Last weekend I was debating where to go for my next snowshoe outing. It was snowing in the mountains and the conditions were guaranteed to be amazing! For a long time now I was drawn to Cypress Mountain in British Columbia. Every time I drove to Whistler, I would pass the road sign for the access road to the now famous site of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. What I did not know about the area was that in addition to skiing it also has an amazing Nordic Center and miles of backcountry terrain for snowshoeing.
I left Sunday morning at dawn. It was raining in Seattle but by the time I reached Skagit Valley the sun was shining and my hopes for an amazing weekend on the snow were high. Border crossing was a breeze and by 10am I was skiing at Cypress. For the first few hours the weather cooperated even though it was quite windy. Around noon, the snow started falling heavily and it did not stop until the following day. I was done skiing around 4pm. After changing into my snowshoeing gear I headed over to the base of the Nordic area where I was to meet with my guide Kim and the rest of the evening expedition. The snow was falling like crazy. I started to worry about driving down the steep road back to Vancouver later that night. I made an executive decision – I need to put the chains on my tires now because later it may be too late. And so I did. I was ready to face any conditions!
We started the ascend thru a thick forest of western hemlocks, amabilis firs and yellow cedars. The visibility was challenging because of the constantly falling snow. With headlights on, however, we were able to proceed at a reasonable pace. It was magical. Large old growth trees were towering over us, branches heavy with snow. We were setting the trail in some parts as the fast snow accumulation covered previously visible tracks. Our destination was Hollyburn Lodge. Build in 1926 it is one of the oldest buildings in the Cypress Mountain Provincial Park, and a home of the local ski camp. It was initially constructed much lower on the slopes of the Hollyburn Ridge but later moved to its current location. If you are interested in the history of the lodge you can read more here: http://cypressmountain.com/hollyburn-lodge.
We meandered by the light from our head lamps for a couple of hours, stopping here and there to admire an unexpected snow formation or a beautiful tree. We finally got to the First Lake and from there it was just a stone throw to the lodge. I was starving! I did not have anything to eat since lunch and it was now close to 8pm. I was looking forward to a bowl of a hot soup or better yet the cheese fondue that we were promised.
The Hollyburn Lodge has all the charm of the old European ski lodge. Low wooden beams, old stove in the corner, uneven floor and lots of old alpine sports paraphernalia, including a pair of baby snowshoes. We were seated at a long table and the feast begun! We devoured yummy morsels of vegetables, bread and meat dipped in a divine mixture of cheese, wine and herbs. I forgot how good fondue can be! We washed all that down with hot cider and finished off with a chocolate fondue. I couldn’t move after the meal – while it would have been nice to stay at the lodge for a little longer (maybe even overnight), it was time to go back. We had several cars to dig out from the snow and we were all hoping to make it to Vancouver by midnight. The descent from the lodge was very pleasant and definitely helped the digestion.
Who knew there was a slice of heavenly, untouched backcountry sitting just above the city of Vancouver and waiting to be explored…