The Trouble With Joffre, Part Two

Welcome to the rest of the story! In Part One, I spent some time outlining the problems that have befallen Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. Things such as overcrowding, mismanagement, and poor behaviour from the hiking community have combined to propel the park into crisis mode. The question still looms: Can we fix what’s wrong? I believe the answer is a resounding yes, and here’s why…

In 2019, British Columbia Parks decided that all camping at Upper Joffre Lake would now be placed on the reservation system. They also took steps to manage the parking problem in Cayoosh Pass by creating a shuttle stop further up the highway which would serve to relieve congestion somewhat. Parking at roadside on the highway is now strictly prohibited, and they have also created more spaces in the parking lot. While the overall budget for parks has increased little with the change to an NDP government, at least some of the complaints have been heard and acted upon. At last check, the number of park rangers still needed to be addressed, but patrols were definitely being increased . A decision has also been made to ban dogs from the park trails. 

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Slalok Mountain and the Stonecrop Glacier reflected in Lower Joffre Lake

So what remains to be solved? Well, the paramount issue of too many day hikers during the summer months has been ignored up to this point. The simple fact is that the sheer number of people places an inordinate strain on the environment, and it’s likely that both a quota and a permit system should be required during the busiest months, at the very least. Permit charges could be used to fund park rangers, infrastructure, and  maintenance. The outhouses are in terrible condition, and require more frequent attention. Additionally, our tourism promoters need to join B.C.Parks in promoting “Leave No Trace” protocol and help to educate park users about correct hiking etiquette.

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Paintbrush in Cayoosh Pass

Since the first few paragraphs here have been controversial, why not switch gears and return you to the mountains again? It is through showcasing the beauty of the park that we can not only share it with others, but also encourage its preservation. Joffre Lakes Provincial Park is a place that future generations ought to be able to enjoy!

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Sunset glow as seen from Cayoosh Pass, 2012

It was another four years before I returned to Joffre Lakes. On that occasion, Doug and I were hoping to climb Mt Taylor, the 2318m peak which lies on the northwestern boundary of the park. The standard approach was identical to the one I had taken for Tszil Mountain back in 2008, so I also had the added benefit of being familiar with the route.

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The last light of sunset over Mt Chief Pascall

Once again, we chose a day in July for the climb and planned to camp nearby in Cayoosh Pass so we could get a jump on the crowds. The weather was ideal on the drive up Highway 99 that afternoon. We knew that there was a good chance rain was on its way the next day, but we were both in need of a day in the mountains so we decided to roll the dice. We spent a fine evening enjoying just about everything, with the possible exception of the mosquitoes!

Unfortunately, the morning brought with it the expected rain, so the decision was made to forego climbing Mt Taylor. As long as we were there, however, we figured there’d be no harm in hiking the trail up to the lakes. That turned out to be a great idea, as the weather served to deter all but the hardiest hikers, so we actually experienced very little traffic. The rain hardly dampened our spirits, as we knew we would return on a sunnier day.

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A rushing Joffre Creek

 

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Even on a dreary day, Upper Joffre Lake is a standout!
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A quiet moment on the Joffre Lakes Trail
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Rain on the lake
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Doug getting a photo

As it happened, that sunnier day came about a year later, as once again, Doug and I set up camp in Cayoosh Pass on an evening in July of 2013. Again the clouds of mosquitoes tried to deter us, but we came well prepared for their shenanigans. About the only inconvenience was mastering the art of drinking beer through bug nets but we were up to the task!

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Sunset over Cayoosh Pass and Mt Chief Pascall

The next morning, we could see promising blue skies, and set out early for the trailhead. When we arrived, there were very few hikers around, and the only ones we met on the way up were campers on their way down from Upper Joffre Lake.

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Matier and Joffre and blue skies as we broke camp in July of 2013
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The always impressive Slalok Mountain as seen from Lower Joffre Lake
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Morning at Joffre Creek
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Mt Taylor reflections on Middle Joffre Lake

In order to climb Mt Taylor, you hike to that col it shares with Tszil Mountain then cross over to its opposite side, where you pick up a rough track that leads onto Taylor’s southeast ridge. Once we attained that ridge, no technical difficulties were anticipated, and that turned out to be mostly true.

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More Paintbrush, one of my favourite wildflowers
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I’m often shocked to see photos of people posing at the snouts of glaciers like this one, where seracs weighing tons routinely detach themselves without notice. Please, heed the warnings and keep a safe distance away!
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Tszil Mountain on that bright and sunny day
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Doug working his way up to the col
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Southeast ridge of Mt Taylor
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Getting closer to the summit now

The panoramas that unfolded as we climbed were impressive. Towering mountains and glaciers could be seen on every horizon, with resplendent lakes shimmering below. To call the views memorable seems woefully inadequate, but then, that’s why I carry a camera!

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A different look at the icefall showing the crevasses, some of which are quite intimidating
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Rock Phlox
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Duffey Peak
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Wedge Mountain over in Garibaldi Provincial Park
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Joffre Peak over the shoulder of Slalok Mountain. You can really see how much the glacier has receded in the last 20 years. The icefall used to reach all the way down to Upper Joffre Lake
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Cayoosh Mountain. I almost climbed this peak back in 2010, which is a decent story in itself
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The North Joffre Creek Valley
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Another look at Duffey Peak and the sea of mountains beyond
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Phacelia sericea , sometimes known as Silk Leaf Sky Pilot, is a showy perennial species of Phacelia endemic to western North America. I have found it at elevations of up to 2900m
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Summit panorama from Mt Taylor
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Cassiope and Saxifrage over in the Spetch Creek Valley.
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The compelling Upper Joffre Lake
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I could not get enough of this particular view!

