I’d been looking forward to it for a long time. Looking forward to enjoying the world-class views which greet hikers at Elfin Lakes.
I rose early, ate a hearty meal and joined my brother in waiting for our lift to the trail head of the hike, which lies 14km from the suburbs of Squamish, in British Columbia, Canada.
We’d chosen to pay for a shuttle to avoid riding the boring and arduous 14km to the start of the hike, which itself is a 2okm round trip along a gradually rising walking path. We’d also chosen to ride the trail rather than hike because we figured it would be much more fun on the way down. Ultimately, though, we decided to tackle the trail for one reason – the 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains.
We parted with the shuttle after assuring the driver we had packed the bear spray and set off on the trail in a light drizzle under a sky heavy with clouds. We’d expected some rain early in the morning but were confident the sun would emerge by the time we reached the summit.
We passed a number of hikers on the steady climb but no other cyclists, until one came flying down the path. The massive grin on his face assured us we had something to look forward to.
The large number of hikers who had defied the weather indicated a view worth seeing. The descending hikers constantly warned us of two baby black bears on the trail up ahead. Lucky we’d packed the bear spray.
The reports of bears filled us with some trepidation and this combined with my general fatigue to turn the leisurely ride into something more arduous. I was glad we had taken the shuttle, because even without the 14km ride from Squamish, I was already struggling.
Alas, we did not see any bears, which should have been a relief, but was also a disappointment because I hadn’t seen a single bear in the preceding two weeks in Canada, and because I was hoping an encounter would be an excuse to stop and rest. After about an hour of climbing, I was struggling, with a lack of fitness and the realisation that I couldn’t keep up with my older brother, who was not helping the situation by popping wheelies up ahead.
We didn’t see the bears, but we soon discovered their bounty – blueberries. There were hundreds of them, on bushes right beside the trail, and they were absolutely delicious. More delicious than anything that can be bought in a store, so sweet and bursting with flavour that we devoured as many as possible. The berries themselves were a reward for the previous hour’s exertion, and the promised world-class views provided even more motivation to continue.
It was at this point that a light fog descended upon us and added some mystery to the beauty and silence of the forest. It also made us much easier targets for the bears, but as we surmised, if they wanted to get us they would.
Thus, on we rode, higher and higher through the forest and the clouds. The clouds thickened as the temperature dropped. We had to pick our way through the rocks on the trail and this added to my exhaustion, but I pushed on in anticipation of the spectacular views at the summit.
Soon though, the clouds thickened to such an extent that we could barely see in front of us. It was also at this point that the path levelled out and even descended at some points as we neared the lakes. We had to resort to calling and making noise on the descents, not to avoid a run in with a bear, but with a hiker. We had no idea where we were, until a faint outline of a building emerged through the fog.
We’d reached the summit, but where were the lakes?
They were hidden in the fog. We could see only a few metres in front of us. The much vaunted, spectacular, world-class, views were completely shrouded in fog. Two hours of solid climbing had been rewarded with…fog.
We rode past the hut, expecting to see a lake, somewhere, but only found the designated camping area. Thus, we perched on the edge of a camping platform, cold and tired, and ate a sandwich in the drizzle and clouds.
“Apparently there’s a wold class view here,” we assured each other.
We re-traced our steps to the hut and passed the frames which are used to keep food bags off the ground and away from bears. In the heavy fog, the macabre structures looked more suited to hanging someone.
It was only when we started to ride back along the trail that we spotted it – a lake. One of the world-famous Elfin Lakes, which sat not two metres from the edge of the trail we had ridden down just 5 minutes earlier. The fog had been so thick we’d completely missed it.
Luckily, some of the fog lifted momentarily and we caught a glimpse of the lake, enough to persuade us to sit and enjoy our second sandwich and take a stroll around the lake, wondering whether to brave the cold and hope for the fog to clear, or to descend to warmer climes. Our stroll took us past a sign indicating that swimming was permitted in this particular lake – no thanks, it was way too cold for a swim.
We eventually headed back to Squamish and definitely enjoyed letting gravity carry us back to the start of the trail, which we reached with a feeling of satisfied exhaustion. We enjoyed the journey but will have to return to enjoy the truly spectacular views.
By Kieran Blake