Ski Northern BC this Winter
For a dusting of powder and charm.
Guest post by Louis Gabriel Kéroack (lgkeroack.com)
Driving around Tumbler Ridge, BC, hiking options might seem limitless – because they are. But thanks to the work of a handful of volunteers, BC’s first Geopark offers a few ways to structure your wilderness adventure.
We’re standing in front of the countless brochures advertising trails at the Tumbler Ridge Visitor Info Center, and the promising pictures are making it difficult to pick one. I end up limiting my options by only examining the “strenuous” ones, marked by an ominous red label. Bootski Lake seems fun; the name of the trail promises a few laughs, and the picture on the pamphlet is gorgeous.
Exploring the Tumbler Ridge Geopark is easy. There are over 50 trails and alpine routes signed, ranging from strenuous alpine routes to short forest hikes. Their destinations often include waterfalls and rocky summits. My friend and I are in the mood for the latter, and we pack our mountaineering axe and overnighting gear. Most summits in the Park are accessible without technical gear, thanks to rocky formations that tend to erode into scree slopes instead of forming huge cliffs- think Banff with gentler walls, and you have a pretty good idea of the Park’s alpine state of affairs.
Tumbler Ridge isn’t sedan friendly. Fashionable Outbacks with their expansive bike racks and their low profiles would have a hard time navigating the Wapiti Forest Service Road, on which we spend an hour and a half. Most trails in the Geopark are deep into the backcountry; one must be willing to sacrifice a few tires if he wants to see the entirety of the park, but the untamed wilderness of the place warrants such a small sacrifice. The Bootski Lake trail is inconspicuous, only signaling itself by a shy little blue sign. The trail follows a deactivated 4WD road for a few kilometres, switch backing up mount Waptik. Rounded hills rise behind us, telling sign that we’re leaving the foothills and entering into the Rockies’ main ranges. Indeed, after a short climb through wildflowers-laden meadows, we access a ridge. The panorama is breathtaking and alien. When you’re standing above timberline, you’re transported in the tundra. The dense pine forests are far below you, and the only plants that left to step on are tiny Louseworths and lichens. The wind blows continuously, deforming the few scattered trees and shrubs you find. Huge rocky peaks rise above you in all directions, and the only sign of life in that landscape is the whistling of the marmots. They spy on us from higher up on the ridge, their heads poking out of the ground and going into hiding as soon as we start moving.
Bootski Lake is at the bottom of Mount Waptik’s huge glacial cirque, a tiny, electric-blue tarn. Patches of snow are melting away under the July sun, and we suspect that those are an eternal fixture up here; five degrees’ warm at those altitudes. Setting up a bivouac takes us the rest of the day, and I set up my photo gear before going to sleep (photography pro-tip: whenever you’re overnighting somewhere, set up your camera and tripod for a beautiful landscape shot, and set an alarm for two. This’ll save you from trying to frame a shot in darkness). Nights are cold at 2,000 metres (6,500 feet), and I part with my sleeping bag with difficulty. At least the shot was worth it.
We start climbing the next morning, making our way up the scree slope, reaching the headwall near noon. The climb to the summital ridge proves to be easy, and rewards us with a fantastic view of the Northern Rockies. It’s easy to feel lost up here. It would take several days of travelling through unexplored territory to get to the next road, and the whole region has this wild, untamed feel to it. Huge rock formations dominate the landscape, and the brochure I’m carrying helps to decipher the history told by the mountains. Folds, intrusions and faults shape our surroundings, hinting at a violent past.
Returning below timberline makes you realize how tiring the wind can be. After 24 hours of non-stop wailing, the forest feels creepy. The bugs return. The air gets damp and still. The contrast of environments is what makes the Geopark so fascinating. It promises a different experience every time you head out.
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