We just came back from a two day snowshoeing trip to Joffre Lakes. The drive up took about 3 hours. From a little after Squamish we started seeing more and more snow. The trees were laden with snow, cars coming down had snow on their bumpers and roof, and there was snow on the sides of the road that had been cleared away. Up on the hills the trees all had snow on them, making the scenery look like a black and white photo. To us it looked like the middle of a ruthless winter, but it is actually just the beginning of winter, a measly amount of snow that fell prematurely.
There was nowhere to park at the trail head (too much snow). We started clearing room for the car using the shovels we had brought with us, but then realized it would take too long. We parked at a “brake check” 500m down the road that had a “no parking” sign on it. At the trail head the signs were all covered with snow. We had to put our snowshoes on right at the beginning, since otherwise we would have just kept on falling through the snow. The first lake was just 10 minutes away, and had a layer of ice with snow over it, making for an endless and infinitely clean surface. The trees were covered with snow which lent a magical tone to the whole trip, like a movie scene.
We had to break trail, as apparently we were the first since the last serious snowfall. The trail is well marked, although the blazes were occasionally covered by snow. There were some sections of powder (snow with the consistency of powder) over rocks and trees which were not easy, as we kept breaking through. I guess this is what Roland meant when he said that there is a lot of rock hopping on the summer route, and that this might be a problem when snowshoeing. It might be easier with more snow and/or firmer snow. The going is very slow when breaking trail, as it is necessary to first find the right route, and then step on the fresh snow, compacting it for the next people. The club snowshoes that we took, of the metal variety are nice looking, but a bit cumbersome as they are very long, so we sometimes stepped with one foot on the back of the other snowshoe which led us to fall right over. Also, it is very difficult to sidestep with them. We met a couple with a dog (the only other people we saw) who came up with small nifty plastic snowshoes which looked much easier to handle. They had an easy time since we had already found and cleared the trail.
We got the second lake and then continued hiking up. Not long after that we decided we would not have time to make it to the third lake before nightfall, so we returned to the last good campsite. We pitched the tent on snow and tied it to trees and the shovels. It gets dark just before 5pm now, so we had a long time to spend in the tent. The weather was good until then, but from the middle of the night it rained and snowed continuously. The rain made the snow much less firm, and therefore harder to walk on the next day. It also cleared away the snow from the lakes, making them look more like lakes than huge snowfields. At least the trail was easy to follow on the way down. We were glad to find our car where we had left it.
The Sea to Sky Highway is currently under heavy construction (for the Winter Olympics of 2010), with long sections with a lowered maximum speed of 50km/h. Who would have thought the cops would be out there on a day when no construction workers are working, and therefore there is no logic behind the ridiculous speed limit. I got a ticket…