canada general moosling snow trip reports

Elk Lakes Cabin

It’s been such a long time since we’ve been out for a winter hut adventure. Nearly five years! So we (I) decided that to avoid having another winter drift away, it would be a good idea to start getting organised, and so the Elk Lakes Cabin idea was born.

I’d cycled past there last year, as I headed south to Fernie, but hadn’t actually checked out the hut. But I knew it was there somewhere, four or five kilometres beyond the groomed Peter Lougheed Provincial Park ski trails that take you to Elk Pass.

The three of us had a disorganised morning, sleeping in, then slowly getting everything packed and loaded into the car. Somehow this all took much longer than expected, and by the time we arrived at the Elk Pass trailhead it was after 1pm.

“Plenty of time” we said to ourselves… then “well, we have headlamps”.

As we set off we realised it was much colder than we’d been expecting. It’s sometimes hard to keep warm while skiing at small child pace too. After a couple of kilometres the small child was inserted into a sleeping bag and loaded into the pulk we had borrowed, and we set off at a more determined pace.

We’d headed along the Hydroline trail to Elk Pass, thinking we had a better chance of being warm up there – maybe we’d even find sunlight! And we managed to get a few minutes of sunlight before it disappeared behind the mountains for the day, but then the temperature just kept dropping.

Beyond Elk Pass it’s just backcountry skiing. There was a bit of a skier set track for the first kilometre or two, but it was much harder work to tow a heavily laden pulk through. Or so Alex tells me.

Theoretically this section is downhill. In reality, it didn’t feel very downhill, except for the final section just before you drop down onto the meadow before the hut. And by the time we reached that point, it was properly dark, headlamps-on skiing. Which was thoroughly exhilarating given the strength of our headlamps.

As we reached the meadow, we descended into a lovely cold pool of air. Alex’s thermometer was reading -25oC or so. My hair and jacket had gathered a thorough coating of white frost, and we kept moving, hoping that the hut was magically warm.

The hut was not magically warm. The combination lock on the door was frozen shut, and took some convincing to unlock, and then we were on a mission to build some fire and raise everything to a more reasonable temperature. Dinner was cooked, port was drank, and we sat down to play a family game of Settlers of Catan before bed. Finn had convinced us to bring it along – I’d taught him how to play the week before, and he’d developed an immediate obsession.

An early night to bed, we had more hut-guests arrive around midnight. They eventually settled down, and when we awoke the next morning (at 8.45am, a perfectly reasonable time) we discovered that 3 of the 4 of them were Australian, and very friendly hut-mates.

Our mission for that day involved nothing more than skiing back out again, but what with another game of Catan to play, and a slow breakfast, and then slowly packing, it was after 11am by the time we were on our way. Thankfully it was a bit warmer now, and the sun was shining!

We convinced Finn to ski across the meadow, then threw him into the pulk for the rough climb up to Elk Pass. We spent most of the climb singing loudly.

On reaching Elk Pass we snacked, booted Finn out of the pulk, removed skins, and started the ski down. Which was a lot of fun! Some sections were slightly ridiculous with no grip, but still possible.

As we pulled into the carpark, having just flown down the last hill, Finn’s conclusion was, after yelling “YAHOOOOO!” most of the way down the hill: “Mama, that was the best adventure ever, that was such a fun adventure!”

Distance: 10km (from Elk Pass trailhead to Elk Lakes Cabin)
Elevation gain: 240m (each way)
Time: 4.5 hours to the hut, 4 hours back to the car

canada general moosling snow trip reports

The Lake O’Hara Expedition

Seeing as Finn was nearly seven months old, we’d been thinking it was high time he went out for an overnight ski tour. Then the other night we were having dinner with friends, and over cupcakes and charades a plot was hatched. The next day five of us, plus baby, were booked into Elizabeth Parker Hut.

the snow wiggles

It’s roughly a 12 km ski in, 11.5km of that on a nice wide road. The way in is mostly uphill (although I questioned this later, as the way back seemed to be about half uphill as well). And as you ski along, there are helpful little kilometre marker signs on the trees. So after you’ve hauled a heavily loaded Chariot for at least five kilometres, a little sign appears telling you “1 km”.

stopping for lunch

We started at around 11am, and although it was snowy to begin with, it had cleared up nicely by lunchtime.

onwards and upwards


Arriving at the hut about five hours later (we took it slowly, and had a long-ish lunch) we were faced with a choice. There were only two people in the big main hut, so heaps of room for us… or we could open up the little cabin, which was unoccupied, and was only supposed to sleep six. We picked the little cabin.

hut baby

Finn settled in on the big bunk beds and started playing with our nalgene bottles. And anything else he could get his hands on. Who needs toys when you have random objects?

toothbrush baby

After dinner and Smores we collapsed into sleeping bags. Finn was in his polar fleece sleeping sack on a blanket between me and Alex, but by the end of the night it had cooled down, and he was inside my sleeping bag. As a result, most of my top half was not inside my sleeping bag, as although he is small, he has a tendency to sprawl. I’m tempted to try the down quilt idea for further camping with baby adventures.

the view out the front door

Light filtered into the hut the next morning. Two of our number had already disappeared, hoping to ski out a more interesting way, over a couple of passes and a glacier. The rest of us gradually got up… admired the mountains, ate lots of food, drank tea, went for a ski to check out Lake O’Hara (yep, it’s a lake, and it has some very nice mountains around it).

lake o'hara and plateau

Then more food was eaten, and we gradually got our things together to start the ski down. Well, I was thinking about it as a ski down. We had all that elevation to lose, and it had been uphill all the way here, right? We waxed our skis once we reached the road, thinking it would be sufficient for climbing the few hills that were between us and the car. And although there was a really sweet downhill between km 9 and 8, the rest of the road back was pretty rolling. Although it did take us only two hours to reach the car, so it couldn’t have been that bad.

on the way down

Distance: 12km one-way

Elevation gain: 500m

Recommended skis: This could be done on anything from skate skis to heavy touring-for-turns gear. We were on heavy skis, as a few of our party were looking at an interesting route onwards from the hut. And they do make hauling a fully-loaded Chariot uphill a lot easier.

Packing: The Chariot had the Ergo shoved behind the infant sling, along with a blanket. The nappy/diaper changing kit was beside Finn, then our down jackets were stuffed in around his feet and across his legs. Then the back pockets were loaded up with a drink bottle and Finn’s spare clothes (plus the squeaky monkey), and a small backpack was strapped on the back with a few of my things in it (like hut booties!). My sherpa carried my sleeping bag and change of clothes, as well as all of the food.

Nappy/diaper planning: I used disposables for this trip, because hauling all those wet cloth diapers just takes up so much space! (I did the long haul flight to Australia with cloth – just to see if it could be done) I’m interested in trying gDiapers for trips like this in the future – they have inserts you can put into cloth diapers, and then dispose of down a long drop/burn/bury when they’ve been used. And the guys at Ground Truth Trekking use them – and if anyone has thoroughly adventure-tested a product it’s them!

Accommodation options:
We stayed in the ACC’s Elizabeth Parker Hut. If you’re feeling rich you could use the fancier option of the Lake O’Hara Lodge (not cheap!), or the cheapskate option is just camping – although you’ll still need to pay $9.80 per person for a wilderness pass.