Joffre Lakes — The Provincial Park of Instagram

Every now and again, a woman would tag Outdoor Women’s Alliance in an Instagram photo — a channel I help run for my nonprofit — that stopped my eyes. The photos would contain glacial blue ice that down in a ribbon from mountains to lakes. White puffy clouds mirrored the white snow that lay on top of the ice.

I’d scan the photo for a hashtag or geotag that might give me insight to the location, and then I’d spot it: Joffre Lakes.

These lakes were part of British Columbia’s Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, just outside a town called Pemberton and north of the tourist playground of Whistler. I knew the region already; it was a place where the earth got all sorts of dramatic, a place where the land shot up from the valley floor as if trying to escape to the sky. To make it seem even more so, snow sat on the summits like clouds — and that was in addition to the actual clouds that did sit up there.

But the lakes I saw in these photos — well, there was something especially captivating about them.

And a road trip with my mom last week gave me the perfect chance to finally see what they were about.

We headed west from the Kootenays of British Columbia to the Coast Range lining the Pacific Ocean, then north. The road up made the engine strain, and my flatland mother grew a little nervous about its ability to keep up.

The turn off came, unpretentious and not impossible to miss, had my eyes not been glued to the window at the beauty of the area. It was humble. I expected, with the beauty I’d seen in the photos, for this to be a much grander entrance, filled with traffic and a bigger sign announcing our destination. But it was simply a turn off with a medium-sized parking lot, two outhouses and a trail sign. Only half the lot was filled. Perhaps it I lucked out, it being May and still early in the hiking season for this latitude.

But, in reality, this was the way with most provincial parks in British Columbia. Unpretentious infrastructure was made up for by the merits of park landscapes. Rather than well-directed road signs, welcome kiosks or visitor centers, British Columbia promises wilderness beyond anything most of North America — and indeed the world — can imagine.

The trail descended from the parking lot to the first of lakes. It was an easy go; wide enough to walk side-by-side and smooth enough to not need to watch your footing. This would change as my mom and I advanced, but for now, we made quick progress to the lower lake.

Though my mom was happy enough with the first lake, and would have happily taken photos of this picturesque area, its emerald depths weren’t quite what I remembered. There was something more rugged waiting above, I just knew it.

But the trail was long and steep, and my mom was from Florida, unaccustomed to altitude. She gave way to what may be interpreted as my pleading, though I would rather refer to it as a form of motivation. Either way, I wanted to see more.

Then the ice started. And this added another dimension of uncertainty for my flatlander mom.

It covered part of the trail, usually the steepest sections (of course). Before and after the ice was mud; this combo punctuated the dry areas regularly. In places, we had to step to the side and into snow to allow other to pass, usually slipping as they did.

“It’s worth it!” they called over their shoulders as they regained dry trail, seeing my mother’s worried look.

So we kept on.

joffre-lakes

All I could muster was “Oh my gosh,” as the trail unfolded to the second lake. I turned around and repeated it to my mom, and felt giddiness rise up. I could see the glacier’s details here; its contrast with the sky and the evergreen forest made sharper by a brilliant sun. A layer of ice skimmed the lake but below it, clear blue.

This was the place I’d seen in all those Instagram photos. I sat at the edge, rested my camera on a rock, and touched my fingers to an open patch of water. I wanted to drink that entire lake, and then the entire scene.

The only thing was that darn ring of trees. It wrapped around the lake and, although beautiful, it kept us from seeing the full glacier. I knew if we just went up a little further, maybe half an hour or less to the third lake, we’d see its entirety. Anyway, after gaining the second lake, I wouldn’t be satisfied until I saw the third — it was completely unknown to me; not even Instagram had revealed it.

My mom was on board this time. Even though the trail still ascended, she was motivated — the taste of alpine beauty drove her forward.

And then, the view that was our reward.

I couldn’t help but let out a little laugh, a common thing when I am really excited about a view. At those times, words are futile, as was the case here. A miniature wetland preceded the third glacial lake — still covered in ice like its sister below — and logs that were jammed up on the lake shore from what I supposed were avalanche debris. Above the lake, blocks of electric blue ice were ready to topple over the cliff they hung on.

joffre-lakes

And stillness; perfect stillness.

“This is why it’s worth it,” I said, standing by my mom.

She didn’t look away.

“Yes. It is.”

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Although she’s a Florida girl, exploration called her away after the final bell of her high school career. Leaving home to journey westward alone, she chased the sun to Utah. Over the years, she was consumed with skiing, climbing, kayaking, mountain biking and getting lost on back roads. But exploration continued to call. After closing her bakery — which funded college courses and adventure — she stored her possessions and hit the road again, on a quest to reach the distant places of North America. For three years she lived in her little Mazda 3 and skied the backcountry of Alaska, slept under the northern lights in the Yukon Territory, ice climbed Colorado's frozen canyons and rock climbed across the continent, photographed Nova Scotia’s coves, backpacked in southern US wildernesses and munched on sugared tamarindo in the jungles of Mexico. But living in a car started to feel limiting, so after seeing the many glories this continent had to offer, she chose the only place fitting for an explorer to spend a lifetime of wild wonder: British Columbia. Dual citizenship in hand, she settled along the Powder Highway in the Selkirks and is now making her home between four walls and deeply wooded mountains. When she's not playing the part of a photojournalist, Gina can be found collaborating with women worldwide through her nonprofit, Outdoor Women's Alliance, and working to improve her outdoor skills and wilderness safety certifications.