Joffre Lakes (August 25-26)

On the weekend of August 25, 2012, split into three cars, 13 VOCers descended upon Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. We pick up the trail at its head.

Joffre Lakes are three in number, a lower lake a stone’s throw away from the parking lot, and a middle and upper lakes clustered together at about the four and five kilometre marks, 400 metres higher up. The campsite is located at the upper lake.

Up to Middle Lake, the trail led through an agreeable mix of conifers, alders and blueberry bushes, punctuated by boulder fields. The blueberries came in at least two species, providing ample opportunity for roadside gorging for those making their way up at a leisurely pace. Middle Lake itself offered the most impressive views of the hike up to the campsite, the notched top of Mt. Matier rearing up above a curtain of green trees, with the lake glowing a neon shade of aquamarine in the foreground. As it turned out, both Jannú and Ross were chemists, so a learned discussion ensued about what exactly was the cause of the lake’s hue. One explanation put forward was that Rayleigh scattering, the same mechanism that is responsible for the blue colour of the sky, was at work in the lake. We did not reach agreement, but at home I consulted the Oracle (otherwise known as Wikipedia), so what follows is a bit of a digression to summarize what I learned. It turns out that Rayleigh scattering only applies when the particles involved are much smaller than the wavelength of light. This is the case in the atmosphere, where gas molecules are roughly a hundred times smaller than than the visible light wavelengths. However the particles suspended in Middle Joffre Lake are rock flour made up of ground-up quartz and feldspar, and are the same size as silt particles. Silt is on the order of 0.01 mm in size, that is, smaller than sand, but larger than clay particles. And much larger than light wavelengths. In the end, I did not feel like taking out the electromagnetism notes from 2nd year, so whether the true explanation for the Joffres’ aquamarineness is Mie Theory, Anomalous Diffraction Theory, or something else remains unknown. The park website simply states that the rock flour “reflects green and blue wavelengths of sunlight”, which seems like a cop-out.

Geological conundrums notwithstanding, from Middle Joffre it was only a half hour or so to the Upper Lake, which while not offering quite the same views (the views were still awesome), had the benefit of a campsite and an outhouse. It was also very inviting swim-wise, so as the rest of the party nibbled on lunch and set up their tents, first Isabel and then I, waded in for a 20-second circle swim. Cold, but invigorating. The next day Ross would show both of us up, remaining in the water for over a minute.

After lunch, we split up into two groups. Siong, Lanny and Carolyn elected to stay at the camp, while the rest of us set our sights on the valley leading up between Tszil and Taylor peaks.

A few hundred metres above the main campsite we found another site, sheltered by trees, with a creek for water, an outhouse, and soft flat tent sites. Filing the information away for future reference, we hiked on. Fairly soon we came upon the route to the col between Tszil and Taylor. This route led up the crest of a morraine probably left behind by the Tszil glacier. With spectacular views (and sounds!) of waterfalls cascading down the valley on our left, and the mountainside bulging on our right, the moraine was well-worth the few hiking-pole-clutching moments as I struggled to keep myself balanced. At the end of the moraine was a steep section of rocks where we stopped for a quick snack break as we took in the vista looking back down the valley. Now on wider, boulder-strewn ground, we passed a set of smaller lakes (no takers for a swim) and made our way up a series of snowslopes (where the hiking pole the VOC kindly lent me came in real handy) before emerging on the col between Tszil and Taylor mountains.

Martina hiking up the moraine to the col
Martina hiking up the moraine to the col

I don’t know why humans like mountain views so much, but it is a fact that they don’t get old. From the col we could see peak upon snow-capped peak stretching out to the horizon. The sky was dotted with oddly shaped clouds, each with a tail of precipitation (or condensation?) trailing below it. As it happened, Nick was studying climate and atmospheric science, but a conclusive explanation of the phenomenon eluded even him. In the foreground was Duffey Mountain connected to the col by Two Goat Ridge, which we agreed looked like less hair-raising of a walk than the moraine. In the valley on the other side Pemberton glimmered as a beacon of civilization. (I was carrying my cellphone, and at this point I actually got a text from my brother, so the beacon was more than figurative.)

Having reached the col, we were faced with a decision–do we climb Taylor peak to our right, or Tszil peak to our left? In the end we settled on Tszil, partly because it looked cooler and partly because, at 2377 metres, it was 59 metres higher.

The hike up to the summit of Tszil from the col featured only a few spots that required the use of all four appendages for holding on. About halfway up we bore slightly left and ascended along the edge of a snowfield, while not venturing onto the snowfield itself. (Too steep, too scary.) On the summit, we once again whipped out snacks and cameras to contemplate the majesty of our surroundings while nourishing our tiny fragile bodies. The group shots included an attempt at spelling out VOC with our limbs, complete with a leaping exclamation mark! On the far side of the summit the Tszil glacier slumbered.

The group on the summit of Tszil
The group on the summit of Tszil. Top row from left: Martina, Cora, Jim and Nick. Bottom row: Art, Isabel, Jannú, Ross, Jesus and Sherry. Carolyn, Siong and Lanny are below at the campsite.

Bumsliding on the way down
Bumsliding on the way down

For me, the best part of the way back down were the snowslopes between the col and the top end of the moraine. These were negotiated by some of us in the sitting down, or “bumsliding” position, amidst much laughing and bruised bottoms. By the time we got back to camp it was getting dark, and I was grateful that Jannú had made everyone take their headlamps. If we were an hour later, they would have definitely been necessary.

The next morning we decided to hike up to the lower reaches of Matier Glacier, which were heard to be shedding thunderous ice hunks at a prodigious rate. We would approach along a moraine that led to the right side of the glacier, out of ice-hunk-flinging range. As it turned out, Siong had gone up that route the day before, and told us that it was relatively easy. True enough, after 40 minutes or so of exertion we could touch the wall of blue ice and look back down on the picturesque waters of the lake below. After some time posing for victory shots in the vestibules of ice caves, we headed down.

One of the highlights of the lunch break was Lanny using his manly strength to rip an apple neatly in half. (Was it Lanny that ultimately succeeded, or did he get help from Nick? This is why one shouldn’t wait two weeks to write a Trip Report.) The hike back to the parking lot, split up into a fast, medium and slow group, was uneventful but satisfying, and after money matters were taken care of I looked back on a memorable two days.

Many thanks to Cora for organizing this trip, to Jannú for sharing his expertise on the hike to Tszil, and to both of them for making their pictures available online. Also a shout-out to the folks at Natural Resources Canada (the Canmatrix department) and Joffre Lakes Provincial Park for their excellent topographic and park maps, respectively. And of course–a big thank you to everyone who came on this trip and made it as awesome as it was!

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