Shoulder season is a strange time. The sun is starting to come out and things are warming up, but sometimes it's just a little tease. Every year I go through the same thing where I get all excited to hike again, and every year I have the realization: Shit. There's still snow on all the mountains. It's easy to forget the difference elevation makes.. So what the heck are you supposed to do? I mean, I could stick to smaller trails that don't gain much altitude - but where's the fun in that? (don't get me wrong, there's no shame in smaller trails for little escapes or a cheeky bit of exercise, but when it comes to hikes I like a challenge).
My favourite hikes are the ones that take me above the clouds and push my limits. I want my legs to shake and my back to ache. So what is one to do when all the alpine trails are still covered in snow? The simple solution would be to find another form of adventure, but that's just silly - and if you like the backcountry, you're probably not happy with the simple solution. So the only alternative is buckle down and do some research.
Despite the lingering snow, there are a few sneaky little hikes you can get in during shoulder season. Just the other week we went to Golden Ears Provincial Park and spent 8 hours hiking up to Panorama Ridge (not to be confused with Panorama Ridge in Garibaldi). It fit the bill: 16km and about 900m elevation gain. Unfortunately, it wasn't entirely snow free.. but that was to be expected. The key to finding hikes this early in the season is knowing how much snow is too much snow - and having the proper gear and training to navigate the environments you're exploring.
Personally, I have my AST-1 (Basic Avalanche Training) and have spent a decent amount of time backcountry skiing and hiking, but not everyone has this knowledge and it's important to recognize the dangers of the backcountry - especially when snow is involved. If you have plans on exploring areas with snow I highly highly recommend taking your AST-1 or other mountain safety courses. During our hike we heard several avalanches going off on other peaks. It was pretty cool watching them slide but also a very humbling reminder how dangerous they are; which is why we stopped at ridge - the rest of the hike led straight through prime avalanche territory and would've been way too dangerous.
I'm not trying to scare you away from shoulder season hikes, just making sure you're aware of the dangers. So please please be responsible in the backcountry.
I'm sure you're all aware of this, but snow can be pretty slippery, which usually makes hiking a little more difficult; which brings me to one of my favourite aspects of hiking - gear!! I literally love buying outdoor gear. MEC is my happy place. It fills the void that Toys R Us left in my heart.
It's weird to think that hiking can come in different forms and require different gear, after all, it's basically just walking; but damn, can having the right gear make a difference. If you're doing any hike that may have a bit of snow on it you want to have the right gear, but what does that mean? Snowshoes seem like an obvious answer, but they're pretty darn bulky, and honestly only necessary in deeper/fresher snow. If the snow has been packed down at all you'll do just fine with a good pair of spikes.
Spikes are great because they're so small and easy to carry that even if you don't use them, it's not a big deal. So any time I'm going on a hike that might involve snow I always bring my pair. They're super easy to take on and off, which is huge because they're terribly uncomfortable to use on rocks. They make a sound like nails on a chalkboard and its just awful.
There are a few different styles of spikes, and unfortunately it's a pretty good example of getting what you pay for.. I initially bought the cheapest pair I could. They were mostly rubber with a weird coil that acted as the spikes, and I WOULD NOT RECOMMEND. They didn't offer much grip and broke after a couple uses.. Then I upgraded to the bad boys you can see in the photo. I could not be happier with them. They cost about 60 bucks, but I'm confident they'll last and feel much better when wearing them.
Now that we have some grip on the snow, what next? How about stopping that pesky snow from getting in your boots? Easy fix. A good pair of gators and your set! Sadly I'm not speaking from experience, I foolishly haven't bought a pair yet, but I can promise you the next time I'm hiking through snow I will have a pair. All of us had so much snow sneak into our boots it felt like walking on ice cubes. Quoting my hiking partner, "It's hard for me not to talk about how uncomfortable my feet are right now." Silly silly us.
Last but not least - hiking poles. If I'm being honest, most of my life I thought hiking poles were for kooks, until I used them.. They're sick. I'm not saying I'd use them on the seawall, but on super technical hikes, or super snowy hikes, they sure make a difference. Most pairs are light and collapsable as well so they're easy to attach to the side of you pack when you're not using them. I cheated a bit and just used my backcountry skiing poles, but they worked just as well (although I wouldn't recommend using them on rock).
Alright, now that we know the dangers, know the gear, and hopefully have sufficient stoke, I think it's time we wrap this up and get out to do some hiking! Remember, just cus it's spring down here doesn't mean it's not winter up there. Always do your research and be prepared for the worst. Know your limits and play within it.
Have fun! Summer is just around the corner!