History of Elfin Lakes
Elfin Lakes has been a popular destination for hiking, snowshoeing and skiing for almost a century. In the 1930's Ottar and Emil Brandvold immigrated to Canada from Norway. Hearing of the wilderness paradise in the Garibaldi region they combed the area for a suitable location to build an alpine lodge. Joined by Ottar's future wife, Joan Mathews of West Vancouver, they decided on Diamond Head, next to the two small lakes to build their dream lodge. Emil, Ottar and Joan built Diamond Head Lodge by hand using the forest surrounding what would become known as Elfin Lakes. The name Elfin Lakes is suspected to have come much later. One record indicates the lakes were once called Crystal Lakes. The earliest indication they were named Elfin Lakes comes from the pamphlet from the Diamond Head Lodge in 1978. Since 1978 the lakes have been known as Elfin Lakes. For thirty years, beginning in the late 1940's the Diamond Head Lodge hosted visitors from around the world. Year-round visitors enjoyed the breathtaking scenery and rugged hospitality. In 1958 the Diamond Head Lodge was bought by the Provincial Government and leased back to the Brandvold's. The Brandvold's continued to operate the lodge until their retirement in 1972. In 1973 the lodge was permanently closed and in 1974 the Elfin Lakes Hut was built to replace the deteriorating lodge. In 2009 the crumbling remains of the Diamond Head Lodge were removed. One corner of this beautiful and cherished building still remain as a tribute to the Brandvold's contribution to the history of this wonderful place.
The Elfin Lakes Hut
The Elfin Lakes Campground is located in an incredibly beautiful area of distant, enormous, jagged mountains and beautiful rolling hills and valleys. The two cute little lakes lay next to the amazing Elfin Lakes Hut. To snowshoe to this hut is quite something. As you approach it in winter it looks quite small, buried as it invariably is in metres of snow. The entrance is reached by descending a snow staircase. Upon entering you feel an unexpected wave of heat as you realize the hut is heated. There are also propane stoves and very unexpectedly, working lights. The Elfin Lakes Hut is solar powered. Amazing. Stairs lead up to a impressively large sleeping area which can accommodate 33 people. A fact you would have never believed from your approach view outside. Not only can it sleep 33, but it does so in style. Beautifully organized, solid looking, wooden bunk beds built right into the structure make the hut look like some characteristically beautiful, European ski lodge. What an great place Elfin Lakes is! There are several outhouses next to the Elfin Lakes Hut and plenty of beautiful spots in the area to put up a tent. Even in the bitter cold of winter you will see a few tents a few hundred metres from the hut. There is an amazing plateau near the hut that edges onto a sweeping view of the valley below. This is just one of many million dollar view tent sites to be found in this year-round, mountain paradise. Overnight camping and hut fees are payable at the trailhead by cash or by credit card online here.
Joffre Lakes Provincial Park in April
A stunning mountain paradise and tough snowshoe trail
Joffre Lakes Provincial Park is a hiking paradise in the summer and a skiing and snowshoeing paradise in the winter. About 1 hour and 20 minutes north of Whistler gets you to the Joffre Lakes trailhead. Located up on the Duffy Lake Road north of Pemberton, Joffre Lakes is well known for its incredibly surreal, turquoise water. In the winter of course all three of the Joffre Lakes are frozen over but the trail is popular with skiers and snowshoers between the months of November and early June (depending on snowfall). Though the trail is fairly well marked and almost always tracked out in the winter it is still possible to lose the trail after dark or or during heavy snowfall.
Joffre Lakes Provincial Park is centred around the three Joffre Lakes. All of them are beautiful on their own and each more beautiful than the last. Frozen over in the winter, you won't be able to marvel at the amazing turquoise colours the lakes, caused by light reflecting off of the particles of glacial silt suspended in the water. In the winter, with the lakes frozen and the trees weighed down with snow, Joffre Lakes takes on a serene beauty, with the low sun cutting through the trees and the forest brightly reflecting. The third Joffre Lake ends in a U-shaped valley where you will find the far side of the lake towering with glaciers relentlessly crushing down on the lake. The sun fills the valley and the silence is wonderful.
The trailhead and parking lot will be buried in metres of snow in the winter months, however a small parking area is plowed throughout the winter. There are plenty of signs, so even in snowy weather, you should easily spot them. From the winter parking area you will likely have to climb over a plowed, wall of snow and then continue through the snow buried parking lot. At the far end, the parking lot bends right and you will spot the trailhead sign.
