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Discovering Luxury in the Backcountry

Mention an overnight stay in the BC Backcountry in January and many think of hardened mountaineers huddled inside a small lightweight tent in sleeping bags designed for Antarctic expeditions. This kind of scene from a North Face Steep Series advert leaves many a mere mortal weekend skier heading for the après bar comes dusk rather than a chilly night under canvas surrounded by a howling icy wind.

However, this does not have to be the case. There is another option for the aspirational overnight backcountry adventurer that involves a log burning fire, a 3 course dinner, a pool table and a warm cozy queen bed all served up at 4500 feet surrounded by a cauldron of mountain peaks. The solution for those that fear frost bite or being uncomfortable close to their friends is a night at the Journeymen Lodge in the Callaghan Valley.

Journeyman Lodge

The wooden Journeyman Lodge is situated in the Solitude Valley where the tree line meets the alpine all set against the backdrop of the impressive Solitude Glacier. The lodge boosts 8 bedrooms, a well maintained living room (including pool table), kitchen and dinning room. Despite the location, the lodge has all the amenities expected in a city hotel including hot showers, heating, electricity (hours are limited) and a constant supply of freshy made cookies!

 

The development of the lodge is a fascinating story of human vision, strength and perseverance. With no road access, local craftsman (living in tents) built the lodge using materials delivered by helicopter or snowcat between 1996 and 1998.

Getting There

Entry to the lodge is through the Callaghan Valley, which is located about an hour’s drive from North Vancouver on Highway 99. The lodge base facilities can be found in the Ski Callaghan car park (turn left at the junction with Whistler Olympic Park).

Check in is between 9am and 11.30am at the Ski Callaghan base where a luggage transfer is provided. The ski into the lodge is between 12.5 to 13.7km km depending on your desired route– a blue run or a black run (Wild Spirit). The later is shorter but involves the steepest pitch for a Nordic run in North America (average 11%). Just remember though it is all downhill on the way back as you claw back your 580m elevation gain!!

Activities

Once you are up in elevation, there are some gentle green cross country routes that take you around Conflict Lake. The highlights are some up front and personal views of Solitude Glacier. You can also take out the complimentary snowshoes and break your own trail!

For those that like to earn their turns (ski touring), the surrounding powdery alpine offers some fantastic skiing opportunities without the crowds found at the local ski resorts. The lodge contains a guide on suggested lines to ride.

With tired legs, the lodge boast a rustic wood fired sauna a short 5 minute walk from the front porch. The warm ambiance is complimented by the traditional glacial creek drip and /or snow bank body roll with refreshes both body and mind instantly!!

Dining & Entertainment

While weary backcountry campers are tucking into a can of half heated beans, the guests of Journeyman Lodge are served up a delicious tray of appetizers by the wood burning fire at 5.30 in the lounge.  This is followed up by a 3 course dinner served in the candle light dining room!

Post dinner entertainment is by way of good conversation with other guests, a pool table, cards or numerous board games. The lights go out at 10pm literally as the generator goes off to be replaced by lanterns!

Top Tips

  • If you plan to visit on a winter weekend, book well ahead at the lodge is a popular destination. There is currently much more availability midweek.
  • If you are just heading up for 1 night, it’s worth getting a sled transfer in so you can enjoy the pristine alpine cross country skiing and touring.
  • Bring swimwear for the sauna, torches for lights out and your own tipple (no liquor is sold on site).

What makes this lodge unique beyond the luxuries not usually found in the backcountry, is the friendliness of the staff. From Brad the owner, to Darcy who manages the base operations, everyone takes the time to make you feel welcome and answer any questions you have to make your trip as memorable as possible. A truly unique backcountry experience which we intend to make an annual trip!

TOP 5 LONG WEEKEND ESCAPES FROM THE LOWER MAINLAND

The May long weekend getaway is a Canadian Institution, when holiday deprived Canucks load up their vehicles with as much stuff as possible and hit the road.

However, anyone who has lived in the Lower Mainland on Canada’s West Coast for at least one summer knows that the key to an enjoyable extended weekend break is long term planning! If you to wait to the week before, the campsites are full, the ferry reservation spots are gone and the hotel front desk can only provide a sympathetic ear rather than a room. Don’t be caught with your proverbial pants down – click here to find out my favourite 5 long weekend getaways to help you plan ahead!

THE STINKY GAMES – WINTER v MERINO

Canada is cold, eh?

To survive a winter in the True North you need a decent base layer. This winter season I decided to conduct a very scientific experiment and put the much-heralded merino wool base layer to the type of cutting edge test that Einstein would be proud of – how long can you wear it until you become a social embarrassment, who can own a table in a packed après bar at fifty paces?

My first task was to find a willing subject who I could closely observe. Fortunately, I remembered I have a husband who likes to cut corners when it comes to washing his winter gear!

I decided to test the Men’s Icebreaker bodyfit 260 merino layer with a series of strenuous winter activities to examine the famed wool’s odour resistant claims. I mean, have you ever smelt a wet sheep?

To find out how the winter test went, click here.

Doing Whistler Like a Local: The Summer Edition

As the leaves turn and our first Whistler summer comes to a close, it’s time for a blog post that summarizes the three months of awesomeness that is summer in the sea to sky corridor. This post isn’t about those spots that involve a helicopter flight followed by a three day bike ride followed by an ambitious feat of mountaineering to find (although many locals live for summer adventures like this.) It’s about those more mellow experiences that might be considered ‘touristy’, are easily accessible to all, but come summer time are on the don’t-miss list of every Whistlerite.

