Throwing it back to winter for this one.
This past season we were determined to successfully spend at least one night in the back-country. After our previous failed attempt we bought some better gear, changed our plan and waited for an opportunity.
We are proud Alpine Club of Canada members and we scoured the site looking for a night or two in a family-friendly, somewhat easy to access hut. Finding just one option to house our rather large crew of six (my sister-in-law and her boyfriend were joining us) we snagged a night at the A.O. Wheeler hut in February.
This beautiful hut is based a short 2km up a well traveled path in winter and, while there is some avalanche danger in the area, the region directly around and leading to the hut is fairly low risk.
That being said, we did spend several hours stuck at the Roger’s Pass visitor’s center, due to the highway being closed for avalanche control blasting.
Luckily this meant our littlest one tired herself out toddling about and playing with fake poop, so when it was time to hike in, bellies full of sandwiches and granola bars, she was ready for a lovely nap in the soft-carrier.
The 2km hike took about an hour and a half to complete. Our four year old led the way, to what he thought was a “secret cabin,” and thought it was hilarious to fall down every ten steps or so. But we were in no hurry and the mountains were in full on winter splendor mode. Pure white snow blanketing the ground, trees iced in blankets so heavy they bowed under the weight, air just cold enough to make you want to keep moving.
We met lots of people on this very popular trail. The area around the hut has excellent back-country skiing and everyone we met had that contented look that comes with a winter day spent in the outdoors.
When we arrived at the not-so-secret cabin we found a fire already burning in one of the two stoves and it was clear that the hut would be full tonight. We set up a spot in one of the far corners hoping to keep out of the way of the more serious skiers and winter adventurers.
The kids had to play with all of the toys. We tried our best not to stress as their childish noises rang through the cabin and scurried about after them, tidying the mess that comes with small children.
*Pro-tip – When visiting a back-country hut with small children, tacos, while delicious and a big hit, are the worst possible food you can have. The sheer amount of flung-about cheese is enough for me to never consider tacos in the back-country again. There is a reason Ariadne’s nick-name is “Bear Bait,” and tacos have had a part in that name more than once.
So what does one do in the back-country with children in the winter? Why sledding of course. As luck would have it, people had left two, glorious, plastic toboggans behind and the entrance to the hut was on a nice little slope. The path to the pit-toilets became a luge track and Roman, our four year old, could not get enough of it.
When bedtime came the mountain air and the excitement of meeting real ice-climbers had Roman more than willing to snuggle up with Aunty and go to sleep. Ariadne on the other hand was uncomfortable and wary of all the noise and strange people and she and I spent a long and shivery night protecting the sleep of strangers as best we could. Eventually, after a 4am fire-build with a baby in one arm, she succumbed to sleep in front of the wood-stove. I did my best to stay still and let her rest and hoped we could find some left-behind coffee when the others woke.
Somehow she was still pleasant after such a short sleep. The other hut inhabitants were all very kind and reported that their sleep was not at all hampered by her midnight howling. I still maintain that all the best people hang out in the back-country.
We spent the morning snow-shoeing and playing. So much playing! Roman and the boys hit a major toboggan hill and got a workout struggling back up through the deep snow. We poked snow covered trees that would spring up in a snowy explosion and had a snow-ball fight of course!
Sadly there was no do-over for Ariadne in the hut, so we will never know if a second night would have been easier, but our hike out was led by a tiny warrior in blue snow pants. To the tune of his own superhero music, provided by mom, and with the promise of ice-cream for winners and nothing for whiners, he marched out of the back-country in record time.
It had been a short but sweet adventure and we knew we would brave the winter wilds again someday.