Your Private Mountain Hideaway - WhiteCap Alpine
I woke up long before the sun on my first morning at WhiteCap Alpine Lodge and peered out my window to a sky filled with stars and a layer of fog filling the valley floor. After a few weeks in the city the silence felt almost deafening. I crept down the stairs in the WoodHall building where I slept, out the front door and down the path toward the soft glow of the main lodge. This is where Ron, the patriarch of WhiteCap sat beside a wood burning fireplace with a fresh cup of coffee in hand, a pot on the stove. It is moments like these, quiet conversations around a fire dozens of miles from cell phone towers, cars and any other conscious human, that remind you of what is important in life. The story of a baby born on a set of stairs wrapped in newspaper, tales of children learning to ski in the backcountry and the indirect route that life (more often than not) takes were shared.
This is what you will find at WhiteCap. Hidden in the depths of the South Chilcotin Mountains, it is a place to hike seemingly endless mountain ridges, and eat amazing food with great company. It’s a slice of paradise with a wood burning sauna perched atop a rock in the middle of an alpine lake. Yes, it is all of those things, but even more so, it is a place to disconnect with the outside world and find true connection with yourself in what seems to be one of the least likely of places. It is… surprisingly good.
Your adventure to WhiteCap begins with a 20-minute scenic helicopter ride from the Pemberton Airport. We had the afternoon departure and were picked up just after 3pm - after a picturesque flight through billowing clouds we arrived at the lodge. We collected our bags and were greeted by Ron Andrews, the patriarch of WhiteCap, and Hayden Robbins, our ACMG Hiking Guide and whom, alongside his partner Leah Evans, runs the summer program at WhiteCap. As a side note, Leah is a professional skier and the driving force behind Girls Do Ski - a free-ski camp women with the goal of getting more female skiers on the slopes and connect those who are already out there.
Our first day was slow, so we gathered around the fire and one by one introduced ourselves. We had a short tour of the property which boasts:
1 main lodge with a full kitchen, wood-burning fireplace, electricity and wifi (available for a small fee).
1 cabin with 5 bedrooms, electricity, 1 bathroom.
3 yurts, a hot shower, sauna, and heated outhouses.
After the tour and some negotiations of sleeping arrangements we headed out for a short hike up Standard Ridge before dinner. This trail is 1.8km/1.1 miles (although you have the option of continuing along the ridge line if you wish) with 284meters/932ft of elevation gain. It was the perfect way to stretch our legs and work up an appetite.
A private chef to prepare three meals and snacks daily is included in all stays at WhiteCap. However, as the last tour of the season, with the chef gone home, we had the pleasure of Ron cooking us his family recipes all week. (Thank-you Ron)
With tumultuous weather in the forecast for the entirety of our trip we took advantage of the nicest looking weather window and hiked up to the saddle of Mount McGillvary (my sights were set on the summit but I was outvoted by both the group and the looming weather). We gained 310meters/1,017ft over 1.9km/1.3miles before popping over the ridge to three pristine alpine lakes. From here we ate our lunches and wandered around. From this point it is an additional 4km/2.5 miles with over 550meters/1,800ft of gain to the true summit of Mount McGillvary. We opted to take a leisurely walk around to some nearby ridges and spent a few hours taking photos before returning to the lodge for a relaxing aprés hike, another wonderful dinner and a late evening filled with card games.
A mere 1.95km/1.2miles with 132 meters/433 feet of gain from the door of the main lodge, tucked away on the shelf of a small valley lies this private cedar burning sauna. Designed with Scandinavian influences, Lars Andrews (the only son of the aforementioned Ron) approached Squamish-based carpenter Ryan Standerwick with two large leftover pieces of glass from his Squamish home and the perfect location. Untreated cedar wood was used for both the exterior and interior of the sauna, so in a few years the sauna will begin to lose its colour and fade into its surroundings. The design was aimed to minimize the structure’s impact on the surrounding environment: sitting on four small footings that attach to a large boulder in the water ensuring there was no need for digging or surface disturbance during the build. The design is as intuitive and eco-friendly as it is beautiful.
As the sauna heated up, Ryan and I left the group and opted to gain both some elevation and a birds eye view of the valley by hiking an additional 1.67km/ 1 mile and gaining an additional 276 meters/900ft to a rocky ridge line that overlooked both the valley below to the north and in the distance, Prospector Glacier to the south. A large boulder sits on the top the ridge, appropriately named ‘meditation rock’. As fog advanced and retreated around us I sat on top of this large boulder in silence; broken only by Hayden on the radio informing me that the sauna was creeping up in temperature and it might be a good time to head back down.
We obliged and spent the following several hours alternating between warming up in the sauna and diving head first into the lake. Our laughter echoed in the valley late into the afternoon until our hands turned into prunes and rain began to fall from the sky. We got changed and made our way down the valley where Ron greeted us with our final dinner and stories from decades of loving this piece of paradise.
And just like that it was our day to leave - we had an 11am pick up time. We decided to sneak away early and catch one last morning in the sauna. With headlamps glowing and a radio (and bear spray) in hand we made our way up the steep trail (now covered in hilariously slippery dew) to find the sauna perched atop a perfectly still lake. I drank my cup of coffee inside the sauna, still warm from the evening before, and embraced just how special this place is. A cool quiet morning in a sauna atop a rock 1,800 metres (6,000 feet) above sea level.
A quick hike back to the lodge, some breakfast and we said our goodbyes. A somber flight back to reality as WhiteCap closed its wooden doors for the season and prepared for meters and meters of snow to the delight of the area’s next visitors - backcountry skiers.
A big thank you to WhiteCap Alpine Lodge for inviting me out for the week.
Bookings are made directly through Whitecap and can be done here. If you have any special requests or private booking requests, you can contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.