petty land ownership quarrels, and they surely will enter into it with the same pettiness and fundamental absurdity as William E. Stein did. You almost can’t blame them.
But for my part, they are beautiful. The hot springs that is, next to the Lillooet River, that no one seems to own. Water bodies have escaped this absurd human creation of drawing lines on a map and claiming ownership. How do they own it? By having enough other people agree that they do. Does someone own Lillooet Lake? Someone must have spotted it first. Why not? Because enough of us agreed that water cannot be owned. We don’t collectively think this through to the ground under us. Not really. We accede to what is established in the past is true. It must be. If someone today said that they own a star that they just “discovered” through a telescope. Despite the ridiculous irrelevance of their statement, we would not even accept a possibility of their claim being true. It’s absurd. “I saw it first, it’s mine.” This ridiculous thinking, though far beneath us, is still with us. Our past, our present. If Bill Gates bought Greenland, as theoretically he may have enough money to do. Wouldn’t I have a say? You wouldn’t? Who did he pay, to “own” it? How did the people that sold it to him own it?
What if, like the original In-CHUCK-ch people, we don’t perceive that the world could be “owned” or any part of it. Then how can it be “owned”?
It can’t. It simply can’t. Because the world lives in a different set of rules now. An evolution of humanity. A person with 500 billion dollars is just a person to me. They can’t “buy” our world. They can’t “own” a part of it. So on principle, in defense of what is right, Skookumchuck cannot be owned, traded, or used as a bargaining tool to placate the descendants of the ones that saw it first. If Bill Gates wanted to buy Skookumchuck for 500 billion dollars. Some privileged people would take the money. But I would say. Sorry. You can’t buy what can’t be sold. If the original claim to ownership is that someone saw it first and talked about it in legend. Then another person saw it and petitioned to own it, was granted ownership. You will certainly agree from a body that didn’t own it. Then it was passed down the generations, sold and then resold to the Canadian government. The fact that any ownership at all is confidently proclaimed is astonishing. Really astonishing.
But there we are.
As I lay back in the wonderful, steamy heat of the Skookumchuck Hot Springs. In the midst of the mighty Coast Mountain Range, part of the unfathomable Pacific Ring of Fire. I stop caring. The place is deserted. I sink into the water. I don’t own this little bit of Skookumchuck right now. Whoever thinks they own it. Whoever will ever own it. Fight over the inevitable, inevitability of having to “own” everything. At this moment I’m here. I don’t own it. I don’t want to. I wouldn’t want to. Somehow I can see that owning this is wrong, immoral, pathetic. The Canadian Government got it partly right. They bought it back from ownership. Now it belongs to us all, or more accurately, no one. I just hope that this moment. Right now. Sinking into the Skookumchuck Hot Springs, surging from part of the Ring of Fire far below, can be had again and again. There is something about this place. Something I can own forever. This moment.
Skookumchuck Hot Springs is one of four accessible hot springs near Whistler, BC. Though it's a bit shabby and institutionalized, it has an unmistakable charm and beauty. It lies within a very beautiful campground, which runs along the crashing Lillooet River deep in the Canadian wilderness.