Just before Christmas 2013, our family did a 3 day, 2 night snowshoe trip into the Elk Lakes ACC hut in Elk Lakes Provincial Park, BC. In August 2012 I took the kids on a backpacking trip to the hut but we'd never visited in the winter before.
The route is fairly obvious for snowshoers. Start on the snowshoe track under the power lines from the Elk Pass parking lot in Kananaskis Country and follow it steeply where it goes beside and then directly on the xcountry ski trail down a steep hill before detouring briefly (follow bright orange signs) into the forest. After this you join the xcountry track again and either follow it (don't ski on the trackset!) all the way up to Elk Pass under the power lines or take the snowshoe track on the left (marked by bright orange signs on high posts).
We had very cold temperatures on our way into the cabin. Making it even worse was the stiff south wind. The trail is a bit boring since you are under power lines for almost the entire trip - but it's easy to follow and hard to get lost if you keep this in mind. Skier's have a tougher time than snowshoers, especially once the tracksetting ends at Elk Pass! The descent into BC was easy and fast on 'shoes. Most people xcountry ski into the hut but it's not easy and not quicker either. We did the trip in under 3 hours both on the way in and out. On the way out we left later than some skiers and still beat them to the parking lot! Snowshoes allow a more direct route, especially on the BC side of Elk Pass. We stuck under the power lines the whole way - never detouring into the trees on the easier graded logging road.
[Starting up the ski track from Elk Pass parking lot. We didn't know there was a 'shoe track leaving from the south end of the lot...]
[At the top of the first hill. The 'shoe track is off to the left here. Since the xcountry track wasn't groomed, we chose to stay on it because it was nice and easy travel. Obviously we avoided tramping on the ski tracks!]
[As you can see - the ski track was ungroomed. We simply 'shoed up beside the tracks as it was much easier than breaking trail in knee deep snow off to the side.]
[Looking down the hydro lines into BC. You have to go all the way down - it's quite far. Skiers have a much harder time on this section due to trees, crappy snow etc.]
[Looking back at the hydro line / trail as we finally arrive at the Elk Lakes summer parking lot.]
[At first we were hoping to have the cabin all to ourselves, but it filled up by evening. Oh well.]
[Kaycie enjoying the quiet cabin before it became a zoo again!]
After spending a nice afternoon / evening at the cabin all by ourselves, people started pouring through the front door! It was all good though - everyone was friendly and we had some good conversations. We enjoyed a good nights sleep and awoke to MUCH warmer temps for our second day.
Our goal for the second day was a snowshoe to the second Elk Lake. We followed an old ski track past the first lake to a sign indicating that the trail to the 2nd lake was impassable due to the spring 2013 floods! This was disappointing so we pushed on anyway - still following an old ski track. Eventually we realized that the ski track wasn't on any trail anymore and eventually the track ran into thick bush and ended.
Being me, I pushed on to the dismay of Hanneke and Niko! They had a point, as I was purely guess where to go... ;) We doggedly pushed through some pretty thick bush before I started sensing we were on an old route of some sort. There was old blazes on the trees and a 'sort of' path through the trees. We followed it and wouldn't you know - we popped out on the main trail to the upper lake! I still had no clue why or where we'd lost the original trail but we didn't complain and push on towards the upper lake which was now only 200 meters up the trail.
After taking some photos we went along the lake trail for a while. Deadfall across the trail indicated to me that very few (if any) folks had been along here during the summer months of 2013. On the way back, we followed the regular trail rather than our tracks - to see where we went wrong on the approach. We quickly realized that it wasn't our fault - the entire trail was completely washed out about 300 meters from where our bushwhack rejoined the trail! There was no sign of any trail, bridges or anything. It looked like a turmoil of mud, trees and rocks had simply gouged out hundreds of meters of old stream bank and all that was left was a mess of tangled logs and branches - totally impassible. We backtracked to our bushwhack route and followed it back to the regular trail.
Needless to say, the Elk Lakes trail needs a lot of work before it will be easily passable for backpackers / hikers again. It's pretty impossible to follow our route on skis - we were happy to have the 'shoes.
[Our detour track from the lower lake to the upper lake is in red. The first half (lower) of the red line is pretty much still passable trail - with some washed out bridges. The second half is complete off-trail bushwhacking. The yellow shaded area is completely demolished by the flooding of 2013. ++]
[A gorgeous day for snowshoeing as we make our way to the lower lake.]
[Arriving at the lower Elk Lake]
[Most bridges are either washed out completely or misaligned with the original trail and hard to cross properly.]
[At the Upper Lake. From L to R, Mount McCuaig, Mount Nivelle and lower Fox. ++]
[Deadfall along the Upper Lake trail indicates that it wasn't maintained this year at all.]
[Ice climbing paradise on lower Mount Fox? I know Raphael Slawinski has ice climbed a number of these.]
[I thought this line of ice / coulior looked particularly enticing... I now know it's called South Park and is an ice climb.]
[Heading back along the Upper Lake trail]
[A family portrait on Upper Elk Lake]
[This is looking at the washed out section from the Upper Elk Lake side - note the creek bank is completely gone!]
[Another view from the upper lake side - the trail literally just vanishes here!]
[Looking down on the creek from part way along the bushwhack / bypass towards the spot where I took the previous two photographs. There is no indication of an old bridge, trail or anything here.]
[Crossing a tricky bridge - debris on each end made it harder than normal on the 'shoes...]
The third day was a much warmer day than the approach and we knocked off the return trek in around 2.5 hours! I was happy to be snowshoeing the entire trip rather than on skis. Everyone on skis was either unbalanced due to thin skis and heavy packs or horribly over-equipped with A/T gear. Elk Lakes is a unique area that has been ravaged by floods - I hope that it is not abandoned due to this unfortunate event because it's a tiny gem of the Rockies that is often overlooked and should not be.
I would not recommend skiing to the ACC hut in winter. Snowshoeing leaves you with more options for day trips in the area and there isn't great backcountry skiing there anyway.
[A gorgeous last evening near the ACC hut]
[Returning to the parking lot and civilization]