It was late October when I was planning how I should spend my first and last fall reading break at UBC, should I go to Harrison Hot Springs with some friends, fly to Toronto to be cold and miserable, or something else? I had recently joined the VOC and noticed a Beginner Phriendly hike at this place called the Phelix Hut. Sounded like a cool little trip, doing some chill backpacking and snowshoeing and getting to meet new people – that sounds like a bunch of fun I could get behind! What could go wrong?
Day 1 (Nov 11 2021)
The trip being my first, I was a bit nervous and fell asleep at 2am just to wake up at 5am to meet up with my car group. After some getting lost and cursing Google Maps and North Vancouver streets, we promptly made our way to McDonald’s at Pemberton to meet up with the rest of the group. The group was 16 in total, and we all came from various backgrounds, there were international students, domestic students, exchange students, graduated students, people who have been on many trips, people on their first trip – so really the perfect mixed bag to learn and from one another and have a jolly good time.
We arrived at the trailhead around ~10:30/11am and were suiting up to get ready for the trek ahead of us.Being a beginner friendly trip, the organizers, Mason Slavner and Linda Kiritchkov, told us about faff reduction, and to “Be Bold, Start Cold”, meaning to remove most of the layers we had on since once we started and got moving, we would get warm quickly. As we began our trek upwards, the scenery was nice, the people were friendly, laughter filled the air, even more layers were removed as we started sweating, and it was a really fun time. After around 2 hours of hiking, we reached a section where the snow shifted easily under our feet, and so snowshoers decided to strap on their snowshoes and skiiers began skinning. After a couple more hours, we reached a point in which we got off the Forest Service Road (FSR) and entered the depths of the snow capped trees. Among the tight turns and hidden rocks, boulder fields appeared, small streams crossed our path, and snow was beginning to fill the air. It was around 3pm when we decided we really should pick up the pace and get to the hut before dark (~4:30pm), so we marched onwards, taking fewer breaks and keeping our eyes peeled for the bright orange trail markers. Then, the type 2 really began (for me as a beginner at least, maybe it was still type 1 fun for the more experienced people). We did not reach the hut before dark, so we lit up our headlamps and began making haste, with the snow coming down more heavily around us. Many of our boots were soaked through, we were wet, grumpy, and tired, and we all wanted to get to the hut as soon as possible at this point. I heard discussion ahead of me looking for the reflective glow of the markers as the front of the pack continued breaking trail and discussion behind me about the prospect of “one last turn” or “20 more minutes”. I was relieved at the thought of being able to get to the hut in 20 more minutes, but knew to take their estimate with a grain of salt. After another hour of hiking in the dark, around 6pm, we had reached a fairly large creek. There was fresh snowfall and we weren’t sure how to cross, or if there was a path further up ahead that would wrap around. Thankfully, there actually was a bridge but just completely topped off with snow that it had become indistinguishable from the surrounding snow-covered logs. The courageous Hannah Bates took off her skis and got out her avalanche shovel to go about clearing the bridge and ensuring its safety for the rest of the group. Around 30 minutes after crossing, we finally made it to the Hut! However, there was still one smaller group lagging a bit behind of us and we noticed that near the bridge part, there was a headlamp blinking and someone was shouting for aid. Hannah and Luke Dunn volunteered to go check it out and brought additional items with them just in case.
The rest of the group began settling down at the hut and hanging our clothes to dry and unpacking cookware and sleeping gear. We got the wood stove set up and were super stoked to finally put on some warm clothes, and were also eagerly stoking the fire to keep us toasty.
Not long after, the rest of our group arrived and it turned out that Mason’s skis were being a bit funky and he was basically bootpacking without his skis or pack to reach the hut. I think that Luke and Hannah went to retrieve his pack and skis but am not completely sure how his stuff got back to the him.
Everyone was now ready to eat dinner and the delicious aroma of instant noodles, mac and cheese, and other delicacies filled the air. My nose also caught the scent of another smell – mulled wine!After dinner, everyone was pretty damn tired so we decided to go in for a well-deserved rest.
Day Two (Nov 12 2021)
After a restful night (only disturbed by two member’s alarms at 5am…), people started planning out their days and exploring the areas around the hut at around 12pm. Some snowshoers explored lower terrain around the hut that had a low chance of avalanches, skiiers split into two groups to ski around some of the nearby peaks, and some people stayed inside to relax a bit more.In the evening, we were met with two other hikers who also happened to book the hut for that night. Unfortunately, I don’t remember their names, but I do remember that one was playing the guitar and it was super fun. Everyone sort of ended up splitting up into two main groups at the two hut tables, one to complete the Harrision Hut Mystery Puzzle (it has a real spooky backstory) and the other table to sing songs from the VOC songbook with the two new companions. Eventually, all the mulled wine was finished, the puzzle was completed, and the singers had their fill of camp songs, so everyone went upstairs for the night.
Day 3 (Nov 13 2021)
The next day, snowshoers began a good 1-2 hours ahead (around 7:40am) of the skiers down the trail and began walking down. The hike down was much easier, with the trail now well formed, clear conditions and much lighter packs. Everyone seemed to be eager to get back home soon.Soon after crossing the one of the bridges, the skiiers had caught up with the snowshoers and were zipping past us. Eventually, we had reached a portion of the trail where there once was snow before, but was all melted away from the previous days’ sun and rain. Finally around 1:20pm, the whole group had finally reconvened back at the cars. We had a quick debrief on the trip and shared fun memories with each other and broke off to head back down. We had all decided to visit the North Arm Pemberton Farm for a light lunch and then quickly got back on our way to catch up on the all the homework we’ve been putting off. The drive down from Pemberton was also no simple task, as the rainclouds had decided to really start pouring down on us and the roads were all getting slippery and more difficult to navigate. Fortunately, the drivers were all skilled and everyone got home safe (thank you drivers).
Overall, really solid first trip, enjoyed my time, and looking forward to going on a bunch more!
Tip: I learned from Mason Slavner who learned it from Glacier School – if your boots are wet, you can line them with plastic bags to prolong the dryness of your socks and keep them nice and comfortable-ish. Of course, this method isn’t foolproof as sometimes the bags might slip around and come loose, break down from rubbing around your boot, or even make your feet start sweating too.