1. Floating, on a lake

You know those fluro-orange and yellow boats that you can pick up at your local Walmart for $20? Little did we know that our inflatable boat would become our most trusty companion this summer. The Explorer 200 is pretty much a Whistler summer icon in its own right.

It’s simple really – escape work, pack your Explorer, a pump (essential), snacks (recommended), a good book or a fascinating floating companion and beers cunningly disguised in water bottles, and you have all the ingredients for a perfect evening in Whistler. Whether you choose Lost Lake, Alta Lake, Nita Lake or Alpha Lake, there’s plenty of options that all offer calm waters on which to float and gorgeous mountain views to admire.

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2. Floating, on a river

Looking for some wilder Explorer action? You’re ready to brave the River of Golden Dreams. The nemesis of the Explorer 200, for every inflatable boat that survives this epic journey, another five are torn to pieces by rogue logs or an unexpected beaver dam. Starting from the launch spot at the bottom of Lorimer Road and ending at Meadow Park, this 5 km float takes around three hours to complete, and features stunning views around every corner, fun times, new friends, dubious rowing techniques, some stretches of floating relaxation and much drama as you attempt to avoid getting tangled up in bushes or caught on rocks. Whether your Explorer survives it or not, it’s a Whistler must-do.

A few River of Golden Dreams tips. Leave your Go Pro at home or it is likely to be lost to the Whistler waters forever. Pack your pump and a puncture repair kit for emergencies. Pick your time in the summer wisely – go too early and the spring melt rapids might be more than the Explorer can handle. Go too late and you’ll spend half the journey wading through the shallow waters. And finally – if your Explorer does become a victim of the river, take it home and dispose of it safely. The number of abandoned Explorers on the side of the river this year made us a little sad.

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3. Scandinave Spa

I know, I know, we’re more than a little biased (as our regular readers know, one of us works for the Scandinave Spa) but, continuing on the water theme, the Scandinave Spa really is a summer essential. Refreshing cold plunges in which to cool off on a scorching afternoon, hammocks to sway-the-day-away in, terraces with spectacular views where you can sit and contemplate life – the Scandinave Spa is the antidote to action packed summer burn out. Tip – visit on a weekday at the start of the day or in the evening and it can feel like your own private spa.

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4. BBQs

Given the high population of Aussies here in Whistler, it’s no surprise that come summer time BBQs are a way of life. Indeed visit Alpine Meadows on a sunny July evening and you’ll probably find no end of locals willing to throw a shrimp on the barbie for you. But if you’re looking to treat yourself to something a little higher end, there’s two stand-out options.

Firstly, there’s Whistler Blackcomb’s Mountain Top BBQ – the ultimate summertime dinner with a view. Time it right and you can ride up the Blackcomb chairlift for some bear-spotting, experience the incredible feat of engineering that is the Peak2Peak gondola, have a stroll and enjoy some photo opps on the Whistler mountain trails– and then enjoy a feast. Whether it’s Whole Hog Fridays, Prime Rib Saturdays or Pacific Seafood Sundays, the buffet format has something for everyone. Then it’s just up to you to grab a chilled glass of wine from the bar, pick a patio table and enjoy the 360 degree views. Just one tip – dress warm – a baking hot day in the village does not equal a balmy evening at 6000 ft.

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Secondly, (our personal favourite), is the Thursday night BBQ at the Four Seasons hotel. Similarly priced to the Mountain Top BBQ, what it lacks in views, it makes up for in outstanding food quality and selection, with grilled salmon, Korean ribs, roasted suckling pig and a whole host of salads and sides. And yes, you are allowed seconds (and thirds…). Add music from local duo the Hairfarmers and the legendary Four Seasons service standards, and you have the perfect Thursday night.

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5. Embrace Events

Wanderlust (yoga). Ironman (crazy dudes and dudettes swimming, cycling and running some intense distances). Crankworx (even crazier dude and dudettes dropping epic moves in the bike park). Whistler Half Marathon (fun and awesome runners). Go Fest (outdoor activities on snow, land and water). Whistler Presents Concert series (great music). Gran Fondo (cyclists in tight lycra). If you live in Whistler, it feels like there is a world class event every weekend.

To be a true Whistler local you must do the following. Complain to anyone who will listen about the traffic and how busy the village is. Then throw yourself into the event, cheering athletes on, dancing to music, having your mind blown at the local and international talent, attending parties and enjoying the energy and buzz that these productions bring to our town. Top tip – buy some cow bells to show you’re a serious supporter!

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6. And finally….hit the trails

Biking trails or hiking trails, there’s a plethora of them to choose from in the sea to sky corridor including Joffre Lakes, Garibaldi Lake and the Stawamus Chief. They are free to use, fantastic exercise and for us, what a Whistler summer is really about – so look out for some separate posts on what to do on two feet or two wheels in our hood. And let’s not forget the Valley Trail. A perfectly formed network of easy paved trails that provide the best commute in the world, the Valley Trail is the only way to get around Whistler in summer – for people and sometimes a bear.

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So that’s our list of Whistler summer mellow must dos. Whistler locals and weekend warriors, what’s on your list?

Backcountry Snowshoeing at Joffre Lakes Provincial Park

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The final few 100 metres is a nice flat stroll to the 2nd Middle Joffre Lake, which provide great views of the glacier.

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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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

Top tips

  • 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.

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