I have camped in winter before but never in a tent. Always in a cabin. Not sure that counts as camping but anyway.
Winter camping (in a tent) has been on our list for a long time. We had a few different locations in mind:
- Golden Ears Provincial Park. Golden Ears has both walk in and drive in sites available throughout the winter.
- Joffre Lakes. We met some people before who hiked a little way in past the first lake and set up camp there. I have also heard of people camping in the parking lot in winter.
- The Red Heather hut on the way to Elfin Lakes. Apparently, it is permitted to tent camp outside the Red Heather hut in winter because it doesnt damage any of the plant life. The hut is for short stop offs only and over night use is not allowed but there is a stove if it got too cold.
- Nairn Falls. Nairn Falls is about a five minute drive from Pemberton and is available for camping all year, though you do have to carry your stuff in from the road as the parking lot is closed.
We decided on Nairn Falls because we would be close to the car and close to the town in case all did not work out.
We packed the essentials:
- Sleeping bag rated minus 18 degrees. This is MECs own brand and costs $189. It’s very warm but very bulky. It is a bit big for hike in camping but you get what you pay for. Light weight winter sleeping bags are expensive.
- Emergancy blanket. These are really cheap in MEC ($1.70) but they would only last for 2-3 uses. I bought a reusable one for $18. This is great for keeping the cold from the ground creeping up through the tent floor.
- Tarp for the underside of the tent.
- Burner. Our burner is run on gas and is one of the cheapest available in MEC but it is very dependable.
- Cooking utensils. Don’t want to get hungry. We usually bring food that just needs to be heated in the pan.
- Firewood. Because we were camping close to the car we brought fire wood. Enough to last the evening and morning. 6 bails was overkill but we used it all. 4 would have been enough.
- Fire log. Usually I dont use this, but I couldnt get the fire going so I’m not ashamed to admit that I cheated by nipping into Pemberton to grab a fire log. We did NOT want to be out there without a fire. If I am camping near the car in winter again I would bring one for emergency. We would have managed without a fire it would have just meant bed at 5pm and no hanging around in the morning.
- Tent. Our tent is a 3-4 man (cant remember) all season and was fine. We just layered up at night and had very warm sleeping bagss.
- Clothes. Thermals (top and bottom). Hiking pants. T shirt. Heavy sweater. Heavy parka. Gloves. Buff. 2 pairs of heavy socks. Wooly hat. Balaclava. Outer vest.
- Showshoes. Check out sportsjunkies for second hand gear.
- Shovel. I learned this lesson when somone forced me into the ditch on the way from Mount Baker to Sumas. We ended up digging the car out with snowboards so now I always keep a shovel in the car.
- Axe. Cant have a fire without an axe.
The weather was giving a chance of rain so we packed up and headed out regardless, hoping it wouldn’t be bad.
We were planning on hiking Joffre Lakes and spending the night back at Nairn but didn’t end up hitting Joffre.
It rained quite heavy during the day. We have camped enough in the rain to know it isn’t fun. We try to avoid it unless absolutely necessary. We decided to give it until 3 pm and had some food in Blackbird Bakery while we waited. Great place if you are ever in Pemberton.
The rain stopped and we headed for our campsite. There were quite a few cars parked on the road. I was worried about parking because the parking lot is closed in winter. It turned out these cars belonged to people visiting the falls. They weren’t spending the night. There was only one other camping group there overnight.
We got our gear into the site. The disadvantage of Nairn is the you have to walk in from the road in winter. The advantage is that it’s free, the road is relatively close and it’s quiet.
After struggling for an hour with the fire I went for a fire log. Another advantage – its a five min drive from the town. We didn’t drive for three hours to go without a fire. As mentioned above the fire log is a great emergency fire starter but if your hiking into the bush its too heavy. In that case I’d reccomend magnesium, cotton balls soaked in vaseline, kerosene or there are loads of other emergency starters. The hard core folk may call this cheating. No worries there probably right, but I like a fire and wasn’t freezing my ass off in the dark trying to get it started 😊
Another note on the fire. Snow is absorbant, so you dont need to worry about it melting to water and quenching the fire. It will end up sinking into a hole as the snow melts so you might lose heat when it gets too deep.
It stayed dry for the night and our new sleeping bags were amazing. We went to bed early and got up early to get the fire going again, had breakfast and went for a snowshoe hike around the campground.
I haven’t hiked much around Pemberton / Whistler but there are lots of trails if you wanted to try something more adventurous.
All in all it was a success. Especially considering Theresa is 5 months pregnant. Hopefully we’ll get one more trip in before she pops but well see.
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