Places to be: snowshoeing away from exams

By the time I began studying for my final exam, I'd had enough of staring out of the windows of Koerner Library, trying to make out the mountains through the rain and the clouds. So I packed up my textbooks and unfinished review and met up with the rest of the mid-finals expedition team at a cafe. After some quick googling, we decided to head to Hollyburn Mountain in Cypress Park and snowshoe to the peak.

We grabbed our rented snowshoes from MEC (I managed to put mine on backwards somehow — I'd never snowshoed before) and parted ways. I was giddy with the anticipation of not spending another day glued to library chairs.

We headed out early the next morning, trying to beat the sun to the mountain and make the most out of the few hours of December daylight. As we rode up the mountain, the rain gradually froze into snow. We finally found the right parking lot and piled out into the snow and into our snow shoes. Even at the trailhead, the snow was thick and continued to fall. We dodged nordic skiers and stopped every other minute to check the map. On the way back down, we realized the snow had been falling so heavily that we had walked right by the correct trailhead and onto an alternate one. Eventually, we found our way and continued up the mountain. 

In the woods, the snow still was falling, but not quickly enough as to blind us. It was silent except for the crunch of the snowshoes in the fresh powder and the heavy breathing of our group. The silence was very different from the anxiety-soaked quiet of the library — this silence was comforting and calming.

The trail was easy enough to follow and we made good time passing through the dense woods quickly. We stopped at a clearing that separated the kept trail from the less traveled path that led to the peak. We layered up — it was getting colder and the wind cut deeper without the trees. Snacks were consumed and then birds, eyeing our snacks, began to bravely fly closer and closer to our group. They landed on our bags and hands, hoping to join in our morning snack. The group, which had four photographers in it, started shooting away only to soon pack their cameras back up again in fear that the snow would damage them.

From here, the trail was no longer the walk in the park it had been. The tree cover thinned and the slope steepened. Snow was less tightly packed and, with each step, my snowshoes threatened to slip and send me back down the mountain. However, the snow and shoes held. After a sweaty hour and a few close calls of sliding down over hard fought elevation, we reached the peak. The view, which supposedly looked over the entire city and the North Shore mountains, was five metres of snow and fog.

The peak, which was largely unprotected from the elements, was cold. As I ate my lunch, I set up my camping stove and mugs to boil up some hot chocolate. After a short meal and a stretch out of the snowshoes, we turned back to head down Hollyburn.

Snowshoeing climbing slopes or walking on even ground is relatively easy — it’s just like walking. Down, on the other hand, is trickier. We all adopted a run down the mountain until we slid. Then, we slid until we fell onto our butts getting down. Once mastered, it was quick and relatively painless. With a lot of laughing and several face-plants into deeper-than-expected snowbanks, we reached the clearing with the birds again. As it was now early afternoon and the snow had stopped falling so heavily, the trail was busy and well packed. 

Once at the car, we brushed the snow and ice out of our hair and pants before piling back in. As we drove down the mountain, the snow gradually melted back into rain. We headed into rainy West Van to warm up with some fresh pies. With pie in my stomach, the last of the snow melting out of my hair and sensation returning to my fingers and toes, I unlocked my door and crawled into bed with thoughts of studying for my last exam far from my mind.