THE SEAM WHERE OCEAN MEETS MOUNTAIN, that fine line where sure rock gives way to nebulous sea, is indisputably marvelous. But geological magnificence is the everyday along British Columbia's Sea-to-Sky Highway, which winds north from Vancouver along Howe Sound, a far-reaching arm of the Pacific. Here in the Coast Mountains, some of the world's largest temperate-latitude glaciers are found.
Nestled between soaring peaks and Howe Sound sits Squamish (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh), recognized as the recreation capital of the world. Squamish is its own deal, offering neither the glamour of Vancouver nor the resort luxury found at Whistler Blackcomb, located 30 minutes north. It's a logging-town-turning-yoga-epicenter where Ford F-150s display slogans like "Give Peace a Chance" and Rumi quotes. "Humans are inherently beautiful and compassionate. Remember who you are," reads a bumper sticker from the rusted tailgate of a truck hauling a four-wheeler and chainsaws.
This March, the ground is bare and tulip crowns poke through soil; the snow line begins around 4,000 feet. At this time of year, pick your medicine: ocean, snow or temperate forest. Kitesurfing, skiing and hiking are all possible within the same day.
Whatever the choice may be, a day in the field must begin at Fergie's Cafe, a breakfast and lunch shack offering killer organic farm-to-table dishes, including house-smoked salmon eggs benedict served atop homemade buttermilk biscuits. The cafe sits near the confluence of the Cheakamus and Cheekye Rivers; during Pacific salmon runs, sit outside and watch your future house-smoked fare gambol upstream to spawn.
There's no need to rush breakfast. Within a mere 20 minutes, we've reached the outer bounds of Garibaldi Provincial Park and the Rubble Creek trailhead. In the early 1900s, climbing camps were established for pioneers attempting the massive peaks of Mount Garibaldi and surrounding peaks. In 1920 the park was established.
The trail to Elfin Lakes follows an access road which once lead to a long-gone alpine lodge. We've opted for mountaineering boots over skis and skins today. Hiking over dirt for 45 minutes, the ocean fades from view as we head into the core of the protected area. The forest falls into the Coastal Western Hemlock Biogeoclamatic Zone, that is, temperate rainforest. Here, Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock, and Western Red Cedar dominate. A thick layer of ferns carpets loamy ground. Grizzly and black bears, cougars, and at higher elevations, wolverines and mountain goats inhabit the area. The musk of dirt fades as patches of ice appear and gradually, packed, melted snow, a reverse change in seasons, crossing from budding spring into winter.
Transcending the tree line, we arrive to pristine snow-powdered meadows and break in a saddle. Ahead of us, the razor-sharp Atwell Peak cuts the sky. From this saddle, a well-used highway system runs the ridge line, trails breaking from the main artery toward massive peaks. After another hour, from atop a rise, two squat huts are visible at a distance -- a ranger hut and one for park visitors.
Most backcountry user choose to overnight at the Elfin Lakes Shelter and ski the peaks the following morning. The hut is first-come, first-serve and you very well may end up sleeping on the floor if you arrive too late in the day. The overnight fee is $10 CAD. Cell phone service is spotty, but possible.