Red Heather Trail at Garibali Park, British Columbia

While everyone else welcomed the new year, I lay in bed willing sleep to come but recognising the “too excited to sleep” pattern. We had a snowshoe adventure planned for New Year’s Day and I really wanted to be well rested.

By the time my alarm went off at 6:30 with the world still pitch dark outside, my enthusiasm had waned somewhat. I dragged myself out of bed and started to get ready. There were bags to be packed (water, food, first aid kit, extra layer, thermos, stove, fuel and a myriad of other must-have’s for a daytrip, including the just-in-case team of head lamp, emergency blanket, mirror, duct-tape et al), sandwiches to be made and breakfast to be had. It was a busy morning.

We left later than planned, and then made the obligatory stop at Starbucks in Squamish before continuing on the Garibaldi Provincial Park. We were headed to the Diamond Head area, with a goal of getting up the Red Heather area day shelter, 5km up from the trail head. This area of the park is located 16km off the highway, up a long gravel road, which is only single lane in many places. We reached the bottom gate only to find that chains were required to continue on up the road, so we parked our car with the other chainless vehicles, picked up our packs and walked in the last 2km. The road was steep and snowy/icy, hence the need for chains, which made for a slow walk in.

Before even reaching the trailhead I felt my lower back area to be cold. I reached around, and my pack was wet at the bottom. When I pulled it off to investigate, my water bladder inside my pack was leaking. Thank goodness I was wearing Goretex – I emptied out the water from my back, tried to adjust the bladder to reduce the leakage and continued up the trail.

When we got to the trailhead navigated our way through another crowded parking lot. Here I was, expecting to be in the middle of nowhere. The notice board advised that the overnight shelter 11km up the trail was full and not to head up without a tent for camping outside. Excited to be on our way at last, we walked over the snowed in gate and started up the trail.

We probably walked a kilometre in before we stopped to don our snowshoes. The trail was fairly packed but getting steeper, and stepping off the packed trail to let others pass, meant stepping knee-deep into snow. We passed a number of people heading back down after having spent New Year’s Eve camping on the mountain – some on snowshoes and some on skis. The consensus in our group was definitely that skiing down a packed trail with a heavy pack on seemed more than a bit daunting.

As we climbed higher we saw more and more ski tracks through the virgin powder between the trees. They’d cross the path and zip back into the woods on the other side. It seemed like a heavenly location for skiing, but the snowshoeing was equally amazing. The trail was generally about the width of a car lane, and switched back and forth as we climbed. The climb wasn’t steep, but it was relentless, which is often the case when climbing a mountain, oddly enough.The trail was well used, but there was so much snow that it was not icy at all. The sun caught us on every other switchback and at every sunny stretch we paused for some Vitamin D intake, and to catch our breath. The views around every bend were more stunning than the last, and even though there were other people on the trail, we’d often go long stretches having the trail to ourselves.

After about 90 minutes the trail started to open up into wide open meadows. We couldn’t resist the untouched snow and went trashing through it, all the time keeping an eye out for the orange poles that marked the trail. At last, after running and skipping across this large meadow, we found the little day shelter. What’s a day shelter you might ask?

It’s a little wooden room, standing in the middle of nowhere. It’s raised up off the ground, so you can see the snowy ground about 3 feet below through the floor. There’s a stove with a fire going: wood is provided in the shelter. There’s a sink, but no water supply, and a propane stove, with some picnic tables. The shelter was full of smiling faces all sharing the same joyous moment. Yes, there’s an outhouse a little further up the road as well – of course its clean and has bathroom tissue. BC Parks do a great job of servicing the facilities.

Of course we weren’t going to stay indoors when it was warm and sunny outside. So we packed down a little spot to stand our stove up and cooked our lunch. While we waited for our lunch we drank our hot chocolate and ate our sandwiches. Of course all food has to be shared with the whiskey jacks. They’re cute at first, but their greed quickly gets annoying and you end up shooing them away as they come back boldly for more food.

We ate our lunch and savored the magic of the mountains. Snow and sunshine is my favourite combination – throw the mountains into that equation and life is pretty much perfect. It’s the kind of moment, where there’s nowhere else in the whole world where I’d rather be. On this particular day there was also no one else in the world I’d rather have been with, so leaky bladder, wet backpack and all, it was a stellar day.

By 2:15 we were packed up and headed back, pleased to be a little bit ahead of our 2:30 turn around time. Freshly fuelled and energised, we skipped back down the same trail with the incline in our favour. As is always the case, the return trip felt way shorter than the climb up. Back at the yellow pole across the ground, which is all that could be seen of the gate, we took off our snowshoes and headed back down the road for the 2km trek back to the car. As the temperatures fell late in the day, the road became icy. An icy road on a steep downhill: sure enough my feet came right out from under me and I sat down with a thud in the middle of the road. The walk back to the car felt far at the end of a long day, but at last there was our car. I always love that safe and sound feeling that you get when you get back to the car after an outdoor adventure.

The sun was setting as we headed out of the park and back into town. The magical sunset seemed like the only appropriate way to end such a perfect day. For the thousandth time I thought how lucky we are to live here.

Pictures are here

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Moniera Khan

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