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A Wintery Thankgiving at the Wates-Gibson Hut

Winter Hiking
Elevation [m]: 
Round Trip Distance [km]: 
Net Elevation Gain [m]: 
Total Elevation Gain [m]: 
YDS Difficulty: 
Very Little
Friday, October 7, 2016

Holidays and Huts both start with the letter H so seem like a natural pairing.  For Thanksgiving this year my mom and I decided to head in to the Wates-Gibson Hut (in the Tonquin Valley) to celebrate the occasion.  Having booked the hut many many moons before Thanksgiving we apparently got in the way of a yearly cleanup/maintenance trip the Edmonton ACC section does into the Wates-Gibson (who usually book the entire hut for the whole weekend).  Weather would play a factor in the trip, the chill of winter seemed to be descending early this year and the forecast was set for snow, snow, snow, snow over the 4 days we would be out and about.

There are a few different routes to take into the Wates-Gibson Hut.  I had previously only been in to the hut on skis and both times went in up Portal Creek and over Oldhorn Col (a scenic and tricky ski line, not really feasible in the 'summer').  The summer routes are either up Portal Creek via Maccarib Pass or up the Astoria River starting at the Edith Cavell hostel.  The second route is shorter, much flatter, but less scenic but seemed like the way to go.  After fortifying ourselves with some breakfast at Loulous, we set off towards the trailhead as the first few flakes of snow started to trickle down to the valley bottom.  Getting to the trailhead things were looking pretty wintery and we were quite excited to be heading into a hut with a nice wood stove!


The Cavell Road was looking pretty wintery even on the way in.


There is a noticeable difference in the trail from before and after crossing back over the Astoria.  While there is little deadfall (thanks to vaguely recent chainsaw work) the hut trail has more rocky sections and a steady series of slippery tree roots to contend with.  Quite a few slippery sections were encountered!  The trail winds fairly level for the first sections then ascends above the river to reach the upper part of the Tonquin (which though not much elevation can be tiring carrying supplies for a grand Thanksgiving feast!).  Before too long we were crossing the bridge over the outflow of Chrome Lake before reaching the Eremite Valley Junction and the last km and a bit to the hut!


About to cross Verdant Creek on the Astoria River Trail.


The Astoria Campground would be a nice place if you had it to youself.


Down on the Wates-Gibson Hut Trail, a little less room to walk.


Looking up at Oldhorn Mountain.


The trail seems more like a creek in places.


At least there are still decent bridges in a lot of places.


A few slippery boulders to contend with near the Chrome Lake.


Crossing over to the other side of Chrome Lake.


While only a fraction of the distance to the hut, the last leg packs in a few steep sections which test how much juice is left in your legs.  At the crack of 5pm we made it to the hut and were glad to find it empty (at least a bit of quiet time before the big ACC crew rolled in).  Unpacking the grub bags took a fair bit of time and while unloading the ham we heard a sound from outside, others would be joining us tonight as well!  The newcomers were a trio of folks from France living in Edmonton and this would be their first night in an ACC hut.  The rest of the evening passed quietly with the occasional crackle from the fire and the steady pitter patter of snow falling outside.


Not far to go now!


A wintery clearing in the flats below the hut.


The next morning despite the snowy skies we reckoned might as well head out and stretch our legs so rambled over towards Amethyst Lakes.  Sadly the visibility never really improved any and the lake didn't have its characteristic blue gleam nor could you see the Ramparts rising above.  Regardless there were still some interesting (if a touch dreary) pictures to take and getting out of the hut for a bit was nice.  On the way back we had time for lunch and rebuilding the fire before the first wave of ACC folks arrived.  Once the whole crew was settled there was certainly a lot less free space but things didn't really seem that crowded (the ACC says 26/24 is the capacity of the hut in summer/winter which would be a little cozy at times!).  It was interesting to hear that Rick, the coordinator of the trip was hear for his 24th or so Thanksgiving cleanup trip, and apparently this was the most snow of any of those years.


The next morning heading over towards Amethyst Lakes.


Crossing over the headwaters of the Astoria River.


Not really much in the way of Amethyst color today.


Back at the hut, the ACC group had quite the table set for their feast.


The next morning, we would scootch out of the hut while the ACC group did their official cleanup so set our sights on heading up the Eremite Valley to Arrowhead Lake.  I remembered seeing a Parks sign describing the trail as a 'wilderness trail' so wasn't really expecting there to be such luxuries as bridges but was quite pleasantly surprised.  The last time I had been up the Eremite Valley was with Liam and Steven skiing up Thunderbolt Mountain and we didn't really stop to check out Arrowhead Lake.  Thankfully even with the snow the trail was still visible and a path could be dredged until the last boulder field right before the lake.  Our luck was apparently in as just before we reached the lake clouds started to part and there was even some direct sunshine!


Much more snow down in the flats the next morning.


For a 'wilderness route' the Eremite Valley trail is in quite good shape.


Looking up towards Outpost Peak.


Higher up the clouds started to lift, partly at least.


Arrowhead lake does narrow quite dramatically!


A full 360x180 pano by the hut.


A full 360x180 pano down at Outpost Lake.


My mom and snow covered rocks are far from friends so she wanted to get a bit of a head start on the ACC folks and after packing up we made our way down the trail leaving just on the edge of 'headlamp time'.  If anything the snow on the way down was actually helpful as it soaked up a lot of the standing water and where compressed made for decent footing.  Before long the ACC group caught up to us and stomped down a track for the rest of the way.  An extra blanket of snow gave the return trip much more of a wintery feel than the way in and had some different views in store.  Had the weather cleared as forecasted heading back the longer route via Amethyst Lakes would have been a nice plan for variety (though the trail was menaced by rock slides leading to boulder hopping).


Leaving the hut the next morning on the edge of 'headlamp time'.


Crossing back over to the other side of Chrome Lake.


Back down towards the road crossing over the Astoria River at the start of the Wates-Gibson Hut Trail.


One last crossing of the Astoria with Oldhorn Mountain looming above.


Zoomed in towards Throne Mountain from the trail.


As a last complication while we were gone Parks had closed the Cavell Road a little earlier than planned and a locked gate awaited us at the junction with 93A (nothing a quick call to dispatch couldn't fix though).


Back down at the base of the Cavell Road, eek a locked gate!


All in all a pretty good Thanksgiving trek.  One of these years have to come to the Wates-Gibson when it is not fully snow covered for variety!


Approximate track of our route over the 'weekend'.

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