The first Joffre Lake is just an easy and short 2 minute walk. Here you can see directly across the lake and beyond to your destination. The third Joffre Lake will be at the foot of the distant mountain you see in the V of the closer mountains. If you trust the thickness of the ice on the lake you can take a short-cut by walking across the lake and picking up the trail as it skirts the right side of the lake. This doesn't cut off much distance, however, and finding the marked trail may be tricky.
Continuing along the trail you slowly ascend through deep forest and across some small creeks. Past the far side of the first Joffre Lake you then cross a huge boulder field which can be tricky to cross when wet, snowy or icy. On a sunny day, this is a great place to stop and take in the view. All around you are massive pillows of snow resting on massive boulders buried far beneath. The mountains across the valley seem to glow impossibly white. It's here that you will notice that much of the hike will be in the shade. Partly because of the deep forest, but also because the trail is mostly on the hillside facing away from the sun. Because of this you will want to have lots of warm gear and some hot drinks or you won't enjoy the sights on the trail nearly as much.
Plenty of caution should be taken on this trail. Make sure you don't go snowshoeing to Joffre Lakes immediately after heavy snow. Pick a nice, sunny day and leave yourself lots of daylight and be prepared with headlights as the winters bring very early sunsets, especially in the mountains. The trail is sometimes steep as you gain 400 metres of altitude in just 5k, trailhead to the third Joffre Lake. On snowshoes expect to reach the third lake in about two hours.
On a sunny day the frozen lake is beautiful and almost warm feeling. However, as soon as the sun goes behind the mountains the temperature gets bitter cold so be prepared with very warm clothing on any snowshoeing adventure there. You do occasionally see people camp overnight at Joffre Lakes in the winter. The usual campsite area is buried in snow as it lays at the base of the mountains so people usually put their tents directly on the frozen lake. Extraordinary!
As you sit back in one of the several ramshackle tubs that fill from the , below you a mystifying process takes place. For every kilometre below you, the temperature rises an astonishing 30c. And under you there are a bewildering array of water channels snaking through this massively heated ground. Fissures and cracks in the rock below you. These pockets and channels of water are extremely hot, and if the geological circumstances are just right, as they are at Skookumchuck, they will be forced to the surface to become a surreal, natural phenomenon. A hot spring. In British Columbia, hot springs appear quite predictably along fissures amongst the mountain ranges. Skookumchuck is of course in one of these fissures. An astonishing one at that. Take a look at a map of BC. The Lillooet River cuts a remarkable swath through BC. It runs from Whistler, north, then east, then south, eventually ending in Vancouver. You could, as many have done, canoe from Whistler to Vancouver. And all the while follow the current. It’s quite incredible.
The Coast Mountain Range, in which engulfs you in Skookumchuck, is of course very geologically active. Geologically recent that is. Some mountains are old, some young. These ones are young. The Pacific Ring of Fire, which runs from New Zealand, through Indonesia, up along Asia through Japan, and across to Alaska, then down the coast of North America, through the notorious California, ending at the southern tip of South America. Where this Pacific Ring of Fire is, frightening geological activity is. And the Coast Mountain Range lies within this. It produces a ring of volcanoes that created, and creates some of BC highest mountains. The Coast Mountain Range is magnificent. And under it all, rumblings continue, both producing these wonderful hot springs and spectacular events such as the Meager Creek slide in 2010, which effectively closed the reigning, premier hot springs title of best hot springs near Whistler, now held by Skookumchuck.
In short, if you gouge deep into the Ring of Fire as the Lillooet River does, you create, really facilitate, an artesian to reach the surface. An artesian is simply where pressure far below pushes water up to the surface. Hot water. And this is the wonderful source of Skookumchuck Hot Springs. Really quite incredible. The Pacific Ring of Fire, which recently burst forth near Japan and Christchurch, New Zealand, found a shallow spot, a crack in the earth, in which to push hot water to the surface. More incredible still, this impossibly remote place in Canada was found thousands of years ago, and certainly cherished. Of course it was. Hot water flowing out of the ground. Wow.
The people that likely came across these springs first, are known today as the I. This is remarkable for several reasons. Let’s trade places for a few minutes. You sink back into this wonderful water of the Skookumchuck Hot Springs, and I’ll tell you a story.
