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In July of 2006, a group of us took a week-long mountaineering course in the Coast Range of British Columbia (If you'd like to read the report on that week, click here). After the course, we all thought it might be a good idea to actually put our skills through a bit of exercise. Unfortunately, out of the seven of us who went on the course, only three ended up coming on this little post-course adventure: myself, Jenn and Sara.

We decided to go for a mountain that was of moderately easy technical ability, that was conveniently close to our current location, and that was interesting and scenic. This was a tough choice: there are many such peaks in the Squamish-Whistler-Pemberton corridor. In the end, though, we picked a well-known and prominent peak, Mount Garibaldi, that caught our attention above the streets of Squamish (where we spent two days on our mountaineering course).

Mount Garibaldi is one of the major peaks in the area. It is also a volcano - one of the Cascade Volcanoes, in fact. You might know some of its more famous sisters: Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, Mount Saint Helens, and Mount Shasta; As part of an even larger group, it is a member of the so- called "ring of fire" - the huge set of Volcanoes that line that Pacific Rim.

Being a cascade Stratovolcano, Garibaldi is fairly steep-sided, and composed of alternating layers of lava flows and ash. The rock is notable for being very loose and crumbly, which means that anytime you are climbing on the actual rock of the mountain, you have to be very careful not to bring things down around you or on top of your friends. Fortunately, Mount Garibaldi has large areas of extensive glaciation. The eastern and northern sides of the peak are draped in an icefield of glaciers known as the Garibaldi Neve.
Mountain above Main Street
Alice Lake Campground
Boot Prep
Garibaldi is fairly conveniently close to Squamish, which was good for us. After poring over maps and guidebooks, and after considering advice from Chris (our guide on our recent course), we decided to hike in to the Elfin Lakes backcountry hut. We would stay there two nights and three days, and climb Garibaldi on the middle of the three days. There was even a chance of running into Chris on the summit - he was scheduled to guide an English client to its summit two days hence. If the timing was just right, we might even meet on the summit! After splitting up with Peter, Brian, Pu, and Catherine (the other four course classmates who were heading back to Ottawa), Jenn, Sara and I camped for an evening at Alice Lake Provincial Park. The following day, we decided to remain in Squamish, doing much needed laundry, buying groceries, and relaxing a little. That evening, we opted for a bit of extra luxury and checked into a local motel (appropriately called the Garibaldi Inn!).
Garibaldi above Alice Lake
Steep and craggy
The trailhead
It was only a short twenty minute drive up Mamquam road into Garibaldi Provincial Park. The trailhead for the Elfin Lakes hut had plenty of parking, and, promisingly, few cars. The weather was picture-perfect - clear, calm, beautiful. If you read about our immediately preceding 7-day mountaineering course, you'll know that the weather for the last five days [of the course] was very much less than ideal - so it was a special pleasure and relief to see that we had the completely opposite weather today (and the forecast for the next few days was picture-perfect, too!). As mentioned earlier, we decided to stay at a backcountry hut, rather than lugging all of our camping gear. The Elfin Lakes hut is one of the larger backcountry huts in the coast range, and can sleep up to 33 people, and has gas-powered cooking equipment. Our only wish was that it wasn't too busy (The hut has a first-come, first-serve system). We were heading out on a weeknight, though, so we weren't too worried.
Wide, easy trail
A peek back to Squamish
All saddled up with our backpacks (which were still reasonably big even without most of our campgear), we headed off up the trail. It is more of an old road than a trail, and is gravelled and wide, and the grade is relatively easy. The old road winds about and up through some pleasant forest, passing a lookout with an excellent view back to Squamish and the Chief. At about the 3.5 km mark, we reach the first bit of open meadows and a backcountry shelter called the Red Heather Meadows Shelter (no camping allowed at this shelter). It was at this point that I started noticing that the marked distance for this trail was a bit pessimistic (the descriptions I'd read said the shelter was at 4.5km).
Red Heather Shelter
With winter in mind...
Earthy track
After a brief snack break at Red Heather Shelter, we continued on up towards the crest of the ridge that would lead us to the Elfin Lakes Hut. According to the description we had 11 kilometres in total to cover, so we had a ways to go.

The trail briefly turned off of the old gravel road and onto a beautiful little path that climbed through patches of forest and meadow. It soon entered a much larger, more expansive meadow, then rejoined the old road. We started to encounter substantial patches of snow. Overall, though, the hike was fairly easy.
First glimpse of Garibaldi
Increasingly open
Hiking under the volcano
We soon crested the height of land on the ridge. We could see the ridgecrest we had to follow; it gradually lost altitude as it went along (meaning that we were currently at the highest point along the hike to the hut). This meant the hiking became pretty easy, with the road meandering along the ridgecrest, mostly downhill.

We stopped for a scenic lunchbreak partway along the ridge. Mount Garibaldi was positioned perfectly for viewing to the north; unfortunately, some mid-afternoon clouds had obscured its summit.
First snowfields
The ridge leads east
Lunch with a view
The Elfin Lakes are two smallish bodies of water perched on the broad ridgecrest; the huts (old hut, new hut, and ranger station) are positioned nearby. The trail descends down into the area of the lakes, providing a beautiful view as you approach, with the lakes below and Mount Garibaldi providing a scenic backdrop. Again, some low afternoon clouds removed Garibaldi from the scene. Still a nice view, though!

My suspicions about the over-pessimism of the trail descriptions had been well-founded. The trail description exaggerates the distance to the hut by a kilometre (it is only 10km, not 11km as stated). Perhaps they wanted to discourage shorter-distance hikers from coming to Elfin Lakes?
Snowy Elfin Lakes
One of the Elfin Lakes
Elfin Lakes Ranger Station
Skirting the lakes, we walked past the ranger station (which appears to have the exact same construction as the hut), and continued for a hundred metres or so to the Elfin Lakes Hut. The hut has a curved A-frame construction, giving it more space on the upper floor. Inside, the curved walls give it an airplane-fuselage like feel. There is a lot of space everywhere, with a large 4-stove kitchen area, lots of tables and seats, and two long rows of bunks upstairs. We had been a bit worried about a crowded hut at the trailhead, but there were only 2 german tourists! The place was practically empty.
Elfin Lakes Shelter
Interactive Trackmap & Photo Points - Hike to Hut - Click map to expand

Hike Data Summary - Hike to Elfin Lakes Hut
Start Time:
10:20AM
Start Elevation:
3172ft (967m) *
End Time:
2:15PM
Max Elevation:
5204ft (1586m) *
Duration:
3h54m
Min Elevation:
3172ft (967m) *
Distance:
10.21 km (6.35 mi)
End Elevation:
4824ft (1470m) *
Average Speed:
2.6 km/hr (1.6 mph)
* : +/ 75 feet
Hike to Hut, Elevation over Distance
Hike to Hut, Elevation over Time
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