Thursday, November 26, 2015

Family-Less Friendly Elk Lakes Trip

To kick off the winter season, Phil organizes a "family-less friendly" 18+ trip to the Elk Lakes Hut, where typically there isn't enough early season snow or ice to do much, but there is a wood stove and lots of wine. This year, there was more wine, more people and way more snow than anyone had really bargained for. Preparing for the worst, everyone brought enough adult beverages to keep themselves entertained, but Phil used the extra money from the extra participants to bring a back-up supply, mostly in the form of beer. This resulted in a very heavy load that he dragged all the way to the hut in a duffle bag and looked absolutely miserable. We were more than happy to help lighten the load over the course of the weekend for his ski back to the car on Sunday.

It was cold and still for our 11km ski tour in. The climb up to Elk Pass was quick on the groomed cross country ski trails. Beyond the pass it was downhill to the hut for 5km, but we were breaking trail all the way in. The moon was dazzling and illuminated our way, making the snow sparkle magically. Kyle and I used our mountain bike headlamps to ski down under the powerlines for our first turns of the season. The snow was great, but the terrain wasn't terribly steep. Upon arrival at the hut around 10:30 pm, the fire was lit and introductions were made while we waited for Phil to arrive with his cargo. Everyone was in the mood to celebrate and the stragglers trailed off to bed around 3:30 am. Phil hadn't suffered quite enough yet so he slept on the porch for some reason.
Bright moonlight to light the way into the hut
I awoke to the smell of bacon and sausage cooking downstairs, and in my half asleep state, convinced myself that we had organized a communal breakfast for the trip. Unfortunately, that was not the case and Kyle and I were stuck with maple pecan breakfast quinoa, which wasn't really a bad option. The hardcores had already taken off on an exploratory mission, and the not quite as hardcore but equally adventurous had opted to go look for skiing near the cabin. Kyle and I decided to keep Shea and Kathrine company and keep the hut warm. We lounged and chatted, moving seamlessly from breakfast to second breakfast and then onto lunch without any hesitation. Finally, our peaceful hut day was interrupted by the arrival of Gig, his girlfriend Danielle and his dog Alan. They were eager to get out and do some ice climbing, so we decided to join them. It took us a while to get ready as we hadn't packed ice gear. Fortunately Phil had left his ice stuff at the hut so we took it out for a walk with us. Gig and Danielle had already left, tired of waiting for us faffing. While we went out to put our skis on, Alan (the black lab who was supposed to be staying at the hut with Kathrine) took off down the skin track after Gig. So much for dog sitting for the afternoon.
Morning view from the hut
Plenty of snow
 Kyle and I followed the skin track highway that had been set by the 14 others that had ventured out before us that day. It was easy going with beautiful views but it felt really cold (or maybe I am just soft from a nice long summer this year!).
Lower Elk Lake
We almost turned around when we came to a creek crossing. We already knew we weren't going to be getting much skiing in that day and I was not interested in wet feet. Kyle decided to try the log and managed to clear off all the snow so we could walk across. Crisis averted.
Kyle prepping the log crossing
Kyle finds deep snow after crossing the creek
 We met one group making their way back to the hut shortly after the creek. They informed us that Alan had found Gig and that they were just up ahead. That made us feel much better now that we knew we hadn't lost his dog. When we arrived at Upper Elk Lake, the ice looked thin and although there was one slope that was steep enough to ski, you could tell that there were sharks lurking just underneath, ready to shred your skis apart.
Upper Elk Lake and the ice starting to form
 We met up with the exploration group who were on their way back from their 20 km walk/bushwack, which validated the choice to stay in bed and not rush out that morning. We skied back to the hut together, looking forward to the cheese fondue I had sitting in my pack.
Fun times on sketchy skin track descents
View of the hut from below
Lots of skis outside the full hut
 Dinner was three course affair, starting with cheese platters, sausage, our fondue and potato chips. Cooking for 18 people isn't easy at the best of times, especially not at a hut, but Kevin (our master chef) pulled it off and our starters were followed by a delicious pasta dinner. By the time the cookies and brownies were being passed around, I was stuffed. I am pretty sure I gained weight on this trip!
Party time!
The "hut hog" loves his mulled wine
Awesome dinner courtesy of Kevin
 As the night went on, there was vodka martinis, mulled wine, and a huge bucket of strawberry daiquiri, made to perfection with snow from outside. People trickled off to bed one by one which was accompanied by plenty of heckling by those still up. As it got later, conversations got more and more philosophical, as they tend to do in the backcountry. 
Bucket of strawberry daiquiri slush 
Warm cabin, lots of laughter and bright moonlight
 Sunday morning came too soon, but the was a group that hit the trail early to go look for some skiing. Most of us were content to have a leisurely breakfast before packing up to head home. The ski out was uneventful, but Kyle and I had grabbed a bag of climbing gear that we thought belonged to someone who had already left. When we caught up to him at the car, we realized that we had stolen Noels stuff! After a brief discussion, we decided to leave a note with the Breakeys and drop his stuff off at their place back in Calgary. It was a really fun weekend, and I made some new friends! I am looking forward to getting out and doing some actual skiing sometime really soon. 
After accidentally stealing Noels stuff, we had to figure out how to let him know where to find it