I find it hard to believe, but this is the third time I have snowshoed the Fat Dog Trail. The first time, back in 2007, we got so far and kinda lost our way, ending up on a minor summit with a nice view. The second time, two years later, deep powder whittled our group of ten down to only four of us who managed to get as far as a different minor summit before we ran out of time. This time we had snow conditions in our favour to make it all the way. Ten of us had rented a cabin at the Manning Park resort for the long Easter weekend of playing in the snow in the warm sunshine.
We set out as a group of seven: Brenda, Colleen, Paul, Jeremy, Gabriela and Louise keeping me company on my mad scheme. Unfortunately Maria had to pass due a reoccurrence of her achilles injury :-( And so another sunny day dawned. After a good breakfast we drove the few kilometres along Highway 3 to the Cambie Creek winter parking lot. We grabbed our gear and set off on the old logging road, the snow still frosty and easy to walk on without snowshoes. A few minutes along the trail we descended to and crossed the Similkameen River, pillows of snow still covering the rocks. Now we began our uphill, gently at first, passing the turnoffs to different legs of the cross-country skiing trails. I wouldn’t fancy skiing today: frosty in the morning, slushy in the afternoon.
The route was still deep in shadow, and as we climbed we sought out every sunny spot to try and warm us up. At first we stuck together fairly well, though it wasn’t too long before we began to string out a bit. We stopped every so often to rest and to keep the group together. The incline was definitely beginning to sort us out a bit :-) But the ascent was mostly pretty gradual with just a few steeper switchbacks to make life interesting.
About an hour and a half after setting off, we crossed Fat Dog creek and emerged into full sun, continuing our climb towards the turnoff. We re-grouped again at the turnoff, took the trail sharply to the left and began a slightly steeper climb through the recovering second-growth forest. Through the trees we caught sight of the jagged prongs of Mt Hozameen – it’s so distinctive, it’s really the highlight of almost any hike in Manning Park. It’s not that the other mountains are not spectacular, it’s just that Hozameen is so striking, a pair of sharp pointy peaks not far south of the border. It’s a familiar sight to me now.
By now it was getting warm, and some in our group were beginning to tire. I was hoping that the pace we’d set hadn’t tired me out too soon, especially as I haven’t done much hiking lately. As we approached the col marking our right-turn back towards the Heather Trail, we discussed our options. Three of us opted for the bump we’d reached on our first attempt while the rest of us put on our snowshoes and trudged up into the meadows. Fortunately we had a ski track and snowshoe tracks to follow. Apparently a larger group of snowshoers had ventured this way yesterday. I was more than happy to benefit from their hard work, and grateful that we had not opted for this trail on the same day.
Upwards through the thinning trees, gaining more elevation oh-so gradually. Every now and again we stopped to admire the view behind us – the bump that Gabriela, Jeremy and Louise were heading for and, of course, Hozameen beyond. We plodded on making good progress, but I could feel that I was beginning to tire. Perhaps that was a lack of food, though, as we reached our turnaround point from last time and settled down for a lunch break. Just before reaching there, I took a different route off the packed trail and found myself wallowing in hip-deep snow in the lee of a small rocky outcrop: I’d stumbled into a pocket of unconsolidated wind-blown snow. Try as I might it was really hard to get out again. My hiking pole got stuck every time I used it for balance and it took some effort to free it up. I had though that the large baskets would help but in this case all they did was trap the point of the pole deep in the snow.
A few minutes of struggling and I was free again. Time for a well-earned lunch. We sat with our backs to First Brother and the Heather Trail, soaking in the scene before us. The Larch Plateau on the way to Frosty Mountain was yesterday’s destination for the others (Maria and I had taken the easy option of some sunny sightseeing near Princeton) and I think they enjoyed seeing where they had been snowshoeing. I love that hike but it’s best saved for a time when the larches are golden. I wandered around taking a few pictures, including the dramatic cornices on the north face of the bump on which we were eating.
Then it was time to continue. Last time I guesstimated that we were only about 1 km off the Heather Trail. Today I sized it up and it looked somewhat further… We descended a short way from our lunch spot before picking up the ascent again. We passed a group of tents in a meadow belonging to a group of skiers – what a place to be camping, and what perfect weather to try out winter camping! I was envious of their sunrise and sunset vistas, and longed to be up there myself. It’s no good – it looks like I might just have to get into winter camping somehow…
We trudged on under cloudless blue skies surrounded by oceans of white. It was fantastic to be up there, and I was wishing Maria was here too to share it. I’ll just have to come back another time… :-) It took another half hour or so, but suddenly we ran out of places to go, reaching a small bump with a clear view of First Brother. I had initially entertained ideas of getting up onto the summit, but given our time and energy levels, that will have to wait. Anyway, woohoo! We were on the Heather Trail. The four of us lined up a group shot and we took a few less-than-serious photos :-) It felt good to be here.
Our return beckoned, though, and we made a small loop of our route taking a slightly different line back through meadows fill with untracked snow, jumping off the occasional wind-formed ledge and finding more pockets of unconsolidated snow to wallow in. It was natural rambling territory, and so we rambled. Meeting up with the trail once more, we began our descent. We crossed paths with the skiers and their dog – which took a shine to us, at least for as long as it thought we had food :-) – and stopped to chat for a few minutes. Indeed, the sunset and sunrise had been spectacular…
Sadly we had to leave and get ourselves moving again. We picked up our trail from earlier and wandered back, occasionally in sync, but often wandering through the meadows on our own routes. Gradually Mt Hozameen dipped below the bump (its official name by now) and we re-entered the trees. Nothing left now but to put one snowshoe in front of the other and make our way back down the trail. We saw where the others had re-joined, which made me relax – I was happy to see that they had found their way back. Undoubtedly they were already back at the cabin with their feet up…
The trudge back along the road was, well, a trudge. My legs were really tired by now and I could have stopped walking at any point. I had resorted to counting my steps at one point, always a sign I want to be done :-) We had one surprise left as the sun dipped below the ridge in front of us: suddenly a rainbow appeared above the trees, and I immediately recognized it as a pollen corona. I tried to get photos but it really didn’t come out very clearly. But I was at least able to show it to the others. Really cool :-) I love seeing stuff like that. To top it off, we could hear varied thrushes whistling away in the forest. Spring is definitely here.
With one last kick in the pants, we crossed the river once again and trudged the endless uphill back to the car. It’s really not that bad, but at the end of a 20-km hike, another half-km of uphill (no matter how gradual) is a killer. Blech. I was done. But we were done, and I could say that I had hiked part of the Heather Trail in winter. Another fabulous day in the mountains. Time to head back to the cabin, get a shower and sit down to a tasty dinner.
Distance: 20 km
Elevation gain: 800 m
Photos to come…