These springs were taken into ownership in 1859 by a wealthy businessman from nowhere near here, William E. Stein after he applied for a pre-emption. This is a wonderfully spectacular phenomenon of mankind’s history. He saw it, wanted it, applied, and then owned it, legally. Take a moment to get your head around that. And after you shake your head it confusion, think of what the In-SHUCK-ch people thought of that. Anyone in fact. There was a time in our history where you could look at the ground, say, “ I want that”. Apply for it, and get it. A piece of the world, the ground, the trees, the hot springs. It’s yours. More accurately, William E. Stein’s. He owns the ground? The hot springs. It’s hard to fathom now, but imagine explaining it to an In-SHUCK-ch person back then.
This is obviously ridiculous. But common sense has somehow won in the end. Kind of. These hot springs should obviously be owned by no person or people. Of course common sense doesn’t prevail, even in the face of such obvious facts. Certainly this ownership by William E. Stein is ridiculous, but oddly it still holds. In fact it was still “owned” by his heirs, then sold on to other “owners” until 2007 when it was purchased by the Canadian Government. Finally, freed, though at quite an expense, to ownership by no one. But of course that’s not true. The childish, “me first” ownership mentality will eventually win out in the end. The Government of Canada bought Skookumchuck as a “Treaty Related Measure” for the In-SHUCK-ch treaty negotiations.
Though it’s true, at least in recorded history that people now known as the In-SHUCK-ch saw it first. It’s also, more so, a fact that the world of the In-SHUCK-ch people that first came across these wonderful hot springs, didn’t have a concept of ownership of the ground. You couldn’t own the ground, a tree, a river, a hot spring, any more than you could own the ocean. The ancestors of these people surely have been plunged into a world of petty land ownership quarrels, and they surely will enter into it with the same pettiness and fundamental absurdity as William E. Stein did. You almost can’t blame them.
But for my part, they are beautiful. The hot springs that is, next to the Lillooet River, that no one seems to own. Water bodies have escaped this absurd human creation of drawing lines on a map and claiming ownership. How do they own it? By having enough other people agree that they do. Does someone own Lillooet Lake? Someone must have spotted it first. Why not? Because enough of us agreed that water cannot be owned. We don’t collectively think this through to the ground under us. Not really. We accede to what is established in the past is true. It must be. If someone today said that they own a star that they just “discovered” through a telescope. Despite the ridiculous irrelevance of their statement, we would not even accept a possibility of their claim being true. It’s absurd. “I saw it first, it’s mine.” This ridiculous thinking, though far beneath us, is still with us. Our past, our present. If Bill Gates bought Greenland, as theoretically he may have enough money to do. Wouldn’t I have a say? You wouldn’t? Who did he pay, to “own” it? How did the people that sold it to him own it?
What if, like the original In-CHUCK-ch people, we don’t perceive that the world could be “owned” or any part of it. Then how can it be “owned”?
It can’t. It simply can’t. Because the world lives in a different set of rules now. An evolution of humanity. A person with 500 billion dollars is just a person to me. They can’t “buy” our world. They can’t “own” a part of it. So on principle, in defense of what is right, Skookumchuck cannot be owned, traded, or used as a bargaining tool to placate the descendants of the ones that saw it first. If Bill Gates wanted to buy Skookumchuck for 500 billion dollars. Some privileged people would take the money. But I would say. Sorry. You can’t buy what can’t be sold. If the original claim to ownership is that someone saw it first and talked about it in legend. Then another person saw it and petitioned to own it, was granted ownership. You will certainly agree from a body that didn’t own it. Then it was passed down the generations, sold and then resold to the Canadian government. The fact that any ownership at all is confidently proclaimed is astonishing. Really astonishing.
But there we are.
As I lay back in the wonderful, steamy heat of the Skookumchuck Hot Springs. In the midst of the mighty Coast Mountain Range, part of the unfathomable Pacific Ring of Fire. I stop caring. The place is deserted. I sink into the water. I don’t own this little bit of Skookumchuck right now. Whoever thinks they own it. Whoever will ever own it. Fight over the inevitable, inevitability of having to “own” everything. At this moment I’m here. I don’t own it. I don’t want to. I wouldn’t want to. Somehow I can see that owning this is wrong, immoral, pathetic. The Canadian Government got it partly right. They bought it back from ownership. Now it belongs to us all, or more accurately, no one. I just hope that this moment. Right now. Sinking into the Skookumchuck Hot Springs, surging from part of the Ring of Fire far below, can be had again and again. There is something about this place. Something I can own forever. This moment.
Skookumchuck Hot Springs is one of four accessible hot springs near Whistler, BC. Though it's a bit shabby and institutionalized, it has an unmistakable charm and beauty. It lies within a very beautiful campground, which runs along the crashing Lillooet River deep in the Canadian wilderness, 96.5 kilometres from Whistler Village.