This trip took place in Duffey Lake area in the southern part of Coast Mountains, Canada, during May 23-25, 2009. Duffey Lake backcountry skiing is a serious rival destination to the famed Rogers Pass near Revelstoke, BC.
A detailed description of the North Joffre Creek traverse can be found in John Baldwin’s book – Exploring the Coast Mountains On Skis.
Day 1 – bush whacking
Since spring conditions are one of the best to explore new terrain, due to high snowpack stability, stable weather and long days, we decided to go out on for three days.
Two of us, Stano Faban and Peter Mrazik, headed up the Duffey Lake road on Saturday morning. We parked our car on a logging road (km 3) on the east side of the North Joffre Creek, since this was the spot where we would finish the trip.
The late date and warm days just before our trip prepared quite a bush whacking for us. Avoiding swaps, which are skied over in the winter, by crossing the creek and the valley higher up meant dry boots but very thick bushes. We couldn’t carry the skis on our packs since we weren’t able to move a step forward with such a setup.
Finally, after two and a half hours (at about 1400m), we made it to some continuous flanks of snow. Once on skis, we moved through the old forest at a decent speed arriving at a lake east of Cassiope Peak for a late afternoon lunch.
From here we headed directly west towards a wide pass (more of a ridge) between Cassiope and Saxifrage Mountain. The lake was in melting conditions, so we opted to stay on its north side by climbing up about 50m higher onto some mellower terrain.
After reaching the wide pass we decided to go little further towards Saxifrage and pitch a tent there to be ready for some morning spring skiing.
Day 2 – ski time
Early morning plans were slightly disrupted by our vacation moods. However, this turned out to work in our favour as the east face of Saxifrage was in prime conditions at around 8.30am.
We boot-packed up to reach a ridge just right of the summit. From here it was a scramble for few meters and then a short boot-pack in the snow to reach the top. The view was amazing.
Skiing down the east face is getting steeper (around 40-45 degrees) but in those conditions it was perfect. This was a summit and a face that I was eying for some time since it looks quite attractive from Cayoosh Mountain where I go often. Cayoosh is just few valleys to the east from here.
After getting down we packed our gear and headed north through another fairly wide col immediately east of Saxifrage. From here, skiing down to White Lakes was great. Although, on couple of spots right off the top, the snow was bullet proof, it eased to spring corn very soon.
Once crossing the White Lakes we stopped and turned around. The valley looked spectacular and sure worthwhile to stick around for some skiing. We’ll come back in the future.
After a long “lazy” lunch in a pass between Mount Olds and Mount Oleg we climbed up to the summit of Mt Oleg and skied back to grab our packs. Then we skied further down the Place Glacier to reach Joffre Glacier.
After good laughs and some more skinning we cooked our dinner on a shoulder that is south of Cirque Peak. We relaxed, talked, laughed and ate in an amazing calmness of the surrounding mountains with no society craziness in sight.
Joffre naming “controversy”
When reaching the Joffre Glacier we realized a funny fact. Joffre Lakes that are on the south side of the Duffey Lake road are fed water from Matier Glacier.
Being on the north side of the Duffey Lake road and standing on the Joffre Glacier we wondered how this geographical naming happened. From the map, it’s very clear that Joffre Lakes and Joffre Glacier have nothing to do with each other except their names. (If someone knows more please post a comment below.)
Day 3 – more great skiing
Since we knew all we had to do was climb around 200m and then ski down and walk to the car, we took our time. There are trips when we travel on a preplanned “schedule” but we decided to make this one a vacation style. Weather was great, jokes were flying, so why not just wander around a tent a bit more than usually.
Skiing from a small summit in the shoulder we slept on was amazing (photo below). It was around 900m run all the way to the trees where we reached NE fork of North Joffre Creek. Here, we followed some older ski tracks down the creek, then at about 1600m we started to traverse into the forest to the east of the creek.
“Tree skiing” wasn’t as good but at least we didn’t have to hike yet. But soon enough, at about 1400m, we had to switch from ski mode to walking down in an old forest. We got lucky and not too long after the hike started we reached a logged patch which led us to a logging road that took us to our car.
Recommendations for this trip
After completing the route we realized that this is a perfect trip for an introduction to ski traverses and multi-day backcountry skiing. It’s not very demanding with only about 25km in length at around 2200m of climbing. The navigation is quite straight forward and the views are great.
If you want to ski more than just moving along with a big pack then there are plenty of options on various aspects at various angles.
The best time for this trip would most likely be late April since there should still be enough snow to avoid bush whacking, while the snow should be settled enough for great stability already.