What to do when it’s 3 degrees and raining in Whistler in the middle of Winter? Well firstly you don’t buy a lottery ticket as clearly it’s not your week. This type of weather is not the norm, but unfortunately the close proximity to the coast does mean the occasional frontal system comes through that is a little too warm to coat the Village in white.
If you want to enjoy playing in fresh snow you really only have 1 option, and that is to get as high as possible (in altitude). However, this does not mean that you have to join the crowds hustling for a prime spot on the Peak, Symphony, Harmony or 7th Heaven chairs to enjoy some fresh powder. Another option is to consider snowshoeing at Joffre Lake Provincial Park, which has a starting elevation of 1200m. The trail is a popular summer hiking route, but also makes for an excellent marked snowshoe trail (follow orange markers) in colder months.
How to get to Joffre Lakes
The snowshoe trail is situated in Joffre Lake Provincial Park, about a 30km drive north of Pemberton on Highway 99. You will need a vehicle that is equipped to climb 600m up the Duffy Lake Road, which is often snow covered.
In Winter the main car park is not always ploughed so you may have to find a spot just outside. When we visited there was space for 6 well parked vehicles only.
The Snowshoe Trail Route
From the Winter parking area continue through the snow-buried parking lot, and at the far end, the parking lot turns right and you will see the trailhead sign.
The first Lower Joffre Lake is an easy and short 5 minute walk from the car park. Here you can see directly across the lake. It may be tempting to take a short cut across the ice following the path of others, but it does not save you much time, you might struggle to find the trail again, and you may end up in the lake!
Continuing along the trail you cross a small bridge and then slowly ascend from 1200m through a snow clad pine tree forest for around 1.5km. You may have to show some gymnastic skills if there are a few fallen trees blocking the path.
You will emerge out of the forest into a valley surrounded by massive pillows of snow, which is actually a boulder field. The views are amazing on a clear sunny day. This place also represents an avalanche chute so it is best not to hang around too much, especially if there has been recent heavy snowfall – be sure to check Avalanche.ca before you go.
After about 1km, the trail steepens significantly – take a deep breath and take your time as this section is challenging, especially given the rocks, roots and ice that may lay under foot. If you have walking poles, it is advisable to bring them along for this section.
The final few 100 metres is a nice flat stroll to the 2nd Middle Joffre Lake, which provide great views of the glacier.
Our total travel time on snowshoes from the car park to the 2nd Middle Joffre Lake was 1.5 hours for a 4km one way walk, which involved an energy sapping 400m altitude gain.
An additional 500m add on, is to push onto the 3rd Upper Joffre Lake but given the short daylight hours in Winter we decided to turn back rather than risk having to use our torches to guide us back!
Why Snowshoe at Joffre Lake?
- Unlike the lower altitude Lost Lake and Whistler Olympic Park snowshoe trails, there is no fee to snowshoe at Joffre Lake Provincial Park
- The snowshoe trail starts at 1200m (higher than Mid Station on Whistler Mountain), which is 600m above Whistler Village. This gives you a fighting chance to get out of the rain, and into the far more pleasant and fun snow line.
- Snowshoeing is great exercise – the 8km round trip to the 2nd Middle Lake which involves a 400m climb will certainly get your heart rate up – make sure you bring snacks!
- This trail is very quiet in winter (unlike Summer), and offers the opportunity to enjoy snow clad forest, glacier views, and 3 beautifully frozen lakes surrounded by the mountains.
Things to look out for
- The big danger of this trail is avalanches. You can clearly see avalanche chutes as you make your way along the path at the boulder field section. Make sure you carry appropriate equipment and check the Avalanche.ca website before you leave.
- You will have no phone signal in the park, and the are no emergency services available; you need to be properly equipped for self-rescue, and make sure you tell someone where you are going!
- Gravity is certainly on your side on the hike to the 2nd Middle Lake. However, this friend soon becomes your worst enemy on the return leg – take your time, use poles and if you need to, resort to the “bum slide” which can be quite fun if not very graceful!
- Near the Middle Lake are two narrow bridge crossings – make sure you have a well-placed snowshoe before proceeding as the fallen snow can create overhangs, and as one of our party discovered if you step on one of these it can result in a splash into the cold water below.
- Leave yourself lots of daylight and be prepared with lights as the Winters bring very early sunsets (4pm in December), especially in the mountain forests.
- If you don’t have you own snowshoes, you can hire these from the Spud Valley Outdoor Goods shop in Pemberton
- On the return journey home, Mt Currie Coffee house offers well deserved hot drinks and snacks, or you can just enjoy a brew on the bench overlooking the Lower Joffre Lake.