The Elfin Lakes Hut is often crowded, to the point where there are people sleeping on the floor, and one finds it difficult to sleep since people are constantly coming and going. All that is needed to avoid the crowds is a small timing change: instead of Saturday to Sunday, we made our weekend Sunday to Monday, and lo and behold, we had the hut almost to ourselves. Except for a surprisingly quiet group of teenagers from the older version of the scouts, who actually ended up sleeping in a roomy snow cave which they dug out the back of the hut. One of their guides slept under a shelter he had sewn himself, and sported a backpack he had also sewn, both based on designs by the ultra light hiking guru Ray Jardine.
We picked up Jan and Warrick from the ferry terminal at Horseshoe Bay, and drove straight up the rough and rocky gravel road to the Diamond Head parking lot. Maya and I both dread driving up that road – it is often very icy in winter, and almost every time we go there we see numerous cars stuck in ditches or the middle of the road. In fact we once fishtailed on that same road and proceeded to drive down it in reverse… But this time it was easy driving up the bare road. It was snowing lightly, and I hoped the temperature would be just right, so that it would be raining below the trailhead, to melt the road out, but snowing above it, so we wouldn’t have to spend the day in the rain. In the end it was somewhere in between, and we had a bit of a wet day.
We had lunch at the Red Heather Shelter, which was extremely crowded due to it being rush hour (lunch time). We continued up the trail – the winter route is very easy to follow, both due to the sheer number of people who head up there and due to the orange markers that park rangers put up. The route along the ridge goes up and down and is a bit monotonous, but finally we found ourselves at the (almost) empty hut. The Elfin Hut seemed very luxurious to us: it has propane heating and stoves for cooking, and actual bunk beds – no sleeping on the floor here, no sir!
Maya and I both woke up to visit the (plush) outhouse around 4:00am, and the sky was absolutely clear, a surprise after the cloudy and socked in day. The full moon shone above like a giant flashlight pointed directly at us, and we knew the next day would be a beautiful one. We decided to head up to The Gargoyles, a nearby summit, to get some views of the mountains. It had snowed quite a bit overnight, but we could still see the skin track others had used before us, a shallow indentation in the snow. Mamquam Mountain rose behind us, on the horizon, a huge hulk of a mountain. As I reached the ridge, just below the summit of the Gargoyles, I saw the steep fluted summit of Mt. Atwell just ahead of me, an incredible sight, which disappeared within moments behind a thick curtain of clouds. I quickly skinned up to the summit of the Gargoyles, but the views weren’t any better, but I still felt at the top of the world, or at least a small piece of it.
On the way down, Maya and I stopped for a moment to look back and noticed that Warrick appeared to be holding a long stick and was hobbling slowly behind Jan. Turns out he had broken his ski boot and could not ski down. We waited for them and then helped Warrick tie the ski to his boot, which made moving along considerably easier, at least until it became undone fifteen minutes later… By then we were at the hut, having lunch, just as a small group of snowshoers arrived – that day we saw quite a few people heading to the hut, it’s a somewhat popular place even midweek.
Warrick decided that carrying his skis on his pack would be easier than trying to retie them to his boots, and this worked quite well on the compact trail. The trail down from Red Heather felt like a long and fast luge track, and before we knew it we were back at the car. We almost made it back to Horseshoe Bay in time to drop Jan and Warrick off for their ferry, but were happy they didn’t make it since it gave us a chance to go out for a Persian dinner at Yaas, in North Vancouver. We dropped them off at the ferry and headed home, another great “weekend” in the mountains.