Distance: 10.5 km
Elevation gain ~300 mView mapDownload GPS track
This snowshoe trip begins at the Sawmill parking lot on the Spray Lakes Road, and while the Sawmill loop snowshoe trail is great for beginners or families, it is a little short on views and can get busy on weekends. This extension heads up James Walker Creek, taking you away from potential crowds and providing many great views.
The trail starts at the usual Sawmill trailhead. We prefer going around this loop counterclockwise to get the elevation gain out of the way all at once, but either way the trail up James Walker Creek peels off from the main trail at about the midway point. It isn't marked, but it's as wide as the main trail and heads due north. It is NOT the trail at the top of the northernmost hill on the Sawmill loop; if you hit this point and were traveling counterclockwise you've gone about 500 m too far.
After leaving the Sawmill showshoe trail the route roughly parallels James Walker Creek, gently turning towards the east while gaining about 200 m of elevation. Don't be turned off by the large avalanche slope to the north near the beginning; there is a large and deep gully (James Walker Creek, actually) that separates the slope from the trail. Use your own judgement, but even if this is a concern for you a short detour into the forest would allow you to avoid any perceived danger. Continuing, gently ascend through forest along the old logging road. About 500 m from the small lake (2.5 km from where you left the Sawmill trail), emerge from mature trees onto the base of an avalanche slope originating from a north-facing slope. In high avalanche conditions this would be a concern, but it could again be avoided by heading north into the trees.
At this point the old logging road you've been following ends. The small lake is just 500 m further and can be reached by heading roughly ENE through trees. Just before the lake, especially if you've strayed slightly north, reach a steep hill with a boulder field at the top. The lake lies just beyond this; you'll want to stick to the treed southeast side of the boulder field and lake area as there is again the potential for avalanches coming from the north. The danger areas can again be easily avoided.
We did this hike on Jan. 22 and ended up breaking trail the entire way after leaving the Sawmill trail. This was incredibly exhausting as we sunk about a foot with each step, but as part of our goal was to get exercise we didn't mind. We were also treated to a surprisingly skittish ptarmigan near the lake; he flew when we were 50 feet away when you can usually walk right up to them.