My Experience

Camping Overnight on Elk Mountain - Chilliwack

The aisles were bustling for a Saturday morning - or maybe they weren't. I can't recall the last time I was at Superstore early on a Saturday morning. After grabbing a couple snacks and 3 premade chicken sandwiches I left Coquitlam for Surrey. Meeting up with Felisha and Andre, we loaded up the jeep with our gear and left for the Elk Mountain trailhead in Chilliwack just after 10am.

Our plan was to hike up the mountain and camp overnight in the saddle between Elk Mt and Thurston Mt. This was Felisha and my first experience overnight winter camping. We had both separately done multiple overnight summer camping trips, but had yet to do a winter overnight hike and had only recently collected the necessary winter gear. Andre however, was very familiar with winter camping and was acting as our guide for the trip. According to the forecast for the two days we would be on the mountain, we knew to expect some snow overnight so we packed our snowshoes just in case. We had also reviewed the All Trails app, which indicated that crampons were definitely still required based on the notes left by hikers the week prior, so we packed those as well. The extra gear in our packs compared to summer trips was very noticeable as we shouldered our packs at the trailhead in preparation for the climb ahead.

I had hiked up Elk Mountain the year prior, but with only a light daypack. On this go, with my overnight winter pack I felt the burn early on in my legs and would find myself more out of breath than on my previous ascent. Including breaks for water, to let hikers coming down pass, and to strap on our crampons for the last 3rd of the hike, we would arrive at the summit in just over an hour and half. From the summit it was only another 10-15 minutes to the saddle where we would set up camp for the night. We had kept a good pace throughout the climb and my legs were starting to feel like jello under the unfamiliar load so when we finally reached the saddle and disconnected our packs I was so relieved.

One of my favorite parts of camping is setting up my tent and camping space. Weeks prior, I had found a really great deal on my 2-person 4 season nemo tent off Facebook Market Place. I had the foresight to set the tent up for practice once in my living room so setting it up again on the windy mountain was not as challenging as it could have been. After we were all setup we had some snacks, and hung out for a while as it was barely past 4pm in the afternoon. Later that night we would take some long exposure photos and even retrace our steps to one of the lookouts near the summit to look at the city lights below from the city of Chilliwack.

At night it started to snow and the wind really picked up. Due to the ice that we encountered when we reached the summit of Elk Mt. and the ice at the saddle, we were not able to take advantage of our shovels that we had packed to dig a barrier around our tent. Consequently when the snow and wind settled in for the night the wind appeared loud and angry against the tent and the snow burrowed its way under the vestibules of our tents. Luckily we had packed the correct gear and clothing and were all warm in our sleeping bags, regardless of if we were woken from sleep multiple times during the night. By the next morning the wind was still present but not nearly as chaotic as it was the night before. The dusting of snow and clear views were breathtaking.

Once we got up I took advantage of the opportunity of taking some photos before we packed up camp. Andre had suggested that we pack up camp as it was likely too windy to try and make breakfast and than make breakfast once we returned to the folds of the tree line. After packing up we took some final photos to document the trip before beginning our descend. Reaching the tree-line we took off some of our overnight layers and removed our crampons. At that point we decided to continue our hike back to the trailhead without having breakfast in exchange for breakfast/brunch at a restaurant. The hike down was less tiring but still a bit taxing and technical with all the ice. When we got back to the jeep we were all excited to take off our packs, change into different clothes, and head off to get some warm food.

3 Must-Haves For Winter Camping

I don't think I would have been nearly as comfortable or safe winter camping if I hadn't known and brought these three things.

  • Dry and Warm set of clothes
  • Booties
  • Extra Gloves

Now it makes sense to simply pack warm clothes when you go winter camping, and maybe just bring a single set of warm clothes to help cut down on weight, especially if it's just for a single night. I am so glad I didn't do that. I am grateful to have learned from one of my other friends who has camped out in the winter regularly for years now that one of the largest factors to consider that isn't really a problem for summer camping is sweat. In the warmer months your sweat just simply dries or evaporates. However in the winter that moisture freezes and draws your body heat from your body. What my friend advised me to do was to always bring a warm and dry set of clothes so that after you finish your hike you have warm, dry and non-sweaty clothes to change into that will help you stay warm. This wasn't something I thought of but certainly experienced the result of sweating into my light shirt as I was hiking and having it freeze and be super cold on my body once I stopped hiking. Having extra socks that were dry and warm was also a good call.

Furthermore on the topic of feet, the insulated booties that I had heard and seen at MEC a ton, definitely live up to their hype, they are so light and comfortable in comparison to the hikers we wore on the climb. They weren't sweaty and cold either, they were actually much warmer than our boots. If you don't have them yet they are a must have for winter camping, and in addition to walking around camp in them, you can sleep in them as well to help keep your feet warm.

In talking about sweat and sweating, I learned that it is super important to have multiple pairs of gloves. Just like you body gets sweaty, your hands do as well and since your extremities are super hard to reheat once cold you want to keep them warm. Having a pair of gloves that are you working gloves, used for setting up the tent and doing things is great. Just don't forget to have some warm mittens that are dry and you haven't sweated in as well. Andre had gloves that he would wear under hit mitts and he said that worked super well for him.