Elk Lakes December 2013 (from the eyes of a “newbie”)

elk lakes 141
We were fortunate to get two different trip reports from Bill and Jen for the Elk Lakes tour but they both agree that it was a really cold trip!
By Bill

It was with some trepidation that I prepared for my first backcountry overnighter with the club. Not only would I have to be capable of skiing with a forty pound pack, the weather forecast was for cold and colder. Trip leader Steve B. assured me that if I could ski the hills at River Bend with a heavy pack, I could do it. As a refresher, I also availed myself of an Intro to Mountain Touring course, led by Jane and Steve D. (the other Steve) and picked up several tips. Steve B. sent out an equipment list which would prove useful (especially the down jacket). 

We carpooled out to the Ribbon Creek Hostel on the Friday afternoon for the first night, where we enjoyed the ambience around the fireplace. Saturday morning dawned clear and cold (below minus 30) but thankfully no wind. It was too cold for one elderly car battery, but with a boost we got it going. We headed up the road to the Elk Lakes trailhead in the Kananaskis Lakes area. Once we left the parking lot on groomed track, we were in the trees and often in the shade, but the work of climbing uphill warmed us up. Steve B. kept a watchful idea on exposed extremities (cheeks and ears) as we skied beside Fox Creek, definitely a cold pocket.

We enjoyed a quick bite at the sunny picnic table by the Blueberry Hill turnoff, and then kept climbing till we reached the powerline. Our group included Kelly B., Brenna, Jen F., Dave A., Dion, Steve B., Jane and Steve D., and myself (Bill F.). The powerline route into BC is skier tracked only, and those with long skis (me) and those with lesser skiing abilities found the deep snow and tighter turns a bit challenging. The service road provided another option for part of the descent.

We reached the Alpine Club of Canada cabin at about 3 p.m., after four hours of skiing. The views were magnificent crossing the meadow just above the cabin. The sun was sinking behind the mountains when we arrived and we knew that daylight would not last much longer, so there was no time to explore. We had to gain access to the cabin (why wasn’t the combination lock opening?) and get a fire in the wood stove going. It was bitter cold in that cabin!

We cleaned the ashes out of the stove as best we could and lit a fire. The stove seemed undersized for the space, and we could not get it drawing properly. We later learned there was another door under the grate that needed to be opened so that more ashes could be removed, but this was not obvious to us at the time. We struggled with that stove for hours, finally leaving the glass door open a crack so that it would draw somewhat. I kept checking my thermometer and announcing the readings with some amusement. I think it was minus 11 when I started checking and by the time dinner was ready about 7 p.m., the cabin had reached 4 degrees. I think the warmest we got it to was 7 degrees in the upper loft immediately above the wood stove. Jen came up with the good idea to block off the entrance to the room that we were trying to heat, so we upended tables and chinked off the opening above with foam cushions. The floor and the metal countertops remained bone chilling cold. Those not actively engaged in hauling and splitting firewood, melting snow, or preparing dinner huddled together by the wood stove.

Appetizers were several cheeses, crackers, and figs. The cheese came out of the pack unfrozen, but didn’t stay that way! Turkey dinner with cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy, coleslaw and mixed vegetables were devoured by all. Dessert proved to be cookies and a Christmas pudding, and we were fortunate to have enough of the pudding left over to enjoy it again at breakfast. After dinner, we retired to the fire and enjoyed opening and taking away each other’s gifts. Dion chose the horse’s ass to commemorate the outing.

Dave stayed up till 3 in the morning to tend the fire, and then was relieved by Steve B. Those of us who stayed in our sleeping bags were very appreciative of their sacrifice, as it was not below zero when we arose the next morning. It was minus 32 outside.

By 11 a.m. we had all left the cabin for the return trail. Skins were put on for the ascent up the power line. Kelly and Brenna tried several turns from a sidehill above, but the snow was so deep they had trouble turning on the short slope without enough speed. Soon enough we reached the tracks of K Country, and before long we had another quick break in the sunshine and then it was mostly downhill back to the parking lot.

What four letter word is synonymous with Elk Lakes 2013? Cold! But the tour was ably led by Steve B. and Kelly, everybody pitched in, and of course there was the fabulous dinner not to mention the gift exchange. If it hadn’t been so cold and if we had had more daylight to explore, as the setting looked magnificent… We shall return to Elk Lakes.

By Jen

So how should I start… hmmm?!!!

Well, after being away from the xc ski club for aprox 4 years, after last time breaking my wrist on a sask toe tour. I attempted another adventurous tour, with a great group of people. We met up at Ribbon creek hostel, on Friday night after a few of us car pooled, for the initial first xc ski trip of 2013.

Once the 9 of us arrived at hostel, we enjoyed a little chat before we all slept the night prior to our morning adventure started.
Saturday morning, we all rised and shined before 9am, and checked temperatures, it was still reading -36, so we waited until 11am, before starting… Hmmm maybe it would warmer???? We were hoping….

We drove to parking lot at Elk pass, temperature being -33, but we geared up and got started. Sweating and working our bodies hard to stay warm and protecting our faces from the bitter cold, with scarfs and balaclava’s, whatever we had… we stopped for 2 very short breaks until we arrived at Hutt, 4 hours later.
When we entered the Hutt, it was dang cold in there. It seemed like forever to heat the Hutt with a small fireplace, but it did finally warm up after 7 hrs.Once and awhile one of us would go upstairs were we would sleep, and see if we could still see our breath.
Each one of us, brought some great food for supper, so we started to heat it up. It was an experience which was definitely a unique one. A hot steamy supper and a great one at that.

Most of the night we sat by the fireplace and continued to refill, the wood. Laughing and telling stories. We all contributed to making the living room smaller, as our room made doors and the cold disappeared quicker. Then santa’s Elf (Steve), brought the idea for opening our xmas gifts. A couple were stolen, the (horses rear end, ect) but we enjoyed the Christmas spirit around the fireplace.

Hot water bottles were used by some in our sleeping bags and others wore layers of warm clothes in their sleeping bags. We asked for volunteers throughout the night, to keep fire light. Steve, Jane , Dave and other Steve kept the fire going, thank goodness….

The morning came quick and we put our gear together after enjoying a wonderful breakfast, or left overs, whichever…
Then off we went, the morning seemed warmer… but still chilling to the bone.
We had a long hill to conquer first thing, so on the skins came. The trip back never took as long, as the way there, and it was warmer… which helped the tour back.
We all enjoyed conversation on our journey up the hill and time together. I and a few others took pictures, which was great to look back apon. The enjoyment of back country skiing, enjoyed by us all.

I will definitely do a tour like that again, it was physical, fun and a inexpensive at the same time. Everyone seemed to enjoy each others company while exploring new territory.