British Columbia’s Joffre Lakes: An Instagram Discovery

You can chalk it all up to Instagram.

I was on a road trip with my Florida mother; it was her second visit to British Columbia and her first to its Pacific coast. Traveling across the province, I couldn’t contain my excitement for the beauty of what she was about to see, especially when it came to the Coast Range.

But then, she already thought the entire province was show-stopping.

Though I related to her what she would find in those mountains, there was actually a section I told her confidently about, but had never seen. Well, I had — but not in three-dimension.

I help run an Instagram channel for my nonprofit; the first of its kind for women who love adventure sports. Over the years, in photos the organization would be tagged in, I started recognizing the repetition of one place in particular being tagged based on its features: a frosted lake with a glacial-strewn mountain. My eyes would slow to a halt, I would search for some sort of location clue in the hashtags, and would find: “#outdoorwomen #exploreBC”, and then: “#JoffreLakes.”

I had to go there.

Months of growing anticipation went by before the chance to travel to Joffre Lakes came, and this road trip with my mom was it. I was determined to set my eyes on the park in person and see those Instagram-ed lakes in three dimension.

The multi-laned highway we were on passed through Vancouver on to the Sea-to-Sky — a picturesque highway if ever there was one — that connected the big city to Squamish and Whistler. But by the time the highway traversed through the pastoral lands of Pemberton, Joffre Lakes Provincial Park’s hometown, it was a quiet two-lane route that twisted through meadows carpeting the floors of wild mountains.

From there, the road climbed up (and up, and up according to my mom).

A humble sign directed us to pull in to the right. We stepped out of the car; the sweet air — a mixture of evergreen needles, wet leaves, and spring — was a grand greeting.

“Do the mountains of British Columbia always smell like this?” she asked.

I nodded proudly — they do.

Following the trail from the parking lot, we reached the first lake within minutes. It was a smooth path meant for folks who wanted a photo rather than summit opportunity. My mom was content to relax on the bench at this, the lowest of the three lakes in the park, taking pictures and chatting. But this lake’s emerald depths didn’t match the Instagram photos in my memory.

A man and his son joined us on the bench. “That’s where we were,” said the man to his son, pointing at the white backdrop. “Way up there.”

BC Joffre Lakes

So that’s where those lakes I sought were waiting; up above, somewhere in the shadow of the burly white peak.

“C’mon, mom. Let’s go up,” I said pulling her by her hand back onto the trail.

Now, my mom doesn’t take too kindly to heights and she doesn’t have the lung capacity of a mountain woman. I took all this for granted. Having left my Florida home state right after high school, my acclimatization was complete years ago.

I forged upwards, and she tried to keep up. The trail narrowed, and the sides dropped off into a creek.

And then the slushy section of ice started.

Despite her uncertainty with these kinds of conditions, she kept on. We rested periodically as the trail switched back and forth up the mountain, catching encouragement as it was given to us.

“When you get there, you will completely forget this part,” said one passerby. “You’ll be so glad you did it.”

I appreciated the kind encouragement, but it was a waterfall just below the second lake that did the trick for my mom. It fell over roughly a dozen two-foot ledges that fanned out from the top, then hit a pool at the bottom. The entire thing looking like a lace pattern draped over nature.

If something that beautiful wasn’t what everyone was so excited about, the upper lakes must be pretty spectacular. She was ready to forge on.

BC Joffre Lakes

Heavy evergreens accompanied us up the path, then opened up just enough to play peek-a-boo with what I was looking for: Joffre’s second lake, the one that I had fallen in love with online. I started grinning and let out a little yelp — my usual reaction when words don’t suffice.

When it was fully before us, I climbed down to the edge of the lake and touched my fingers to the section of water that was clear of ice. I stared out across the rest of it, taking in the fluorescent blue under the ice, the ring of green surrounding the water, and the tumbling glacier in the background. After I studied the features of my surroundings, I switched my study my mom, looking for her reaction to the area. She was holding her phone at arm’s length to capture panoramic photos, and though there weren’t any words coming from her, there was amazement and reverence on her face.  

But this was just the second lake and the third was one I had actually never seen — Instagram or not. Curiosity never lets me be satiated when there is more to find.

At this point, the adventure became my mission, not my mom’s. She was happy to return down the trail but I prodded her on, knowing the view would be even more spectacular and her sense of accomplishment would be that much greater if she completed the trail.

Heck, who am I kidding? I would feel more accomplished.

Our feet hit the path again. The trees shortened considerably, opening to the sky, and shrubby evergreens brushed our calves as we stepped around (and in) the mud on the trail.

The vegetation changes were promises to me; I knew they were signs of higher elevation. But when my mom questioned the changes, it brought me back to the discovery phase of moving from Florida’s lowlands to the mountains of the west. I tried to dissect the reasons for each shift in the terrain as she asked them and heard surprise and appreciation in her voice as she began to understand the alpine environment.

BC Joffre Lakes

We crested the last rise, rounded the last bend, stepped in lots of mud — and then the reward was in view.

Being up here at the tail end of the day meant everyone on the trail was headed down when we were about two-thirds of the way up. The quietness wasn’t something my mom was used to; being an east coaster the trails she visited were almost always filled with people.

The quiet gave her time to really soak in the view and study the details, such as the logs from avalanched trees piled along the lakeshore. In the quietness of this British Columbia beauty, she could take as many photos as she wanted without having to step aside and allow someone else into the viewing area.

“Was it worth it?” I asked as I caught a final photo for my own Instagram account.

She gave me a hug. “Thank you so much for believing I could do it. This was so worth it.”

About the Author

Sunset

Gina Begin

Although she’s a Florida girl, exploration called her away after the final bell of her high school career. Over the years, she has been consumed with skiing, climbing, kayaking, mountain biking and getting lost on back roads. 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.