Between eating lunch and taking photos, we ended up taking nearly an hour on the summit, an unusual amount of time for us! With the warmth of the wind and no weather systems expected, we felt no need to rush, though I did recall there was a possibility of thunderstorms forecast for later in the day. It was just after 1 pm when we began our trek homeward, and it occurred to us we hadn’t seen another person for about four hours.

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After retracing our steps down the ridge, we were soon back on the snowfield, where the winds blew more briskly through the pass. Normally I’m strongly apprehensive when descending a mountain, because that’s when accidents tend to happen, but in this case all I remember feeling was calmness. I found myself daydreaming about how First Nations people might have experienced this valley centuries before. In some ways little has changed, in other ways, the change has been overwhelming.

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Clouds begin to form above the valley as we descended in the shadow of Mt Taylor
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Another look at the Matier Glacier, and a sober reminder that glacial ice on our planet is disappearing at an alarming rate
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Looking back at Slalok Mountain

When we reached Upper Joffre Lake, we were soon jolted back to reality by the throngs of  people milling about. It occurred to me at the time that the popularity of these lakes was gaining momentum very swiftly! Aside from dodging hikers along the way, we made good time heading for the trailhead, as storm clouds began to build rapidly. It looked, for a time, that those lightning storms might just materialize after all, but they never did. Soon enough, we were back at the truck tackling the most difficult part of the day: somehow escaping the parking lot! It had been, without a doubt, a highly satisfying adventure.

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Enjoying the falls on Joffre Creek on the newer trail section BC Parks built back in 2010, I believe
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Sometimes nature gives you a pretty strong hint that it’s time to end the hike or take cover, like this one! Mt Matier towers above the icefall here, encased in a sinister looking cloud

In order to salvage Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, the hiking community must take on more responsibility. It’s unfair to blame everything on the government when we can help solve a lot of the problems ourselves. How can we do this? There are many answers, but one is paramount: the promotion of “Leave No Trace” practices in the wilderness! If you’re looking to learn about these principles, you might want to follow my friend Taryn, who serves as Mountain Equipment Co-op’s Leave No Trace ambassador. We were all novice hikers at one time, after all, and today there are plenty of good sources available that can educate you on how to treat the wilderness. Knowledge is power!

Why not encourage people to pack out what they pack in? We all know that leaving waste and garbage is wrong, so why do we still see this happen? I find it nearly incomprehensible that anyone who would wish to savour nature’s glories would leave their trash there, but this has become a chronic problem. Recently, local Vancouver hiking group CROSSNA devoted considerable time to collecting and carrying out refuse from Joffre Lakes, and the results were shocking, to say the least. We can encourage stewardship through our hiking clubs and media, and promote proper practices in our tourist industry as well. All it will take is education, and execution. That’s not much to ask to ensure that places like Joffre Lakes Provincial Park remain our sanctuaries rather than become victims of our own reprehensible behaviour. It’s time for everyone to work together and do the right thing!

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CROSSNA hiking club, along with BC Parks, volunteered time on a cleanup of Joffre Lakes. This is the kind of effort we need from the outdoor community!..thanks to Gloria Z for this photo

 

****************************Author’s Note*************************

In 2019, there were at least two significant landslides on Joffre Peak. This has affected access to the park via Cerise Creek and may possibly do so in the future. The access via Joffre Lakes Trail has not been compromised at this time. Keep apprised of safety bulletins regarding the area, as conditions may be subject to change. Some additional perspective offered in the article here

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As you can see here, a massive section of the mountain has broken away on Joffre Peak

 

 

5 thoughts on “The Trouble With Joffre, Part Two”

  1. That view from the summit of Mt Taylor is one very good reason to return! We’ve made it up to the col a couple of times but no further yet – need to get an earlier start… I really enjoy hiking up the moraine although I’m not a fan of the giant boulder section just below the col.

    Education is key, and that requires staff, whether it be BC Parks or volunteers (such as a Friends of.. organization or AdventureSmart). There’s simply no way around that – the park needs an official staff presence. I was sad to see Sarah (Mountain Darlin’) resign as she was an awesome ambassador.

    Limiting numbers would definitely help, which would be possible if access was by bus only – I really hope the pilot scheme started this year was successful and continues so that visitors get used to the idea of using a shuttle bus.

    The park will survive one way or the other, but most likely as another Lake Louise or Moraine Lake type of destination.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I tend to agree that it won’t be returning to anything resembling a quiet getaway! Access will definitely need to change, as overcrowding may simply overwhelm the park. The shuttle bus system seems to have caught on but it’s true that most visitors still drive there

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful area! I climbed Taylor and Tszil in May 2016 and didn’t encounter serious crowds since it was earlier in the season and we started early in the day. The crowds at Joffre are definitely crazy and it’s good to see BC Parks taking steps to curb the damage that comes from over-use. Plenty of popular areas in the mountains can be see huge numbers as long as the infrastructure exists to handle them and for that we need government investment and infrastructure. As for me, I’ll spend my time enjoying the vast remoteness of this incredible province. For those who seek solitude in the mountains, it can easily be found with a little effort. Even in the busy parks, it’s pretty easy to leave the crowds behind if you’re willing to hike a bit farther than the rest. 😉

    Like

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